BRYCE ON FREEMASONRY – And what I remembered of them.
After being away a long time, I recently returned to my home lodge for a visit. Those of you who have followed my writings will remember why I left my lodge, primarily due to Freemasonry turning into a good old boys club as opposed to the fraternity it was intended to be.
I went back to my lodge to see a young man return his catechism in front of the Craft. This was a good man who I was pleased to sign his petition. I am somewhat old school in this regard. I believe if you sign a man’s petition, you should be there for him as he proceeds through the three degrees. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with me and thinks nothing of deserting the Brother.
My friend was joined by three other Entered Apprentices who all returned their catechisms masterfully. I have obviously heard these words many times before and instructed several Brothers in this regard. Needless to say, listening to this was nice, but a wee bit boring. As I sat there, my mind started to drift away to years ago when I was in their shoes and returning my catechisms.
It was a slow night, and nobody was in the north. As I sat there staring at the empty seats, I began to imagine seeing the many lodge Brothers I had known over the years who made lodge meaningful to me, but had passed away in recent years.
There was my old mentor, Rome Scerbo, who I succeeded as Secretary; the three men on my Masonic investigation committee, Bill Brooks, Forrest McQuiston, and Herb Furman; the organist, Bob Haynes, who played “Happy Trails” as we closed the lodge; Bob Clarkson, the Treasurer who presented me my first Masonic pin; Bill McIntosh (senior and junior) who influenced my Masonic career; Dave Seidel, who was Treasurer when I was Secretary; Alex McColl, an old Scot with a wonderful singing voice; Charles Rongey, the lodge Historian who taught me a lot about the history of the lodge and the village; and many other side-liners who had served the lodge in a variety of capacities. They are all gone now, but in their day, they were the movers and shakers of the lodge.
Back then, when our lodge meeting was over, it was common for them to sit down, drink coffee, and talk about the lodge, their lives, and the world around them. It was here I discovered these were the people who truly tended to the business of the lodge, not the current sitting Master. If there was a problem that needed to be addressed, they took care of it. They leaned on one and other thereby creating an esprit de corps which I admired. Yes, they most definitely spoke “on the level.” These were men of honor, integrity, and teamwork. There was no interest in autocratic rule or accolades for personal glory.
Today though, when lodge is over, people bolt for the exit. The words spoken in the lodge room are the same today, but the spirit is different. I am still warmly greeted, but I get the unsettling feeling we are only going through the mechanics of Freemasonry as opposed to living Freemasonry.
I had the great honor of serving as Master for many of the ghosts during their Masonic funeral service. Maybe that’s why I am so sensitive to their spirit and see them sitting in lodge before me.
Now, I am one of the elders. As I looked around the lodge room, and heard the catechisms spoken, I noticed there were only three other men attending who served the lodge longer than myself. Everyone else was much younger.
As I sat in my chair, gathering my thoughts, I thought back to a time when the fraternity meant something more important than a good old boy’s club. People weren’t measured by a Masonic title or fancy apron, but simply by a plain white leather apron, a warm grip, and the word “Brother.”
I like to think I’m an optimist. Most of the time at least.
If you haven’t been paying attention, COVID-19 has been wreaking havoc around the world. In the U.S., the pandemic is and growing exponentially in the United States with a flurry of mixed messaging about gathering, wearing masks, and even arguing if the virus is real.
Wherever you land on the issue, the dilemma is the same–the pandemic is shaping the way gather. And in the absence of gathering it’s shaping the way prospective members see the (or don’t see) the fraternity.
As COVID spreads and impacts more of us, shuttering or putting limits on what we can do in groups, we need to figure out new ways to communicate what it means to be a Freemason and how someone joins Freemasonry.
If they can’t see Freemasonry in action, they can’t take action to become a mason.
Closed Lodge Rooms During COVID-19
How do you show someone what you do if you can’t SHOW them what you do? You have to talk about it.
How you talk about it might and might not matter in the ways you think it would. What’s important is the message and engagement that comes from leadership to the members. Public where possible. Inspiring when able. But frequent in a way that’s not obsessive but relevant to the evolution of what’s taking place in the news.
I think we take leaders for granted. They’re in that leadership position to “lead.” So, they should. This could be lodge line officers, lodge masters, well-spoken district leaders and grandmasters.
The messaging should be inspiring, encouraging, not preachy or assumptive of one bend or another. I say this as the messaging should be worthy of sharing OUTSIDE of social media. How exciting or engaging would a message about the great things Freemasonry is doing to help beat the pandemic be?
The goal would be to capture the attention of the secondary audience, the friends of friends on Facebook or Twitter who see the Liked or Reshared communication. A great early adopter of this idea is taking shape out of the Grand Lodge of Ohio who has been producing content at an amazing rate and posting to social channels.
This is just one example of what I’ve seen on Twitter:
I mention this as one example of what one Grand Lodge is doing to connect and communicate with the broader public. What an amazing sight that would be.
Members at a Distance During COVID-19
While engaging the secondary audience of non-masons with interesting content, the need to keep existing members connected is paramount. How you go about this seems to come down to a few avenues.
Host regular (tiled and/or untiled) meetings via Zoom or other online platforms.
Break the quarantine protocols and meet in person.
This may not be the normal everyone likes or even wants to operate in. But it’s the normal we presently exist within. Here, members under the United Grand Lodge of England has organized some amazing events with Masonic notables like Dr. Robert Lomas and the 2012 Prestonian lecturer W Bro. Tony Harvey. These are but a few of the activities coming out of the U.K.
This isn’t to say that activities aren’t taking place around the U.S.
With the proliferation of online meetings, it would be foolish to assume that they aren’t taking place as tiled business meetings. The point here is the lack of wider publicizing of the activities or hosting activities that may be of interest to a wider of both member and non can only help to bolster any interest that may exist in the area. It’s not perfect. It’s not the best possible world. But it’s something. It’s work in the direction of re-emerging into a newly vaccinated world eager to do something social.
Doing this work or seeing the need to do it is challenging.
But there’s still time. It just takes the energy and leadership to see the value and do the work. This pandemic will end. We’ll beat COVID-19 with a vaccine. Freemasonry needs to make sure it’s ready to get back into the world when the vaccine is in circulation and the world opens back up.
Postscript: I’d written this several days before publishing it. On the evening before setting this up to go live, NPR dropped a national story on the subject titled: Freemasons Say They’re Needed Now More Than Ever. So Why Are Their Ranks Dwindling? In the story, it essentially encapsulates this very problem quoting Chris Hodapp from Freemasons for Dummies. Chris was speaking on the loss of membership, saying “…something that’s scaring the hell out of me is this COVID shutdown thing. God help us all when we stand back and survey the crumbling wreckage that that has caused.”
It’s that wreckage that can be addressed, now, as best possible. The way to do that is to be present.
Masonic researcher, author, speaker, video producer, journalist and historian Stephen Dafoe has chronicled the decline of American Freemasonry for years. His research has been published in The Scottish Rite Journal, Heredom (the Transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society), Templar History Magazine, Knight Templar Magazine, The Fourth Part Of A Circle, Masonic Magazine and The Masonic Society Journal among others. He has even gone back into history to write the definitive work on the Morgan Affair with his book “Morgan: The Scandal That Shook Freemasonry,” a time in American History when half of all Freemasonry closed its doors. Now that was Masonic decline!
