Rebuilding Lodges (part 2) by W. Bro. Ken Miller
As you know, the decline in Masonry in the 1960's was not unique to our order. This same erosion was seen across all fraternal groups. Why did everyone decline? Because of societal changes that happened outside of our walls, not just rot from within (although there is little doubt that has happened).
Just as our lodges came to be governed more and more by code books and less and less by trust in our brothers, outside our walls more and more attorneys found work as our society became increasingly litigious and less trusting of one another. Unlike in the first half of the 20th Century, now we all need to "get it in writing."
As group participation in America waned, we lost our trust in one another. This, in a nutshell, is what Dr. Robert Putnam calls "social capital." Within our walls we have another name for the same thing — brotherhood.
Without social capital, we don't know how to interact with one another with civility, we don't look out for one another, and transactional costs increase (a handshake agreement is cheaper than getting the papers drafted up by the lawyers). Politics becomes shrill and base, our economy becomes more inefficient, crime rises and safety declines. The decline of social capital has become recognized as a profound challenge to quality of life in America.
How does this fit in to Masonry? Two ways: one, we must recognize this broad social force for what it is; and two, we can counteract it perhaps not on a large scale, but at least in our own lives.
First, Masonry has to acknowledge that the 1950's aren't coming back. Our lodge rooms will never again seat 150 for a stated meeting. Instead of swimming against that tide and amplifying the problem with one day classes, let's embrace our past and look to early lodges as our example.
In the Golden Age of Masonry, when it was a force for improving society, lodges were smaller than today. It worked pretty well for them, so let's take a few pointers from that age. Let's not fight declining social capital by diluting our own social capital. That is, lets not let in thousands of new Masons in one day classes and do nothing but collect their annual dues. That's the path to making Masonry a mailing list.
Let's counteract these forces in our own lodges by allowing our lodges to naturally contract. A small lodge where new petitioners are carefully vetted is a lodge where we all know one another and more likely have trust in one another. In other words, there is social capital. There is brotherhood.
— W. Bro. Ken Miller, Halycon Lodge No. 498, Cleveland, Ohio
Image: Photo taken during the 1901 construction of a 100 ft. tall obelisk monument to Sgt. Charles Floyd, a member of the Lewis and Clark "Corps of Discovery," the first American soldier to die west of the Mississippi River. Floyd was buried on this spot near Sioux City, Iowa, in 1804.
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