Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Masonic Manifesto: Will Freemasonry Survive? Or Are We Fading into Obscurity?

This excellent essay was censored by the Grand Master of Florida because he found it to be offensive.

by W. Br. Tim Bryce, PM, Editor, Freemasonry for The Next Generation

Cover illustration by W. Bro. Joe Duhamel, PM

"People can be divided into three groups: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened." — John W. Newbern


For a moment, imagine what it would be like to live In a utopian world of Freemasonry: Our ranks would swell with quality men, Lodges would proliferate, and peace and harmony would reign throughout the world. But, as we all know, the state of Freemasonry is far from this; our numbers have diminished, we are struggling financially, members are apathetic, and our image with the public is tarnished and lacks credibility. Why? Because we have failed miserably to adapt to changing times. How can we expect the world to take Freemasonry seriously if we do not take ourselves seriously? If we truly want to make the world a better place, we must first get our own house in order.

Whenever I consider the state of Freemasonry I am reminded of the movie "No Time for Sergeants" (1958, starring Andy Griffith) where Will Stockdale (Griffith) confounds Sergeant King (Myron McCormick), a "lifer" pleased with the ease and repetition of his path, who inevitably counters with the line, "Don't make waves." Frankly, the Sgt. Kings of the fraternity have lulled us to sleep and seem to be more concerned with chasing their next apron as opposed to solving the problems of Freemasonry.

Back in the 1970's, Bro. Gerald Ford was the last U.S. President who had the courage to go before the nation in his state of the Union address and say in effect, "My fellow Americans, I am afraid to tell you the State of the Union is not very good." It was honest, it was candid. But it ultimately cost him his re-election.

The lesson here is that people do not want to hear the truth. They do not want to face reality. They cannot deal with it. However, as Masons I would like to believe we are strong enough to accept the truth. And the truth is, the state of the fraternity is not very good. If we can accept this, we can then seek remedies to correct it. After all, you cannot treat a patient if he doesn't know he is sick. Attacking symptoms with band-aid solutions is simply not going to hack it anymore. I am afraid we need to perform some surgery.

I chose the name "Masonic Manifesto" carefully, because it grabs your attention, and accurately reflects what I propose to describe. A "Manifesto" is simply a public declaration of intention or of principles; things that should be accomplished if we want to move forward.

I am not one to criticize for the sake of criticism. In fact, one of the things I preach in my consulting practice is not to criticize unless you can offer some sort of alternative. In other words, "Put up or shut up." I don't believe in destructive criticism; I believe in constructive criticism. As Brother Winston Churchill once said, "Any idiot can see what's wrong with something; but can you see what's right?"

For example, I do not believe you have the right to criticize your country if you do not exercise your basic right to vote. If you are not willing to go down to the polling station and cast your vote, don't come whining to me about this country.

The Masonic Manifesto is simply a list of ideas for how to improve the fraternity in no particular order. Some items you might like, some you will probably hate. This is based on my observations as a Mason (both here in Florida and with all of the other jurisdictions I am in touch with). It is also based on my experiences as a management consultant, and as someone who has participated on over 30 Board of Directors for various non-profit organizations. None of the items are designed to violate the basic tenets of Freemasonry. In anything, they would enhance our purpose if implemented.


Masons have been meeting upon the level and parting on the square well before the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717. The invention of the Grand Lodge system was inevitable as it afforded Masons a means to administer Freemasonry on a consistent basis to suit local geographical and cultural requirements. Establishing Grand jurisdictions to conform with political boundaries makes sense in that it allows Masons to legally operate under the particular laws of the state they are living. But where do we ultimately owe our allegiance; to the Grand Lodge where we took our obligation or to the Brotherhood overall? Although there is probably as many interpretations of Masonic ritual as there are jurisdictions, all support the basic tenets of Freemasonry: Friendship, Morality and Brotherly Love. It is this basic underlying philosophy that is too often forgotten. Instead, we have become too territorial in nature and have trouble thinking of Freemasonry for what it truly is, a universal Brotherhood.

I am baffled by those Brothers who cannot think of Freemasonry beyond the four walls of their Lodge room, or beyond a district or Grand jurisdiction. Are we too old or set in our ways that we cannot learn a thing or two from our neighbors, or they from us? Is there some Masonic law prohibiting cooperation towards a common endeavor? I think not.

Freemasonry is a special society separated by jurisdictional walls which we have built ourselves. Now is the time for us to find ways to work together in a concerted effort as opposed to autonomous units. Our strength lies in our unity, not our division.

Devices such as "traveling gavels" are nice for promoting visitations and understanding between jurisdictions, but we need to think bigger, much bigger. We should aspire to lead the world towards peace and prosperity, but this can only happen if we think globally as opposed to locally.


