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Has Freemasonry Lost its Luster?

BRYCE ON FREEMASONRY
– Can it no longer change and adapt?

Read a response to this piece in a A Fresh Perspective of Freemasonry from a Grand Master.

As a Freemason who has had more than one run-in with with Grand Masters, I have become a lightning rod for others who are no longer satisfied with the institution, both in and outside of my jurisdiction. I am not sure I can help other than to listen to their problems and offer some sympathy. Recently, I heard from two Brothers in my jurisdiction who called to complain about what was going on in their Lodge, or more specifically, what wasn’t happening. One was in his early 30’s, the other in his mid-70’s. Remarkably, their complaints were similar. Both fervently believe in Freemasonry as a concept, but have difficulty accepting how it is physically practiced in their jurisdiction.

They both love the concept of brotherhood, its heritage, the practice of morality, and working together to make communities better. However, they find attending Lodge meetings to be repetitive and boring with little effort to make it interesting and worthwhile. It almost seems like it is designed to fail. Both Brothers said to me, as well as many others, “This is not what I signed up for,” and are in the process of emitting.

Instead of Lodges embracing the concept of Brotherhood, Freemasons have grown weary of the petty political struggles where people feverishly work to earn an inane object such as a fancy apron or a new Masonic title, e.g., Worshipful, Right Worshipful, Most Worshipful. I am often asked, “What is wrong with the plain white apron and simply being called ‘Brother’?” Instead, they lament Freemasonry is practiced as a Good Old Boy Club whereby, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” This suggests an individualistic approach based on favoritism, not one based on collective teamwork.

One of the Brothers noted, of all the people who were raised with him during his year, only one has returned to Lodge. Most simply disappear, move on to other endeavors, and drop out. This suggests the Lodge is not offering anything of value to its members, such as stimulating discussions and meaningful social interaction.

Like many other jurisdictions, we have watched membership here erode over the past fifteen years, losing over 1,500 on an annual basis. This is perplexing to the Brothers I talked with who commented while membership dwindles, the aprons and titles never abate. I tend to refer to this type of phenomenon as “Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic” – in other words, people tend to worry about the wrong things.

The Brothers had hoped to find a place for the free expression of ideas and debate, of stimulating discussion and mental gymnastics, to be curious and learn, but this is typically frowned upon by both the Lodge officers and Grand Lodge who are quick to squash such discussions. Consequently, Lodge is no longer “a place of enlightenment,” and people quickly exit it at the conclusion of a meeting. They further note sub-par floor work by apathetic officers during the conferring of degrees, some simply laughing off their performance. This distracts from impressing on the candidates the importance of the lessons embodied in the degrees.

They admit to having met some fine people along the way, true believers in the Craft, but also a lot of petty people who become jealous over the success of others and undermines them. Such backstabbing tends to make people paranoid and not comfortable in their own Lodge. As one of the Brothers explained to me, “A Masonic Lodge is a place where people prefer to speak behind your back, as opposed to your face.”

The Brothers also sought further light in Masonry from other institutions, such as the Scottish Rite and York Rite. Again, they didn’t find it stimulating, just “this is the way we’ve always done it.”

Maybe this problem is unique to their jurisdiction, but I doubt it.

I find it difficult to console such Brothers as I have always contended Freemasonry requires a major overhaul (see my “Masonic Manifesto” written years ago). Having fought the immovable object though for so long, all I can advise them is, “You cannot fight city hall.” This inability to adapt to change is the single biggest reason why the Craft is losing members, by frustrating good Masons and causing them to abandon the fraternity.

It is not my intention here to appear too negative, but we can no longer afford to cover up our blemishes and hope they will go away on their own. If we truly believe in the concept of Freemasonry, we can ill-afford to be reactive and become pro-active instead. This all begins by admitting we have a problem. It has long been an axiom of ours, “You cannot treat a patient if he doesn’t know he is sick” (Bryce’s Law).

Keep the Faith!


