Message To The Un-Lodged Mason – Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing, Baby

Online Internet Freemasonry tends to be educational, philosophical , reform minded and at times argumentative. Those of us involved in Internet Freemasonry tend to spend more time exploring the fine points of the philosophical side of the Craft, a side we never get from our Lodge, than actually attending our Communications.

This has led to the rise of the un-Lodged Mason. He is a cousin to the un-churched Christian, the un-templed Jew and the un-mosqued Muslim, who belong to that cadre of believers who wish to worship outside of sectarian organized religion, not as a member of a worshipping community but alone.  Thus I hear from some of my Christian friends, “Well you don’t have to go to church to be a good Christian.” Translated into Masonicese you have, “Well you don’t have to go to Lodge to be a good Mason,” which may all be well and true but if one operated in that manner one would be missing something.

Those of who are Masonic writers have to acutely aware of this dichotomy, for if we are not careful we will treat our beloved Fraternity as a concept, a study, a discipline only, and only is the key word here.  Lest anyone think I am a snob here, I am absolutely convinced that Masonic research and study is a necessity for the complete Mason.  I am greatly in favor of esoteric Masonic study groups.  It is difficult to be a Christian without ever having read the Bible nor having any knowledge of what Jesus said and did.  It is equally difficult to be a Mason without appropriate study of the Craft. But it can’t end there.

There has to also be the human touch.  The whole benefit of community is to be able to interact with living, breathing human beings.  When I attend church I experience what community can do in the magnification of the power of the Holy Spirit in group action.  I am also never able to inspire myself as much as a good preacher or a good Masonic ritualist can.  This concept of community is something Scott Peck put into words:

“If we are going to use the word meaningfully we must restrict it to a group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to “rejoice together, mourn together,” and to “delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own.” Like electricity, it is profoundly lawful. Yet there remains something about it that is inherently mysterious, miraculous, unfathomable. Thus there is no adequate one-sentence definition of genuine community. Community is something more than the sum of its parts, its individual members. What is this “something more?” Even to begin to answer that, we enter a realm that is not so much abstract as almost mystical. It is a realm where words are never fully suitable and language itself falls short. The analogy of a gem comes to mind. The seeds of community reside in humanity – a social species – just as a gem originally resides in the earth. But it is not yet a gem, only a potential one. So it is that geologists refer to a gem in the rough simply as a stone. A group becomes a community in somewhat the same way that a stone becomes a gem – through a process of cutting and polishing. Once cut and polished, it is something beautiful. But to describe its beauty, the best we can do is to describe its facets. Community, like a gem, is multifaceted, each facet a mere aspect of a whole that defies description.”

If Scott Peck were a Mason perhaps he would have used the lesson of the rough ashlar and the perfect ashlar.

So what we can say about Freemasonry is that it is not only a study, a philosophy but an interaction of community gathered together to practice, teach the virtues of the Craft in a mode of human interaction whereby those in the community seek to inspire and bolster each other. And the larger the community and the more interaction that takes place the greater the pride and enthusiasm that is generated.  Note that we certainly are not speaking here about a business meeting.  But the two main aspects of Freemasonry can feed on each other.  Study and research encourages community Masonic participation and community Masonic participation encourages study and research.

I was reminded of the importance of the human touch when I traveled to meet fellow Masonic Information writer Terence Satchell (who may or may not agree with these views). Actually we both drove about half way to each other and met in the middle.  Although Terence and I have  sent numerous E-Mails back and forth to each other and chatted online, we never had met face to face. That meeting in person was so much more valuable and more heartwarming and personal than electronic communication that it led me to write this message. We explored each other as a person with the ability to feel the emotion and the nuance of each others communication.  A bond was forged that was impossible to create in any other manner.

And that is the message for today.

Virtual Freemasonry is very nice but it is no match for the real thing.  Virtual camaraderie is not the real thing either.  It lacks the substance and the ability to reach to the very core of being, the human soul.  There is no substitute for the real thing.

Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby
Ain’t nothing like the real thing
Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby
Ain’t nothing like the real thing

I got your picture hangin’ on the wall
It can’t see or come to me when I call your name
I realize it’s just a picture in a frame

I read your letters when you’re not near
But they don’t move me
And they don’t groove me like when I hear
Your sweet voice whispering in my ear

Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby
Ain’t nothing like the real thing

I play the game, a fantasy
I pretend I’m not in reality
I need the shelter of your arms to comfort me

No other sound is quite the same as your name
No touch can do half as much to make me feel better
So let’s stay together

I got some memories to look back on
And though they help me when you phone
I’m well aware nothing can take the place of being there

So let me get the real thing
So let me get the real thing
Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby
Ain’t nothing like the real thing
Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby
Ain’t nothing like the real thing

vintage sanka ad

Always Been Good Enough – The Emblematical Instant Coffee of Refreshment

vintage sanka adA budget debate in Excelsior Lodge focused on memorial contributions for deceased brethren.  In the jurisdiction, it is customary for Lodges to remit a nominal amount as a memorial contribution to the state-wide Masonic charity, and I may reliably report that since time immemorial, that amount has been ten dollars.  I know this because several brethren of Excelsior Lodge have been Masons since time immemorial ;  one of them – Roy Mantooth —  was even Past-Master of Antediluvian Lodge No. 1, before he transferred, and his membership number, barely visible on his faded dues card, is four.

You read that right: Four.

Mine is 127598.  His is 4.

So the story goes, when they decided they ought to assign membership numbers, Solomon took number one, then Hiram King of Tyre, then the other Hiram, and then Mantooth because he was the one who always filled the coffee pot. With Sanka.   Anyway – so since forever Excelsior Lodge has sent ten dollars as a memorial, until this year’s  sitting master – a dangerous and revolutionary firebrand, not to mention a financial daredevil  – decided to make the contribution twenty-five dollars and chaos ensued.