In today's global society, where communications and transportation are no longer obstacles as they were for our forefathers, the concept of establishing a forum for grand jurisdictions to meet and work together is the next logical step towards unifying the fraternity.

A "World Congress of Freemasonry" should be organized along the lines of the League of Nations or the United Nations. True, there are elements of this present, such as the upcoming World Conference of Masonic Grand Lodges to be held in November in Sydney, but I am talking about establishing a more formal organization that meets more frequently and routinely.

Such a Congress would have no direct authority over a jurisdiction or Grand Master. In fact, the Grand Master of the Jurisdiction would appoint a formal representative to serve in this Congress, a body that would do such things as:
  1. Establish standards for such things as maintaining Masonic records, the preparation of financial reports, and degree work.

  2. Establish the criteria for Grand Lodge recognition. Further, any Grand Lodge participating in this forum would have to recognize all member Grand Lodges.

  3. Help reconcile disputes between Grand Lodges.

  4. Design an overall framework to promote charity and world peace, not world domination. Each Grand Lodge has its own local charities, but, instead, a global and centralized relief effort would be able to more effectively support relief efforts such as the tsunami disaster of last year. This would be akin to something like the Masonic Service Association of North America, but on a global scale.

Bottom-line, the intent here is to establish a voting body to help formulate global policy and support member Grand Lodges.


As a systems consultant, I am appalled at what I see in the administration of Grand Lodges and Blue Lodges. Not only are our information systems horribly antiquated, they lack consistency from Blue Lodge-to-Blue Lodge, Blue Lodge-to-Grand Lodge, and Grand Lodge-to-Grand Lodge. Instead of devising a standard and consistent system that can be universally applied, Grand Lodges keep reinventing the wheel at incredible costs. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the administration of our Lodges, Grand or Blue; we need to know about:
  • Grand Lodges — jurisdiction, contact and address data, legal governmental definition, officers, areas/zones/districts, local Masonic laws, history.

  • Grand Lodge administration — payroll, accounts receivable, accounts payable, inventory, membership, banking/investments, budgeting, charities, home/hospital administration, etc.

  • Blue Lodges — jurisdiction, contact and address data, officers, legal governmental definition, bylaws, history, dues, inventory, banking/investments, budgeting.

  • Members — status, contact and address data, events (e.g., degrees, offices held, awards, etc.), skills inventory.

  • Miscellaneous — news, schedules, projects, charities, job portal.

Not only would such a system reduce our administrative burdens, it would be viewed as a vital communications link between Grand Lodges, Blue Lodges, members, and the outside world. Of course, security/privacy precautions would have to be implemented to safeguard unauthorized access to data, but this is simple to do. Even the Shrine has a central location for such processing.

Imagine: the ability to verify a member's status regardless of the jurisdiction; to communicate between jurisdictions; to report sickness and distress wherever it occurs; to have a common and consistent approach shared by all; quite simply, it would be mind-boggling. It would greatly reduce the financial burden for administering records at both the Grand Lodge and Blue Lodge level, yet bring a level of consistency never dreamt possible.

It is certainly feasible to do all of this. Establishing a universal system architecture shouldn't be too hard to figure out. There is also some slick technology now available to make all of this happen. What makes this viable though is for us, as Freemasons, to implement it on a global basis. Allowing our lodges to work more productively can have a dramatic effect on our ability to act as Freemasons.


To improve publicity and public relations we have to move from a reactive position of communicating to a pro-active approach. Only in this way, can we begin to overcome the misconceptions of the fraternity, enlighten the public, and attract new members. Although there are instances where it is necessary to protect the anonymity of our membership, a lot of our work is certainly newsworthy. And we cannot be leaders if the world doesn't know anything about us. To this end, I propose a centralized Masonic news agency who can plug into the world news outlets and spread our word. I am not talking about a global newspaper/magazine, although I am sure this wouldn't hurt, but rather a news organization that gathers and distributes news and announcements in the same manner as the Associated Press or United Press International (which we should join as well).

A standard and consistent approach for distributing news could greatly dispel the myths surrounding us, and provide the press with a single outlet to obtain news on the fraternity.


The distribution of Masonic news can certainly help in public relations, but a more personal touch is needed for people to see Freemasons up close and personal and to dispel any misconceptions about our intentions. To this end, I propose that every Blue Lodge ally itself with at least one non-profit organization and take an "active" role in that organization, be it a school, or civic/volunteer organization (such as a local chamber of commerce, Little League, library, scouting, meals on wheels, etc.). I am not suggesting engaging in local government or politics, but rather to select a high profile cause that would give us visibility. This would demonstrate our leadership abilities and help spread the word of Masons.

