Masonry Today

Masonic Spring Workshop 1990 Part Two

Bro. Myron Lusk

Brethren, my job is to speak to you on the subject "Masonry Today." As I see it, your job is to listen. If you finish your job before I finish mine, please have the courtesy not to leave the auditorium.

"Fagin" in the wonderful musical, Oliver, sings an amusing number, I've Been Reviewing The Situation. Well, I've been reviewing the situation of "Masonry Today," and it is not so funny.

Our membership is declining. Average age is increasing. Attendance is down. Filling the roster of Officers is difficult. Amalgamations are becoming more frequent. Lodge buildings are being sold. There is concern about the finances of Grand Lodge. Some church leaders are condemning our Order. Alas, alack! Alas, alack! Woe is me! Perhaps we should just heed the words of another popular song of years gone by, Let's Call The Whole Thing Off.

Have I got your attention? Are the "hackles" standing up on the back of your necks? I can hear you gritting your teeth from here. Good for you! Good for Freemasonry!

Freemasonry has weathered many a storm before. It will continue to outlive dictators, demagogues, persecutors, slanderers and us. Masonry's truths can never be silenced. Remember the devastating blow the Craft suffered when the "Morgan Incident" scandalized our Order. A man, named Morgan, who may or may not have been a Mason, supposedly intended to publish and expose of the "secrets" of Masonry. He, mysteriously, disappeared from Batavia, N.Y., in 1826. Masons were blamed. Rumor had it that he was spirited across the border to Canada and killed. Later research indicates he may have taken a boat, which was shipwrecked in the British West Indies or Cayman Islands. Facts are sketchy. There are many fanciful descriptions of the event that we can only view as conjecture. But, Morgan did vanish. Subsequently, a wave of anti-masonry swept the United States. There was even an "Anti-Masonic Political Party" which ran a slate of candidates in Federal elections. Things looked mighty grim for our Fraternity. The Grand Lodge of Michigan suspended labor in 1829. Subordinate Lodges were ordered to do the same. All complied, with the exception of the youngest Stoney Creek Lodge. It continued for several years in the home of one Brother Millerd. Anti-Masonic fervor was so intense that neighbors quarreled and families divided. Brother Millerd's church became so outspoken that, for the sake of peace, he asked the Lodge to move.

Through all this turmoil persevered a faithful Tyler, Bro. Daniel B. Taylor. Every meeting night he would set up the Lodge, light a candle, place it in the window, fire up his pipe and sit down to read. Even if no one came, he would wait until the usual time to "close the Lodge," blow out the candle, lock the door and go home. Brother Taylor continued this dedicated vigil in solitude until, in 1841, the furor of anti-Masonic sentiment subsided. The Grand Lodge was then revived. Darkness had been dispelled by the enduring faith of our Brother Taylor. Problems today are not so black and white. They are complex and insidious. We are feeling the heat. Great heat is what puts the temper into fine steel. From the fire of love for Freemasonry we must forge the Daniel Taylors of "Masonry Today."

There is nothing wrong with the foundation of Freemasonry. The beautiful messages of morality we are taught in our magnificent ceremonies are pertinent and timeless. We do not need to reduce the eloquence of language therein contained to common conversational text. Its grandeur elevates us to an uncommon level. We are on the right track. But, as Arthur Godfrey said, "Even if your are on the right track, you will get run over it you just stand there."

Instead of worrying and wringing our hands, lamenting our slow demise, we must look at ourselves. We must take courageous action, now.

What can we do today? Masonry encouragers us to think for ourselves. We have grown too inward and self-serving. The landmark of "Secrecy" has become distorted, misused and misunderstood. Do not think that I advocate the divulging of signs, tokens or words. I hold as sacred the solemn Obligations we take to preserve our modes of recognition. However, if the world at large is kept ignorant of what we profess and the quality of men who serve our Lodges, we are doing nothing more than patting ourselves on t he back and telling each other what fine fellows we are. If we do not recognize this failing to communicate with the "profane," we may shrivel to a small, elite group of old men headed for extinction, or at least insignificance.

Referring once more to a musical play, the question is asked, "Why is the Fiddler On The Roof?" No one knows. The blind answer is, "Tradition." The public secrecy we practice is not tradition. Freemasonry used to be very visible. Cornerstone laying for public buildings were done by the Masonic Lodge in full regalia. Grand Lodge Installations were covered by the press, with names and pictures of the Elected officers being printed. Our benevolence was well known. The Masonic Lodge was held in high esteem by the public.

Today, the average person does not have the slightest notion who we are, what we stand for, or that we even exist. For all they know, we might be the same as the Ku Klux Klan or some cult. What happened? Who said we can't tell the world about ourselves? It is time we show some common sense and discretion in educating the public as to the noble purpose of Freemasonry. I am proud to be a Mason. You are proud. Why should we be reluctant to tell non-members of our love for the Craft? Our reticence is utter nonsense!

Why would any worthy man want to become a member of a Fraternity he knows nothing about? Perhaps he has heard uncomplimentary references to our "secret society." Is it only for rich people? Is it for influential executives or politicians? Does it cost too much for the ordinary workingman? Is it prejudicial in nature? Does it revile religion? Why can't we tell the world what we really stand for? Is it "Tradition?"

There is a very humorous story told about Winston Churchill regarding the subject of "Tradition." When he was made Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill set out to modernize and re-organize the Royal Navy. It had become dangerously obsolete, both in thinking and equipment. The "Old Guard" were appalled by the changes he was instituting. They angrily declared that this young upstart knew nothing of the "Traditions" of the Royal Navy. When confronted with this change, Churchill stated, "I certainly do know the traditions of the Royal Navy. There are three, and I will name them for you:

Ruin, Sodomy and the Lash!!"