His more modern assessment of Masonic decline was published in 2007 when he wrote the article and produced the video:
The Restaurant At The End Of The Masonic Universe
In 2009 Dafoe wrote:
There’s a Hole in Our Bucket
North American Freemasonry is on a bit of an infinite loop these days. I don’t mean the type of infinite loop we used to see on the Flintstones whenever Fred and Barney would drive past the same three houses and two palm trees over and over again, but it is close. The type of infinite-loop motif I’m referring to is the type that forms the basis of songs like 99 Bottle of Beer or There’s a Hole in my Bucket. In fact, both songs represent two of the problems confronting many lodges today with respect to our declining membership.
Now, before you turn the page, let me assure you this is not another article lamenting our sagging numbers, nor is it a rallying call for us to rise towards that lofty Masonic pinnacle that was the Halcyon Days of the post-World War II influx. But we will be looking at the numbers, not with an eye towards depression, but with an eye towards resolution. We have a problem, but if we can truly know where the problem lies, and if we can convince enough Masons that this is actually the case, we can collectively begin to work towards fixing it.
What the numbers tell us:
Since 1925, the Masonic Service Association of North America (MSANA) has been keeping track of the numbers of Freemasons in the United States.
Without launching into a long and boring examination of the ebb and flow of these numbers, let it suffice to say that Masonic membership’s highest point in terms of numbers was 1959, when it boasted 4,103,161 members; its lowest point occurring in 2007, when our ranks had been reduced to just 1,483,449. Ironically, our highest point in terms of membership may well have been our lowest point for Freemasonry, or at least the start of it.
The hand ringers in our fraternity love to hold on to that 1959 membership number like the middle aged bachelor who holds onto the photo of the fashion model he dated in college, as if it were a goal he may yet attain once more. But as both pine away for a desire that has longed since passed the realm of possibility, they begin to tell themselves lies to justify their current situation.
As such, our hand ringers have created a long-standing belief that once upon a time Freemasons made up a sizable percentage of the population in American communities. However, if one compares the US census with the MSANA membership statistics, an interesting and revealing picture emerges. In 1930, only 2.66 per cent of the population belonged to the Masonic fraternity. By 1940, that percentage had been reduced to 1.86% – largely due to the effects of the Great Depression, men simply couldn’t afford their dues. It reached its lowest point in 2000, when less than 1 per cent of the US population could say they owned a Masonic apron. But even in the midst of those glory days our hand ringers so love to remind us about, only 2.41 per cent of the population belonged to the Craft. If we divide and multiply these figures to represent a male population of roughly 50 per cent, then we see that even at our highest percentile penetration in 1930, only 5 in 100 American males were Freemasons – this is a far cry from the cries of deep lamentation emanating from the lips of our loudest hand ringing Brethren that once upon a time almost every American male was a mason. And yet, they will cling to that four-million-plus-Masons figure like cat hair to black pants, failing to accept that the much brandied about number represents nothing more than a sociological anomaly. It was that influx of men who swelled the Craft’s ranks between 1945 and 1959 that, in many ways set the tone for the downward spiral towards the Masonic caliginosity we have experienced in the decades since. Although many became dedicated members of the Craft, expanding their learning through books and periodicals, discussions and debates, many who took on leadership rules were attracted by the formality of the ritual, to the point where it became the beginning and end of a Master Mason’s education.
Perhaps the greatest decade for Freemasonry – at least from a point of research, education and all around Masonic bigness – was the 1920’s; a decade that saw the creation of the National Masonic Research Society and its publication The Builder, a magazine that offered the words and thoughts of the great Masonic luminaries of the day. It was also a decade where Masons displayed their Masonic pride, not by the number of pins on their lapels, but by the number of elegant buildings on Main Street. It was during the 1920’s that great Masonic buildings including the House of the Temple in Washington DC, The George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia and the Detroit Masonic Temple in Michigan transformed from idea to reality. That decade, which I’ve long-argued to be the most enlightening for Freemasonry, saw an increase in membership of just above four per cent.
But then the Great Depression reduced membership roles by almost 25 per cent by then end of the 1930’s. In fact membership continued to decline until America entered the Second World War in 1941, and that is when the anomaly occurred. By the end of the 1940’s, Masonic membership had increased by more than 42 percent, carrying a forward momentum through most of the 1950’s, which saw an increase of 16 percent from the decade before. From this point on membership has been on a steady decline, with the present decade – now about to enter its final year – on a fast track to surpassing the 1990’s, the current record holder for membership seepage.
It is a mistake for us to pine away for a resurgence of the anomaly that was the 1940’s and 1950’s. The WWII soldier returned home and, looking for the camaraderie of the barracks, he sought to find it in fraternal societies like Freemasonry. This inflated our membership roles like a windfall inflates a bank account, but like the lottery winner who does not invest his new found money properly; it is soon piddled away until nothing remains.
Another tale the hand ringers love to tell us, especially those who have more steps behind them than they have left ahead of them, is that men are not joining today like they used to, and that we are losing members from death faster than we can replace them through initiations. Certainly, if one considers “not joining like they used to” to be those post-war Halcyon Days previously discussed, then I’m more than willing to concede the point. However, if there is one myth in Freemasonry that has gained wide currency and firm traction, it is the notion that Masons are dying faster than we can replace them.
What the numbers don’t tell us!
In 2005 I was asked to deliver the keynote address to the Western Canada Conference – an annual gathering of the Grand lines of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Part of my presentation sought to dispel this myth that the Grim Reaper was using his scythe to cut a swath through the fraternity. Whereas, the MSANA numbers only give us the annual bottom line, I was able to look at the big picture closer to home by tracking specifics in our membership statistics over an eight-year period.
What I discovered was that, like the rest of North America, Alberta had a sizable hole in our Masonic bucket; 1,777 of our Brethren had affiliated with the Grand Lodge above, leaving us with a net loss of 1,512 members between 1996 and 2003. But this is not where our problem was because the numbers showed that in that same period of time, 3,118 men had joined, affiliated or renewed their membership in one of our lodges.
In an ideal world, the difference between deaths and new members should have seen Alberta experience a 14 per cent growth in that time, but instead we were dwindling, just like everywhere else. The question was why? Where was the hole in our Masonic bucket that was causing the decline? It wasn’t through deaths; we were clearly finding the men to replace ourselves. The answer was through demits and suspensions for non payment of dues (SNPD); a combined loss of 2,863 over the eight years. When added to the deaths, we had lost a total of 4,640 men, while gaining a respectable 3,118. The hole in our Masonic bucket had been found and, as I’ve learned, it is not an isolated situation.
This past November I was keynote speaker at the Grand Lodge of Manitoba’s Masonic workshop and presented a similar address and findings, chronicling their past six years of data. Like Alberta, Manitoba has a hole in its Masonic bucket, caused by demits and suspensions outpacing new members. Between 2002 and 2007 Manitoba saw 856 men join, affiliate or reinstate their memberships. During that same time, 753 Manitoba Masons have died; again leaving a positive number between membership losses and gains. Like Alberta, their hole is caused by the combination of demits and SNPD’s. In the past six years the province has seen 1,355 men leave the Masonic fraternity.
