H. Douglas Lemons, 33
S.G.I.G. in California
Lieutenant Grand Commander
From a time before I can remember, perhaps even time immemorial, it has been the custom on the occasion of this Biennial Session of The Supreme Council for the Lieutenant Grand Commander to rise for the report of the State of the Order Committee and with charm, dignity, and eloquence cast our great Fraternity in the best possible light. Perhaps with a desire to encourage the Brethren of this Supreme Council, rose-colored glasses were dispensed to everyone in attendance in order that we might all view the Southern Jurisdiction in its rosiest perspective.
Illustrious H. Douglas Lemons, 33
Having absolutely no desire to cast a pall over the festivities or dampen the warmth of the camaraderie, pancake make-up, rouge, and powder were plentifully applied to the face of our institution that it might be viewed through the afterglow of former days of growth, prosperity, and optimism. You will note, for the record, that I do not begin this necessary message by dispensing rose-colored glasses, and the only make- up kit with which I’m familiar was left behind in the green room in the Valley of Long Beach.
Nor do I rise on this occasion with any pessimism. Indeed, I am the most optimistic man alive concerning the future of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. I am, however, a realist! Before any of us were born, someone said, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” The figures are clear, precise and discouraging, and honesty dictates that I must speak the truth.
Our ancient Craft has consistently lost members over the past 16 years! There are more excuses for our declining membership than Carter has liver pills. Everyone of them is logical, practical, and flattering to us, and none of them are of any value! The road to failure is paved with excuses and explanations. The road to success is populated by a few men with vision, foresight, dedication, and commitment.
When I view the present state of our declining membership, I’m reminded of a visitor to a small country village who stopped for a conversation with a local minister who was mowing the lawn in front of the church. The visitor inquired as to the success of the pastor’s ministry, to which the minister replied, “Our attendance is simply lousy, but, thank God, none of the other churches in town are doing any better.” We somehow seem to gather some comfort from the fact that Blue Lodges, the Knights of Columbus, Kiwanis, and Lions Clubs are all suffering with declining memberships.
I find no comfort whatsoever in these statistics, and neither should any Mason. Our Rite is special. So has it always been. We are leaders, not followers. Such has always been the case--until now! What in the world has brought us to this point of apathy and resignation?
Perhaps it can be attributed to, if nothing else, the fact that every third “Masonic scholar” in America has gone on record by stating that our applications for membership have simply not kept pace with the deaths in our Fraternity. That’s just not true! For the most part, new applicants have kept pace with the death rate. Even at our anemic pace, we have garnered, in some instances, more new members than we have recorded deaths.
We have, however, patently ignored, for the most part, a larger number of members who have been dismissed from our Valleys as a result of suspensions for non-payment of dues. We seem willing to move the Rock of Gibraltar to gain a new member while complacently suspending thousands of men from our Fraternity with whom no member of the Valley has had a face-to-face discussion for a decade or more. This cavalier infection of carelessness has spread through the Blue Lodge and Concordant and Appendant Bodies of Freemasonry. But it need not be tolerated by the Scottish Rite. Now concerning the matter of new members, is it not of interest to us that across the expanse of the Southern Jurisdiction there are literally hundreds of thousands of Masons who have never been invited to join the Rite? You can calculate it by Valley, by Orient, or by the entire Jurisdiction.
The figures remain rather consistent. Nearly two thirds of all the Freemasons in our Jurisdiction are potential members of the Rite. Perhaps half of that number are too old to care any longer about membership in the Rite. Perhaps another 25 percent are unidentifiable floating Masons, having left the area of their home Lodge and settled in a new community. If they are unreachable, and I’m not convinced that is so, there still remain hundreds of thousands of prospective new members who have never been asked to join the Scottish Rite.
I know. We have sent them thousands of letters they have ignored or thrown in the trash can; we have sent them notices of great, grand and glorious Reunions, and they have dispensed with them in the same fashion. We have concocted schemes, pro- grams, and plans for renewal, revitalization, and inspiration. And when those grand and glorious plans did not work, we have thrown yet more thousands of dollars on the schemes. And the glorious schemes, even dressed up in our hundreds of thousands of dollars, have been no more successful than the old programs we had concocted in the past! If we’re going to throw something at the problem, let’s not throw dollars. Let’s throw the burning hearts of dedicated men who stand ready to serve the Rite if only asked to do so!
One of the reasons we are so enamored of grand and glorious plans and schemes is our desire to let somebody or something else get the job done, while we complacently receive the adulation of the masses and bask in the glory of titles and honors, without ever turning a hand. There is no free lunch. There never has been. There never will be. If we want it, we had better be prepared to work for it. If we’re willing to work for it, we’d better be prepared to spend some honest time and effort. And if the crowd we’re leading is not doing the job, we need to get a new crowd. We need to recruit from our Valleys and our Orients the young men who have been ignored and commission them to succeed. We must eagerly seek the Masters of the Royal Secret who burn with desire to distinguish themselves in our Fraternity, and set them to work with our blessing and authority.