As discontent is concerned, it was pretty mild, like most things Masonic. No shouting or anything (that’s for The Elks, or worse: The Eagles). No, it was more like watching dandelions taking over your garden, slow, inexorable, and not really noticeable, but you wake up one morning and think,  wow – where’d all those weeds come from?  But like discontent everywhere, it was deeply rooted.

“We need to lower that memorial contribution back down to ten dollars,” Mantooth was saying in his forceful manner, “it’s been ten dollars since I’ve been here and that’s always been good enough in the past.”

Always been good enough in the past.  You run into this sentiment a lot in Masonry.  In fact, I think it’s a Masonic motto: Is est satis pro habenae opus. A few nods from some of the older fellows and Mantooth started gathering more steam, “ I mean, if we were going to send flowers to the funeral – instead of sending a memorial to the Charity – we wouldn’t spend more than ten dollars, anyway…”

To be fair, Mantooth is not a florist, but one of the younger fellows piped up at that, saying  “that would be a pretty lame bunch of flowers for ten bucks,” but  it didn’t register.

And the problem is, it usually doesn’t register, because the divide between the older and younger members is very deep.  We’ve all noticed them in a hundred small ways – the emblematical instant coffee, for example, which, with a plate of day-old snickerdoodles from Albertson’s, is the Alpha and Omega of a typical Masonic fête.  Our meetings are slack, our regalia tattered, and our dress codes are either from 1974, or would shock the staff at the City Rescue Mission, take your pick. But more alarmingly, our lodge halls are crumbling.  In some halls this occurs because the members have fled the instant coffee for the latte house, but in others it comes not from penury but from pure parsimony, and heaven help the master who suggests raising dues.

These are all symptoms of  doing Masonry on the cheap, and its effects are insidious.  It means not paying proper attention to good form because it’s easier not to, and it means that the way things were in the past is not only good enough now, but for the foreseeable future.  This is why members think that flowers still cost ten dollars, that instant coffee is an elixir, and that red Bee Gees jackets present the image of the fraternity that will attract members in the critical 25 – 40 age group.  Because it’s always been good enough; no further analysis required.  If the goal of the fraternity was to rival the AARP in members over 65, we’d be in fine shape.

If not, it’s time to unplug the percolator. Go digital instead of analog.

I don’t pretend knowing how to pry the dead hand of the past off the steering wheel, but a good place to start is your officer line, you incoming masters.  Pack that sucker as full of young brethren as possible, giving yourself a coterie of men who share your priorities and who can withstand the insistence that the old way is the only way. With a young line, you still might have an antediluvian secretary (or treasurer), but with no voting bloc of his own, that’s a majority of one. Too often, the young men are sidelined because they don’t know the work, or because the master wants “seasoned” brethren in line to help him out.  This can be helpful in the short term, but it will defer our younger members assuming the mantle of leadership for as long as it continues.

And if you hate Sanka as much as I do – the sooner you start, the better.

This was originally published under audevidetace

Walking the Walk


walk the walkEvery once in a while, I’ll meet someone that asks me “So what is a Freemason?”

Like most Brothers, I want to tell them how great of an organization is, how it is so important in society, and how much it has enlightened me personally, and usually I do. However, sometimes I feel a bit apprehensive about giving give these inquisitors the old Masonic sales pitch: “It’s the world’s largest and oldest fraternity. It is a group of men with good morals that gather to improve themselves through a philosophical education, fellowship with like-minded people, and improve the world through charitable acts.”

Now most of you are probably asking “What’s wrong with that?”

Well…nothing if you are encouraging men to join the fraternity, but there might be something wrong with it if you feel that it is very important to tell the truth. It is easy to use some flowery language and an impressive description to sell the fraternity, but to be truthful about what really goes on within a Masonic lodge can be difficult.

Would you really want to explain to a prospective Mason what really goes on at a typical lodge meeting? Let’s imagine how that conversation would play out.

Inquirer: So what do Masons do?

Mason: Well, we have a couple of lodge meetings a month.

Inquirer: What do you do there?

Mason: We read the minutes of the previous meeting and make any necessary corrections to them. Then we pay the bills, read any correspondence, and vote on any new petitioners. Then we proceed to discuss business for about an hour. Like, last week we were discussing how we were going to put on a spaghetti dinner. Our Junior Warden had it all planned out and then one of the older Past Masters told him how he ought to do it. We also discussed how we might go about making the necessary repairs to the building. Then we closed the lodge and went downstairs to eat some generic-brand cookies and drink some coffee before going home.

Inquirer: I thought you had philosophical education.

Mason: We do when we perform the degrees.

Inquirer: How often does that happen?

Mason: Sometimes once a month. Sometimes we will go several months without doing any degrees.

Inquirer: What about the fellowship you were talking about?

Mason: That’s what the coffee and cookies are.

Inquirer: What about the charity?

Mason: Well, that’s why we’re doing the spaghetti dinner, so that we can raise money in order to write a check to the Grand Lodge’s charity.

Inquirer: That sounds kind of boring.

Mason: Want a petition?

Freemasons view the organization in the proper light, but they don’t always run the organization with that same philosophy. Freemasons need to take all of the great things that they have to say about the fraternity and actually accomplish them in lodge.

We need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

At your next lodge meeting, take a chance and walk the walk. If someone talks about the greatness of Masonic charity, stand up and make a motion to go visit a sick Brother or provide some service for a Masonic widow. Read a paper on Masonic teachings and discuss it with your lodge. Go out to dinner with your Brothers and have some real fellowship.

That way, the next time someone asks you “What is Freemasonry?” you can answer them with a clear conscience.

