Monday, January 29, 2007

Fewer Freemasons for the future?

Writing in the Dec. 2006 issue of Masonic Messenger, the official publication of the Grand Lodge of Georgia, Grand Master of Masons in Georgia M.W. Bro. Eli Stafford said: "We have lots of members, but we are weak in quality.... I believe we need to guard our inner door more closely.... If you... were standing in front of our lodge, [and] you could see the ones who come in and hear their conversations and hear the profanity used by some of our brothers, would you still want to be a part of our fraternity?"

I'm not sure what number constitutes "lots of members" to Bro. Stafford. The last time I checked, back in 2003 or 2004, there were just under 50,000 Masons in Georgia, and that number was decreasing by nearly 1,900 each year. Extending that into the future, I recall calculating that the last Georgia Mason would be turning out the Lights around 2027 or so.

Elsewhere in the same issue of the Messenger, it was reported that in 2005, only two Grand Lodges in America reported an increase in membership. The Grand Lodge of Hawaii had a net gain of 11 Master Masons, bringing the total number of Masons in that state to 1,745. New Jersey reported a net gain of 284 Masons, for a total membership of 31,169.

Across the board, the 51 American Grand Lodges reported a loss of 47,220 members in 2005. Membership in the 51 Grand Lodges stood at 1,569,812.

It has often been said, and a visit to any lodge will probably show it to be true, that only 10-15% of Masons actually ever participate in Masonic functions or even attend regular blue lodge communications. The rest just pay dues to maintain their membership. That means that our illustrious institution consists of between 150,000 and 225,000 active Master Masons nationwide. More people than that attend a single NASCAR race.

Nationally, the Scottish Rite boasts of half a million members, but I have no idea how many of those are actually active participants.

York Rite consists of three groups, the Chapter, Council and Commandery. In Georgia, there are 5,227 actual members of the York Rite Council, and 5,272 in the Commandery, and these numbers include men who may hold dual memberships, which makes the actual numbers "something less than that," according to Bro. Joe Turner, writing in the same issue of the Messenger. Fifty-nine percent of Royal Arch (the first level of York Rite) are Council members, so if my algebra is correct, that means there are about 8,900 total York Rite members in Georgia. I assume the 10-15% active members rule applies to the York Rite as well; I've attended Chapter and Council meetings with fewer than 10 members present. In fact, the first time I attended a Council meeting after joining, I was asked to act as an officer though I had no clue what was going on.

"It would be nice to start off the year with a large class of new members," York Rite's Bro. Turner wrote.

Why do 85-90% of the members not participate? Since the average age of a Mason is probably around 65, we can assume many Masons who would like to be active are unable to attend due to poor health. Indeed, 180 brothers died in a two-month period (as listed in the same issue of Messenger).

Doing the math on that gives us an average death toll of 1,080 per year. But that would only account for just over half of the yearly shrinkage. Why are approximately 800 brothers letting their memberships lapse each year?

And why are so few younger men joining the Fraternity? Why is there so little interest in becoming a part of the oldest and (once) most-respected fraternal organization in the world?

Has Freemasonry become irrelevant to today's man? What were those 800 men a year (in Georgia) who don't renew their membership looking for when they became a Mason, and why didn't they find it? What did they find instead?

Image: Grand Master of Masons in Georgia M.W. Bro. Eli Stafford and his lady, Lily Mae.

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  1. In many ways, I think this is the frightening reality that the fraternity faces. Its like waking up after half the house has burned down and the other half starting to catch.

    In that analysis, in 2027, I think our fraternity will look radically different than it does today. Truthfully, we will be the heirs of this once great institution.

  2. Eli Stafford was a part of the same crew who expelled, without trial or due process, several young urban professional Masons in Atlanta. He had quality and then flushed it down the toilette. The Grand Lodge of Georgia is merely reaping the rewards of its own poor leadership abilities and internal corruption.

  3. Unfortunately the latest Annual Communication for California isn't yet available for download, and for some reason my account is misbehaving and won't allow me to get to 2005, but for 2004 we had 75K members in California. IIRC we are now at around 68K, but applicaitons were the highest they've been since the 1980's, and our rate of decline is slowing. Masonry in CA is on the rise, but the demographics certainly work against us in the short run. The projections so far show we'll bottom out in the 30K range before we see any uptick.

    Fortunately, many in CA (including the PGM that I just served under) realize that quality is more important than quantity, and while we are making every effort to ensure our Craft makes its presence felt in act and deed with society, nothing has been done to cheapen our degrees or mission, IMHO.

