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Freemasonry Is Dying

Once you can get yourself to accept the fact that Freemasonry is Dying, then perhaps some progress can be made in downsizing, consolidating, making Appendant Bodies stand on their own, raising dues significantly and other acts of resuscitation. Terminally ill patients require drastic and sometimes untried measures to save them.

What’s that you say? You don’t think Freemasonry is dying? Brother Lance Kennedy will show you the facts. Facts don’t lie.

THE DECLINE OF FREEMASONRY: A DATA ANALYSIS

by
Brother Lance Kennedy

Bro. Lance Kennedy

“He who is not angry when there is just cause to be angry is immoral.”
Thomas Aquinas

We hear the word “decline” whispered and spoken in low tones in our halls. No one dares speak it aloud as it may invoke the demons we seek to banish. Instead our collective body spins its wheels with failed programs and a constant rehashing of mid-20th-century mediocrity. The anxiety amongst the tribe of men called Freemasons is palatable. Will we see the end of Freemasonry in our lifetimes?

While I am tempted to delve into the reasons behind our decline, and without a doubt we are experiencing such a trend, as well as prescribe remedies for our communal ills, this article will focus solely on the factual basis of our decline and nothing more. We must come to terms with the state of our fraternity before we can discuss the reasons behind our demise and the means by which we can save it from the fate experienced by the Odd Fellows, Elks, Moose Lodges, and numerous other fraternal organizations.

I want to make it abundantly clear that the body-Masonic is dying. Dying. Say that word aloud several times until you realize that the fraternity that has given you so much joy, provided charitable relief to countless millions, and initiated millions of men into the Western Mystery Tradition is dying. Dying. And dying a slow and ignominious death despite mandatory open houses, “come as you are” attitudes towards dress and appearance, and quick and easy initiations.

I know you want me to stop waxing poetic and get to the data, so without further ado I will present you with my basic findings. I have taken for my analysis the raw data compiled by the Masonic Service Association of North America (MSANA) of the totals of Masons in United States Grand Lodges for the fiscal years indicated. According to the MSANA, these figures are based upon the MSANA’s records and do not necessarily correspond exactly with those published by other sources.

The data referenced in this article was made available by and with the permission of the MSANA. I spoke with Simon R. LaPlace, Past Grand Master of Connecticut and Executive Secretary of the MSANA, who permitted me to reference him in this article. Brother LaPlace stated that MSANA’s membership numbers are requested from each US and Canadian Grand Lodge. Each Grand Lodge uses different metrics to determine who should be counted. For example, some Grand Lodges include Entered Apprentices in their overall numbers. Some Grand Lodges count only the number of Masons in their jurisdiction while others count each Mason in every lodge (e.g., a Brother who is a member of two lodges is counted twice). Also, the numbers submitted to MSANA can vary according to the time of year and do not always reflect the year-end total.

Brother LaPlace stated that the greatest inaccuracies in submitted reports occur when Grand Lodges change Grand Secretaries. He cited one instance where a Grand Secretary did not include endowed members in his annual report, so membership numbers in his jurisdiction decreased significantly. However, his successor in office included endowed members in his report, thus inflating numbers from the prior submission. While the numbers MSANA provided are not perfect, they are the best numbers available for this sort of analysis. I cannot claim that they are exact or predictive, but rather helpful in making educated generalizations about the state of our Fraternity.

We can debate whether the apogee of Freemasonry in the US was when it held the greatest influence, political or otherwise, or rather when the largest percentage of US males were Masons in absolute terms or as a percentage of the population. While it may be beneficial to debate this point, I do not believe it is necessary to do so at this time. For the sake of this analysis, I define the word “apogee” as the absolute number of Masons.

In terms of absolute numbers, Freemasonry reached its apogee in the fiscal year 1959 when 4,103,161 American men were Masons. The raw data is attached to the bottom of this article, which includes the fiscal year, the absolute number of Masons, the absolute number of Masons lost, and the percentage loss.  The data shows a steady decline in the reported number of Freemasons since 1959.

