Pause for thought and Congratulations!

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Jack Heide

The recent announcement by Universal Co-Masonry through social media of their work of a beautiful new archives building in Larkspur, Colorado is an inspiring development that highlights the continued growth and vitality within certain sectors of Freemasonry. Universal Co-Masonry, which admits both men and women, has seen steady expansion in recent years even as many “mainstream” Grand Lodges have struggled with declining membership, lodge closures, and consolidation.

The fact that Universal Co-Masonry is investing in new infrastructure and has the resources to build a dedicated archives facility is a testament to the health of their organization. It demonstrates that there remains an eager population seeking out the fellowship, ritual, and teachings that Freemasonry provides.

Moreover, while the archives building represents physical growth, it is also indicative of broader success across various facets of the organization. The ability to undertake such a project suggests financial stability, effective leadership, and an engaged membership base. It prompts one to consider when “mainstream” Freemasonry last experienced growth driven by genuine increases in membership, rather than focusing on retention or trying to get more people in the door regardless of their suitability or commitment to Masonic principles.

However, most “mainstream” Grand Lodges would consider Universal Co-Masonry to be "clandestine" since it does not conform to their standards of recognition and ancient landmarks, particularly in its inclusion of female members. This raises thought-provoking questions about the future trajectory of Freemasonry.

As overall interest in joining fraternal organizations has waned in recent decades, many “mainstream” Lodges have struggled to attract new members, especially younger ones. Aging member bases, lack of public awareness, and failure to adapt to changing social norms and expectations have contributed to this decline. If these trends continue unabated, Freemasonry as practiced by “mainstream” Grand Lodges risks fading into obscurity.

So what lessons can be drawn from the comparative success of Universal Co-Masonry?

Inclusivity seems to play a key role. By welcoming female members, Universal Co-Masonry expands its potential pool of recruits and projects a more modern, equitable image that aligns with contemporary social values. This approach not only boosts numbers but also infuses the organization with fresh perspectives and talent. However, admitting women would be a seismic shift for “mainstream” Freemasonry, challenging centuries of tradition and potentially causing significant internal dissent. “Mainstream” Lodges might consider more incremental steps, such as partnering with women's auxiliaries or sponsoring inclusive community events, to signal openness without radically altering their core structure. Or even, going out on limb here, maybe recognize women-only masonic lodges and grand lodges, so there is modern parity and status with male lodges and grand lodges. 

Flexibility and openness to change appear to be important factors. While “mainstream” Lodges often strictly adhere to long-standing traditions and membership requirements, Universal Co-Masonry seems more willing to innovate and adapt. Reexamining entrenched practices and restrictions could help “mainstream” Lodges remove barriers to growth and relevance. Yet too much change risks diluting the unique identity and heritage of Freemasonry. A balanced approach might involve carefully evaluating which traditions are essential to preserve and which could be modified to better serve current needs and aspirations.

Proactive outreach and public engagement can make a significant difference. Many “mainstream” Lodges have struggled with a lack of public awareness and understanding about Freemasonry, allowing misconceptions to proliferate. Universal Co-Masonry likely benefits from more effective communication strategies that raise its profile and transmit a positive message to potential members. However, excessive publicity or aggressive recruitment tactics could undermine the mystique and selectivity associated with Masonry. “mainstream” Lodges might focus on targeted outreach emphasizing their charitable works, community involvement, and personal development opportunities, while still maintaining a degree of discretion.

Providing a clear value proposition is critical in an era of countless competing demands on people's time and attention. Universal Co-Masonry seems to be successfully conveying the tangible benefits of membership, whether through fulfilling social connections, personal development programs, meaningful charitable work, or esoteric education. “mainstream” Lodges must ensure they are offering similarly compelling reasons to join and remain involved. At the same time, they should be wary of trend-chasing or diluting their core identity in an attempt to appeal to every possible audience. Striking a balance may involve focusing on the unique transformative aspects of Masonic ritual and teachings while finding fresh ways to apply them to contemporary challenges and interests.

