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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