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Where Were You First Made A Mason? – An Answer To Fundamentalists

Me: Bill, I had a great time this weekend with my Lodge. We went out to Union Park with our families and had a big BBQ.  The swimming was good and the food was great.  But the best time was just sitting under the shade tree and reminiscing with old and new friends.

Bill: You are always talking about your Lodge but I don’t get this Masonry thing.  I never could see why a man would join.  I know you get a lot of pleasure from it but I don’t see what is so special about it.  I go out to Union Park with friends now and then myself but none of them are Masons.

Me: Well Bill, Masonry is more than social good times.  It’s also about reverence, respect, knowledge, a helping hand and close bonding relationships. As a matter of fact it is a philosophy, a virtual way of life………ah, a method of looking at the world and yourself through a different prism.

Bill: So how does this new way of life, this different prism do for you at Union Park with all your Mason friends?

Me: Well I know where the heart is of all my Brothers, even the ones I don’t know.   And that’s important to me.  Someone once said that – “you are who your friends are.”  My contention is that nobody is perfect and that it is possible to be led into or to follow the wrong path in life.  One can get lost in superficial and unrewarding patterns of life by constantly associating with corrupting influences.  I choose to surround myself with those who try to be noble and righteous and I believe that encourages me to “make something of myself” and to improve myself as a person and that is what God wants for me.

Bill: I didn’t realize how deep Masonry is.  I have to say now that it sounds almost like a religion. Would you say that your Brothers look upon their Lodge as church?

Me: I am sure some mistakenly substitute Lodge for church but their reasoning is faulty and their actions bespeak of one who is lazy. Masonry has many religious people in the fraternity but the approach in Lodge is more spiritual than religious.  By that I mean that it has nothing to do with sectarian dogma but everything to do with an appreciation of the Creator and the wonders of His creation.

Bill: My Pastor does not speak complimentary about Masonry.  He says that I don’t need another Guidance System, the one I have right here in church has everything I need.

Me: Well Bill, church is about worshiping the Almighty Creator.  Its focus is salvation, its work the improvement of the soul.

Lodge is not focused on the Hereafter.  Its theme is the interrelationships right here on earth.  It delineates an earthly philosophy the practice of which points you to seeking that relationship with your Creator.  It sends you to church to complete the edification of the other half of yourself.

Bill: But it sounds to me from all that I have heard and of what you have had to say that you are offering a system of morality, a way of life as you call it, that teaches a certain path that should be taken to live your life.  That sure sounds to me like a competing Guidance System as my Pastor believes.

Me: Look Bill, we talk about the virtues of Masonry………er, of being a virtuous person using the already established patterns of life that are universally accepted by all cultures.  Masonry is the application of your creed not a competing way of worshiping. Being a believer in Democracy rather than totalitarianism is a philosophy, a way of life.  But no one is calling that path a competing religion or guidance system.

Bill: I’m a little bit confused and I am not sure how to separate the two, Masonry and church.

Me: Many facets of life, Bill, don’t compete with each other they are intertwined. There is a lot of crossover here in the applications used to take this journey we call life. You can chop them up into neat little boxes but that is a separation that is artificial and does not deal with the complexity of actually living life. Try looking at what you call –competing guidance systems – as interrelated, intertwined aspects of the same discipline all leading to the same end.

Bill: So what you are saying is that while we all think that we are doing something different we are really all doing the same thing?

Me: Now you are getting the idea, Bill.  Which is why a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian can all sit in Lodge together.  We are all worshiping God but we are not holding a worship service. And all that we talk about in Lodge is universal to them all.

Bill: I can see why some people misunderstand all this.  It takes a little bit of thinking about it to grasp Masonry’s niche in the scheme of things. But I can see now that Masonry is a universal application of all that is good and righteous in life.  I would now have to say that makes it complimentary not competing.  I wonder why my Pastor and others think of it as a competing religion?

Me: Because in most instances we do it so well.  We end up being more influential in a man’s life than his Pastor and some Pastors just can’t take that.

Bill: So how come you have never asked me to become a Mason?

Me: Oh but I have.  Not in so many words, but as you have said I talk about my Lodge quite often.  That information is then there for you to act upon.  We do not invite you in, you ask to join.

Bill: So when I go through the ceremonies of initiation I will come out this new person?

Me: No.

Bill: Just when I thought I had a good handle on what is going on here I find myself lost again.  Again I am confused.

Me: The ceremonies are required so that your mind has a logical understanding of where your heart already is.

Bill: So are you saying that I am already there?

Me: Where is a man first made a Mason?

Bill: I don’t know.

Me: In his heart.

Bill: I finally, finally got it!  All I have to do now is ask.

Freemason Tim Bryce.

What Drives the Anti-Masons?

Everybody is worried about Masons taking over the world. Heck, we can’t even organize a picnic.
– A Mason from Washington state.


To find an Anti-Mason, you need look no further than the Internet for there is an abundance of discourse on the Net berating and misrepresenting the fraternity. As Freemasons, we are blamed for everything from the assassination of JFK, to World War I, both Gulf Wars, and God knows what else. The same people who track UFOs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and Elvis, are the same people tracking Freemasonry.

Why? Because we make a convenient target.

As a “society with secrets” (not a “secret society”) it is easy to draw erroneous conclusions about our motives and activities. And make no mistake, the Anti-Masons are capitalizing on the naivete of the general public in the same manner as the supermarket tabloids do and for the same reason: to make a buck.

In researching this subject, I visited numerous Anti-Masonic web sites on the Internet. Even though they are all closely related, I have categorized the Anti-Masons into three groups: Conspiracists, Religious Zealots, and Wackos.


