The following was presented at the Grand Lodge of Oregon on June 5, 2009.
There are more men seeking out Masonry today than we have seen in the past thirty or forty years. The cause for this sudden interest in Masonry could be because of a greater presence of Freemasonry in the popular media or that a new generation is more receptive to what Masonry has to offer. What ever the case, men are joining for the same reasons that men have become Masons for more than 300 years, for brotherhood and fellowship, for community involvement, and for self improvement. Unfortunately, men are also leaving Masonry at an alarming rate. I suspect that the reason these new Masons are leaving the craft is because they are not finding what they expected in Masonry, that which we have promised them.
What do we promise our candidates for the degrees of Masonry and how do we keep our promises? First of all, we tell our candidates that Masonry is a fraternal society where they will be regaled with good food, fun, and friendship. We tell them that Masonry is a community organization where they will have an opportunity to get involved with and improve all aspects of their communities. And, we tell them that Masonry is a character building institution, that through the presentation of the three degrees of Masonry and through a life long study of the history and philosophy of Freemasonry they will become better citizens, better husbands and fathers, better men.
Men joining Masonry today have many commitments and responsibilities which dominate their time. These men are busy with work, church, and family and, although they have a strong desire to participate in the positive aspects of Masonry, their time to commit to the craft is measured. Dedicating one evening a month to a stated meeting and one weekend to a community or social activity may be the best we can expect.
I have a friend in England who is a member of a very successful lodge in London. He says that there are three reasons his lodge is so successful. First and foremost they give the “lads” excellent ritual and Masonic education, secondly they give them quality festive boards with all the good food and all the drink they want, and finally they give them an early train home.
Knowing what the next generation expects from Masonry is half the battle. To be truthful, they expect no more than what we have promised them. Our challenge, then, is to meet those expectations and deliver on our promise.
I believe that American Freemasonry is at a fork in the road. We may choose to maintain the status quo and continue along our current path where men are leaving Masonry as fast as they are joining it. Or, we may choose to follow a different path, one that will lead to a bright and positive future. Successful lodges throughout our country are encouraging and empowering their new Masons, they are instilling in them a desire for continued Masonic education and support its attainment, and they are sanctuaries of fun and friendships. What THEN can we do to promote fellowship within our lodges and keep Masonry interesting and relevant for every member?
I urge us to choose a different path that challenges the status quo and keeps the promises to our candidates; to commit to a program of fellowship, individual involvement, and Masonic education; to choose a path for retention, a path that will remake our lodges and keep Masonry alive.