This is the story of Brother Steven McAfoose, Senior Warden of Lux Lodge No 846, Grand Lodge of California.
McAfoose’s story is similar to that of recently published Brother Salman Sheika’s. You might call this “Why I Left Freemasonry Part 2.” But this story has a happy ending. McAfoose quit and returned. This is not sour grapes and a back stab at the Craft as he slams the door on the way out but rather an honest look into what could be better.
But McAfoose did not encounter any discrimination. His bone to pick with the Masonic World was unrealized expectations. McAfoose complains that we over hype and over sell what Freemasonry is and can do which leads to a drastic letdown when fantasy meets reality.
Also, he points out that many Lodges spend a lot of time and effort into doing little. Once again, we hear about boring business meetings and overworked Brothers who are drafted into an Army of fund raisers and work projects. This mirrors a video interview I did of Brother Justin Jones of the Grand Lodge of Texas on Phoenixmasonry Live – https://youtu.be/jhYOc6YXh-Y. Brother Jones said that his expectation of Freemasonry took him from the marvelous to the mundane.
McAfoose makes some other points too but we will let you read them for yourself.
This, however, gives me a chance to pontificate on where Freemasonry misses the boat.
Let’s group these problems under two headings
- Lack of money
- Overworking the Brethren
If you refuse to charge realistic dues to be able to provide a great Masonic experience, then you will have no money to provide any meaningful programs and opportunities of fellowship. Realistic Lodge dues should be in the neighborhood of $500 per year. Perhaps your old run-down Masonic building is taking all your Lodge money.
The answer is not fund raisers. Fund raisers are an excuse to keep Lodge dues artificially low for elderly brothers and those who are on the rolls but never come to Lodge. Freemasonry is not a Service Club. If you are bankrupting yourself and providing an inferior Masonic experience in order to accomplish charitable works and community action for the outside world you have your priorities askew. You must first make your Lodge financially viable before you consider helping the world, for if you go under everybody loses.
Lastly you cannot place an undue burden of time and effort on the small percentage of Lodge Brothers who come regularly. Most Brothers have family, job and worship time that must be shared with Freemasonry. If you ask the few to carry the load for everybody you are abusing your Brethren and you may find some who will drop out further increasing the burden on those who are left.
Raise your dues, sell your building and rent or sign up other tenants who will help pay for the costs of running a building and stop trying to save the world while your Lodge goes to pot. Put your Lodge money into Masonic education, esoteric study, post Third Degree mentoring and great fellowship and run your Communications accordingly and you won’t have the result that Brother McAfoose describes.
…”the number of men who have quit in their hearts is unknown, but I don’t think any of us would say that it is low.”
Why I Quit
By Bro. Steven McAfoose
It might come as a surprise to many who know me that shortly after becoming a Master Mason and even serving as an officer of my lodge, I left Freemasonry. And to be clear, I didn’t become less active, and it wasn’t a matter of being busy and not attending, I flat out quit. I decided that this wasn’t what I wanted and I did not anticipate ever returning. This discussion could be about why I came back, and focus on what Freemasonry can do to bring brothers back who have been absent from lodge for a time, but instead, I want to focus on why brothers leave in the first place and I’m going to do so by looking at the root cause rather than the symptoms that many others who have tackled this subject before me have done.
Statistics for brothers who have left Freemasonry are difficult to gather. While there are statistics that show gains and losses over the years, this really doesn’t give us the information we’re after. A member who joins and then quits the same year shows a net 0 number. Likewise, a man who joins, but simply becomes inactive, yet continues to pay dues makes it appear that our fraternity is growing. The fact of the matter is, the number of men who have quit in their hearts is unknown, but I don’t think any of us would say that it is low.
While I can’t say that everyone quits for the same reasons I did, I’d be willing to bet most of them leave for the same root cause; disappointment. To understand this, let’s go back and talk about what I was thinking and feeling during my first steps on this journey. Like most men who are interested in Freemasonry, the majority of what I knew was gleaned from the internet, Hollywood, and my interactions with Masons. What was this organization? What did they stand for? What do they do? What can I expect? And is this something I want to be a part of?
…our aging lodges with stained carpets and peeling paint are a long way off from the mahogany and marble clad temples seen in the movies.