In navigating these considerations, “mainstream” Freemasonry might benefit from adopting a "Resist-Accept-Direct" framework. The concept of Resist-Accept-Direct, as applied to organizational change and strategic planning, appears to have originated within the field of future studies and foresight. It has been used by various futurists, strategists, and consultants as a framework for helping organizations navigate complex, uncertain, and rapidly changing environments. The framework involves asking three key questions: What do we preserve? What do we allow to change? And what do we purposefully change?

The first question, "What do we preserve?" calls for clear identification and fierce protection of the core elements of Masonic tradition, ritual, and teachings that define the Craft's distinct identity. These might include the essential initiatic experiences, the use of symbols and allegory to convey moral and spiritual lessons, and the emphasis on personal growth and brotherly love. By resisting any dilution or alteration of these fundamental aspects, Lodges ensures that Freemasonry remains a unique and transformative path for those who seek it out.

The second question, "What do we allow to change?" recognizes that some degree of organic evolution is natural and even necessary for Freemasonry to remain relevant in changing times. This might encompass gradual shifts in the demographics of membership, the incorporation of new technologies in Lodge operations and communications, or the updating of certain ceremonial elements to reflect contemporary language and sensibilities. The key is to accept these changes gracefully when they arise from within the Craft while ensuring they do not compromise the essential nature and purpose of Masonry.

The third question, "What do we purposefully change?" advocates for proactive, intentional initiatives to address areas where Freemasonry has struggled to adapt. For example, Lodges might choose to purposefully change their public outreach strategies, developing a more engaging online presence, participating in community events, and collaborating with local organizations to showcase the positive impact of Masonry. They might purposefully change their membership processes, streamline application procedures, offer flexible dues structures, and create mentorship programs to better integrate and retain new brothers. Or they might purposefully change their leadership development approach, providing training in modern management techniques and encouraging younger members to take on progressive roles and responsibilities.

“Mainstream” Freemasonry could begin to address these questions through a thoughtful and inclusive process of self-assessment and strategic planning. This might involve surveying members to gather insights on what they value most about the Craft and where they see opportunities for improvement. It could include forming study groups or task forces to examine specific issues and propose recommendations for change. It would certainly require open and honest dialogue among Lodge leaders and members, as well as a willingness to experiment with new approaches and learn from the successes and challenges of other jurisdictions.

Importantly, this process should be guided by a shared commitment to preserving the timeless essence of Freemasonry while also ensuring its continued vitality and relevance. By striking a balance between resistance and acceptance, tradition and innovation, “mainstream” Lodges can chart a purposeful course toward a stronger, more vibrant future.

By identifying the core elements of Masonic tradition, ritual, and teachings that must be zealously guarded, Lodges can ensure they maintain a distinct identity rooted in centuries of history and wisdom. At the same time, acknowledging areas where flexibility and organic evolution can be accommodated allows for gradual adaptation to changing social contexts without forcing the issue. Finally, proactively initiating certain changes, such as in the areas of public outreach, membership processes, or leadership development, affords Lodges greater control over their future direction.

Ultimately, the path forward for “mainstream” Grand Lodges is not an easy one, but it may require taking inspiration from the success stories in Masonry, even if they come from unfamiliar or unrecognized quarters. The Universal Co-Masonry archives project is a reminder that Freemasonry still holds appeal and relevance for many. The question is whether “mainstream” Lodges can adapt to tap into that potential before it is too late. By carefully weighing the pros and cons of different approaches, seeking a middle path between tradition and innovation, and applying a framework of purposeful change balanced with preservation of core identity, “mainstream” Freemasonry may yet find a way to thrive in the 21st century.

No matter the current direction of any Masonic organization, I give hearty congratulations to Universal Co-Masonry and all their current and future endeavors!


Jack Heide is Junior Deacon of Beverly-Riverside Lodge No. 107 in Riverside, New Jersey. He holds a Masters of Community and Regional Planning degree from the University of Oregon, and Masters in Homeland Security and Defense from the Naval Postgraduate School. He works in the field of emergency management in the New York, New Jersey Region, where he resides with wife and daughter.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.