But the Craft lodge in Canada is not alone in finding it has a bucket with the same hole.
Membership statistics from the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar show that between 2004 and the end of September 2008, 17,470 American Freemasons have become Templars, while 9,576 have taken a demit and another 21,706 have been suspended for non payment of dues. Add to this the 22,546 Templars who have gone on to join their creator, and you have 36,358 fewer Knights Templar marching about. But perhaps marching about is precisely the problem. Perhaps the men who are joining today are joining to parade about like the sword-wielding Templars of old and disappointed to find only old Templars parading about doing sword drill. It is a question only the Grand Encampment and those who are left remain in her Commanderies can resolve, but like the Craft Lodges, its bucket is leaking primarily from the same rusted out hole.
Towards a solution
Back when I was editor of the short-lived Masonic Magazine, I wrote an editorial titled The Restaurant at the End of the Masonic Universe. Without republishing the editorial here, it told the story of a restaurant that does not live up to its advertising slogan, “We make good food better,” an obvious play on our own slogan “We take good men and make them better.” The editorial, which has received equal doses of praise and criticism, sought to explain in a light manner the malaise affecting Freemasonry today and the true cause for the hole in our bucket.
Every mason has heard the expression “but we’ve always done it that way before.” The fact that it is used as the butt of Masonic jokes serves as proof positive of its longevity and power in maintaining a status quo. But, as we have seen by what the MSANA numbers don’t show us, the status quo is draining our buckets. As the allegory of my restaurant editorial showed, the reason things suck in many lodges is because the men who show up month after month like things that suck. They do so because they enjoy the bland food; not the shoe-leather roast beef and off color green beans, but the Masonic meal that is largely comprised of recitation of minutes, tedious debates over how funds are dispersed and arguments over when and how to salute the Worshipful Master. Clearly these are not the things that appeal to the men who are leaving our ranks. If they were, they’d be with us still. But instead of spending our energies trying to retain them, we devote our efforts to finding their replacements.
For as long as I have been a Freemason, we have been trying to fill a bucket that has a sizable hole in it. Like Henry in the famed children’s song, we have whined through the infinite loop of reasons why we can’t fix the bucket and like Jack in the classic nursery rhyme, have rolled down the hill, our empty bucket tumbling behind us. Like children on a bus trip we have done our rendition of 99 Bottle of Beer by repeating the same pattern ad nausea, as one by one our members – like the bottles of beer on the wall – vanish.
Unfortunately, we are not doing a good enough job identifying what it is that the men who are joining are looking for, which is – in almost all cases – that which they cannot get any place else – FREEMASONRY! They are looking to be educated in the Masonic Craft, in the art of being a gentleman in a world that has largely forgotten what one was, and in how they can be part of – to quote my jurisdiction’s ritual – “the society of men who prize honor and virtue above the external advantages of rank and fortune.” In short, they want to be taught the things about themselves and the world in which they live that only Freemasonry can teach them. If we cannot teach them because we do not know these things ourselves, then we must learn alongside them. Then, and only then, can the hole in our Masonic bucket be truly repaired and we can return to that growth that once allowed us to select men who would most benefit from Freemasonry’s teaching and most benefit Freemasonry by their character and their conduct.
It will not be and easy task fixing this half-century old hole in our Masonic bucket; but it will not be possible at all until we accept that a failure to do so is the cause of our decline and the harbinger of our demise.
Thisarticle originally appeared in Issue 2 of The Masonic Society Journal.
All rights reserved and copyrighted. Permission of the author is required to reprint any and all parts of this article.
So have we fixed the hole in our Masonic Bucket yet? Have we taken our decline seriously yet? Or are we sticking our fingers in a dike about to burst and putting band aids on a wound that needs stitches? When are we going to stop the bleeding?
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!
Grand Lodges in their infinite wisdom are trying to market Freemasonry while allowing the product itself to deteriorate. Like the restaurant at the end of the Masonic universe grandiose words are no substitute for an inferior product. Improve the product and it will sell itself. What we really have is a problem of retention not a membership problem. And that lies in the fact that our promises don’t live up to expectations.
We have literally knocking on our doors the next generation who are thirsty for a philosophy they can sink their teeth into. These are not superficial party goers but rather men who are seekers, searchers for a way to make a difference in this fractured world of ours. They don’t mind working hard for the goals ahead. We shouldn’t be making things easy and less expensive for them, just the opposite. We should be demanding much of them and they expecting the same from us in return. The question is are we going to give them pablum or are we going to give them the real thing, Freemasonry… Frederic L. Milliken
That such a young, bright, knowledgeable Freemason as Brother Salman S. Sheika resigned from Freemasonry at the young age of 26 is a crying shame. It is doubly reprehensible because of the discrimination he met inside of Freemasonry. When we think of discrimination we normally think of Black – White prejudice. But discrimination takes many forms and just as ugly as racial discrimination is religious discrimination. To find that in the holier than thou Grand Lodges of the North who constantly look down their pious noses at Southern Grand Lodges as havens of Redneck values makes some Masons at the best, hypocritical. Have we not progressed from the hypocrisy and discrimination of the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time?
Sheika was one of those seekers who thirsted for “the Truth.” Isn’t that one of the tenets of our professions as Masons, Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth? He was told Freemasonry had some answers or at least some tools to work with. But alas, as we hear repeatedly, Freemasonry doesn’t practice what it preaches. Esoteric Masonry is frowned upon in many quarters. As soon as you mention the words “Masonic Education” in the Lodge Building many Masons will find that they have some other pressing problem to attend to. So many Grand Lodges and Lodges have become havens of fellowship and charitable works but not ones of study and learning.
But the latter is precisely why Sheika joined Freemasonry and they promised him that it was there for him. Broken promises are unmasonic conduct. But it is worse than that. What we have here is anti-intellectualism within Freemasonry. And that will be the undoing of the Craft. For many others are better at charity, better at fellowship. But none have the potential of really and truly making good men better. That’s hard to do, however, when you are anti-intellectual. – Brother Frederic L. Milliken
Why I Left Freemasonry: The First And Last In My Family To Do So
By Salman S. Sheikh
I experienced bigotry, ignorance, and the total opposite of what a Mason really is.
The beauty of life as we go through it is the sequence of beautiful experiences that shape us from the moment we lay in the loving arms of our parents as babies to facing a complex world as adults trying to find a path forward. As a Muslim-American, my keen interests in the US was always trying to learn more, make people smile, and leave a good impression on the people of this country on how we can all strive to be in union as human beings to bring peace and prosperity. I always say the world in a unique and analytical way growing up which led me into heavy research as I approached my high school days. On my weekends off from school, I would spend countless hours researching Freemasonry, different secret societies, listening to occult researchers like Jordan Maxwell, etc. I was always the black sheep of my family and was always the one who was a part in terms of my knowledge, experiences, and interests and that led me to the doors of Freemasonry at age 23 as the first in my family to do so.