I like to refer to these type of Anti-Masons as Michael Moore “wannabees” as they are alarmists claiming that the sky is falling. They are all self-proclaimed freedom fighters acting as watchdogs of the fraternity. They write numerous exposes on Freemasonry with just enough research to make them look authoritative on the subject. What is disturbing here is that although Freemasons can easily see through the malarkey in their writings, the general public cannot.

At the root of their argument is the premise that Freemasons are overtly concerned about the social engineering of the planet. Under their scenario, the Masonic Fraternity is an inherent member of the Illuminati, a group of international bankers and power brokers who are obsessed with enslaving the human race and putting all of the world’s wealth into their hands. If this was true, I wish the Illuminati would share some of their wealth with the many Craft Lodges who are struggling to make ends meet.

Religious Zealots

In a nutshell, the religious zealots portray Freemasonry as either an autonomous religion or as one dedicated to Satan. We also have people claiming to have been Masons but have “seen the light” and recanted their membership. Frankly, their membership in the Masons are somewhat questionable as their description of Masonic activities doesn’t jive with what we have learned.

“Ex-Masons for Jesus” is an organization of Christian men and women who claim to have been members of a Masonic Lodge or one of the affiliated Masonic organizations such as Eastern Star, DeMolay, Job’s Daughters or Rainbow Girls. “We have left Masonry because of our commitment to Jesus Christ and a realization that Masonry is not consistent with a sincere expression of the Christian faith. We have found that participation in Freemasonry interferes with a close relationship with Jesus Christ.” Nuts.


Finally, we come to the offbeat critics of the fraternity who attack it for a variety of reasons, such as child abuse and other forms of sexual misconduct.

To prove their point, the Anti-Masons turn to Masonic and news quotations to support their claims. In reality, the sources are either misquoted or quoted out of context. However, accuracy of reporting and truthfulness is not the forte of the Anti-Masons.


As Masons we are charged not to suffer our zeal for the institution to lead us into arguments with those who, through ignorance, may ridicule it. But because we often cloak our ceremonies in secrecy, we make a convenient target to be cast in the role of “bogeyman.” Laugh as we might at our critics, they do have an effect on the general public. Let me give you an example, I know of a young Mason in the Tampa Bay area of Florida who was initiated an Entered Apprentice and passed to the degree of Fellow Craft before falling in love with a young woman who frequents the Internet and became suspicious of the fraternity her fiancé had joined. Frankly, I think she jealously saw Freemasonry as something that would divert his attention from her. Nonetheless, she read a lot of the propaganda and came to the erroneous conclusion that Freemasonry was anti-Christian with hidden motives and, consequently, swayed her fiance to halt his Masonic involvement.

Whether we like to portray ourselves as a “secret society” or a “society with secrets,” we have become fodder for every crackpot accusation imaginable. This puts us in the unenviable position of having to defend ourselves of every charge brought against us. As Masons, we can readily see through a lot of these falsehoods, but how do you defend yourself against a crime you didn’t commit? Unlike American jurisprudence where a man is “innocent until proven guilty” we find ourselves in the predicament of being “guilty until proven innocent.” Our critics know this and use it to their advantage by charging us with any ludicrous accusation they can dream up. Their motto seems to be, “When in doubt, blame the Masons.”

What our critics don’t seem to understand is how we investigate the background of everyone who petitions to join the fraternity. The only general criteria for joining is that a person believe in a Supreme Being (based on their religion of choice), that he does not believe in the overthrow of his resident government, and that he hasn’t committed any heinous crime. From this perspective, we are God-fearing peaceful citizens who happen to enjoy the company of other God-fearing peaceful citizens. If this is a crime, I plead guilty, most guilty.

In reality, our critics are well aware of this, and if they were to honestly answer you, they would have to admit as such.

So what is their motive? Why do they find it necessary to harass Freemasons? Is it because some of them were blackballed? Perhaps a woman feels scorned? Perhaps. More likely, it goes back to a simple human trait: Greed. If you look at the background of the Anti-Masons you will find people who have failed in business, but having an aptitude for writing, have concocted inflammatory stories which appeal to conspiricists, the religious right, and other wackos. Bottom-line: they are out to make a buck at the expense of Freemasonry. To do so, they build arguments out of minuscule incidents from our past and paint a picture of distrust and felonious activities with the truth sacrificed in the process. Even the noted author, Dan Brown, uses this to his advantage with his highly acclaimed books, such as “The Da Vinci Code” and the upcoming “The Solomon Key.” But unlike the Anti-Masons, and to his credit, Brown is quick to point out his stories are works of fiction. Bottom-line, the Anti-Masons are capitalizing on the ignorance of the public to sell books and make public appearances. Plain and simply, it’s all about money. They take a little Masonic knowledge and blow it out of proportion knowing we cannot or will not defend ourselves.

One interesting attribute of all of the Anti-Masons is that they strongly safeguard their identity. In fact, they are cloaked in more secrecy than a Masonic Communications. You won’t find too many photos of our detractors, and their whereabouts on this planet are strongly guarded. To communicate with them, you must go through a “cloak and dagger” e-mail process which I find to be particularly ironic as they often accuse Freemasonry of being too secretive. Fortunately, their anonymity hurts their credibility with the public.

Understand this, Freemasonry wouldn’t be plagued by such voluminous false accusations today had it not been for the Internet, a powerful communications medium that can carry the Anti-Masons messages to the masses at little cost. Sure, Freemasonry has had detractors in the past, but the Internet has accelerated the volume of contrived nonsense being presented to the public.

Also, many young people are caught up in the Anti-Mason movement which may be natural since young people find it fascinating to discuss cover-ups and conspiracies of world domination. Let us not forget that we live in a day and age of extremists who can readily communicate through this powerful medium.