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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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View Comments (9)

  • Dear Brother Bryce,

    You are so right. For the past few years, those that disagreed with a Grand Master was suspended or expelled. I being one of them. We, in New Jersey , have been losing about 1000 members per year and are now down to less that 17,000. The Grand Lodge elected line have been overspending thier budgets , the GL Trustees that we elect do nothing but rubber stamp everything the Grand Master does and they wonder why we are going broke. They do not understand that they must live with a budget that has 17,000 members, not a budget that 17,000 members cannot possibly support. The leadership does not want to hear what is going wrong with Freemasonry, they just want you to be a good little boy and keep quiet. Most do, because as you said, they would sell thier souls for a wide purple apron and a fools gold collar.

    I do believe that Freemasonry is a great institution, but the leadership is too interested in quanity rather than quality. As a result the West Gate wasn't guarded and those that should have not gotten in the fraternity in the first place has and unfortunately they have been elected to leadship positions, either in thier Lodge and worse, Grand Lodge and therefore quanity and quality has suffered.

    While I have been reinstated, I refuse to be a " good little boy" and keep my mouth shut about what is wrong with this fraternity. I value the principles of this great brotherhood to do that. I have given time, soul and money to this fraternity having served as Master of my Lodge, District Ritual Instructor, District Deputy Grand Master, President of the Past Master's Asscociation, Grand Lodge Ritual Committee, GL State of the Craft Committee and many others. I only state those, not because I am bragging, but to show that no matter white you have done or what you achieved, if a Grand Master doesn't like what you say,you will be suspended or expelled and they wonder why Freemasonry is dying. They forget the white apron is the most important apron a Mason can earn.

    My opinion, my experience.
    Dennis R. Winter, NJ Mason

  • I received the following e-mail from a U.V. in Largo, Florida...

    "You are so right. I'm in the process of demitting from Eastern Star for most of your reasons. Haven't been to a meeting in years. Don't drive at night. In the beginning I put up with it because my husband was a Mason. I was bored stiff; thought it was expected of me, etc. after his year as Worshipful Master, I started to ease off. It's a longer story but I won't bore you with it. The biggest problem is that they can't attract younger people and keep them. Old Guard always shutting down their input. It's sad and I don't like the way it has to end, but they brought it on themselves."

  • An M.B. of Clearwater, Florida wrote...

    "You sure know how to stir the pot and pour hot coals under the feet. True and too polite."

  • A C.M. of Palm Harbor, Florida wrote...

    "One thing the Masons taught me is that the only purpose of a title is to remind you of your responsibilities. The other thing they taught me was “You can recognize a good Mason in the daylight as well as the dark”. So it has nothing to do with whether they are at Lodge, wearing a fancy apron and a title. It has to do with the character of the man."

  • A C.M. of Vermont wrote...

    "Masons have long observed the cause for the downfall of Freemasonry (see Samber’s 1722 Dedication, or Drake’s 1726 Speech). The cause is always the “false brethren” who insist that Masonry has no deeper meaning and that “fellowship” merely means goofing off. The thing that has always, always, always kept the Craft afloat has been those Brethren dedicated to improving in the Art of Masonry and contributing to the common stock of knowledge. Don’t depend on others to provide Masonic education, and don’t let others set the tone for how you practice your Freemasonry.

    In other words, a lack of change and adaptation isn't the issue. Staying true to the intent of the Craft, that's what is required."

  • Maybe the most overused line in common usage today is the comment, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, that we must "be the change we wish to see." Normally I try to “avoid clichés like the plague” (!), but Freemasonry’s current situation happens to fit that admonition pretty well.

    Both declining numbers and declining attendance actually place Masons…at least those who are serious about the Craft…in a perfect position to make their Lodge what it should be, instead of what it is and, perhaps, what it was that drove them away. Yes, you’re right (and so are other commenters) in saying that how we live our lives outside the Lodge is much the point of the Fraternity’s philosophy and teachings, but that’s not really the point of this discussion, is it?

    Living up to the moral teachings of the Lodge, in the world at large, is an admirable thing. However, while that is, in one sense, the “gold standard” of what it really means to be a Mason, practicing the highest ideals of virtue in our dealings with our families, friends or colleagues doesn’t make us a fraternity.