In the summer of 2015, I had met a Jamaican immigrant named Marlon Francis who became good friends with me. He showed up at my summer job in Upper Darby and I saw the square and compass symbol and asked him I wanted to join through my previous keen research on the matter. Marlon had an old school mentality and had waited 5-6 months of us meeting, hanging out, becoming friends before he eventually trusted my character and made a consideration to get me a petition from the lodge. So from start to finish I went through an old school process of asking the Mason and having the Mason evaluate me for a period of time before he proceeded. As I was getting closer to my initiation after the investigation committee of William Roosevelt PM approved me, I begin to have ideas of the wonderful knowledge that I would learn because I was already heavy into Masonic, Occult, Astral Projection research, etc.
At the age of 23 and in January of 2016, I was initiated into Freemasonry as an Entered Apprentice by a Jewish Past Master, Alan Ozer with whom over time I formed a close bond and which attests what true Masonry is with a Muslim and Jew embracing each other for the sake of God and brotherhood. On the same night I am thankful to another Past Master, Greg Klauder who told me ‘People will still be people.” in reference to me as a Muslim who appreciated the unity. Over time I begin to understand what PM Klauder had meant.
As time went on and I became a Master Mason, 32nd degree Scottish Rite, Shriner, Royal Arch Mason, and Royal/Select Council Master Mason. I realized that Freemasonry was just a social club with a few ritual traditions. I was also discouraged as I saw the brethren who would smile in my faces but would later post Anti-Islamic and Anti-Immigrant posts on their social medias. I stayed patient and realized the imperfection of all things as we are taught as Masons and made an effort to try to win everybody’s heart through my honest spirit and character of seeing true human unity but even that was not enough. In the summer of 2018, after 2.5 years of a solid active effort, I decided to resign from Freemasonry and its bodies with my good standing intact. I shed tears when I wrote my resignation letter but God had told me in my heart that they did not deserve me and I had the right to move on. I reflected on the story of Prophet Musa (Moses) from the Holy Bible and Holy Quran where he was in line for the Egyptian throne but decided to throw that all away when his heart did not accept the Israelites being mercilessly abused. I left for the same reasons where I experienced bigotry, ignorance, and the total opposite of what a Mason really is.
As my tenure as a Mason I made sure I gave hugs, smiles, and real knowledge to all those who came my way in which I had members from India, UK, Africa, etc. all reach out to me to express their interest in my works and printed my essays in their lodges which at the end only made my lodge, Grand Lodge, and country stand out in a positive way in the current environment of confusion, division, and chaos. I feel pride that in my short time I did more to benefit the global Masonic community than those who were here before me for years but didn’t make a positive difference in the aspects of bringing humanity and Masons of different backgrounds together as we just saw in 2018 Florida and Texas recognizing their Prince Hall counterparts. We are still behind in many ways and one of the reasons I left because the organization lets anybody in and we don’t practice what we preach when the going gets tough or when it comes down to the nitty gritty. I am thankful to Mike from Grand Lodge who called me and we agreed we would rather be only just 20 people instead of 100,000 but all 20 of them being top notch quality who were there for the right reasons. I am also thankful to RWGM S Eugene Herritt who promised to keep my memory and vision alive in terms of bringing change to the Grand Lodge. Masonry in the US I believe and its members are currently a reflection of the society they inhibit, by that I mean that we spend majority of our times on social media, at jobs, home, and in the community and that’s where your true character is revealed the most in comparison to just 2 night a month at lodge and pretending to call someone a brother just for the sake of it but when times of trial and tribulation come those same people are nowhere to be found and can turn against you if they see the benefit of doing so. That is not Masonry and I chose to walk away from it to contribute to my own community and people who deserved it more. I still have WM’s from India asking for my demit certificate to make me a member there but declined all of their requests. My next goal in life is to be initiated into Sufism (Mystic Islam) and follow the true path of God with people who are on the same spiritual frequency as me. I did not resonate anymore with the members or the fraternity on a spiritual basis which caused my departure so at the end it was not my loss at all.
My last advice to the Freemasons is that if you want this to continue to survive in a future where the young ones are keen with artificial intelligence and info at the palm of their hands, then you need to offer them something new that hasn’t been shown to them before. The practice of memorizing sacred texts, being on a chair/committee, contributing to charity is something that can be found in every church, synagogue and mosque throughout America. The real question is, what are you willing to help them realize in an environment where relationships, family, jobs, spirituality is on a totally different playing field then our previous generations? Once this question is addressed along with letting in clean hearted quality people, then we won’t hear the same tune every month of why the same 6-7 guys are showing in a lodge with 4-500 members. It’s a simple solution which if followed can be beneficial to the organization along with not showing them the same stuff every meeting and not letting Past Masters run their lodges. Give the new guys a chance otherwise they will just see it as another boy’s club and move on with other adventures in life that could benefit them more. It’s a shame for me to say this but I learned more on my own and with likeminded spiritual people I had met before I even became a Mason than I have ever learned in a lodge or appendant body. That should not be the case.
In conclusion, I am thankful for these last 2 years for what they were worth to make a difference in the organization of Freemasons in my state, country, and other nations to teach them the forgotten values of a true Mason and the true nature of one who listens to his heart and walks the path of God. I departed at age 26 in good standing and still have a lifetime ahead of me to do great things for other groups that are meant to cross my path. I am thankful to be the first in GL of PA’s history to do a program on Sufism and make the effort to bring Masonic understanding and unity while others are just worried about their legacies. My greatest legacy will be that I will remain in the hearts and minds of the Freemasons forever and that means I also live forever which is more important than statues or my name appearing in Grand Lodge digest decisions. Please continue to love each other in and out of lodge and practice what you preach because God’s all-seeing eye will hold us all accountable one day for all our seen and unseen actions. Before your meetings start, do a hand in hand meditation so even the brother who feels left out can feel a part of his brotherhood instead of looking bored or playing on his phone. I want you all to think about all these things I have addressed in my final message and I leave that burden on your shoulders from this point on with the mission of how you will carry this fraternity forward for future generations and not be in a desperate situation to keep numbers up. When your heart, mission, members, teachings, online image, etc. is all pure and designed to empower somebody then worrying about numbers should be the least of your worries because at the end “My Faith is in God and God is my right.”
As Salam Aleikum (Peace be upon you and your families today and every day.)
Yours in brotherhood, Salman S. Sheikh Upper Darby, Pennsylvania
He liked my article and shared with me his outgoing Annual Report & Valedictory Address as Grand Master, a very illuminating read. He has given me permission to share it herein. I hope you enjoy it. – Tim Bryce
Rank, Regalia and Regulations vs. Rites, Rituals and Reflections
by Jacques Huyghebaert
Grand Master’s Annual Report & Valedictory Address
Prague, 26th April 2015
As I am at the end of my Grand Master’s term and am submitting to you my final report, allow me to share with you some reflections on the nature of Freemasonry, its current state in the world in general and in the Czech Republic in particular.
I cannot but observe that for the last 70 years Freemasonry has witnessed a continuous numerical decline, losing over 50% of its members worldwide.
The trend has been particularly strong in the U.S.A. in the U.K. and in the English speaking world, where recruitment of new members has reached an all time low and at a time when the average age of Freemasons is now reported to be above 65. The future of the Craft looks grim in some of these countries…
In contrast, in Continental Europe and in Latin America, where for over two centuries Brethren had been subjected to religious and political persecutions, Freemasonry has since the end of World War II, seen its membership steadily grow. Age distribution among the Brethren is balanced. Old prejudices and lies against Freemasonry have faded away, while public interest and respect for the Order are growing.