So what should Masons do, turn the other cheek and let our critics run all over us? As Masons we are taught to subdue our passions and not directly engage our critics. Maybe. However, when flagrant errors appear in print, they should not go uncontested, otherwise the public will think the detractor is correct. As an example,

I do not encourage our Brothers to get directly into arguments with our critics, but I think we have a responsibility from time to time to clarify our position, if for no other reason, to dispel misinterpretations that might hurt our membership. I am reminded of what M:.W:.Harold G. Ballard, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, said,

Masons should never forget, nor miss an opportunity to inform the uninitiated that Freemasonry is a fraternity of men from all walks of life who meet as equals in a common quest for knowledge and a better life, both philosophical and material, for all mankind.

In other words, I recommend we become proactive in our communications with the general public, not reactive as we have been.

Just remember, the anti-Masons are not interested in the truth. If they truly did their homework, they would inevitably arrive at a different conclusion. As evidence, consider the work of Dr. Jessica Harland-Jacobs who wrote Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717-1927 a non-Mason who thoroughly researched our background and “gets it.”

So, what drives the anti-Masons? In a nutshell: Money. Why do they continue to argue with the fraternity? Because we represent a threat to their livelihood. It’s as simple as that.

Keep the Faith.

Freemasonry From the Edge
Freemasonry From the Edge

by W:.Tim Bryce, PM, MPS
Palm Harbor, Florida, USA

“A Foot Soldier for Freemasonry”

NOTE: The opinions expressed in this essay are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of any Grand Masonic jurisdiction or any other Masonic related body. As with all of my Masonic articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following:

Article reprinted with permission of the author and

Please forward me a copy of the publication when it is produced.

Also be sure to check out Tim’s “Pet Peeve of the Week” (non-Masonic related).

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

emblem of industry

Don’t Be A Taliban Freemason

Stephen Dafoe’s There’s A Hole In Our Bucket article was a solid reinforcement analysis of what he and I and others have been writing about for some time now. American Freemasonry is like the NFL Indianapolis Colts until just recently.  The Colts spent all their money on offense and not much on defense.  Consequently they could score a ton of points but they often gave up just as many.  Freemasonry has spent a ton of money on marketing the product and not much on maintaining the quality of the product.  Hence it has been the solution of many of the writers who seek to motivate Freemasonry into being all it can be to call for Freemasonry to practice Freemasonry.

Most of us venting our spleen on this subject have gone over time and again what is lacking in our Lodges. Boring business meetings, poor food, no agenda, few activities, no Masonic education, research and study, run down old drafty Lodge buildings falling apart and sucking the budget dry and dues held artificially low all result in no Freemasonry.

Dafoe is right on when he pointed out that we don’t have membership problem we have a retention problem.  The death of our older Brothers is not depleting the ranks anymore for we are replacing them with new arrivals. The continuing decline is due to demits. And Dafoe has proved that analysis with tables and statistics to back it up.

But when all is said and done many Lodges who have corrected the folly of their ways and have vastly improved the Freemasonry that they practice, they still do not see the results that they were expecting.  Perhaps there are other mitigating circumstances.  I have written about the albatross around Freemasonry’s neck, the expense of their Lodge building in “The Old Past Master & Lodge Foreclosure.” I have also addressed one other shortcoming in “How Freemasonry Is Missing The Boat”, the lack of being socially relevant and I will not readdress either point again.

But the key here to what Brother Stephen DaFoe has presented us is the statistics, the facts.  Like Sgt. Friday on Dragnet, “just give me the facts, ma’m, just the facts.”  And the facts are those that have been demitting are not Masons who have been members of the Lodge for 20 years who band together to keep dues and expenditures artificially low.  Those that demit are much newer members who have found something lacking in the practice of Freemasonry.  We have always assumed that it is “the poor Lodge performance” that has caused all these demits.  But what if that is not so? As previously noted many Lodges have corrected most of these deficiencies yet they are still receiving a large amount of Brothers just walking away from the Craft.

Then we have the issue of those who might join who do not.  Those that see something in the Fraternity that turns them off before they petition. Could the cause be the same in both instances?

When you step back and look at Freemasonry you realize that you are looking at a very old society with deeply and tightly held traditions. If you stop and ask yourself if there was no Freemasonry, if it never existed and today you were going to invent just such an organization would you make it exactly the same as it is constituted today? If you say yes I don’t think you are being honest with yourself.

There is a great deal of difference between how we as a culture today in the United States and Canada look at — society, at the role of science in society, at God and the practice of religion, at gender equality, at sexual preference, at race and issues such as slavery, at politics and government and such issues as government welfare, and at human beings right to change and alter the universe — versus how Western society looked at these issues in the 1600s and 1700s when Speculative Freemasonry was formed.

But sometimes these deeply held traditions remain with us even though society has moved on to a more “enlightened’ view or arrangement.  I think of my church, The Roman Catholic church when I say this.  When Catholic churches were built way back when, they contained a multitude of statues and pictures.  Much of the belief system could be seen in the stain glass windows and on the walls where the Stations of the Cross were carved. This was so structured because much of the population of the time was illiterate.  Protestant denominations that followed long after saw no need to have their churches so adorned.  As we became a better educated and more informed society did the Catholic Church remove all its statues, pictures and carvings?  No it kept them and added to them modernized methods. Freemasonry is a lot like that.

And now the Catholic Church is experiencing an extreme shortage of Priests to the point that soon many churches will not have a Pastor. There is of course a solution to this crisis.  If tomorrow the Catholic Church would admit women to the Priesthood they would have more than ample Pastors to go around.  But they will not do that.  They cling to the old ways and the reasons and justifications of many hundreds of years ago when human beings looked at things through a whole different set of eyes. Freemasonry is a lot like that.

