In the Army we had a writing style that said put the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). In keeping with that philosophy; I do not believe that Freemasonry is dying. To paraphrase Brother Samuel Langhorne Clemons (Mark Twain):
The report of Freemasonry’s death is an exaggeration.
I have read with interest many articles, blog posts and emails describing the imminent demise of Freemasonry. Some say that Freemasonry will be dead in 20 years, other say we are already dead and we just have not realized it yet. Many of these writings have impressive analytics, showing us the raw numbers and the percentages of membership, I admit that it is hard to argue with the logic in the numbers presented. I will say that, while Logic is part of the Trivium(1) and one of the Liberal Arts and Sciences which we are called to study, Logic alone is not what is required to evaluate our Fraternity. Freemasonry is not just of the head, but also of the heart. The benefits of membership in the Masonic Order cannot be listed as finite items; I believe that our Craft reaches into the infinity of our thoughts, our ethics, our behavior, our spirit. The three Masonic Initiations are meant to fundamentally change us, to allow us to better understand ourselves and our place in the cosmos. The uninitiated (and some of our Brethren) can look at the Compasses and say that they are used to draw circles and arcs and can be used to measure distances on maps. The initiated should look at the Compasses and consider how to use them to circumscribe our desires and put boundaries on our passions. But we should not stop there, we can consider other uses for this tool, which is but a symbol for us to interpret. As I stated earlier, we move into the infinite when we consider the symbols and words in Freemasonry.
Taken logically, Freemasonry is in trouble based on these well-researched analytics. Our numbers are in steady decline from the days of high membership numbers in the 1950s. I have long stated that this should not be our benchmark, it was an artificial increase based on men returning from World War II and longing for the bonds of brotherhood that they felt with those men that fought alongside them to defeat tyranny. They were interested in the fellowship, the comradery, the feeling of “belonging” that they had felt in their military units. (2) If we need to compare ourselves to previous generations, we should compare ourselves to the late 1800s to the early 1900s; a period of serious Masonic Scholarship. Why? Because most men I know that have entered the Fraternity in the last few years are looking for the kind of Freemasonry that it seems was practiced in those days of old. We want the scholarship and research; we want the communications that they had in the many Masonic publications like The Builder Magazine. Many of the articles I mentioned earlier state that the true decline is not due to deaths, but men leaving the Fraternity through Demits and Non-Payment of Dues. They quit. Even in my own lodge, the losses we posted this year were due to a Demit and a withdrawal of Dual Membership. Why are men that showed enough interest and curiosity about the Craft to find a Mason, request a petition, endure investigation, travel once, twice, thrice about the Lodge and learn and pass the three catechisms leaving in droves? Because Freemasonry was not what they expected. Now, some of them may have had grandiose expectations, but most were just disappointed that we hold boring meetings that do nothing to help them become better men or answer any of the mysteries of the universe. Change is needed.
But what should we change? Should we follow the advice of those who say Freemasonry is too easy, too cheap and too informal? Do we establish Dues that are more than are required to pay our bills, just to show the importance of the Craft? Do we wear tuxedos and gloves and square our corners during Ritual? Do we elect the same Brother as Worshipful Master for ten years in a row because we are convinced that he is the only one that can lead our lodge? Or do we say that dressing for Lodge is elitist and asking men to dress properly (Jacket and tie) for Lodge will drive men away? In my opinion, the statement that “it is the internal not the external,” is not describing our clothing but our positions outside the Fraternity. It means that a tradesman is the same as a Banker in the eyes of Freemasonry. It does not mean that I should accept polo shirts and jeans in a Masonic Lodge meeting. But I digress. Does it mean that we accept mediocrity in our Ritual and have fund raisers to pay our bills to keep dues down?
Actually it means different things to different Lodges. A Lodge is a group of Masons operating under a Charter granted by a Grand Lodge. It is not the building. Therefore, a Lodge of Masons should reflect the wants and needs of the men associated with it, within the precepts of Freemasonry’s Ancient Landmarks. If you are not comfortable with your Lodge you need to determine if it is them or you. Meaning, is there a greater number that think that you should focus more on Education than other aspects of the Craft? If you are a lone wolf, perhaps you should find a Lodge that is more in line with your needs; do not just cut and run. If you find you are in the majority, make effective changes to move in the direction that the majority wants to go. I do not mean that you leave behind those that have different needs, but the focus of the Lodge should be that of the majority, not a vocal minority. I am not in the camp of thinking that Lodges need to close or consolidate. If I am not a member, I try not to form opinions, and if I do, I keep them to myself. I do not judge the work of a Lodge; it is not my place. If someone asks my opinion, or my help, I give it in private.
I try to look out for my Lodges, meaning the Brethren within. In my three Lodges Masonry is alive and well. I am very involved in two of them, distance keeps me away from my Mother Lodge, but I keep in touch and I know what they are doing. I try to support, teach, mentor, learn from my Brethren. As long as I am alive, Freemasonry will be alive. While one of my Lodges is small and we do not have a lot of active members, we are doing Masonry. When I learn from my Brethren, Masonry is alive. When I teach them, Masonry is alive. When I see my Brethren growing in Freemasonry and in life, Masonry is alive. I see Freemasonry growing all the time, in the lives of the members of my Lodge. They are growing in their knowledge of the Craft, and as this knowledge increases, so does their thirst for more!
Freemasonry is not dying. We have challenges, but Freemasonry is alive.
- William Arnold, The Trivium & Quadrivium or 7 Liberal Arts and Sciences, http://suffolkmasons.com/the-trivium-quadrivium/
- Brian Coffey, “We” Can Get Things Done, 11/24/2018, https://parkinglotmason.wordpress.com/2018/11/24/we-can-get-things-done/