    It will get worse before it gets better...but it will get better. Studies show our Craft has gone through these ebbs and flows before.

    Fraternally I remain -

    Eric Wells, PM

  4. Nationally, according to the article I quoted from Georgia's Masonic Messenger, there has been only ebb, no flow, since 1959. The Masonic Service Association says that the number of American Masons has declined every year since 1959, when there were 4,103,161 Masons in the U.S.

    — W.S.

  5. Ohio has the answer to all the mebership problems.

    A one day class to be a mason in one day, with no work or preparation!
    If you are too lazy to memorize or too busy to commit and sacrifice for the order, then ohio has the fast track plan.
    Who is watching the west gate and who is inviting the unqualified to the temple doors?
    One day class attracts the weak and undedicated who are looking for an easy pass.

    Well, not in our Lodge. The candidiate will do as ALL brothers and fellows have done before! No short cuts.
    So, do not worry about Ohio, we will probably be having One Day Masons joining for the rest of the time, so we will always have a dues influx to support GL.

  6. One day class attracts the weak and undedicated who are looking for an easy pass.

    I've spoken out against the 1-day thing in the past. I have to disagree with this statement, though.

    It's my own opinion that many of the candidates have no clue as to what's in store for them. Some lodges are asked to be a "degree team" at these functions, so they drag in candidates. Lodges that are weak in ritual work bring candidates in. Still other lodges bring them down so they can enjoy the festival atmosphere. My bet is that most times the candidate simply doesn't know (how could he?) and so agrees. He doesn't know any better, all he knows is that he wants to be a Mason like his grandfather or his friend Bob from work.

    Conn did a couple of these back a few years ago, and thankfully saw the light. Our lodge was picked to do the FC degree, and we did bring a couple of guys. One of them has drifted off, but the other is active and has memorized a few parts for degrees, and has even brought a few more friends in.

    I have not seen the stats on how active the 1-day members have been, but in my other lodge, one member came in on the 1-day because he was waiting for a heart transplant and didn't know if he'd make the 3 month period. He recovered very well, and went on to become Secretary, and is now a line officer, and does some parts for degrees. However, once he saw the "real" way to take the degrees, last year he asked if he could retake them the traditional way. Knowing his history, the WM allowed it - and while it wasn't quite a surprise, it was still a poignant moment for him when he took his MM degree.

    Tom Accuosti
    The Tao of Masonry

  7. I find that the bestz part of becoming a Mason has been the gradual rise through the grades. Becoming a MM in one day is, to me, defeating the point of being a Mason in every single way imaginable.

    The impression many have of the Masons has changed. There is little of the personal secrecy left over; there is little of the mystery of Ritual left. Men seeing the Masons don't appreciate that what they read in a ritual text taken out from the local library has nothing whatsoever to do with what actually happens. They fail to appreciate that the ritual itself brings the secret of the Masons to the fore.

    And the Masons are becoming more of an old boy's club full of doddering old men, in the opinion of some. A Rotary Club for those who don't want quite as much publicity. A fry-up meet for those with less social skills.

    This is a great shame, since Masonry has a great deal to offer for the right people. And who was it watching the West Door when these 800 men in Georgia were admitted who have allowed their membership to lapse? Who is it that is acting as guardian for these men, or WM of their Lodge and not getting to know them and their reasons for leaving?

    Masonry needs to be worked on from the inside as much as towards the outside, or it cannot work.


  8. "The outward form (or present practice) of Masonry is too absurd to be perpetuated were it not for a certain secret response of common sense to the original mystery. The Initiated moved one another on by words of power. The Masons ape this but have lost the magic key to open the door into the Hermetic garden. They want the words, which are only to be found by seeking them in the subjective fundamental life, from which they are as far out as the tools they use. The true tools also may be found on the way in, they will be given one after another as they are wanted ." Another learned author, who had every motive to speak well of the Craft the late Brother John Yarker was constrained to write in 1872, in his able and most instructive Notes on the Scientific and Religious Mysteries that, "As the Masonic fraternity is now governed, the Craft is fast becoming the paradise of the bon vivant, of the charitable hypocrite, who forgets the version of St . Paul and adorns his breast with the ‘charity jewel' (having by this judicious expenditure obtained the purple, he metes out judgment to other brethren of greater ability and morality but less means), the manufacturer of paltry masonic tinsel, etc. No other institution is so intrinsically valuable as Craft Masonry, or capable of such superhuman things. As now governed, few societies perform less. None profess such great objects, few accomplish so very little real and substantial good. May reformation be speedy and effective "


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