Part One: What Come You Here to Do?
Over the last decade, Grand Lodges all over North America have tried to turn the tide of shrinking membership with one-day classes, reduced proficiency requirements, open solicitation, "cut-rate deals" on multiple degrees, radio, television and billboard advertising blitzes, and many other schemes. The doors to the Temple have been flung wide open, yet the numbers have continued to decline.
The state of the Masonic corpus is lethargic, verging on catatonia, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is a sloth borne of six decades of euchre nights, pancake breakfasts, fish frys and bean suppers. Gone are the traveling Masonic orators and globe-trotting lecturers who used to pack our lodges and auditoriums because we can see or hear more exciting stuff on 275 digital channels these days. Gone are the days when Scottish Rite auditoriums were jammed with a thousand petitioners for the Spring Convocation when the Rite offered theatrical productions with spectacle and the finest in state-of-the-art special effects.
Younger men who have studied about the Craft before joining it are not finding the lodges of Washington and Franklin and Revere, of Goethe and Mozart and the Royal Society members. True, it is folly to pine for some long-ago "golden age" of Freemasonry, because every age had its own challenges and shortcomings. And there is plenty of room for argument as to which little snapshot of Masonic history to which each of us would like to return.
One thing remains certain: Freemasonry is shrinking. The huge numbers of the 40s, 50s and 60s are gone forever, a statistical aberration that will never happen again. Moreover, the majority of men who have spent decades sending in money to carry cards in their wallets for the York Rite, the Scottish Rite, the Shrine, the Grotto and the OES aren’t going to those places any more than they are attending their Craft Lodges. Masonry will not be saved by the appendant bodies or their charities. The tail cannot wag the dog — Freemasonry must save itself. It is now our job as the next generation of leaders to decide where Freemasonry is headed and how to get it there. Because the Baby Boomers rejected Masonry and most things of their fathers, we are jumping a generation and maybe two — and that provides an opportunity.
We are poised on a ledge, and can either fall into oblivion, or turn around and head a direction different from the one we are going. Not to become just another service club, like Lions or Kiwanis. Not to become more like the "animal" fraternities by turning our lodges into bars and billiard halls. Not to become crass, noisy, self-aggrandizing back-patters for our charities.
We have a brief window of opportunity to return this fraternity to what it once was: the best, the most respected, the most universal and most legendary fraternity in the world. This new generation of members wants to associate with something ancient, something mythical, something legendary; with a group that has been the fraternity of the greatest of men for three centuries; with a fraternity that is worldwide in its scope, and universal in its welcoming of all faiths and all races; with a local lodge that helps the family next door and the school down the street; with a group that once was at the forefront of issues that shaped this country and — arguably — was the crucible that gave birth to the American Revolution because they were men of action and social conscience; with a fraternity that claims as its members the most imaginative minds and the most successful of men.
That's what they read about on the Internet and in books and see in movies and even comics. That's the image they see and what they are looking for when they knock on our doors.
But what do we give them when they enter? Stop for a minute and think about the image your lodge projects. Think about what they expect versus what they find. Given that disparity, how long do we suspect they will stay?
This document is an attempt to turn the tiller of the Craft in another direction — or, rather, to put it back on course. It is a call to stop worshiping at the altar of Change for the sake of Change, and to take a studied approach to improving the overall health of Freemasonry.
Download the entire essay