It absolutely missed the point. Freemasonry is Freemasonry, and fraternity is fraternity. After WWI and WWII (and back to the late 1800s), the fraternity of men drove the massive increase in membership. Once that and my generation have gone, Freemasonry will return to a more traditional rate of those seeking us out. That next generational membership level is well below even the current numbers. I personally estimate about another 40% drop in membership over the next 10-15 years. This will return us to the membership levels we had previous to the World Wars.
The massive influx was also attributed to a less mobile, more tightly constrained population without anything like we understand of modern communication. Urban centers without much to do and little to no TV programming, drove people to look outside for social activities. The later suburban flight carried with it an influx of membership in Lodges to city outskirts while signing the death warrant for most urban Lodges. You can see this in the massive Lodge consolidations of the '70s and '80s that the second wave of urban sprawl shifted Masons and Lodges to even greater distances.
Now we move into an information age, where sharing communication is no longer limited to the US Postal Service and rotary dial telephones between Lodges. I can, and have successfully created, Masonic education presented across vast distances never before even considered possible excepting the occasional science fiction author. I can and have communicated and debated esoteric philosophy in real-time with Masons on other continents.
Brothers, the NPR article's real point should be a simple heads up that we have some planning to do. We know we will have a massive reduction in dues-paying members, so the leaders we elect to Grand Lodge positions must stop kicking the can down the road for the future. Grand Masters must begin to reduce spending, focus on stability through the massive reduction in membership we will experience, and create a solid framework incorporating technology into the Lodge setting. We don't have to be tiled to educate our members, and we don't have to be in the same room to have Masonic fellowship with only one exception: Ritual. Yes, I said it. We must be together physically as Brothers, and we must also find the best ways to fit the technology into the other times.
We must also stop the focus on charity. WHAT??? Heresy, you say. Nope. Charity is a natural outreach of spreading Brotherly Love, and that is the focus. We won't stop being charitable, but we MUST stop the focus being on charity. We must return the focus to Brotherly Love and allow the charity to extend from that point of view. Why? Isn't it the same? Charity is an extreme position, while Brotherly Love is a balanced position of working internally first, then reaching out to help others. Think of it as putting on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you. Charity for charity's sake is a consuming pit into which it's difficult to escape. Charity and Love, from a point of balanced strength, allows us to be more precise in our picks for charity. It allows us to keep a focus on "what's good for the Lodge and the members first" then, from that position of balance and love, reach out to help the members and community.
Virtual Masonic education has already changed Freemasonry, whether a pioneering podcast, a video-conference presenter to a Lodge or gathering, or a continued global propagation of virtual education platforms such as Refracted Light and Supere Aude. Electronic communication is the genie out of the bottle, and those that refuse to embrace it will sadly be left behind. As Masons, we must remain accessible to those less technically inclined, reach out to other Lodges and Brothers to share this relatively new platform of education and focus on applying the working tools to our daily lives in a post-pandemic environment.
We won't stop making Masons out of good men, but we must now focus on doing so with far fewer resources and Grand Lodges across the country that spend money they don't, or won't, have. We must appropriately embrace the technology while keeping the spirit and focus of Freemasonry within circumscribed bounds. Freemasonry is not dying, but we must act for the future to set ourselves up for success.
Bro. Randy Sanders lives near St. Louis and is active in Missouri and Oklahoma Freemasonry. He is Co-Librarian of the Valley of St. Louis, MO., Clerk of the Academy of Reflection based out of the Valley of Guthrie, OK., Lodge Education Officer of 2 Blue Lodges, and develops and delivers Masonic education across the region in blue lodges, AASR SMJ, and York Rite AMD. Randy works in IT/Telecom, mentors IT and business professionals, and also teaches Wing Chun Kung Fu, Chi Kung, and is an NRA certified Chief Range Safety Officer. Randy and his wife raise Great Pyrenees dogs, enjoy gourmet cooking classes, and travel internationally. He has been involved in search and rescue, community response, and disaster mitigation for over three decades. He served as Logistics Section Chief on a federal disaster team and deployed to the Oklahoma City Murrah Building bombing and St. Thomas, USVI, for Hurricane Marilyn, among many others.