So let me ask you again, if you were going to invent American Freemasonry today, armed and influenced by the modern outlook of today, would you structure it into 50 individual state Grand Lodges?  Would you have it racially separated?  Would you even deny another race the right to practice Freemasonry, this your new invention?  Would you exclude women? Have we discarded the ancient belief so much evidenced in the Holy Bible that women are just property, the property of men? I would hope that you would say Western society has.  But ask yourself, has Freemasonry?

Today’s young men and women would affirm a belief in a society that regards all races as equal, all gender as equal, sexual preference as a personal choice and every expression of worship of the Creator as equally valid. They will only fraternize with and join groups, organizations or societies that reflect those core beliefs. So if you were to invent Freemasonry today you would probably structure it around those modern views, those progressions of society, so tightly held today.  If you would do that then why not reform Freemasonry today into that image?  Because it may very well be that this is what is causing the demits and the refusals to petition. This could be what is stunting the growth of Freemasonry.  But don’t take my word for it.  Listen to Margaret C. Jacob.

“At present in the United States freemasonry is in serious decline, with numbers dwindling and lodges closing.  Yet at the same time American reformers have arisen, many of them identified with what they see as the more liberal forms of freemasonry practiced in continental Europe.  Central to their concerns are issues of gender and race.”

“Officially women are still not admitted as sisters in the American lodges. In fact, and in spite of the official position, lodges for women, and for men and women do exist in major cities and receive some encouragement from brothers who value gender inclusiveness.  But this is a struggle, and the outcome is by no means certain.  More lodges may close and charitable work cease before the inclusion of women becomes the official norm.  In the meantime such exclusions seem increasingly beside the point, as slowly and only through struggle do Masonic women appear closer to a still distant equality.”

“But there is another matter, that of race, perhaps even more serious in terms of its larger implications for American society in general.  Vast numbers of lodges, particularly in the American South, are segregated rigidly by race.  Recently when addressing an entirely white audience of freemasons in Louisiana – all without exception immensely gracious – I was asked what I thought about the future of the American lodges. What can be said in the face of an institutionalized social system that works against our highest civic ideals? I find it hard to imagine the young men and women of every imaginable racial background who populate my university classes – where an ease in social mixing is now the norm to be sought – being attracted to lodges that would exclude one or another of their friends.  Obviously, the future does not lie with segregation.” (1)

Finally let us address the two stumbling blocks to any such solution, “It can’t be changed”, and “It isn’t my problem.”

There is nothing humanly created that cannot be humanly changed.  The Constitution of the United States has been changed many times. The Landmarks of Freemasonry are not sacrosanct or exempted from such change. Like altering the Constitution of the United States it should be very difficult to do so but not impossible. To write into any Constitution, by-laws, rules or regulations that no changes can ever be made is unrealistic and invalid.  Everything changes.  The definition of life is change.  Freemasonry, The Catholic Church and any and all other institutions possessing a long history and tradition have to learn when it is time to move on, when it is time to get a life.  Failure to do so will see such institutions whither and die.

The Catholic in Nebraska says, “we have no pedophile priests in this state.  This controversy has nothing to do with me and should not reflect on the Catholic Church in Nebraska.” Is there any way that you believe that to be true?  If not then don’t say the same thing about Freemasonry. Racism in another jurisdiction but not yours does reflect on Freemasonry as a whole. Gender persecution is unlawful in the United States of America and Freemasons are always told to uphold the civil law. Why let it be that way in Freemasonry? Sexual preference, although legislated more locally, is a right across the United States.  Why let it be different in Freemasonry? The tradition of non-interference into the business of another jurisdiction is just that a tradition and an unwritten one and merely an excuse.  Codifying laws, rules and regulations that negate basic human rights and civil rights if not illegal is at least morally repugnant.

Soon Masonic Central will have as a guest on its radio show/podcast an articulate female Mason, Karen Kidd.  I hope that you will listen with an open mind and be willing to accept the challenges of the 21st century.

Don’t tolerate intolerance

Don’t be a Taliban Freemason

(1)        “The Origins of Freemasonry – Facts & Fictions” by Margaret C. Jacob, pgs 130-131

Freemason Tim Bryce.

The Average Age of Lodge Members

They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.
– Andy Warhol

monument, time waits for no man, angel, muse, broken pillar

What is the average age of your Lodge members? Interestingly, very few Lodges take the time to calculate this figure which I consider to be a rather important indicator of the Lodge.

Fortunately, the average age of my Lodge has dropped to 64.1 years old. This is down from the high 60’s just a few years ago (we never did hit 70) and this is because we have been blessed with several fine young men who have joined our Lodge and replaced some of the “Greatest Generation” who we recently lost.

The “average age” number itself doesn’t tell us much. It is when we compare it to prior years and plot increases or decreases which tells us something about the Lodge. Whereas an increase means we are not getting much in the way of younger members, a decrease means just the opposite. This is also indicative of Lodge programming and public relations. Perhaps the reason why the average age is increasing is that the Lodge has become somewhat lethargic and set in its ways and is no longer regarded as a viable institution in the community.

Our current average age also tells me that “Baby Boomers” represent the lion’s share of members in our Lodge. This leads me to believe that the average age will inevitably rise again as this substantial generation (which includes yours truly) gets older and grayer. The only thing that can prevent this is a major influx of young members, but I do not see this happening anytime soon. I am certainly not suggesting we open the floodgates and allow anybody in with a pulse, but we should renew our efforts to reexamine our image and position the fraternity into something for younger people to seriously consider.