On average, each year reflects a decrease of around 50,000 Masons. Currently there are around one million Freemasons in the US and if the trend continues, our collective numbers will drop below one million in one and a half years, reaching post-Civil War levels. The chart above reflects a sigmoid function or “S-curve.” S-curves exhibit a progression from a small beginning that accelerates as it approaches a climax over time, then levels off in its mature phase. While the overall downward trend is troubling, the real issue is reflected in this second chart.

The second chart details the loss of Masons in absolute terms. Numerical losses for the fiscal year 1974 were the largest recorded, though this number might be a result of reporting errors. From fiscal year 1974 to 2013 the average percentage lost per year was 2.693%. What is troubling is that since 2013 the losses have begun to increase again.

As previously mentioned, the data shows that Masonic membership trends generally follow an S-curve. If it were a true S-curve our current yearly losses would amount to a decline of around 1%, however, the average rate of loss from 2013 to 2017 was 3.795% as reflected in the third chart. If this rate of loss continues, we will see a collapse of our membership rather than the leveling off that a S-curve would predict.

The US has historically had a very large Masonic population, both in absolute and percentage terms, compared with European nations. In European countries, Masons account for around 1% of the male population between 18 and 65 years of age. In the US membership is approaching this number, around 1.08%, however, the loss of membership between 2013 to 2017 is much higher than expected. If this trend continues between 2018 and 2022 the situation will go from bad to critical. Freemasons will account for less than 1% of the US adult-male population and will become virtually insignificant as an institution.

In the introduction to this article I told you to repeat the word “dying” to yourself. Do it again.

Dying. Dying. Dying.

Our fraternity is dying. While I will not diagnose the causes or cures for our ailing condition in this article, it is necessary for every Mason to come to terms with our present state. This awareness was the goal of this article and I hope you will take a moment to soberly ponder the very real possibility that Freemasonry in the US will go the way of the Elks or Odd Fellows, that is into the fraternal graveyard.

However, I am hopeful that we will heal our present malaise with the salve of the mysteries. Instead of becoming a Rotary club with regalia, we will reignite the fires of Initiation and case off the shackles of mediocrity.

Fiat Lux.


Read: So What? The Dynamic of Masonic Membership.
A
nd, There’s a Hole in Our Bucket


 

 

 

Further Reading

Brent Morris, “Boom to Bust in the Twentieth Century: Freemasonry and American Fraternities,” 1988 Anson Jones Lecture, Transactions of the Texas Lodge of Research, 23(1987–88):142–62.

http://md-mrs.com/library/Boom%20to%20Bust%20in%2020%20century.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3CcoFJMEQsvJPH_2IZ3L3UWAvzWLUsRkOZhV4EtMmTJS-doLDVbeCEGYY

John Belton, “The Missing Master Mason,” 1992 Kellerman Lecture for Victoria, Proceedings of the 1992 Australian Masonic Research Council Conference, Melbourne,

 http://internet.lodge.org.uk/index.php/research/93-library/research/234-the-missing-master-mason?fbclid=IwAR1XTqKDDFLKyhK-K0Ux3I5ihK8nV2IBGrnkP-xTmEMdfNp5FV53EfzREoQ

 

About The author

Lance Kennedy is a Texas Freemason, a writer, military officer, attorney, Ivy League graduate, and seventh-generation Texan.

Brother Kennedy was raised in 2007. He is an Endowed member of University Lodge 1190 and Highland Park Lodge 1150 (Grand Lodge of Texas, AF & AM); member of The Harvard Lodge (Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, AF & AM); full member of the Texas Lodge of Research; 32nd Degree Mason and member of the Valley of Dallas, Scottish Rite’s Southern Jurisdiction; Knight Templar and member of the Dallas Commandery; member of the Scottish Rite Research Society.

Fred Milliken: Fred is a Past Master of Plymouth Lodge, Plymouth Massachusetts, and Past Master of Paul Revere Lodge, Brockton, Massachusetts. Presently, he is a member of Pride of Mt. Pisgah No. 135, Prince Hall Texas, where is he is also a Prince Hall Knight Templar . Fred is a Fellow of the Phylaxis Society and Executive Director of the Phoenix Masonry website and museum.