What are the reasons behind these evolutions? What is it that makes the two situations different ? Are we in the presence of two distinct types of Freemasonry? I will now review the negative and the positive elements of the situation and suggest a constructive approach to strengthen the genuine values of Freemasonry.
For the general public, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world, Freemasonry has in the past generally been associated with elite, high rank and public respectability, having counted among its members Kings, Princes, Heads of Government as well as artists, scientists, academics and eminent members of every class of society.
Today however, Freemasonry is sometimes described by non-masons as an out-dated institution, whose members continue to dress in an old fashioned way, wearing gold chains and medals, richly embroidered regalia, parading in solemn processions, using pompous titles and spending their time at the performance of formal ceremonies.
The question that arises is: what that is sufficiently attractive has such a type of organization to offer, in the context of today’s society, to an educated, dynamic mature person, that he would wish to attend Lodge once or twice a month in 2015?
Statistical figures in England. show that for the last 30 years, 4 out of 5 new Brethren, have been leaving Freemasonry within the 5 years following their admission.
This fact demonstrates without any possible doubt that the expectations of 80% of the candidates joining Freemasonry have not been satisfied, resulting in disappointment, followed more or less automatically by their resignation from the Craft.
RITES AND RITUALS
Rites and Rituals are not limited to Freemasonry, they are a universal feature appearing in all human societies, they exist from times immemorial.
Burial sites, found all over the world, confirm that already in prehistoric times, as distant as 100,000 years ago, the corpse of a dead person would be placed, in accordance with certain rules, in a tomb constructed for that purpose, or in a grave intentionally dug into the earth, along with various objects, thus giving the proof of the existence of established burial practices, funeral rites and ceremonies going back to the dawn of mankind and the very emergence of Homo Sapiens.
Solemn ceremonies in ancient times were usually performed in the context of the rites and rituals of prevailing religions and cults, being traditionally associated with major life events such as birth, coming of age, marriage and death.
Rites and rituals were at the root of cultural behaviors governing society by formalizing relationships within the family, tribe and nation.
While in its Masonic sense the word “rite” refers to a system or an organization, covering a number of degrees and ceremonies, like the Scottish or the York Rites, the word “ritual” deals more particularly about the content of the ceremonial activities.
A rite or ritual can be described as an established usually solemn ceremony or act, requiring a particular dress code, performed in a customary way, and consisting in a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, taking place in a particular place, usually a Masonic Temple or Lodge Hall, according a prescribed order, form and manner, governing both words and actions.
Speculative Freemasonry from its inception in the early 18th century has been characterized by the paramount importance of ritualization in its activities.
REGALIA AND RANK
In addition to masonic rites and rituals, without which it would be difficult for most of us to imagine our Lodge meetings, our ceremonies and degree work are characterized by the impressive place which our customs have conferred to regalia, rank and titles.
Regalia is a Latin word which covered originally the emblems or insignia of royalty, especially the crown, the scepter, and other ornaments used at a coronation.
Each and every Mason begins his career with a plain white apron, to remind him that Masonry regards no man on account of his worldly wealth or honors.
This ritual symbolism is intended to signify to us that the internal and not the external qualities of candidates are the criteria that have to be examined for initiation.
Yet, despite official pretensions of humility, and the ritual statement that Freemasons are equal and meet on the level, concretely, generations of Brethren have been dressing up in impressive ceremonial clothes, eagerly wearing elaborate aprons, collars, gauntlet-cuffs and gloves, as well as breast jewels, medals, gold or silver embroidered paraphernalia and sashes richly adorned with symbols.
The wearing in Lodge of distinctive clothing and costumes, ornaments and regalia on formal occasions is inextricably linked with Freemasonry and still carries a paramount meaning to a vast number of senior Freemasons as the indication and recognition of their pre-eminent hierarchical status, rank and position in the Lodge and the Order.
Important masonic ceremonies are still largely conducted with the pomp and luster of customs and traditions passed down from our 18th century predecessors directly to us, but many of which already existed in medieval pageants and religious liturgy. By contemporary 21st century standards, as existing in developed countries of the world, however we need to ask ourselves if, not only in the eyes of non masons, but also of potential candidates, these old dress codes traditions and usages have not become ostentatious and grotesque remains of a bygone, obsolete age.
THE TRADITIONAL TOP-DOWN HIERARCHY
Characteristics of the authoritarian model:
From the top of the ladder, when looking down, you see a lot of “shit”
From below, you only see “assholes”
Is this the type of Grand Lodge that we want for the future?
RULES AND REGULATIONS
We hear from time to time that Freemasonry is an Order based on hierarchy, where power is vested at the top, while we members are expected to obey and abide cheerfully by all the rules, regulations, edicts and decrees made by our leaders.
While earlier pyramidal forms of government, based on the assumed superiority of its heads, had been the rule for the major part in the history of mankind, the authoritarian model was first challenged and then progressively abolished from the 18th century onwards, except in parts of the world ruled by tyrants and dictators.
The development of speculative Freemasonry has taken place in parallel indeed with the spread of egalitarian principles of Human Rights, and with the ideals of freedom and justice, dear to all Freemasons, which characterize our modern world.
What had been earlier be immutable justification for the divine, royal or natural right invoked by the very few who preside at the top and command, and the imperative duty to obey applicable for the rest of us, materialized in the difference between the high and the low social classes, determining in an absolute manner the relations between men and women, parents and children — is now nearly universally rejected.
The patriarchal role of the wise and experienced man, the teacher and the professional craftsman have been seriously eroded, as we have lost confidence in the relevance of the former codes of dominance and their associated beliefs and behaviors.
As deep, far reaching and rapid social and technological changes have been taking place during the 20th century, authoritarian government stereotypes appear generally today as outmoded, inefficient and inappropriate models.
In contrast with the public trend promoting casual dress codes, simple and informal social relations, including at work, we should examine whether the corollary of the great importance given by Freemasons to rank and title is perhaps not that our Fraternity, in some jurisdictions at least, is at risk of being the victim of too much hierarchy and abusive use of personal power by individuals.
Worse: has the image of poor internal fraternal relations, crippling the reputation of some Grand Lodges, caused by excessive authoritarianism, not become a deterrent for potential candidates to join Freemasonry as well as a direct reason for a number of disgruntled Brethren to resign their masonic membership?
Is it not true, on the contrary, that as genuine Masons, and as taught in our ritual, we should systematically meet on the level and always remember that we are Brethren!
In accordance with the masonic principles which we proclaim, and using common sense, let’s keep administration, bureaucracy, rules, and regulations as light as possible, while encouraging peer-to-peer teamwork, consensus and friendship between the Brethren, the Lodges, the Grand Officers and Grand Lodge.
Thus we will be able to focus on Freemasonry itself and enjoy its benefits.
RITUAL AS A SIGNIFICANT AND MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCE
It’s obvious that, if so many men join the Craft, then leave, it’s because when they get in expectations aren’t met.
The common sense thing is to find out why people join, what were/are their expectations before joining the Craft and deliver on that — if it fits.
From the outside, Freemasonry has a sense of mystery and wonder; that there is something valuable to be gained from membership.
