by Midnight Freemasons Founder
Todd E. Creason, 33°
2020 has been a tough year all the way around, and Freemasonry has certainly not weathered the storm any better than anybody else. But I think we’ve learned a few things as we’ve gone along, and my hope is that as we all pick up our tools and get back to work in the quarry in this upcoming year, we take a few of the things we’ve learned with us.
Use The Tools We’ve Learned
I just turned over 100,00 miles on my odometer. My car is less than five years old. I’ve about driven the wheels off of it, and the vast majority of those miles were Freemasonry-related. I drive and drive and drive and drive. Many of us do this. For instance, I get up on a Saturday, I’ll drive two hours for a meeting that lasts an hour and drive home thinking that meeting could have been a phone call. And my Saturday, by the time I get back home, has a giant hole in it. I could have spent that time with my family—maybe taking my grandson fishing. I could have spent that time with my friends having a cookout. I could have spent that time volunteering at the community trash pick-up. I could have done a lot of things, but I burned gas and put miles on my car for a meeting that could have been a call.
That was before COVID—that was before we really had to rely on other communications tools like Zoom calls, etc. And I hope we keep these tools and use them. Our time together in Lodge and face-to-face should be when we have our regular meetings or ritual instruction, or when we do events, or social gatherings, or most importantly—when we’re doing our degree work. But that’s not what most of my travel is about.
If we want new members to get involved, we’re going to have to respect their time. We’re competing with a lot of things. We want that next generation to join us, but the Fraternity is going to have to learn to fit into their lives. We can’t waste their time. We can’t say on one hand we want you to be better husbands and fathers and community leaders while on the other hand asking them to drive two or three hours and attend a meeting that would be just as effectively given online. When we want our members to be somewhere, we need to be sure they’re going to be able to participate, that they’re going to get something out of it, and that they’re going to enjoy the experience and want to do it again—not drive home wondering why they blew a huge chunk of their free time on that waste of time.
My first wish for 2021 is not to fall back into old habit—continue to use the tools we have discovered to make the time we dedicate to Freemasonry more productive.
Get A Handle On Social Media
I’ve written on this topic over and over again. I’d like to see the Fraternity start setting some standards of conduct for social media. The first argument I always get when I say this is that every person has the right to an opinion, and that it’s a free country and people have a right to do what they want to do. That’s true, but my argument back is that if you want to do that, do it as an individual and not as a representative of OUR fraternity. When you’re representing yourself as a Mason with your Fez, or your apron, you represent us all—you are no longer a ME you are an US! As Masons we represent individuals that fall on both sides of every conceivable topic on this earth. Republicans and Democrats. Cubs and Cardinals. Ford and Chevy. And it’s not just divisive conversations. It’s posting pictures of events or conduct that are unbecoming of a Mason. I think a few highly visible Masons are doing irreparable harm to our Fraternity through nothing more than their activities on social media. I’ve thought so for a long time, and it’s not getting any better.
I’ve probably told this story—I can’t remember if I have or not: A few years ago I had a guy asking me about joining the Lodge. He was very interested, and every time I saw him he asked me about it. I’d given him a petition, and I fully expected him to petition our Lodge. He was exactly what we’re looking for in a member. He was young. Married with a young family started. He was active in church and in his community. He would have been a fantastic addition to our Fraternity. But he never returned the petition. I called and asked him about it, and he said he was thinking about it—I never heard back, and I had a bad feeling about it. I ran into him and his wife a couple months later, and I asked him again about it, and it was pretty obvious that he was uncomfortable talking about it in front of his wife. A few days later he shows up at my house to explain. His wife had some friends that were Masons, and she looked them up on social media. He showed me the pictures—a group of Masons holding their hands up so you could see their rings while at either a strip club or a bar somewhere. Women sitting on their laps that weren’t their wives. Huge pile of beer cans on the table. You get the picture.
Now you may know that most Masons don’t act like that. I may know that most Masons don’t act like that. But you’ve got almost no chance of ever convincing that guy Masons don’t act like that, and zero chance of ever convincing his wife that he should join. I’ve seen them a number of times since and they completely avoid me. You know why? It's because they think I’m a member of some club that parties and drinks in strip clubs and they don't want to be associated with me. I’m not, but that’s the perception. I wonder how many other people out there see stuff like that and think that about Masons they know.