This story illustrates what I am trying to say. Many matters that have become practise are imposed for selfish or opinionated reasons. They have no real relationship to the purpose or welfare of the organization. They precipitate crisis!

To survive and grow we must have new members. I do not suggest that we should solicit on street corners or hold membership contests. However, a discreet, controlled public relations program can be developed. The need for such effort is undeniable.

During the summer of 1988, the Masonic Renewal Task Force was established in the United States. The sixteen members were Grand Masters, past Grand Masters and Leaders from the Shrine, Scottish Rite, York Rite and Masonic Service Association. They engaged a national survey company (Barton-Gillet) to determine the prevailing attitudes of both the public and our own members toward Freemasonry. The results of this survey were printed in the May, 1989 issue of the Northern Light magazine, the official publicat ion of the Supreme Council 33 Degree, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Northern Jurisdiction U.S.A. I have also obtained a videotape presentation of the survey from the Masonic Service Association, entitled: A Report on the Findings of American Attitudes Toward Joining Freemasonry. A copy of this tape was presented to each Grand Lodge in the United States. I will, gladly, make my copy available to the Grand Lodge of Alberta.

The survey represents an average of the American male population. Among non-members surveyed, about 30 per cent said they were familiar with Freemasonry; 23 per cent not very familiar; 36 per cent knew the name only; 11 per cent never heard of the organization. When asked about their possible interest in joining, only 2 per cent were definitely interested; 22.2 per cent maybe interested; 25.3 per cent probably not interested; 50.5 per cent definitely not interested. When asked which ideas of Masonry were least attractive or unacceptable, the majority responded that they did not know. About 10 per cent replied that they thought the Fraternity was too clannish, secretive or ritualistic. Asked to name a word or phrase to describe Masonry, the largest single response was that they did not know, and 14 per cent said, secretive. Recommendations of the survey company were mainly directed to more communication with the public and our own members, particularly the inactive ones, who comprise two-thirds of our mem bership. I strongly urge our Grand Lodge to seriously study the valuable information revealed.

Today's society is not what it was during the great growth years of our Fraternity. We now have more two-income families and more distractions competing for men's time. People are more mobile and pleasure seeking, with a greater move to health and fitness activities. We used to draw membership from specific workplaces. The Lodge was a social center. Now, business and community functions are more fragmented.

We can easily see that competition has made the theory of the "better mousetrap" no longer viable. The packaging, advertising and promotion of an item is often more expensive than the product itself. In the final analysis, the quality of the product may be what retains the customers, but the first objective is to attract the customer. About the only business that makes money without publicity is the Mint!

Masonry is not a business. However, unless we conduct our affairs in a more practical, business-like manner, we will continue to be in trouble. We must accept the fact that there is great social competition. It is tough out there!

Our competition is not the concordant bodies. I feel the condemnation of Masonically related organizations for alienating the loyalty of Craft Lodge members is futile, unfair and self-destructive. It is my personal observation that those who are active supporters of concordant bodies are also among the best workers in their Mother Lodges. Should we not be proud of the 90,000 Shriners who, in 1989, paraded in Toronto and contributed $1,000,000 to the Burns Hospital? Is that bad for Craft Masonry? The Scottish Rite Charitable Foundation of Canada achieved a $3,000,000 level in their Capital Fund for 1989. The interest from this Fund is given every year to sponsor study and research in the field of Mental Retardation and Alzheimer's Disease. Can that be bad for the Masonic Lodge? I think not! The absolute reality is that members of concordant bodies are Craft Masons. The welfare of Craft Masonry is vital to those organizations. Let us live in amity. "Let the world see how Masons love one another. "

Using the concordant bodies as "whipping boys" for our ills reminds me of the story of the protective mother who was entering her son in school. She advised the teacher: "My Harold is very sensitive. If you need to punish him, slap the boy next to him. That will frighten Harold and he will give you no more trouble."

Let's cure our own ills and stop blaming others or our own problems and failings. We must spend our energies educating non-members and lending finding ways to re-activate present members. That is no small task, but we can start by finding out why they become inactive. We can determine what would make the Lodge more attractive to all our members.

We must, individually and collectively, communicate with worthy men whom we feel are suitable candidates to benefit from the teachings and fellowship of the Masonic Lodge. Through our social contacts with these men and their wives we can subtly lead them to petition our Lodges.

Consider the example of a positive and successful idea implemented by a small town Lodge in the Province of Saskatchewan. They were struggling to retain their Charter. The members and their wives held a banquet at the Lodge Hall, inviting their sons, grandsons, nephews and other quality men with their wives. After the banquet they gave talks on what Freemasonry stands for and how it contributes to the betterment of mankind. They also explained that membership in our Fraternity must be applied for; that we cannot solicit members. Many of the men present were sufficiently impressed that they applied for membership. The Lodge is now flourishing with the infusion of new enthusiasm.

We cannot sit on our hands or wring them in agony of our plight. We must reach out to extend the embrace of friendship to worthy men. We must show these men and their wives that the Masonic Lodge is not some forbidding, secret Temple, but a refuge for those who seek peace, harmony and brotherly love.

In closing, I say Masonry Today must realize that our Fraternity is too great to resign to defeat. We are not doomed to decline. We are not destined to a failure we cannot resist. However, if we do not take positive action our outlook is dismal.

So, harnessing all the creative energy God has blessed us with, let us make Masonry Today the beginning of a glorious renewal for Masonry Tomorrow!