William A. Hill, 33

With generation Xers exploring cultural lifestyles of the 1920s and 1930s, can interest in grand-father’s fraternity be far behind?

Membership is much on the minds of Masonic leadership whether in the Blue Lodge, Scottish Rite, York Rite, or the Shrine. One can hardly pick up a Masonic publication without coming across articles either bemoaning declining membership or proposing various ways of reviving enthusiasm for the Craft.

Many of these articles point to a waning interest among American men in joining fraternal organizations. Perhaps bleakest of the projections are findings of a research study commissioned by the Shrine and undertaken by Louis Harris & Associates. The picture painted by this study is grim, for it reveals that nearly 76 percent of the polled sample are not involved in any clubs, civic organizations or societies, and only one in ten regards a fraternity-type organization as appealing.

Most unappealing to those in the survey sample were male-only memberships, distinctive dress, and challenging membership requirements. Bleak indeed! Bleak---until you learn that the age group of the men sampled was 35 to 55. On this point, the grim projections of the study can be overcome.

Let’s take the age group down a notch to age 18 to 25. Here we have a remarkable trend taking place which has been only touched upon by observers of cultural and societal change. Some have witnessed, however, that young people in this age bracket are reaching back to identify with an earlier time in American society. A recent Atlantic Monthly magazine, for instance, highlighted significant lifestyle changes by pointing to a renewed interest in the more staid and glamorous pre-World War II period.

It noted that among so-called “generation Xers” there is a strong backlash against such things as 60s rock-n-roll and slovenly dress and that this group of young people is resurrecting a lifestyle more familiar to their grandparents than to their parents. No more beer busts. Instead, they are interested in martinis and Manhattans and big band dance music.

Perhaps another harbinger of this retro lifestyle is the incredible resurgence of the cigar. Not that all these trends are in themselves good, but doesn’t it suggest generation Xers are exploring and examining cultural lifestyles of the 1920s and 1930s? Can interest in their grandfather’s fraternity be far behind?

Clearly, young people in this age bracket are searching for an element of elegance and meaningful societal and social intercourse that has been lost for nearly a generation. Today’s generation is removed from Vietnam, from Jimmy Hendrix, the Doors, and protest movements. They are interested in, or at least searching for, something else. One young man in explaining his interest in a more refined lifestyle said, “I don’t understand my father, but I sure understand my grandfather.”

So where are we to find such young men? And how do we know their attitude will be any different towards fraternal organizations than that of the sampled 35 to 55-year-olds? The answer is as close as the nearest chapter of a college fraternity. Collegiate fraternity membership is on the ascendancy nationally bringing with it a youthful acquaintance and an appreciation for the very things maligned by the older group---male only, distinctive dress, precise ritual for membership. Thus the active initiate of a college fraternity has a natural affinity for the trappings of fraternal organizations like Freemasonry. Moreover, many of our collegiate fraternities can trace their ritual to a common Masonic origin.

There are many ways we can capitalize on this natural affinity, this historical relationship, between Freemasonry and the collegiate fraternity.

My own college fraternity, which is dear to my heart and of which I am most familiar, was founded in 1868 at the Virginia Military Institute by three members of the 1870 graduating class. One of the three, James Frank Hopkins, a Confederate veteran, was a Freemason, and to him fell the task of drafting the fraternity’s initiation ritual.

Thus, the tenets of Freemasonry, thinly veiled, found their way into the initiation ritual of Sigma Nu and remain essentially unchanged today. Both Alpha Tau Omega and Sigma Chi also have Masonic roots as do many other fraternities. Consequently, in a sense, initiates of college fraternities are already “friends and brothers.” By pledging a fraternity, they have already demonstrated an interest, and by becoming active, they have been exposed to ritual initiation.

So how do we capitalize on this natural affinity, this historical relationship between Freemasonry and the collegiate fraternity?

The Freemasons in Fargo, North Dakota, have, for a number of years, made the Masonic Temple available to college fraternities and encouraged use of the facility for meetings and initiation ritual work. Sigma Nu has eagerly accepted this offer as have others. Typically, the building is opened by a Masonic alumnus of the particular fraternity who then sits in during the initiation. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Masonic alumnus gives a brief talk on the fraternal relationship and Freemasonry. We ask visiting fraternity members to sign a guest book and encourage them to take informational materials home with them. This program has been received very well.

This year, our objective of cementing a relationship was taken a step further through the efforts of Shiloh Lodge No. 1. To impress on college-age men the value of Masonic membership, the Lodge, under the leadership of Worshipful Master Stanley A. Jordahl, 32, hosted a Friday evening dinner attended by members of Sigma Nu, Alpha Tau Omega, and Sigma Chi as well as Brother Masons. Seated at a head table were the current president of each fraternity alongside the Masonic alumnus.

After a great dinner, a film depicting the philosophy of Freemasonry was shown, and each Masonic alumnus spoke briefly on the relationship between his college fraternity and Freemasonry. Various publications were distributed and the floor opened to questions. Following this, the college men were conducted on a tour of the building and again encouraged to ask questions. What was remarkable was the easy relationship between these young men, not more than 21 or 22 years old, and the Masons in attendance---most over 40.

The fraternity members were obviously interested in pursuing what they had only just touched upon in their college fraternity and were anxious to find out more about progressing through the Masonic Orders. The evening closed with willing fraternity men being given petitions along with encouragement to petition a Lodge, if not Shiloh No. 1, then a Lodge in whatever community their career or business might eventually take them.

I left the evening convinced that a vast untapped and largely ignored pool of young men exists, men who are not only not turned off by fraternal societies but are practically halfway to Masonic membership already! The members of collegiate fraternities are a vast membership resource easily pursued. I encourage other Masonic organizations to follow Fargo’s example. Any Lodge located in a college community has practically on its doorstep a generation of interested young men.

Identify those of your membership who are alumni of college fraternities and, with them, organize a program to bring the fraternities’ brothers into the Masonic Lodge or Temple. You will be amazed to discover that we, in a sense, already know them and they know us.

Please remember the Scottish Rite Foundation, S.J., USA,
with your gifts and in your will, 1-800-486-3331.