Candidates simply don’t get this when they get in. The Masonic ritual is often delivered at ceremonies in superficial, mostly rote ways. New Brethren are asked to start memorizing the ritual, without having been informed in advance about this requirement and without receiving proper Masonic education after initiation.
The on-going trend followed by several Grand Lodges of wanting to ‘change in line with society’ and to recruit and retain members isn’t working.
The recipe to save Freemasonry is to reconnect it with its deeper purpose.
The answer is not to change Freemasonry.
The answer is to understand what Freemasonry is at its core.
WE HAVE ONLY ONE LIFE!
Despite good health, the comforts of modern life and the security of sufficient income, many people these days are dissatisfied with the routine and shallowness of modern life and are looking to reconnect with deeper, more fundamental truths.
What are we looking for, to make our life interesting?
1. A break from monotony
Sitting all the time locked up in an office can be next to unbearable, claustrophobic. Going through life following every day the same dull routine with occasional weekend activities can be extremely insufficient. Widening our horizon makes our life more interesting and gives us a sense of freedom.
2. Spiritual adventure
Learning and discovering new things, exchanging ideas, establishing friendships, studying different cultures is an exciting, unusual, unpredictable journey, which always ends in being an interesting experience or encounter. A full life revolves around constant curiosity and thirst for knowledge. When are old we should be able to look back on our life happily and appreciate the opportunities we took to explore the vast world which surrounds us.
3. A broader perspective
By opening our eyes and mind to discover different people and cultures, in a spirit of tolerance, we are able to enrich ourselves. A thing that is seen as unacceptable to us could be a daily occurrence in another culture. Just because we have been raised to believe in a certain set of beliefs, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right.
4. The Brethren
A very exciting thing about Freemasonry are the Brethren we meet and the friendships created along the way. Every Mason has a different journey, a different background story that has led him to his present point in his life. Each Brother is unique in his own way. Masons generally like to share where they come from and are interested to learn from each other. Meeting Brethren and establishing friendships leaves undoubtedly a constructive effect on our life as we move forward.
5. Personal Development
Complacency is Toxic! Freemasonry provides an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and the world we live in. All this offers a unique chance to reflect on our life, to analyze where we stand, and decide where we want to go in the future.
6. Just Because.
We only have one life to live! Let us therefore enjoy it to the fullest!
FREEMASONRY INVITES US TO REFLECT
Eternally valid questions and reflections are for example:
From where do we come?
Where are we going?
Who are we?
What is consciousness?
What is the sense of life?
What is the value of friendship?
What means initiation?
Freemasonry unlike other groups, does not recruit, it confers initiation.
Masonic rituals and ceremonies operate as an instrument, addressing our emotional senses and delivering practical, personal, spiritual and philosophical advancement.
Trends, environment and conditions change — but the deep mental and emotional nature of the human being does not.
As individuals, we are fundamentally the same, physically and psychologically, as our distant ancestors thousands of years ago.
Freemasonry transcends time and culture.
We make sense of the world and ourselves through the internal languages of mind. We are biologically programmed to react to emotional signals, which experience teaches us, are well conveyed through formal rites and rituals.
Freemasonry creates meaning through the language of symbols and allegories.
THE LOST WORD
In A Bridge to Light issued in 1988, under authority of the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Washington, D.C., Bro. Rex R. Hutchinson wrote that:
“Modern speculative Freemasonry did not spring full blown upon the historical stage at a London pub or tavern meeting in 1717.”
“The operative Masons had already contributed a long legacy of symbolism and tradition that continues to enrich the Craft to this day.”
“Also there are persistent references in Masonic ritual, especially in the Higher Degrees, to relationships with Rosicrucians, Illuminati, Gnostics, Alchemists, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Christians, Essenes, Persians, Hindus and Kabbalists.”
“Whether these presumed relations demonstrate a continuous heritage, of which modern Freemasonry is the linear successor, or simply a source of inspiration is not essential, what matters is the teaching behind the symbols.”
“Whatever the truth of history, the contributions to the symbolism of Freemasonry by the religions, philosophies, mythologies and occult mysteries of the past lie upon its surface for all to see.”
“Rather than being a secret society, Freemasonry is a revealer of secrets. The great truths of ancient man were, in their time, also great secrets and few were admitted into the sanctuaries where these truths were taught.”
“Freemasonry teaches these truths to all worthy men who ask to learn them.”
IN SEARCH OF LIGHT
We all tend to stay in our comfort zone.
The comfort zone can be described as an abstract theoretical bubble, where we feel at ease, in control of our surroundings, and fully comfortable.
Everyone at some point should push his own boundaries to promote personal growth. One way to burst that bubble is Freemasonry
Masonic symbols are the keys to a long, difficult but rewarding spiritual journey, it is a thorny road which we have to travel by ourselves. Our Brethren can help us, but at the end of the day, nobody can do it in our stead.
Initiation does not consist in receiving any type of knowledge that can be written or said, or perceived by the five senses of human nature, but is an introduction to a type of totally different knowledge, where the Brother will learn mainly to use his heart to conceive the beauties of Freemasonry.
Then nothing will remain neither occult, nor secret, for the intention of the Fraternity has never been to hide, but only to transmit through the succession of ages, the most excellent tenets of our Institution.
The sense of symbols, first very obscure, will progressively became clearer, and those words that the young Entered Apprentice can only spell with difficulty, will be read later with ease if he patiently perseveres.
He is guided symbolically when he is given the first letter of the word. But he has to discover the second letter himself. In due time, the third letter will be communicated to him in order that he may uncover the next.
This symbolic approach, held in high esteem among the peoples of Antiquity, is still used today by Freemasons but has nothing to do with a craving for secret or mystery, nor has this method become obsolete.
Much to contrary, far superior to the confusion of words and of languages, Masonic symbols, so expressive, are more fitting than ever to imprint upon the memory wise and serious truths.
Let us hear what Dr. Albert Schweitzer had to say about this:
“When truth, knowledge or wisdom cease to be understood, they do not live any longer in our minds.”
“When knowledge is reduced to a mere dogma that is blindly accepted, it may appear to survive for some time, while its rules are still being slavishly observed. But as its underlying coherence and justification is being lost, truth is soon distorted and breaks into pieces, in the same way that the dead body decays and falls apart under the effects of putrefaction.”
“When truth is communicated directly, without requiring any effort from the recipient, it will not leave a lasting impression, for most human beings live day by day and are not capable of forming their own opinions.”
“So, it is necessary that all elevated ideas, be created again and again by each one of us in ourselves. Only when we attempt to follow with trust the inner road of our individual thought, can we hope to attain living truth.”
“Living and profound reflection does not fall into subjectivism.”
“It drives, by the force of its own intellectual power, notions that Tradition regards as true and attempts to transform them into knowledge”.
To this spiritual path the Masonic ritual alludes, when it states to the candidate at his initiation that he will need to go the same way as all Brothers have done, who have gone this way before him.
By their individual work, Freemasons can contribute to the construction of a better world. By their ideas and the example of their life, Freemasons can help in spreading more fraternal human relations.
Being sincerely in search of “that which was lost”, enlightened by the Wisdom of Silence, fortified by the Strength of Symbols, each Brother has the inner capability to reconstruct the Beauty of the Masonic Secrets in his heart.