View Comments (25)

  • "Terminally ill patients require drastic and sometimes untried measures to save them." Drastic and untried are the key words. There must be a willingness to change and a willingness to do strange new things. There must also be a desire to try to do something and if it doesn't work confess that and move on, versus saying 'every fundraiser we do is a success' ignoring the fact that no money was made on any of them, but it felt good so you keep spending money on non-profitable fundraisers and wondering why things aren't improving. Change, trial and error, bravery. That's what is needed.

    I've seen over and over brethren moan about the problems but not do a thing and put up roadblocks to trying the untried. For example, when attendance was becoming poor at social events it was declared that it was no longer working to meet in bars that brethren wanted things not costing so much money, wasn't excluding the younger brethren and sober or AA attendees, could involve family and was more than just a social affair. When activities were proposed solving all the problems the response was: not interested, cause we always go to the bar. If the point is to sit around and complain about problems so you have something to talk about cause lodge is that boring, than great. But, don't push away brethren that think when a solution is proposed they should actually make the solution happen. Don't point to old solutions that didn't work as proof that solutions don't work or that there are no other solutions. Further, just because someone else took up the solution that you could have done or thought of something that doesn't give you the credit, who cares, dump your ego trip. One's fancy title means nothing when the building is up for sale.

    It's like an alcoholic who goes to the doctor with liver issues. The doctor says "Stop drinking. Here's some medicine, diet plans, etc.' The alcoholic doesn't stop drinking cause sobriety is drastic and strange. Goes back to the doctor again and again, never really feeling better and with more problems developing. Eventually the doctor doesn't appear but sends a nurse and or medical practitioner or renews the prescription without much talk. A couple years later the alcoholic is sitting in the hospital with terminal liver failure and asks the doctor what went wrong. The doctor says "You talked about your problems, but didn't want to do anything drastic to fix them. You wanted to do the same thing you were always doing and let others fix your problem for you while waiting for a miracle. I tried to help you, but I could only do so much."

    And, yes EVERY bit of the above is from personal experience trying to save a lodge that didn't have enough members show up at Stated to even hold the Stated or bodies that didn't meet in a year due to lack of membership and were wondering why they didn't have new members.

  • Is Freemasonry Dying?

    On cursory glance the answer would appear to be yes. The charts and numbers Bro. Fred has supplied support that conclusion.

    But still, upon deeper thought, I'm not so sure. My little lodge Myrtle 108, here in Issaquah, Washington, had been in steep decline, but is now growing. Two years ago we had trouble finding enough brothers to open. Now,and for the past year, we've averaged 12 to 18 active regular members plus a growing number of visitors. Come first of the year we've got petitions to read, new EAs to initiate, and members to move up. What changed?

    We meet every Saturday morning at 8:30 at the Gaslight for breakfast. Anyone traveling near Issaquah, Washington is most welcome to come break bead. Breakfast is a place where we can meet as Brothers, and where anyone who wishes to know more about us can come to get to know us, and we them. Wives and children are very welcome. That's part 1.

    Part 2.Recognize the value of time.
    Our little town was once supported by timber, coal, dairy and produce from farms. We still have a dairy, although timber and coal are long gone. What we do have is Costco's corporate headquarters, Microsoft's main buildings just over the hill, multi million dollar homes all around us, and the very busy people who live and work here.

    With Seattle's success has come the infamous Seattle traffic. Commutes are a mess!

    The 2018 business environment doesn't dress as did in the 1960s. Suits and ties are rare. Now it's jeans and casual shirts. That's the new dress code in Lodge. We've found that if we demand a Brother get off work, drive 45 minutes to a hour plus to home, change into a suit and then face another hour drive to Lodge just to hear the minutes and pay the bills....it's not going to happen.

    "Masonry offers a course in moral and philosophical instruction"... or so the new EA is told. Except that promise is never fulfilled. That brings us to part 3.

    Part 3' Why spend time here? Hint; it's not to read the minutes and pay the bills!
    What next happens in the lodge. If all we do is ritual, read the minutes and pay bills there really isn't any reason to come to Lodge. Something had to change. Brother Bill Werner had a brilliant idea he called "Shrink the Lodge".

    Lodge begins at 7:30. At 8:01 the WM calls for Shrink the Lodge. This is where we suspend our regular meeting and bring chairs between the Alter and the East where a member poses a question. relates an experience, or presents a topic for reflection by those present.