We can no longer afford the luxury of basking in the greatness of accomplishments long since forgotten. We can no longer afford the luxury of congratulating, awarding, and honoring one another for victories accomplished in another decade. The executive walk and the executive talk will simply no longer “cut it” in this day and age. We need foot soldiers. Complacency and resignation are not acceptable. Pessimism and apathy are liabilities we can no longer afford.
Reading and re-reading all the reports from the Orients will convince anyone of the simple fact that Freemasonry is burning with energy and vitality in those Valleys where the leadership has involved the membership in programs involving the Blue Lodge, the Shrine, and the community! Please do not focus your attention only on the one-day classes! The one-day classes are merely a single example of a Valley, Orient, or Grand Lodge catching a vision of Masonry working together. There are examples, and they abound, where Scottish Rite leaders have recognized several basic, fundamental facts:
-The cradle of Freemasonry is the Symbolic Lodge. It must survive and prosper for Masonry to succeed.
-If Freemasonry does not touch the community with its activities and services, our image will continue to diminish and so, too, will our membership.
-Everything starts with leadership! A Valley will not rise above the ability, dedication and commitment of its Personal Representative, nor will an Orient ever have a vision until that vision is first seen by the Orient’s S.G.I.G. or Deputy.
-While this organization is a hierarchy, the authority and responsibility vested in a hierarchy is most efficiently disseminated through the largest possible number of responsible individuals being empowered to accomplish a required task.
For far too long, we have continued to do what we’ve done before without adding anything new. Society has, in its headlong rush for instant gratification, left us sitting in our Lodges, Temples, and Scottish Rite Centers with the same bunker mentality that has driven us to this exasperating point in time.
You, I, and every leader of the Rite are aware of the statistical information available through our record-keeping systems. Starting in 1980, our Rite has declined, for the most part, at an increasing percentile each succeeding year. While we were losing only two percent of our membership per year in the mid- 1980s, it has grown closer to 10 percent per year as time has progressed. Though there are exceptions to the rule, large Valleys tend to lose members at a greater percentile rate than smaller Valleys. We can learn from this. The larger the Valleys, the thinner we spread our leadership. We have the same four heads of Bodies in a Valley numbering 5,000 as we have in a Valley numbering 200.
In many instances, where the organizational structure of the Orients and Valleys has not accommodated the size, we have neglected the membership for lack of leadership participation. It may be true that social and economic situations have propelled, and even dictated, the losses we have experienced. But we simply can no longer afford to stand aside and ignore a membership in full retreat! We cannot resign ourselves to failure. We cannot accept these losses without mounting a full-fledged army to combat this problem.
We must expand our leadership. In many instances, we have too long worn out the same willing leaders and, in so doing, have not only killed the enthusiasm of those who have dedicated their lives to working in the vineyards of Masonry, but denied opportunities to those who have passed through our portals receiving our Degrees and slipping into obscurity, never to be seen again because no one was willing to recruit the new young talent while it was available. We have allowed this to happen because of apathy, laziness, and a sense of self-satisfaction. We can no longer afford those vile vices!
We must marshall our forces now or risk an even steeper decline in the very near future! We need to organize the activities of our Valleys and populate them with members who have never, ever served the Rite before. We don’t know who those members are; we don’t know where they live; we don’t know their talent; and, most of all, we don’t know their willingness to serve because we’ve never become acquainted with them. We’ve never taken the time to meet them, converse with them, or inquire as to their dreams and aspirations for participation in the Rite.
We have made advancement a far too difficult endeavor, often waiting over half a decade until a man is invested with the Rank and Decoration of Knight Commander before we employ him in a leadership capacity.
We have professional men passing through our doors with leadership ability of which we have no familiarity. We must mount an offensive using the leaders we trust to identify allies among that group of forgotten members whose only participation is paying dues. This will require work and more work; labor and more labor; hours and more hours. It will involve organizing, structuring, planning, training, checking, and re-checking upon the organizational structure and ever broadening its reach.
The most despicable sign we see is the canceling of programs once a bastion of our success and not replacing them with programs suited for the present. Our muscles are becoming atrophied; our cardiovascular system is being restricted because of a general lack of exercise. We have taken the easy route, and it’s all downhill.
If we reverse our trend, it will be because we have many men on the oars, fighting the tide of failure and decline. We must identify captains and sub-captains, the team leaders, the supervisors, and the overseers. We can no longer afford the luxury of calling a few worn-out honor men and, again, commissioning them to accomplish a task requiring a dozen men. We must recruit new leaders from among our Masters of the Royal Secret. On a brighter note, many thousand children have been blessed with the gift of communication through our Scottish Rite Childhood Language Disorders Clinics, Centers, and Programs across the nation.
This charity is a legacy for which our Rite will always be justly proud. I have deliberately not dealt for any length of time on these marvelous accomplishments wrought through so many hours of gracious, tender care because, while it is of paramount importance, we must at long last, come to grips with the more important subject of our survival. I am confident that, once awakened, this mighty organization will reclaim the ground we have lost, raise banners in a stiff wind, and rightly reclaim our needed spot in society.