I also have no problem with performing joint ventures with like-minded organizations, such as the Oddfellows, Knights of Columbus, Rotary, Lions, Elks, Jaycees, etc. Again, this would help dispel misconceptions about Freemasonry while performing some much needed work.


Grand Lodge officers have a fiduciary responsibility to its membership to accurately report all income and expenses in a consistent and timely manner. Such reporting must come with the approval of an audit committee, either in-house or independent. This is no different than how a corporation has to report to its shareholders. Failure to do so, only casts suspicions on our Grand Lodge officers.


I am a firm believer that the Blue Lodge should be allowed to make more decisions at the local level. For example, although I am not necessarily a fan of it, I believe the decision for holding a one-day class is the responsibility of the Blue Lodge, not the Grand Lodge. As long as the Blue Lodge doesn't violate any governmental laws, rules or regulations, I have no problem with the Blue Lodge soliciting funds from the public or serving alcohol on its premises.

Many Lodges feel paralyzed because they live in fear of the Grand Lodge. Such gridlock frustrates and inhibits Freemasons and is the root cause for creating apathy. Instead, the emphasis should be on simplifying Blue Lodge life as opposed to creating overhead or other burdens.

In other words, I believe it is time we got the Grand Lodge off the back of the Blue Lodges (Gee, I guess I sound a little like Ronald Reagan here). We need fewer bureaucratic rules and more Freemasonry.

I do not suggest the Grand Lodge's role is insignificant, far from it. It is important but I believe we have gone overboard. I see the Grand Lodge's role as one of providing administrative support; as well as guidance and leadership. To illustrate, I believe the lion's share of proposed legislation should come from those who are more intimate with such things as charity, finances, membership, etc. If our Grand Lodge officers are only going to administer what we currently have and lack the foresight of where we should be going, then we have some serious leadership problems.


A couple of years ago, there was a fine article written in the "Empire State Mason" by the Grand Secretary describing how we, as Masons, have to learn to take care of ourselves; that charity begins at home. Good point. Such initiatives as the Florida Skills Inventory, and the Freemasons Job and Service Portal are small steps in the right direction. The more we can help our Brothers succeed in life, the more they will be able to help the fraternity in return.

But let's take it another step forward; how about establishing a general fund to help Brothers in distress? Further, if we organized ourselves properly, we could also establish insurance plans for our members and a credit union. Again, our strength is in our numbers and such devices can only be created if we pool our resources on a global basis.


Anyone who believes there are no politics in Freemasonry is taking it in the arm. In fact, we have the worst kind of politics: gossip, rumor mills, and good old fashioned arm twisting. So much so, I believe our approach to electing officers is detrimental to the fraternity. It should come as no surprise that many Grand jurisdictions now suffer from political machines where the cream doesn't necessarily rise to the top. Consequently, the talented men we desperately need to lead us are going elsewhere. I am not a believer of the concept of "progressing through the chairs." Only the most qualified should progress.

Our electoral process doesn't have to be this way. Some simple, common-sense solutions are available to change this and help put the right men in the right chairs. For example, nominations, position papers, debates, questions and answers, proficiency tests, etc. should be included in our electoral process at both the Blue Lodge and Grand Lodge levels. Without such processes, we are left with political machines, certainly not an intelligent way for electing officers.

One area I would have a problem with though is expending money on campaign advertising (e.g., published ads, buttons, pins, etc.); frankly, I think we can make better use of our money helping the needy, than spending it on campaign advertising.


If your Lodge has less than 300 members AND if your average attendance is less than 10% of your membership, then your Lodge is probably recycling Past Masters, your membership is declining, and your meetings are about as interesting as watching grass grow. If this scenario is true, some serious thought should be given to either merging your Lodge with another or consolidating into another Lodge (sharing quarters). Your only other alternative is electroshock therapy to wake people up which, in all likelihood, is beyond rejuvenation.

Many Masons resist the concept of mergers simply due to the longevity and heritage of their Lodge. But as one Brother pointed out to me, "What is more important, our allegiance to the fraternity or to our Lodge?" Good point. Sure we don't like to lose our charters, but if our Lodge is in decline, it would make more sense to merge with another than to painfully watch it die a slow death. As any businessman will tell you, if a franchise is suffering, you cut your losses and merge it with another.


Blue Lodges too often fall prey to the tedium of repetition. If a Blue Lodge does nothing more than open, read the minutes and bills, and little else, it should come as no surprise to see our sidelines empty. After all, most people have an aversion to watching reruns.

Are we too steeped in tradition or too rigid to try something new? In order to make Lodge meetings meaningful, they have to be fun and interesting. True, the business of the Lodge has to be discussed, but this should be done as expeditiously as possible and give way to other programs, such as a guest speaker, a presentation, or Masonic Education. Masonic speakers are interesting as are outsiders who might describe some local program or activity of interest to the Lodge. Even a simple change in clothing can make a difference. Instead of tuxedoes, I know of a Georgia Lodge that has a night where members are encouraged to wear the jersey of their favorite team to mark the start of the football season.