How does Freemasonry present itself, or how is it presented by others, to the outside world? We are a brotherhood of deep ties and fraternal relations. We offer mutual beneficial support to protect each other in difficult times. We are an ancient, prestigious institution of the elite. We have networking and connections that allow for special treatment professionally and in other aspects of life. We are a charitable organization giving millions of dollars a year to our communities and doing social works projects in our free time. We make good men better, focusing on self-improvement and creating a cadre of morally superior men. We delve into the ancient mysteries and lay bare esoteric knowledge and secrets that unlock the universe.
Sound familiar? Sound exciting? It certainly did to me. And I’m sure it sounds very exciting to thousands of other men who wish to join our ranks. But, the real question is, is it true?
Are we a brotherhood of deep ties and fraternal relations? How many of us have had any contact with each other not related to lodge business? That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. One of my groomsmen at my wedding was the Worshipful Master who initiated me. But, the fact of the matter is, my college fraternity was a hundred times closer than this fraternity is.
Do we offer mutual beneficial support to protect each other in difficult times? Yes, we have committees that can offer a brother some help financially. We also have Masonic Homes for our more senior brothers and their families. But I don’t think any of us have ceased to have concerns over what would happen if we lost our job tomorrow based on the support available through Freemasonry.
Are we an ancient, prestigious institution of the elite? Well, ancient is up for debate since the first Grand Lodge was formed only 300 years ago. Prestigious? I suppose that depends on your definition, but our aging lodges with stained carpets and peeling paint are a long way off from the mahogany and marble clad temples seen in the movies. As for elite, that certainly isn’t a label I’d use for myself, and I doubt many other brothers would either as we come from all walks of life.
Do our associations give us special treatment in the workplace or life in general? I’ve certainly never received any benefit. In fact, quite the opposite based on a few people with negative views of our fraternity finding out I am a member. I think we’d all love to get out of a speeding ticket or get a promotion at work via a secret handshake, but I’ve not once heard of it happening.
Are we a charitable organization that donates millions and volunteers in the community? In some cases, yes. Freemasonry as a whole does donate significant amounts of money each year. But as lodges continue to shrink, the funds available for this kind of thing dry up. My mother lodge spent all year putting on pancake breakfasts that required me in my early 20’s to show up at the lodge at 4am to raise money for a scholarship. That scholarship was around $5k each year. I have no doubt that the winner appreciated it, but we were hardly changing the world. As for community outreach, some lodges do more than others, but it tends to be more along the lines of a few guys from the lodge doing it rather than a true lodge effort.
Do we make good men better? I would argue no. What do we do to make good men better? We hold meetings, pay bills, practice memorizing ritual. How does that make anyone morally superior? However, there is some truth to this which I will get to later.
Do we hold the keys to secret esoteric knowledge that bring us closer to God? Like the previous question, I would say that there is some truth to this, but not in any way, shape, or form like we portray. And for roughly 95% of Masons, I’d say it just isn’t true.
So, we, Hollywood, public perception, whatever, set this expectation of what to expect. This is how our fraternity is advertised. A man joins, and what is he met with? Meetings about paying bills. Having to memorize pages of ritual that basically sounds like a goofy play. Giving up his free time to perpetuate these things, and without any of the things that were advertised to him at the beginning. Bait and switch might be a harsh term, but it wouldn’t be completely wrong.
But I’m not condemning Freemasonry for this. Half of this is how the rest of the world portrays us. Another 25% is us wanting to agree with the positive assumptions and so perhaps not correcting them as strongly as we should. The last quarter of these portrayals are true, but perhaps not to the extent that the ambitious candidate expects.
This was the state that I found myself in years ago; disenfranchised with the reality of the situation. I had done my part, I thought. I had memorized the ritual, and I had put in the time, I had paid my dues, I had rushed from work straight to meetings to give up my free time to listen to retired brothers argue for hours about whether $50 per month to pay for a company to mow the grass was reasonable of if we should form a committee to investigate alternatives. And what did I receive in return? …nothing. I had become a mentor in my lodge and had initiated new men, mentored them, helped them progress so that they could then do the same for future generations of Masons. But for what? So that we could continue to argue about bills and form committees? Is this all that Freemasonry had to offer? And so, I quit. And no doubt, there were discussions about it after I did so. Probably with the same tired grumblings of the old guys in the back that we typically hear.
