by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners
I recently found myself in a situation where I discovered several items which I felt could either be considered using terms that could be considered offensive or put Freemasonry in a bad light in a Short Talk Bulletin that my Grand Lodge was using as a recruitment tool, asking its members to direct potential candidates to listen to the Short Talk Podcast highlighting this Bulletin or to read the Short Talk Bulletin. Instead of doing what I would normally do, which would be to write a blog post about it, I tried to work within the system. I emailed the Brother responsible for sending out the email, pointing out what was wrong with using an almost 70-year-old short talk bulletin and how it was offensive and/or highlighting Masonic historical accomplishments that it shouldn't have been highlighting. I urged the brother to run historical facts past the Grand Lodge Education Committee (of which I am a member..well maybe not for long after this article) in the future so that we might be able to fact-check the information in any old materials of this nature that they might want to use in the future. The reply I received was short, but I have to believe in good faith that my wise counsel might find a nest in that brother's mind and that we might be able to partner in the future.
I don't know what reply I expected, or if I expected a reply at all. I certainly knew that they would not send an email to explain that there were things wrong with the Short Talk Bulletin and for everyone to cease using it. By the time I had actually emailed the brother, the Short Talk Bulletin had been in use for this purpose for a month. So I understand that it might be a little too late to send out a retraction or disclaimer regarding the bulletin. If it costs us a member or two, so be it. As the email proudly pointed out, my jurisdiction is the 4th largest Masonic grand jurisdiction in the United States (based on membership size). What it fails to mention is that a large percentage of this membership will be lost in the next 10 to 20 years, not only in my Grand Jurisdiction but across the United States as a whole. If the data that WB Jon Ruark has put out is to be believed, we'll hit 0 around 2040.
While I don't really believe that we'll hit zero, in the next 10 years, I think we will see a lot of changes. While I often hear the constant comparison of Freemasonry going the way of the Oddfellows, as an Oddfellow as well, I think we should be pleased to compare ourselves to the Oddfellows. They are much better positioned due to their membership requirements than Freemasonry. I dare say that we might reach a point where the Oddfellows have more members than the Freemasons. This is because the Oddfellows have been seeing growth in both the Gen-Z and Millenial demographics. Don't get me wrong, I have members of my lodges that are in this demographic, however, they make up a small percentage of my lodges compared to the Silent Generation, Boomers, and Gen-X'ers. In the Oddfellows lodge, that I belong to, the Gen-Z's and Millenials make up the majority of the members. Extrapolating this out, you can do the math. Assuming that we have similar rates of attrition, the attrition is going to impact us a whole lot more than them because we have a larger membership. I'll now allow you to pick your chin up from the floor now.
So what can be done? I'm glad you asked. If you care about Freemasonry, we need to start changing how we operate from the top down and the bottom up. In many jurisdictions, the elections are often contested with several candidates running for Grand Line Offices, yet in many more, they are not. This is the same at the Lodge level. We continue to shuffle leadership forward in the progressive line because they are the next in line. We don't really ask if they are the best Mason for the job, nor do we come up with alternative candidates that might actually help break us out of our own echo chamber.
We have to change this. We need to start identifying and electing leaders that are against the status quo and that are willing to make change, not for change's sake, but because they recognize that we must change right now in order to keep Freemasonry alive. Every election we hold in our lodges and Grand Lodges should be contested contests. Yes, I understand that if your lodges are anything like my lodges, then you're lucky to even make quorum from month to month. So maybe this is impossible. This leads me to my next point.
In my case, I'm a plural member of a few lodges in order to keep their doors open. In fact, the plural lodge I belong to, where I am currently Worshipful Master, is gaining membership. I think that right now, every lodge that is having issues with quorum needs to look itself in the mirror and say to itself, I'm giving this 5 years. If we've not turned the lodge around by 2027, we need to look to merge with another lodge. We need to realize that this is most likely the future, where in many rural counties or Masonic districts, there will be one or two lodges that are operating. In metropolitan areas, this number might be slightly higher. I feel that having fewer lodges with more active membership is a better recipe for success than having 10 lodges all struggling to make a quorum.
In merging lodges, we would be able to elect the most deserving members to positions of leadership, instead of continuing the rollercoaster of the Progressive Line, because we would have more members to choose from. The hope then would be that this would impact the Grand Lodge elections as well. You would see a membership that was used to electing the best Freemasons for the job instead of shuffling the progressive line forward, which is the case now.
However, all of this is dependent upon you. You need to understand that change begins with you. So if you're reading this, I hope that it inspires you to start looking around and seeing the direction of Freemasonry and trying to change the trajectory. We need to start fighting for changes in our lodges and Grand Lodges because the status quo isn't working. When we look around at the state of the world, our values of are needed now more than ever. We need to start promoting ourselves as being a refuge from the 24x7 news cycle, political, and religious discussion and hold true to keeping those dividing forces from infiltrating our lodges. We need to start identifying men that are willing to work on themselves and bring our philosophy into the profane world by living by our principles. I truly believe that this is our path forward. But we can't do this without you. Be the change.
WB Darin A. Lahners is our Co-Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s also a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine, and a grade one (Zelator) in the S.C.R.I.F. Prairieland College in Illinois. He is also a Fellow of the Illinois Lodge of Research. He was presented with the Torok Award from the Illinois Lodge of Research in 2021. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.