Bucking The Trend

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR



The Missouri Lodge of Research evolved from a research council formed in 1927 by a group of Masons which included famed Masonic author Ray Denslow and an obscure county judge named Harry Truman. The idea to turn the Missouri Masonic Research Council into an actual Lodge came along in 1938, and was summarily voted down at Grand Lodge because, "We've never done that before."

Two years later, with that obscure judge Truman, now a US Senator, serving as Grand Master, the proposal went through and the Missouri Lodge of Research was born. It bears the distinction of being the only Masonic Lodge, research or otherwise, to having the sitting President of the United States as its Master.

The Lodge flourished over the years, providing members an outlet to meet and discuss topics of interest as well as publishing Masonic papers, articles and books. Early on, it became a mainstay of the Missouri Lodge of Research to provide its members with a book each year, usually one that the Lodge published itself. Many of those books were the products of the Denslows, Ray and his son William, who wrote the epic series 10,000 Famous Freemasons. Those books attracted members not just from Missouri, but from all over the country and even outside the US. 

In time, the Missouri Lodge of Research became the largest US research Lodge and was probably second in prestige only to England's famous Quatour Coronati. As Masonic membership began to decline after the postwar boom years, the Missouri LOR's membership also started to decline but it "held its own" in comparison to other Masonic institutions, thanks mostly to the quality of the books it was distributing.

Then, in 2001, it began distributing a series of books, Lodges of Missouri. This consisted of five volumes which detailed the history of each Masonic Lodge in the jurisdiction. The Lodge distributed one of the five volumes as its annual book for five consecutive years. 

The Lodges of Missouri series was a valuable addition to the history of Missouri Masonry. It was probably unique to the Grand Lodge of Missouri for a Grand Lodge to have such a detailed history of each of its individual Lodges.  Unfortunately issuing the series proved to be a major tactical error. Members outside Missouri had little interest in the series. Even within the jurisdiction, members tired of seeing the books come year-after-year, especially for the volumes that didn't contain their own lodges. 

Membership plummeted. Over that period, the Missouri Lodge of Research lost about half its membership. Not only was it not "holding its own" it was actually losing membership at a faster rate than Masonry in general.

Facing this crisis, the Missouri LOR officers met to come up with a plan to reverse the trend.  Immediately, of course, it began releasing books of more general and popular Masonic interest.  In addition to that the officers took the following measures:

…Established the Truman Lecture Series, bringing in world-class Masonic speakers twice a year to speak at its semi-annual meetings. This series has featured such speakers as Clifton Truman Daniel, Josef W├Ąges, Alton Roundtree, Arturo de Hoyos, Trevor Stewart, Robert Cooper, Brent Morris, Chris Hodapp and more. 

…Took responsibility for the management of the Missouri Masonic Museum in Columbia.  The museum details the Masonic history of Missouri and elsewhere, and contains unique memorabilia such as Harry Truman's cane and glasses, the Masonic apron of Meriwether Lewis and Wild Bill Hickock's alleged Lodge chair.

…Built a comprehensive Masonic library at its Masonic Complex. The library now contains many priceless artifacts as well as thousands of books, many rare or one-of-a-kind. It also provides an on-line electronic catalog and is working to digitize many of its volumes.

…Enhanced its newsletter, which now contains articles of esoteric and historical Masonic interest as well as being a vehicle to communicate regularly with its membership.

…Sponsors a Lodge of Research Breakfast on the final day of the Grand Lodge session, at which the Fall Truman Lecturer speaks. Arguably, this is the most popular event at Grand Lodge. 

…Established the Pickard Society named after John Pickard, first president of the original Missouri Masonic Research Council. Members may join the Pickard Society by giving small donations. Those donations do not necessarily need to be monetary; they can also come in the form of book donations or even time and effort given to the Library.

…Established the Denslow Society named for the iconic Masonic authors Ray and William Denslow. The Denslow Society's $1,000 membership fee helps insure the future of the Library and LOR programs.

These steps have helped the Missouri Lodge of Research to gain back about half the members it lost over the five-years it published the Lodges of Missouri Series

So, in an era when many institutions, not just Masonic, are losing members, the Missouri Lodge of Research is bucking the trend with membership numbers on the rise again. The point is, it can be done but it takes effort, cooperation and resources. To be sure, the Missouri Lodge of Research is unique and the way it turned things around wouldn't apply to most other Masonic bodies. However, the reversal of the decline started when the Lodge of research figured out a way to give its members what they wanted. That's the key and that's what all our Masonic organizations need to do… figure out what the members want and give it to them… easier said than done.

Membership in the Missouri Lodge of Research is $25/year. An application can be found at: https://tinyurl.com/moresearch The books for 2019 and 2020 are the two-volume set Ray V. Denslow's Masonic Journey, the never-before published memoirs of a 20thcentury Masonic giant.

~SLH

Bro. Steve Harrison, 33° , is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships are the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master's Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35 year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.

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