THE SITUATION IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC
Czech Freemasonry was re-born in 1989, starting nearly from scratch after a long period of darkness. Today, we have gained worldwide recognition and respect.
Following our own path and facing our own difficulties, we have escaped so far the terrible numerical decline that has affected Masonic membership in so many countries, where old, experienced and well established Grand Lodges had been operating most successfully in the past.
We have currently 543 Brethren on the roll of our Grand Lodge. The total figure has been hovering around 550 unique members for the third consecutive year.
We hear the positive message from the Grand Secretary’s annual report, that the average age of the Brethren of the Grand Lodge of the Czech Republic has gone down, that we have now over 50 middle aged Entered Apprentices, who have replaced the elderly Brethren who have gone to Grand Lodge above, as well as a number of non-active Brethren who have been removed administratively from the Grand Lodge roll. We also hear that several lodges have many candidates.
Yet, I think that we should not rest on our laurels. I remain convinced that we can do far better in terms of membership. Can do ? No, MUST do!
In the 1950s there were over 500,000 Freemasons registered under the United Grand Lodge of England, for a population of 50 million at the time. Masonic membership in the U.K. then peaked at approximately 1% of total population.
With 10.5 million inhabitants in the Czech Republic, 1% of the population would mean over 100,000 Freemasons. Even only 0.5% would mean 50,000 members.
If we were 5,000 Brethren, = 10 times our current membership ! we would represent only 1‰ (1 per thousand) of the male population in the Czech Republic While our Fraternity is interested in the quality, not in the quantity of its members and while it is true that not everybody is fit to be a Freemason, would it not be proof of an incredible arrogance on our side to believe that out of every 1,000 of our countrymen, only ONE has the moral qualifications or the intellectual level to be a Freemason?
With 500 members, we are merely surviving, financially speaking, and, let’s admit it, we fail having reached the critical mass needed to operate as a Grand Lodge. 5,000 members means also concretely: 10x more income!
5,000 is possible, but it will require action, by all of us – at Lodge level! So let’s leave our “comfort zone”, and initiate many more potential candidates!
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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The mechanism behind the aphorism simply implying that if someone wants to be a mason, they need to ask one. Short, simple, and to the point.
The phrase encompasses the admonition that no Mason will (or can) ask someone to join or become one, because then the decision to join is solemn one—a turning point if you will. From existing in the profane world and a desire to enter into the company of like-minded individuals in pursuit of moral excellence, a theme I explore in the book The Apprentice.
2b1ask1 is a mantra familiar to every mason today. But does it work?
So, to join those in pursuit of that moral excellence, you have to ask for admission.
This process is as old as the fraternity itself and ensures that the individual seeking the degrees is doing so of his desire and will.
But is that the right interpretation of the 2 be one—ask one mantra? Should it be used in a way to necessitate those interested in the fraternity too, literally, have to ask to be one?
Or, should 2b1ask1 (alternatively written 2be1ask1 or tobeoneaskone) be interpreted as a slogan illuminating the process of how to become a mason, but NOT a barrier of admission necessitating the potential member to know beforehand.
In writing this, I went looking through a grand lodge constitution, but couldn’t find anything that implicitly said that the only way to become a member was to ask someone who already was one. In a more roundabout way, it implied the prospective member need fill out an application and then undergo the requisite investigation. It was in this process that it seemed to me that 2b1ask1 idea found resonance by ensuring the investigation went smoothly and avoided any hiccups causing the applicant apprentice from failing out of the process or receiving a cube in the vote.
So then, is the probation of having to ASK a Freemason to become a Freemason really a tradition from time immemorial?
Or is it a process to ensure the vetting process of admission be a near guarantee of entry—for a variety of reasons, all of which were mostly positive but to a degree (pardon the pun) the most beneficial to all involved on every level.
With that in mind, is the 2b1ask1 mantra working?
To assume someone would know to ask is a leap. The fact of necessitating it requires the asker knows in the first place their task. This would seem to be a barrier to entry without a large marketing campaign behind it telling prospective members “…Hey, you have to ask to join.” Maybe looked at in another way, it should be said: “Call us, we won’t call you.”
What would be the cumulative net value of flipping the script on this? Rather than necessitating a public who might not know anything about the fraternity to have to ask about it, approach it from the other way and work on a referral basis. Almost like an affiliate or feeder pipeline. You refer a friend, and they refer one, and so on… Yes, this would fly in the face of tradition to an extent, but wouldn’t solve the pipeline issue facing American Masonry today?
If people don’t know about something, they can’t join in.Think about this same concept in other terms.
Would you NOT invite people to come to your church? What about joining another social group you may belong to A club outing, a fantasy football league, a seminar on some social or political issue. Certainly, these are not necessarily on par with joining a Masonic lodge, but they still involve group participation with individuals you trust and hold in esteem.
What is it that Freemasonry demands to morally obligate people to have to ask to be part of?
Is it dying? How many candidates have you raised in the last year? Have you analyzed what you are doing wrong and what you are doing right?
How is your retention? Do you raise Brothers that never come back? Or are they gone after about three months?
Are you raising Masons that shouldn’t be there just because you hastily gave them a petition? Are you raising Masons who are applying before they are ready to accept what it means to be a Mason? Are you raising Masons that do not fit into the peace and harmony of your Lodge? Do you have a really good Investigating-Petitioning process that screens out those that won’t fit and those who will quit?
Do you have a good mentoring system, not only for those who are going through the degrees but Master Masons in their first year and beyond if needed?
Brother Rhit Moore
Meet Brother Rhit Moore who suffered through three meltdowns of his Lodge before he got wise. Brother Moore will explain to you what he and other committed members of his Lodge implemented the fourth time around to create a successful Lodge. He will explain how his Lodge raises 20 to 40 new Master Masons every year who stay.
Brother Moore doesn’t have a magic wand. He learned what needed to be done the hard way. But he and other members of Fort Worth Lodge learned from their mistakes and kept on trying. Now they have a system that works for them and Fort Worth Lodge is in a new renaissance.
BRYCE ON FREEMASONRY Can an old dog learn new tricks?
Freemasons have always been proud to boast, “We’re the original fraternity,” an acknowledgement of our roots in antiquity. Since then, many other fraternities have emerged, particularly in the nineteenth century, many of which are based on Masonic customs. Aside from college fraternities, there are the Eagles, the Elks, the Lions, the Moose, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), even the VFW shows signs of fraternal relations. These organizations may appear to be relative “upstarts” when compared to our ancient fraternity, but can they teach us anything?
As in many North America jurisdictions, Florida Freemasons are barred from enjoying alcohol in the Lodge as well as games of chance. Whenever such topics arise at a Grand Communications, the proposer is shouted down and admonished in a derogatory manner, “Why don’t you go and join someone else?” Well, I finally did just that, joined another fraternal order who allowed alcohol and games of chance in the Lodge. The identity of this particular order is immaterial for the purposes of this paper, and I suspect most are pretty much the same. I certainly haven’t turned my back on Freemasonry, but after over twenty years of watching repetition, I felt it was time to relax and enjoy the company of others over a quiet drink.
