E. Fletcher, 33
Masonic Service Association of North America
How we bring members into the Fraternity is far less important than what we do with them afterwards.
“You gotta be kidding. Me? Attend Lodge? No way! I’d rather have root canal than go down and listen to those guys waste my time opening, reading the minutes, reviewing bills, closing, and then having to face lukewarm coffee and store-bought pie before I can go home.”
Sound familiar? You can even add your own particular anecdote about why Masons don’t attend Lodge. But they all come out the same; Freemasons would rather do almost anything than go to Lodge. We have made “Lodge night” the least important date in our calendar. So, why are we staying away in droves?
First, we ought to define the term Lodge. My personal definition is “The Lodge is our oasis, a place where we go to be refreshed and to take what we learn back into the world.” The Lodge is not just the building. More importantly, the Lodge is the place for Masons to experience moral, emotional, educational, and creative opportunities that enrich not only our own lives, but also the lives of those with whom we come in contact.
-Moral because every Lodge is centered on God;
-Emotional because we derive happiness from making new Freemasons and contributing to many charitable activities;
-Educational because we learn from our Ritual and lectures and charges;
-Creative because we are encouraged to think and put our ideas to work.
The place where all these things come together is in the Lodge, the center of our Masonic universe.
How are Lodges perceived today?
Remember those Brothers who used to say “I became a Freemason because I watched all of the men in town that I respected going upstairs and through the door into a room. I didn’t know what they were doing, but I knew those men, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that group.”
Those men were going to Lodge, and it was noticed. You don’t hear that kind of statement very much anymore, and there are many reasons why. For one thing, Lodges are much larger. If you have a membership of 20 to 50, everybody knows each other, but when you start getting into the hundreds, then you tend to lose close person-to-person contact. Also, we are a transient society moving about constantly. Just a few generations ago, we seldom moved from the town in which we were born, and then our move was usually only somewhere else in the same county. Nowadays, people tend to move before you get a chance to really know them.
There are many reasons that could be given why Freemasons are not noticed the way they used to be. But the most important one is that Masons simply are not out there, where we can be seen, the way we used to be, not just going to Lodge but in the work Lodges used to do in the community-visiting the sick and afflicted, caring for the widows and orphans, and helping our neighbors. The Masonic basics are rarely on the agenda today.
What happened? Tragically the ones that used to help us in Lodge either are not there anymore or are not used any more. The help we used to receive from and give to each other is too often forgotten or neglected. The virtue of helping each other does not seem very important nowadays, yet once it was a central point of Lodge activities.
Why is Lodge attendance important?
The real answer is that, regardless of how many Masons attend, they are the ones who will carry on the work of Freemasonry. They are the ones who are involved in charitable activities, in calling on sick and distressed Brothers, and in supporting Lodge-sponsored community activities and other Lodge programs. So, the more members attending Lodge, the more work we will be able to accomplish.
What is being done today to stimulate Lodge attendance?
Faced with declining membership, most Grand Lodges are pouring their energies into new members. If you track membership decline, you will find that demits and NPDs just about equal deaths. We can do nothing about death, but thousands of Masons leave the Fraternity each year either by simply refusing to pay their dues or by requesting a demit.
The price of this neglect is that no matter how many new members we bring in, they simply do not equal the numbers leaving. In fact the concept of one-day classes, however successful, may simply be building the next generation’s NPDs and demits if we do not find ways to keep these new members interested and active. How we bring members into the Fraternity is far less important than what we do with them afterwards.
Even so, our emphasis has been on finding ways to encourage new members while ignoring the ones we already have!
Is there anything we can really do?
Simply increasing membership is not enough. We have to interest the new Mason so that he will want to continue Masonic activity after taking the Degrees. The only way we can do that is to make ourselves better informed about what our Fraternity is all about and what Masons are trying to accomplish. This is not an easy commitment. It requires time, time, time, and in an era where no one believes he has any time to spare, the vital contribution Freemasons make has got to be stressed.
That’s a start. The real answer is even more basic. The teachings of Freemasonry and its ability to be a significant force for good in the community and nation have to be communicated to our new and, just as importantly, to our existing members. To suggest that there are overnight cures is simply misunder- standing the 40 to 50 years of benign neglect our Fraternity has experienced.
Quite honestly, Freemasons will have to accept a fundamental tenet of our Fraternity. Being a Mason requires commitment, especially commitments of time and effort.
Let’s stop telling men how easy it is to join and how they don’t have to learn or memorize anything-just show up! That is not what being a Mason is all about. It requires an effort to learn and then to share what we have learned with others. We have to teach Masons to be Masons and not just members.
Freemasons helped build democracy in both the United States and Canada. We can now play a vital role in rebuilding our nations from the valueless societies we are becoming into strong, just, and caring countries.
Ethics and morality are not just Masonic values; they are community values. Expressing these values by living them, each Freemason can, by example, raise his nation’s standards of conduct and behavior. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen if enough Freemasons make that commitment. It would also produce the kind of Masons who would enjoy going to Lodge.
Wouldn’t it be great to hear these words? “You gotta be kidding! I can’t go to the game, it’s my Lodge night!”
This article is the text, shortened, of an invited
address given by Ill. Fletcher upon his official selection as a Blue Friar
at the annual meeting of The Society of Blue Friars in Washington, DC,
on February 21, 1997. Formed in 1932, the Society honors outstanding Masonic
writers and presently consists of 21 members, inclusive of Ill. Joseph
A. Walkes, 33, P.H.A., who was selected along with Ill. Fletcher for membership
in 1997. Brother Wallace E. McLeod, noted Canadian scholar and expert in
Latin, has headed the Society as its Grand Abbot since 1991. Blue in Blue
Friar is a reference to the traditional color of Craft Freemasonry, and
Friar derives from the Latin frater, brother, and refers to the medieval
friars, members of several orders, often monks, whose main duty was writing.