Thanks to modern medicine, we’re living a lot longer than our predecessors. It also means the Boomers will inevitably raise the average age of our Lodges over the next 10-20 years. As such, now is the time to take action to make our Lodges fun, interesting and meaningful. Surely we do not want to abandon our heritage, principles, or degrees, but we need to exercise our imagination and make Freemasonry more contemporary with the times.

If we don’t, it won’t be long before we’re sitting in a Lodge where the average age is 90 (and nobody will be able to make it up the stairs to the Lodge room).

Keep the Faith.

Freemasonry From the Edge
Freemasonry From the Edge

by W:.Tim Bryce, PM, MPS
Palm Harbor, Florida, USA
A Foot Soldier for Freemasonry

NOTE: The opinions expressed in this essay are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of any Grand Masonic jurisdiction or any other Masonic related body. As with all of my Masonic articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following:

Article reprinted with permission of the author and

Please forward me a copy of the publication when it is produced.

To receive notices of Tim’s writings, subscribe to his Discussion Group.

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

The Restaurant at the End of the Masonic Universe

By Stephen Dafoe

Note: The following article originally ran in the pages of Masonic Magazine as an editorial. I am posting it for those not familiar with it, as it is referred to in the previous article, There’s a hole in our bucket.

drive in sign

So there is this restaurant chain with locations throughout North America. Its slogan is a pretty catchy one and the chain’s management uses it on a daily basis to motivate staff and to recruit new patrons to the chain’s thousands of locations.

The slogan is “we take good food and make it better” – eight simple words, which have struck an emotional chord with millions of people who like to eat.

There is no marketing genius behind the slogan or the success of the same in attracting people to the restaurant chain. Everyone likes good food, so it is unlikely that there is a person alive who would not like good food made better. Who could resist such a slogan?

Sadly, the restaurant chain seldom lives up to its own slogan. The restaurants are often poorly decorated – their tables and chairs wobbly and in need of repair. Staff often quarrel with one another and the management, too often, seem only to be concerned with climbing the corporate ladder to the head office. The food, so much talked about is bland at best and dreadful at worst.

Yet as each new patron comes in for the first time to sample this “good food made better” he sees a group of smiling faces, all lapping up the meal as if it was the greatest food on the planet – just like the advertising people said it was.

The new patron does his best to eat his meal even though the food offered does not appeal to the palate as sweetly as the words used to describe it. Not wishing to show his displeasure to his two friends who sponsored him – for it is, after all, an exclusive restaurant – he sits in silence eating his meal with each mouth full being as forced as the smile on his face.

Sometimes the patron simply pays his tab, leaves the restaurant and vows never to return to the establishment. However, sometimes the patron decides that maybe he just went on a bad night – perhaps the staff was having a bad day because the regular cook was away. Perhaps those people enjoying the meal were just being kind and did not want to offend the new cook.

He decides to give the “good food made better” joint one more try.

Returning on another night he sees the same dozen patrons who were there the month previous – they are still arguing with one another about which fork you should use for the salad and the proper way to hold a wine glass. The manager is still ignoring the new customers in favor of the company higher-ups seated at a back table who he is trying to convince of his suitability for a more prominent position in the firm.

What’s worse – the food is still bland, boring and not what the sign on the door proclaims – yet the regulars are still lapping it up like it’s their last meal.

This time the patron decides that the marketing slogan is nothing more than eight simple words cleverly arranged to deprive him of his hard earned money.

The thought occurs to him that maybe he could pull the manager away from the corporate wheels long enough to suggest a few small things that could truly make the good food better. However, he has a sinking feeling that he would be told, “but we’ve always cooked it this way before” or “we tried that once and the patrons didn’t like it.” He feels he might even be told that “the head office would never allow it.”

So instead of voicing his concerns, exercising the old business axiom that the customer is always right, he says nothing. Instead he leaves the restaurant and vows never to return – either canceling his pre-booked reservations on the way out the door or never returning and having his membership cancelled by the chain via a nasty letter.

He wonders how it is that the restaurant survives and why the same dozen diners seem to enjoy the food so much.

His conclusion is a simple one – they like things the way they are and the establishment will never change so long as the chain is run by people who like to make bland food and patronized by people who like to eat the same.

And so we come to a problem that is rife within Freemasonry today.

We advertise ourselves as an organization that makes good men better, and while that is precisely what we have done for millions of men over the centuries, it cannot be argued that we are letting down the many young men who enter our doors who feel cheated and deceived.

“I really feel that I have been sold a pack of lies,” wrote one such young mason recently on an Internet discussion forum.

How sad it is that a young man, who has been a Mason for one year would feel that he has been lied to by an organization that has Truth as one of its three greatest attributes.

“This is not the Masonry I signed up for,” he continued in his posting and in so stating arrives at the crux of our problem.

Freemasonry in large parts of the United States and Canada is not offering what it is advertising, but if it advertised what it offered – would it receive many new candidates.

“Freemasonry – we take good men and let them sit in a room and listen to the reading of minutes and 45-minute debates on spending $50 on why we should or should not buy a plaque to show what great guys we are.”

It just does not have the same marketing strength as “Freemasonry – we take good men and make them better”.

Read: The Death of Freemasonry

Unfortunately our young brethren, past and present have tried to improve what Freemasonry offers within the tiled recesses of our lodges, but are met with resistance at each step of the way.

We say we are about making good men better through self improvement – yet few are the lodges who apply the working tools within the body of a lodge to educate our young members as to how to do this.

The Masonic Information Center (MIC) recently released a publication entitled, It’s About Time. The publication identifies the problems currently confronting Masonic identity and offers sound solutions for the same.

One of the most powerful statements in the 17 page document follows:

“The Square and Compasses, the best known symbol of a Mason, cannot replace the identity of living the life of a Mason, which is itself perpetually in a state of improving ourselves in body, mind, and spirit. Masonic imagery is a valuable resource when it inspires us to take new action consistent with our personal growth and enlightened thought. We must discover our own Masonic calling, our own place in the history of Masonry, by making authentic Masonic performance our top priority.”