As we have mentioned in past issues, music can play a significant role in the liveliness of a Lodge meeting. Instead of an organist or piano player, why not try someone who plays another instrument, such as a guitar or something else? Don't have a musician? Try a CD player, tape recorder, iPod, or computer.

I am a big believer in promoting Masonic Education, either through presentations or written exams. This helps raise the consciousness of the Craft as well as providing for a stimulating meeting. We should always aspire to learn and improve ourselves, our communities, and our world.

Want to bolster attendance at degrees? Try a different venue, such as an outdoor degree or at another Lodge (a joint degree). Themes are also useful, such as a "Black-Light" degree where the ritual is performed under black-lights. Amelia Lodge No. 47 F.& A.M. in Fernandina Beach holds an annual "Fort Clinch" degree in a Civil War fort that is always well attended. The degree team is dressed in both Union and Confederate clothing. I would also love to see South Florida's legendary "Gator Degree" held at an alligator farm.

Also key to attendance is refreshment. You might be pleasantly surprised to see what effect a good sit-down meal, either before or after a meeting, has on attendance. Sutherland Lodge No. 174 F.& A.M. in Palm Harbor has an annual "Spam Fest" cooking competition that has generated considerable interest.

Perhaps the best piece of advice that can be offered to anyone aspiring to be Worshipful Master is the old adage, "If you tried to do something and failed, you are vastly better off than if you tried to do nothing and succeeded." A Lodge should not discourage new ideas and innovation but, rather, embrace them. Creating the proper culture to adopt new ideas is essential to a Lodge's survival.

But above all else, create a hospitable environment where every member and visitor is warmly welcomed and made to feel at home. A firm handshake and some simple conversation can go a long way to improving attendance.

Bottom-line, you want to make the Lodge a place where Brothers WANT to come to, not avoid. If Lodges are boring and repetitious, this simply will not happen.


Periodically, professionals such as doctors, lawyers and contractors must attend special programs to bring them up to date on the latest developments and renew their certification. This keeps them abreast of developments and renews their commitment to their profession. I do not see why Freemasonry should be any different.

We have too many card-carrying members who do nothing more than pay their annual dues and little else. Freemasonry is not your typical "club" or civic organization. If we truly believe in the purpose of the fraternity and are interested in perpetuating it, it might not be a bad idea to establish a similar program to recertify our members, thereby recommitting themselves to its ideals. I am therefore proposing an international program to be held in a variety of venues where Masons are brought up-to-date of the state on the fraternity, and Masonic Education is taught (not Masonic catechisms).

Attendance at such a recertification program should be considered a requirement for being a Mason and be periodically renewed, such as every three years. Re-certification would stimulate the Craft, overcome apathy, and renew their commitment to the fraternity.


People cringe whenever I mention this; not just Masons but other non-profit organizations as well. However, the fact remains that Lodges are legal entities recognized by the State and must conform to its laws, rules and regulations. Further, consider the sizeable sums of monies managed by the Grand Lodges. Consequently, we should organize ourselves and behave like the major corporations that we are. Obviously, we do not want to lose our Brotherly touch for humanity, but it is time we acted more professionally in our business affairs. It is the only logical way to survive in the years ahead.


Behind all of this is a deep-seated belief that Freemasonry was once a noble society who helped forge countries and nourished the needy. But our image has tarnished and our effectiveness weakened with the passing of time. Do we believe more in the strength of the universality of the fraternity or the rules and regulations of a particular jurisdiction?

In order for us to return to glory we need to get out of the apathetic rut we are in. It is time for a fresh perspective. What worked for our forefathers years ago doesn't necessarily work in today's world. I am certainly not suggesting we abandon our past; far from it. But I am contesting our organization and effectiveness in today's world. Do we want to be viewed as "custodian's of the past" or as a vibrant organization who plays a vital role on the world's stage? I know our younger Brothers and potential candidates are interested in the latter.

Bottom-line, the Masonic Manifesto is saying "Shapeth up and geteth thine act together" for we will inevitably perish if we do not. Frankly, I do not believe we are up to the task of implementing a fraction of what I have proposed herein. But I do know this: we are beyond the point of making superficial changes; radical decisions and changes in policy are inevitable if we are going to survive. As any surgeon will tell you, do not try to apply a band-aid when a tourniquet is required to stop the bleeding. Let's move away from a reactive mode of operating to a pro-active philosophy with visionaries who want to see the fraternity evolve into a higher level of effectiveness.

Let me leave you with one of my favorite quotes; something I have framed and hangs in my office. It is from President Calvin Coolidge, who said:

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

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