I joined the new “Order” recently as they had built a new lodge building near me and I was warmly received by the members when I requested information. As I first toured the facilities, I noted their clean and well stocked bar offering a wide variety of drinks and twelve taps for various draught beers. There were also some vending games of chance available if a member was so inclined. When I saw this, I thought back to a time when Masons argued over the virtues of alcohol and games in Lodge and why there was a concerted effort to prohibit it. Personally, I suspected the Shrine didn’t want the Craft Lodges to have it as it would represent a competitor to their venue. Nevertheless…
I found the Order’s dues and initiation fees to be affordable, much more so than any Masonic Lodge in my area. This was likely due to the revenues generated from alcohol, games, and renting of facilities. In other words, membership in the Order was not a financial burden as found in many Masonic Lodges today.
The application process and initiation ceremony were highly compatible to that found in Freemasonry. This led me to suspect such orders are based on Freemasonry as the comparisons were uncanny. For example, on the Order’s application, they claimed to be looking for men (and women) of good moral character; you couldn’t join unless you believed in the existence of a Supreme Being, were of 21 years of age or older, not connected in any way to the Communist Party, did not believe in or advocate the overthrow of the government of this country by force or violence, nor was a convicted felon or registered sex offender. A criminal background check is performed on each candidate, who is also investigated by committee. Sound familiar?
The Order also donates millions of dollars to charity, a living community village (Home) is available for seniors, all of which are also familiar to Freemasons. Beyond this though, the Order offers discounts on insurance, travel, office supplies, and more. In other words, membership has its privileges. The Order is open to both men and women, which would be alarming to most Masons, and there are no racial restrictions; e.g., no “Prince” Orders.
The first year’s membership is free for members of the military, law enforcement, and first responders, both current and retired (veterans). I thought this was a brilliant maneuver as it encourages membership and attracts the type of people they want to join their ranks. Freemasonry would be wise to study this further.
In meetings, the Order has jewels for the officers to wear. There are also do-guards and signs to observe. The obligation (oath) is reminiscent of that offered by Freemasonry along with a brief lecture to explain member responsibilities. Interestingly, I observed our initiation could be viewed by the outside world through the windows in the room. So much for being a “secret” society.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Order and Freemasonry resides in its Constitution, a copy of which is provided to members following initiation. Whereas Freemasonry is managed on a state by state basis (or by province or territory in Canada), the Order is run on an international basis from a single headquarters. This simplifies standards and promotes consistency between Lodges. It also means the government of the Order is flatter and more flexible to implement change.
Grand Masonic Lodges were first established in the early 1700’s, way before the advent of the U.S. Constitution. Consequently, the government of the fraternity is essentially based on the monarchy model. However, as these other orders were introduced in the United States during the late 1800’s, they tend to adhere to the concept of three separate but equal branches of government; e.g., executive, legislative, and judicial. Such an approach prohibits one person from having ultimate authority in interpreting the laws, rules and regulations which may vary depending on who is in office. It also causes a legislative body to be formed from the current and past presidents of the Orders.
I am certainly not suggesting one fraternal group is better than another; each has its own distinct set of interests and method of implementation. However, one could certainly learn from the others. For example, what the Order lacks in terms of decorum, they make up for in socialization. Conversely, what Freemasons lack in socialization, they make up for in decorum. Freemasons possess a stronger sense of history, and attention to detail in its ceremonies, thereby attempting to teach character, e.g., morality, love of God and country, honor, sacrifice, etc. By doing so they are trying to assist their members in the building of character. The other orders are much less formal, but still endeavor to promote character and Brotherhood through the help and society of others.
In contrast, the Order has been successful in:
Generating money from alcoholic libations with no adverse effects (swearing, fighting and intemperance are not tolerated and may result in penalties or suspensions for members). Further, rooms can be rented for parties and special events.
Negotiating benefits for its members, such as providing discounts on insurance, travel, office supplies, etc.
attracting new members with the type of character they desire, both men and women.
One could argue Freemasonry has slowly been evolving from a true fraternity to just another men’s club. They may be more solemn in their ceremonies, but surely they are not naive to believe they have a monopoly on the concept of brotherhood.
When I recently joined the Order, my initiation class consisted of 22 people, including both men and women, which is more than double what a single Masonic Lodge in my area may get in a single year. Two weeks earlier, another 22 people were initiated, and 60 people joined in December. Not surprising, the Order is financially sound, their activities are booming, their future looks rosy, and everyone appears to be happy.
Freemasonry is missing the boat if they dismiss the other orders out of hand. They are gaining in stature while the Masons are declining. I am not suggesting the Masons totally abdicate their current mission, but there is no denying their membership has been diminishing at an alarming rate. Something needs to change before the Lodges close their doors permanently. Perhaps a new hybrid organization needs to be conceived, whereby alcohol and games of chance are allowed following a meeting or degree, that the Grand Lodge seeks supplemental benefits for its membership, or that they also try to attract the right types of people to their organization. If the other orders can do it, why not the Masons?
Freemasonry may be much older, but these younger fraternities have grown up and appear to be prospering. What do they know that we do not? I for one, am not too shy to ask. In the meantime, more people are gravitating to these new orders while turning their backs on Freemasonry. Perhaps this is a sign of our changing social values. Let us not close our eyes, ears, and mouths and hope nobody notices. It’s much too late for that.
Keep the Faith!
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I haven’t attended Lodge in quite some time, at least a year and a half. This is quite unusual for someone who devoted his first fifteen years actively participating in Lodge affairs, not just my own, but at the district, zone, and state level. I stopped going when it became blatantly obvious Freemasonry was operating more as a good old boy’s club as opposed to the fraternity it was designed to be, where brotherhood was of paramount importance, not aprons or titles. I still believe in the tenants of Freemasonry, but I no longer find attendance at Lodge to be meaningful or rewarding, be it at my mother Lodge or another. I have been asked by many Brothers, of whom I have the utmost respect, to return to Lodge, but I now find it more burdensome than enjoyable. I actually find Freemasonry to be more interesting over the Internet or through chance encounters than in a Lodge building.
I am relatively well known in Masonic circles thereby becoming somewhat of an icon for those Masons who have abandoned the Craft for other pursuits. In my jurisdiction alone, we have lost over 18,000 members over the last twelve years, averaging an annual decline of approximately 1,500. Year after year we suspend members for non-payment of dues. One must ask, “Why?” Those members I personally know who have dropped out no longer find Lodge meaningful or fun, and fraught with politics and skullduggery. Again, this is not just my Lodge but many others in the area whose membership is shrinking and attendance dwindling. Some of the larger Lodges are so empty, you could play racquetball inside and nobody would know the difference.
It wasn’t always like this though. When I first started going to Lodge in the 90’s, people cared about each other, there were no personal domination issues, and certainly no politics. Masonic education was considered important for success, and our floor work was impeccable. In other words, you wanted to go to Lodge. You didn’t want to miss anything, as it was all meaningful to you. Unfortunately, not so anymore, which is why I am staying away.
I still contend Freemasonry is a beautiful logical concept that is poorly implemented physically. I also suspect this phenomenon is not unique to my jurisdiction, as I have visited many other Lodges. Perhaps the most innovative idea I have seen in recent times is the advent of the “Traditional Observance” Lodge (aka, “TO”) which takes the concept of fraternity much more seriously than regular Lodges and has fun in the process. In other words, they have made it meaningful.
Keep the Faith!
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