    Familial bonds, shared interests that foster friendships and a sense of common cause in the workplace all tend to make those relationships (even when strained) work on a practical level, and, in any case, we often maintain these to further our own interests. In becoming Masons (if we learn anything at all), we rapidly come to realize that we are expected to develop and maintain a close, lasting, Brotherly relationship with men we do NOT have to get along with to keep peace in our families; whom we would—quite often—NOT seek out as friends, in the normal course of our daily lives; and (due to the often extreme diversity of our backgrounds and experiences) likely NOT come to know in a work or career setting. We find ourselves expected to act as…to BE…Brothers, with a group of men who, but for the fraternal tie, “would have remained at a perpetual distance.” Quite a different thing indeed!

    A Lodge is nothing, more-or-less, than the sum of its members: their strengths & weaknesses, virtues & sins, endearing qualities & foibles. It is my position (as well as my experience of 44 years in the Craft), that Masons who use their less-than-perfect experiences as a reason to not be involved in a Lodge, are generally rationalizing their unwillingness to take the time and make the commitment to bring about “the change they wish to see.” Very many Lodges today stand at the brink of collapse, due to low numbers and lack of involvement, but there’s another way to look at that: many Lodges today are ripe for reform and renewal, if a dedicated group of Masons are willing to devote as much time, effort and energy to that undertaking as they might otherwise give to lamenting the shortcomings of the Fraternity. Your work is in the quarries, Brethren! The next stone will not be perfect merely for pointing out that the last one was not!

  • Actual Freemasonry, to me, was never what it was perceived to be. I love the lessons, the degrees, the rituals, the lectures. I loved the obligations and floor work and as you know, I endeavored to be letter perfect in my journey East, to be worthy of the brethren and the craft. But in reality, Freemasonry is fraught with all the trappings of divisive political factions instead of collective good works. I never understood the drive in this decidedly non-masonic activity in the Lodge, except to speculate that it's just impossible to properly subdue one's passions in the human experience. That and $4 will get you a Starbucks latte.

    Eons ago, we had very little in our lives to take up our social hours when days work was done, and Freemasonry, like other civic organizations, offered that opportunity for men to gather with a purpose other than hitting the local pub. But today it must compete with modern society's offerings for the time and attention of men, and without being a kind of better alternative, no one will join masonry, or they will join but never return.

    If Freemasonry is to survive, it must adapt. Otherwise it's loses all relevance and significance, to be practiced by an ever shrinking collective of dinosaurs until their ultimate extinction.

  • A T.M. of Massachusetts wrote...

    "Brother Bryce - I am so happy to tell you you are in the wrong jurisdiction for freemasonry! All is not lost! I certainly can promote massfreemasonry.org And also several large specific websites and Lodge specific Facebook pages. The biggest challenge I find in lodges that are getting stale is a small number of men who will not get out-of-the-way. They are unwilling to except And also several large specific websites and Lodge specific Facebook pages. The biggest challenge I find in lodges that are getting stale is a small number of men who will not get out-of-the-way. They are unwilling to accept change. They are unwilling to realize that young people do come in without experience and need guidance, that is exactly why they join the fraternity!

    When a lodge has the oldest average age in it's district AND all past masters as the elected officers AND over 50% of their junior officers do not show up for the officers installation... The end is near!

    however I am thrilled to let you know, we have had several of those younger members affiliate with lodges I am a member of. They find these lodge is exciting, accepting, and willing to take the risk of young people!

    Excellent Ritual and excellent flow work appeal to 10% of the membership. However, that is the core of our meetings and the frosting on the cake!

    when I train incoming masters, I explain that anything they do will appeal to 10% of the membership. The responsibility of the master is try to engage as many of that 10% in a variety of events, lectures, and non-ritual activities!

    in the end, it depends on a few manhole willing to take the highroad and continue to move forward. Do not long for the past!

    So who are we? We are men who live honestly, never injure another spiritually, mentally, or physically intentionally, and give every man is just due!"

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