    An example; would be to read The Charge and then ask what it means to each member. An even better example, which provoked a 56 minute discussion, was 'How have you changed from the day you joined to the man you are today?"

    Another example was the examination of the works of one of my favorite Masons; Rudyard Kipling. Jim Croce's musical rendition of Kipling's "Gunga Din" had a powerful effect on members with military experience.

    On more than one occasion I've seen visiting brothers in near tears, brought on by the deep sense of fellowship we have in our lodge. Two months ago that very thing happened with a visiting brother from across the continent.

    Part 4; Are you getting value for your time and money?
    Sat Tashiro ) PhD) , one of our Scottish Rite 33rds has become a dear friend. I've watched him as he shepherds our Seattle Valley towards greater participation, and success. He constantly checks in with brothers to ask "Are you getting your moneys worth?" Or "Are you having fun?". That communication is very important, because it tells the brothers that the officers CARE! It's a philosophy based on SERVICE, not ego of a title.

    Scottish Rite reads their rituals and the degree work. As Sat observes; "What happens if I demand everything from memory? What have I asked in terms of a commitment?"

    It means that members have to take more hours out of an over scheduled life, separate themselves from their family, and practice ritual. Masonry shouldn't be something that takes away from a family. It must be something that gives to a family.

    Demanding perfect memory work also means that brothers obsess and sometimes struggle with memory while they lose focus on the what and why of the ritual.

    That's how you lose a lodge! We're not going to do that.

    He made another important observation in demanding that we all READ our funeral service parts. "It's just TOO important to trust memory. This isn't about our memory work. It's about paying proper respects to a brother and showing the family we care". He's right!!

    Reading the ritual takes the pressure off all of us in lodge. Reading allows us to focus on what is important; each other! It allows us to have fun!

    Here at Myrtle we have what some may call a rowdy group. Our Merry Band of Misfits, as I like to call us. We laugh...a lot!

    There are men in this lodge who have served in war. Some very recently. There are men who have served as first responders - sheriffs, firefighters, EMTs. They have seen awful things that they carry with them every moment of every day...and every night. Sometimes,during Shrink The Lodge they might say a word or two about it. What they say stays in Lodge. And if any one of us need help...at any time...we are here. That's what brothers do for one another.

    Part 5. Masonry is a family
    To translate to Myrtle, we have Sea-hawk Sundays. We've got a big screen in our dining room and everybody's welcome to come watch the game and enjoy each other's company. It's pot luck and nobody goes away hungry.

    Saturday nights are "Date Night" but kids are welcome. Popcorn and movies!

    Now let's zoom out to 30,000 feet.

    Everywhere we look society has its nose in a cell phone. We text, we send photos but we rarely hear one another's voices anymore. We're linked up, but as a society we couldn't be further apart.

    For over 300 years the Craft has offered men something found no where else in society.

    I predict that the Golden Age of Masonry has yet to be, and it's going to be driven by that little gadget we all spend too much time looking at every five minutes.

    Laurence Lance
    WM elect Myrtle 108
    32nd Scottish Rite, Seattle Valley

  • All of this negativity is perpetuating and deepening the problem. You are accomplishing nothing.

    If you want to improve masonry, then improve it. Do great events. Do great things. Raise money for charity.

    Our lodge is prospering and growing by leaps and bounds. I expect we will bring between 20 and 30 masons into the brotherhood this year.

    Think negative, and you will get negative. Refocus on the stuff that matters is my suggestion.

  • Brother Lance is absolutely correct.

    Sequin-Level Lodge (#140) in Newington, CT has an incredibly active membership that has seen good growth. They echo a number of things in Brother Lance's posting, including family involvement with a focus on kids, a regular weekly fund raiser breakfast - they have an active kitchen and kitchen crew that produces fresh dinners and meals that are second to none - and a focus on conversation and brotherhood.

    But they do something else that works well - they created a pipeline where new brothers are matched with a Master Mason who assists in guiding them through, helping to learn ritual, to discuss the meaning of what it is they are doing, and to debrief them following meetings or degrees. This regular and meaningful contact ensures that brothers are not left in the dark through regular communication.