“These younger kids don’t want to put in the work. He’s lazy. He said he could spare the time, but then he backed out.” We make up these excuses for the brothers who leave, never bothering to ask them. We look for solutions to these false reasons. One day raisings. Short form proficiencies. More casual lodge conditions.
Let me make this abundantly clear; a man who is told what his expectations are, and agrees, and then later backs out probably didn’t do so because it was too much effort. He knew what he was getting himself into. What he found, is that it was too much effort for what he got in return. And that’s the problem. It’s the bait and switch. We failed to hold up our end of the bargain, so why should he hold up his end? I decided not to. I quit.
And yet…here I sit. So what brought me back? The requirements on my time and energy didn’t change. The fraternity didn’t change. So what shift was there in the dynamic? It was simply a more honest look at the relationship I had with Freemasonry. I took a step back and I looked at it with open eyes.
This brotherhood wasn’t like the one in my college fraternity, but it made available to me men who held similar interests and values as I did. But it was up to me to make those connections.
The support of Freemasonry might not keep me from worrying about losing my job, but it does offer additional resources that I wouldn’t otherwise have if life takes a turn for the worse.
We might not be an ancient institution, but we carry on the legacy and perpetuate teachings that reach back to antiquity. Our prestige has waned over the years, but it is not the external qualifications that our fraternity ought to be judged by, but our internal qualities. And it is up to me as a representative of our great moral institution to demonstrate to the world by my example just how elite we are.
Our membership does not bring special favors, and I know that now. But with the teachings I have learned from Freemasonry, I am glad for it, because if it did, I would not be able to learn the valuable lessons of humility and equality.
Whether we are a charitable organization could be debated from lodge to lodge. I know there are some lodges that focus heavily on charity and volunteer work, and if that was my primary concern, I would belong to those lodges and take advantage of their active involvement. But again, that is a decision that I am responsible for. But aside from that, Freemasonry has instilled in me a more charitable nature. My giving isn’t always in front of a podium with an oversized check with a square and compass on it. It is to the hungry man on the corner, to the children selling candy bars for a school trip, to Toys for Tots, to the Salvation Army, to the local food bank. My charity might not be organized, but that doesn’t make it any less helpful. And again, that is my decision.
And that brings us to making good men better. I believe that Freemasonry’s oft used adage of ‘We make good men better’ is a misnomer. I think instead, we ought to say ‘we provide the tools to allow good men to make themselves better.’ We need to change the belief that we do something to others. It is not a passive improvement on the part of our candidates. Rather, we give them the means by which they can improve themselves.
And this is done by way of the teachings contained in our rituals. Lessons that go back thousands of years. But, like any other lesson, they are useless unless the student is willing to spend the time and effort to understand them and put them into practice. When I realized this, I realized that the fraternity did not fail me. I failed me. I was given what I needed to improve myself, and then I sat there statically, upset that nothing was happening. I viewed the meetings as a waste of time, not understanding that the meetings are what allowed us to continue to pass on the tools to new brothers, so that each of us could improve ourselves.
It was this shift in my perspective that lead me to realize that Freemasonry still had a great deal to offer, but only if I was willing to seize it. I was fortunate in the fact that I came to this realization on my own. I fear that few brothers in my shoes will do the same. Therefore, it is up to us to ensure that it never gets to that point in the first place. So how do we do that?
Simple; we set realistic expectations. We tell the candidate what it is really like. Not the pretty, shiny image we put on brochures, but the reality of day to day life as a Freemason. We tell him about the long, boring meetings. We tell him about the work he’ll have to do memorizing ritual, including the time it will take to drive to meet his instructors. We tell him that not all lodges are equal; that some focus on charity, that some focus on research, that some focus on fellowship. We encourage him to visit many different lodges and explain that they all have their pros and cons and tell him that it is important to find the one that truly offers whatever it is he’s looking for. We bluntly explain that while we will provide his working tools to improve himself, he is the one who must labor in the quarries. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, we explain that during his labors, when he finds that he wants help, that he must proactively seek us out, and in turn, we must make a commitment to support him.
It is natural to assume that by removing some of the gilding from Masonry that we may hear fewer knocks at our door. But if we provide a fair and honest assessment of what can be found within our temples, we will lay a solid foundation of understanding among our new brothers that will result in a stronger edifice.