I was recently watching a home improvement show on TV. The host was explaining to his audience that when most people refer to the slurry which hardens and creates a hard, unmoving mass, they call it cement, however they are actually creating and using concrete or mortar. Cement is actually just one component in creating concrete; it is a binder which holds all the ingredients of the mass together.
It's no secret our fraternity is now smaller than it was after World War 2. Some say the large numbers who joined during the conflict had been an anomaly, that the number of men who hold membership in our gentle craft is supposed to be small. Others believe the decline in membership is a cause for alarm, and the Fraternity needs to try to bring the number of members back to the “post war” numbers (or even to surpass them) at all costs.
Freemasonry has been trying to replace these lost members for nearly half of a century, trying everything in their power to entice new members into knocking on the doors of our lodges. Slogans like “2B1ASK1” and “I M Committed Now R U”, offering one day classes, discounts on dues, even premiums like T-shirts or sunshades for your automobile have brought some new men into our Fraternity, but for one reason or another they have all left the quarries to seek what they are looking for elsewhere. We keep asking ourselves “why?”
Maybe, much like that concrete we have been calling cement by mistake, we are offering these men something we call Freemasonry but which doesn’t measure up to the expectations we have laid out.
If you ask any builder, a sure way to weaken a building you are making is to substitute the quality ingredients of concrete with inferior ingredients. Sadly, many buildings have been destroyed over the years by using “shoddy” building materials in order to maximize profit or to lower the price of a bid in order to get the work.
Slowly our Fraternity has been replacing the quality ingredients which creates the strong concrete which has held our Fraternity together and has replaced them with inferior materials or left them out of the slurry altogether.
From the late nineteenth century, when a few intolerant “temperance” zealots thoroughly removed refreshment while ignoring the virtue of temperance by convincing Grand Lodges to remove all alcoholic beverages from our meetings and Temples, we have slowly been replacing the quality ingredients that made a lodge successful, which, in my opinion, has been causing the cracks in our once solid foundation.
We have further weaned our Fraternity by replacing dues which paid the bills of our lodges and paid for the maintenance of our buildings by offering Freemasonry as cheaply as humanly possible and replacing the money by holding fundraisers which no one volunteers for and which are rarely patronized even by the members.
The once fantastic food that lodge members enjoyed on fine china placed, on a beautifully pressed linen tablecloth, has give away to baloney sandwiches and potato chips on a floppy paper plate washed down with warm iced tea or cold coffee.
At one point in our history, the Brethren gathered into a beautifully ornate lodge room. They sat quietly while the lodge organist would play a light tune before lodge was opened and a thoughtful evening of discussion and learning made the men feel spiritually fulfilled. Sadly today we get badly performed ritual done by a Brother who was asked at the last minute to fill the chair. Once lodge is opened the process of listening to several sets of minutes from previous meeting be read in a monotone by Brother Secretary while the Treasurer gets prepared to tell the lodge how much money they don’t have.
As an added bonus you get to spend the rest of the evening arguing over the cost of the lodge’s bills and then vote to pay them (even though everyone there knows these bills were already paid several weeks ago).
The rest of the evening is begging for volunteers for fundraisers or to fix a piece of the building that has fallen down, and everyone tries to escape as quickly as possible. The last one out of the building, please shut off the lights.
The last ingredient which remains, “the cement”, has been reduced to young men hearing “Back in the sixties, we had fun. You should have been here then.” When the young man suggests reviving these old traditions or starting new traditions they are stopped cold. They are told “We couldn’t do that” or the ever popular “Grand Lodge won’t allow that.” Eventually these young “living stones” fall out of our Masonic edifice because the mortar which binds them there isn’t strong enough to hold them in place.
The young men who are looking to join are looking for those quality materials we tell the world we build with. They are looking for education, enlightenment, a sense of Brotherhood and friendship, a reason that they are on this planet. They have been told that “Freemasonry makes good men better.” That is what they are looking for.
Brethren if we want a strong fraternity which will stand up to the the storms and trials of the coming centuries we have to replace the “inferior” building materials with the things which made us the strong Fraternity we once were.