    It also means that they are not entering into rooms with men they don't know to conversations they cannot participate in. There is a designated table for guests and pipeline brothers.

    Masonry needs to evolve or die.

    For instance, too many of our older brothers are from a time where a man was not allowed into the delivery room to watch the birth of their children. That children were to be seen, not heard, and that they were to be provided a roof and meals.

    Of course some worked with their kids, took them hunting, fishing, camping, played sports, but it was a different dynamic.

    Younger brothers would find that concept repulsive - of course they should be there for the birth, to coach and assist. I belong to a group of neighborhood men who are at home raising their children. There are older Brothers who are clear that they feel this is "weak" - that don't understand the younger generations want and desire to be at home with family, and that it is not just a hurdle to overcome, but a perceived societal obligation at this point in time.

    If Masonry doesn't evolve to recognize the changing cultural dynamic, to recognize that men place family first before all else, then it can't evolve. Every lodge should be asking what it can do to support not just the man, but the family.

    They should not just accept an application and then rely on the applicant to make the effort at introductions and follow up. They should be actively building the relationship with the applicant in the same way that most of us would with a business client.

    And without question we should have a greater public face, through works, fundraisers, charity events, that involve the Mason and the family. Because if today's generation sees that it is not just a way to get out of the house, but that it is an extension of the home, then we can increase our membership.

  • Brother Laurence;
    You have given a resounding affirmation of our Craft at its best. My experience is that though we may be looking at a macro number relative to Blue Lodge Masonry, that it all depends on the consitutent local Lodge as to the health of our Fraternity. Ultimately Freemasonry is not done at a Grand Lodge level but at the local lodge level.....that is the place where I learn and do the ritual, that is the place where I know my brothers and their needs, that is the place where Freemasonry takes place.

    Although I cannot speak to why there has been an uptick in numbers lost to now over 4% in this past year, I presume it is most related to deaths and demits ....one we cannot change and the other we can give our Brothers what they expect and need from the fraternal experience.

    Freemasonry will not die, but it is true that we just do not have the leaders in the Craft to fill all the chairs, more especially in the appendant and concordant degrees and I think that realistically they will have to shrink to accommodate that fact.

    Again, I commend your lodge on its work in the quarries and the innovation that your lodge has made to keep and attract new members.

    All my best to you,
    Rev. Terry L. Tilton, PGM - MN, FPS
    Secretary - The Philalethes Society

  • Brother Lance,
    Freemasonry in the Western Hemisphere is unique in its formation.Why? The question is how are we different from the rest of world?
    Once you have answered that question comes the opportunity to truly
    understand the cure.
    Would really look forward to a discussion.
    In the meantime go to http://www.matsol.info ,
    Masonic Awareness @ the Speed of light and join almost 3 million brothers in 144 countries.

    Albert H McClelland,O.S.M.,PM

  • The apogee of Freemasonry in the US was during the two world wars . You can verify by looking at the datas back to the years 1940.
    Freemasonry in England also is declining every year.

  • The way I see it is that Freemasonry has become a Top Down Society. And there lies our problem. Because all Freemasonry is local and used to be that way and operated successfully that way.. But today Grand Lodge wants to micromanage the Fraternity.. Top Down Freemasonry creates conflict, too much conflict. It stifles creativity, it crushes enthusiasm and ruins pride in the Craft. One size does not fit all in Freemasonry. We have turned our beloved Craft into a copy of the US Army. It is time for the younger Masons, those thirsty FOR THE REAL THING to organize and start telling Grand Lodge NO!

  • Dying NO. Freemasonry LIVES.
    What we need is to put into practical living those truly unique Masonic principles of: BROTHERLY LOVE, RELIEF AND TRUTH. These are not just slogans but living principles. I hope we are still providing these.

    The above principles are dying or lost in today's world, and that's Freemasonry's selling point. It starts in our personal relationships, the Lodge, Province, Grand Lodge and how we relate with the outside world.

    To use a cliche, the world has become a global village, let us ACT LIVE RELATE truly according to our time hallowed teachings.

    What you think, say or do in any part of the globe rebounds or echoes in seconds nearly the world over. This also is an opportunity. The world needs Freemasons lifestyle, BUT are we living it?

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