However, we have allowed, as the MIC points out in the publication, Masonry to be shaped by the 20th century’s emphasis on the Masonic ritual being the completion of the Mason’s education about his fraternity.

Like the analogy of the restaurant chain, little changes in how lodges deliver Masonic lessons because the same dozen patrons sit in her seats and run the show.

Those men, like the restaurant patrons in our analogy, come back month after month and year after year because they enjoy the bland food – a 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.

And when a young man, initiated, passed and raised leaves because he finds the meal unappetizing, he is viewed as a disgruntled customer, which the restaurant is better off without.

The recipe of Freemasonry is as sound today as it was three hundred years ago – it is the present kitchen of stubborn cooks who need to be tossed out.

Closing Note: Before anyone starts yammering about joining a good lodge, let me assure you I have done precisely that. This article is meant to convey the message of why things seldom change. It is not a commentary on my own present situation in lodge.

Freemason Tim Bryce.

Two Dirty Words

It’s now time for all of us–those who supported the merger and those who opposed it–to pull together for the benefit of the company.
Carly Fiorina, President of Hewlett-Packard Co. in 1999

Let me give you two little words that scares a lot of Masons: “consolidations” and “mergers.” As the fraternity continues to recede in terms of membership and finances, Craft Lodges inevitably face the question of these two dirty words. But let’s be clear, the two are not synonymous; consolidation means to move multiple Lodges into a single building, and mergers represent the combining of multiple Lodges into one. Mergers are probably considered the worst of the two as Masons fear they will lose their identity and will be overshadowed by the other Lodge they are merging with. Nonetheless, both are viable alternatives and, from a business point of view, makes a lot of sense. For example, companies have long known that if a franchise is struggling, it is better to cut your losses and combine it with another. But unfortunately, most Masons do not think from a business point of view and have developed emotional attachments to their Lodge buildings. This is understandable to a point, but if the Lodge is operating on the edge, you have to seriously ask yourself what a Lodge is anyway. Is it the physical building? More likely it is a Brotherhood of men who share common values and are interested in improving themselves, their community, and the world at large. The building, therefore, is nothing more than a venue for the Lodge to meet. So, when push comes to shove, which is more important: the Lodge or the building? Those Lodges struggling to make ends meet financially would be well advised to consider this.

Interestingly, a lot of Grand Lodges do not provide guidance or leadership in terms of assisting Lodges in considering the question of merging or consolidating. Instead, most Craft Lodges have to fend for themselves and only consider it when it is too late. As a small example, I know of a Craft Lodge that lost its way and quietly went out of business, selling its building and donating its remaining funds to local charities. The Grand Lodge did not find out about this until two years later. Had the Grand Lodge been studying Lodge trends, they would have surely spotted a problem and offer advice to the Lodge. They didn’t, and the Lodge went under.

Obviously, there are some simple indicators to measure the pulse of a Lodge, such as finances, membership, attendance at Lodge functions, and the average age of the Lodge members. They could also examine Lodge officers, e.g., do they have enough members to open the Lodge? Do they routinely re-circulate Past Masters through the East? Are they proficient in their degree work and Masonic knowledge? Such analysis may very well have detected the problem of the Lodge that quietly went defunct.

I have discussed this topic with many a Brother, both locally and far away. Sure, we would all like to have large Lodges, but there is nothing wrong with small ones either, as long as they are thriving and actively operating to the satisfaction of the Craft. But we may not know this if we do not study the problem and pay attention to the trends of the variables mentioned earlier. Further, if a Craft Lodge is indeed in trouble and is interested in consolidating or merging, the Grand Lodge should grease the skids in order to help the Lodge make the transition as painlessly as possible.

Some Brothers stubbornly want to hold on to their Lodges for sentimental reasons. As the fraternity continues to decline, we have to look beyond our emotions, as difficult as this may be, and do what is practical in order for the Lodge to survive. For those of you who possess an emotional attachment to your Lodge building, I will remind you that there is only one word worse than the other two: “closure.”

Keep the Faith.

Freemasonry From the Edge
Freemasonry From the Edge

by W:.Tim Bryce, PM, MPS
Palm Harbor, Florida, USA
A Foot Soldier for Freemasonry

NOTE: The opinions expressed in this essay are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of any Grand Masonic jurisdiction or any other Masonic related body. As with all of my Masonic articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following:

Article reprinted with permission of the author and

Please forward me a copy of the publication when it is produced.

To receive notices of Tim’s writings, subscribe to his Discussion Group.

Also be sure to check out Tim’s Pet Peeve of the Week (non-Masonic related).

Copyright © 2008 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

There’s a Hole in Our Bucket

The following article originally appeared in Issue 2 of The Masonic Society Journal.
By Stephen Dafoe

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:

masonic membership, freemasonry, decline

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.

Read: 11 Persona Types of Freemasonry – Part 1, New Members

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.

masonic membership, freemasonry, population

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.

masonic membership, freemasonry

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.

Read: Three Types of Masons

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.

masonic membership, freemasonry

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.

masonic membership, freemasonry, templars

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.

Read: So What? The Dynamic of Masonic Membership.
And, Freemasonry Is Dying.

About the author

Stephen Dafoe
Stephen Dafoe

Stephen Dafoe

V. W. Bro Stephen Dafoe is a past Grand Steward of the Grand Lodge of Alberta, former publisher of Masonic Magazine and the author of several books on the Knights Templar and Freemasonry. In addition, Dafoe is a self-confessed anti-Internet Mason.

Ironically, his website can be found at