I’m studying for Christian ministry, and my wife runs across this stuff on social media every so often—so do I. It concerns us both. She asked me not long ago if I was going to have to demit from Freemasonry at some point—are people going to think Freemasonry is some far left or far right political group based on the vitriolic political debates a few very visible members engage in? Are people going to think Freemasonry is some kind of drinking or party club based on the behavior of a few very visible members. It’s a good question, and one I don't have an answer for right now. We live in a different era now, and the conduct of a few can have such a huge impact. I hope the answer is no, but if I have to choose between serving God in the future or remaining a member of the Fraternity, the decision will be extremely painful, but easy to make.
My second wish for the Fraternity in 2021 is we start taking our reputation more seriously and start managing it better before a few bad apples spoil the entire barrel.
Get Back To The Membership
I wrote a piece years ago Freemasonry’s Obsession With Empty Chairs. Sadly very little has changed. We’re always looking around our meetings at all those empty seats and wondering why there aren’t Masons sitting in them. We wonder why our new Masons come to our meetings and then stop showing up. Every year at this time as I’m sending out dues notices for my Lodge and go over all those Masons I have on my roster that used to be active and now owe more than a year or two worth of dues I wonder why they stopped being active. I’ll even call these members up and touch base with them. I never get a real answer. I know that. It’s always “well, I got busy” or “it conflicts with another obligation I have.” But it comes down to the same thing. Whatever they were getting out of it before, they were no longer getting. Like a wise member of my Lodge has said for years, “when they stop having fun, they’ll stop coming.”
And with our new members—those ones that we just raised and are so excited in the beginning, and then vanish all the sudden. That’s easy to figure out, too. Whatever they thought our Fraternity was about didn’t meet the expectation. I totally get that. It didn’t meet mine either, but with friends like Greg Knott who joined the Lodge about the same time I did, we found a niche. We made our expectation a reality by bringing a little less boring meeting and a little more Masonic education to the Lodge. We were lucky because our Lodge was open to it, and wanted to encourage us in our journey—in many places that simply isn’t the case. I’m sure if it weren’t for that bit of luck and that openness to allowing us to share what we were reading and learning neither of us would be active Masons today.
I was appointed the State Masonic Education Officer serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois A. F. & A. M. back in October—haven’t done a lot yet, but the Grand Master put me in that spot knowing I had a heavy class load and wouldn’t really get started until after the finals were over in December. But we’re going to get rolling now. The focus of the majority of our efforts will be on that brand new member—getting that new Master Mason engaged. That's the starting point right there.
Every active Master Mason I know was engaged from the moment he knocked on that door. Masonic education was almost non-existent when I joined my Lodge (and my definition is education that falls outside the realm of ritual instruction). What we did have was ritual instruction given by a grumpy and meticulous man name Jackson Cline. We not only learned when to turn right and when to turn left, and how, but we also learned why. And it was fascinating. And we had a few young guys that were all about learning that ritual—the name that comes to mind is Sean McBride. He was more than a decade my junior, yet became and still remains a mentor of mine. About every Masonic organization I’m a member of right now you can track back in one way or another to this young mentor of mine, Sean McBride. And this enthusiasm of Jackson Cline (WWII era) and this young guy Sean McBride lead me, and a few others to dig in and learn more about that ritual, and the history, and our values, and the application of those teachings . . . and we discovered vast libraries of information that almost nobody else in my Lodge had any interest in at all--until we started sharing it. And when you get even a couple two or three or four guys enthusiastic about learning, it becomes a snowball rolling downhill.
And that’s my final wish for 2021. That we get back to the basics—back to bringing in new members and getting them engaged, getting them excited about not only improving themselves, but in helping others do the same thing. When you can do that, the good that comes as a result reach far outside the walls of that Lodge.
Have a great 2021!
Todd E. Creason, 33° is the Founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog and is a regular contributor. He is the award-winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is a Past Master Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL) where he currently serves as Secretary. He is a Past Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. He is a Fellow at the Missouri Lodge of Research. (FMLR). He is a charter member of Admiration Chapter No. 282 and a Past EHP. He currently serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois A.F. & A.M. as the Chairman of the Masonic Education Committee and State Education Officer.