Back in the day organ grinders were a common sight in many cities. The attraction consisted of a man with a “portable” (For that time) hand-crank organ which would play music and draw a crowd. Once a crowd gathered a cute little monkey dressed in an outfit, would dance around with a little tin cup, and gather change from the assembled crowd. I can honestly say I never have seen an organ grinder in real life but I got acquainted with them by watching old Bugs Bunny cartoons as a child.
It appears that the Covid-19 quarantine is beginning to wind down. Several Grand Lodges have begun to awake from their Rip VanWinkle like slumber and talk about meeting in person again and eventually start conducting degree work again. I may be in the minority, but this worries me a bit. Not because of the pandemic and the curve but in what I have seen as progress the Craft has made in the last few months. (As many of you know I am one who is not averse to picking up a horse and giving a dead horse a few whacks). I have said that since we weren’t able to keep the degree machine humming like a factory machine Freemasons and Grand lodges have gotten back to the roots of the Fraternity and have begun to once again practice Freemasonry.
I have been immensely proud to see Brethren providing Masonic relief to their Brethren, wives, widows, and orphans. Making sure the members of their lodges, especially their more elderly brethren have food and shelter. Doing such things and running to the drugstore to gather life-giving prescriptions for these Brothers and their homes are heated and comfortable and they are cared for. I have even heard of Brethren arranging for such things as diapers and baby formula for young families. It was refreshing to me and if I were honest, left my eyes a bit misty to see all this time and treasure being used to care for the Brethren we took an obligation to “help, aid and assist” instead of devoting to get the Fraternity’s name in the paper in hopes of getting new members to knock on our door.
Zoom calls have been a temporary replacement for lodge meetings and gatherings. It has been for Brethren (including myself) who were not able to visit their home lodge a way to “Spread virtual cement” with guys who have not been in each other’s presence in a long time. Zoom calls have also become an excellent way to further the cause of Masonic education. I know I have personally been able to attend several education courses in the United Kingdom, California, and several other jurisdictions I would never have been able to attend if it was down in the traditional way.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating we become an all online fraternity. I am also not advocating we stop providing charity or letting young men we are still around or scraping successful campaigns such as “Not just a man, a Mason” or the https://beafreemason.org/ website. I believe the campaign was a stroke of genius and a perfect balance between recruitment and public relations. What I am saying is we take such tools and build upon them.
Since I was raised to the sublime degree in 2002 I have become aware of many polls and surveys conducted by various Grand Lodges of young men who fit the demographic of or who joined the Fraternity and left. Even though the percentages were all different, the message was pretty much the same: These young men didn’t want cheap dues or relaxed dress codes. These men were looking to become “better men”, to become something “bigger than themselves” and to make lasting friendships. They wanted what we advertise. Freemasonry. For some reason, we take the numbers and messages we are given and just file them away. The result is the same. They join and leave, never to be seen again. This was explained not long ago in this piece by Robert Johnson: http://www.midnightfreemasons.org/2016/06/freemasonry-isnt-dying-its-refining.html
I am trying to say: what the Fraternity has been doing since (at least as long as I have been in it) has not been working. I believe no matter how much we try to push cheap dues, flip flops and cargo shorts in lodge or big box store lasagna as the norm, (I dare not mention Masonic education and chambers of reflections as an idea without causing fistfights in the parking lot), it isn’t going to be the ointment to cure the Crafts illness.
It just makes common sense, before we start cranking up the organ and get the dancing monkey out again by passing out petitions, let’s remember the lessons we have learned and maybe we can keep more of the new Brethren we bring in to the lodge coming back instead of constantly doing degree work for nothing.