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by A. G. Pitts

The Grand Master of Minnesota, Brother William B. Patton, last year spent a great deal of time and effort to collect some statistics of an unusual hind relative to the Lodges of that jurisdiction. These statistics are interesting, but they proved very little profitable to the Grand Master himself, Although figures do not lie, they speak a foreign language to most people, and need an interpreter that they may be understood. The Grand Master commented in part as follows: 

In considering these figures, one fact seems to stand out very strongly, and that is that our large Lodges, as compared with the smaller organizations, are not effective Masonic instrumentalities. Much as we may pride ourselves on having, in the jurisdiction, or personally belonging to Lodges of commanding numerical strength, we must not shut our eyes to the problems which they create. When we realize that over 20 per cent of the Masons of Minnesota belong to 3.2 - 10 per cent of the Lodges, and that these same Lodges make over 20 per cent of the brothers added to our ranks each year, it certainly becomes a matter of importance to inquire if these bodies represent the best possible conditions for doing Masonic work, and if their work is well-tried, true and trusty. 

These Lodges are situated in our large cities, where they are able to surround themselves with every facility for making their meetings attractive, and where the members have convenient means of transportation; and yet, withal, the average attendance, including visitors, is only equal to 8.2 - 10 per cent of the resident membership, and in one instance is as low as 2.6 - 10 per cent. 

When it comes to paying the last sad honors to the body of a departed brother, a duty which should appeal with peculiar force to all members of the fraternity, one Lodge reports an average attendance equal to 2 6 - 10 per cent of its resident membership, and the average for the whole of the Lodges in Class V, as before stated, is but 5 3 - 10 per cent. When we add to these facts the further information that but one Lodge makes any attempt to regularly introduce social features into the meetings, and thus have the brethren so related, in fact as well as in name, and when but one Lodge, and that the one before mentioned, makes even an occasional attempt at enlightening its membership in matters Masonic, other than the ritual, it certainly gives us cause to doubt, if in the large increases in their membership, they are not adding mere members, rather than Masons. 

Brother Patton is a member of Palestine Lodge of Duluth, one of the large Lodges which he condemns, being the second largest Lodge in Minnesota. That is all that we know about him. But we are just as sure as if we had the evidence before us that he is, and is known as, a strong supporter of some higher degree body; that his interest is there rather than in the Lodge. We should like to bet with anyone that knows no more about the facts than we, that he is a 33d degree man, or something of that exalted sort. 

Why do we say this? Because it is well known that size and strength are just as useful to a Lodge as to a Consistory; that the large and strong body will control the many small and weak ones. Therefore when we see a man advocating a course which will make the Lodges weaker and the higher bodies relatively stronger, we have our suspicions, and when we find him using arguments specious rather than sound, we conclude that he himself knows perfectly well that he is laboring to get the Lodges to act against their own interests, and in the interests of other Masonic bodies, the rivals and competitors of the Lodges. 

"These Lodges are situated in the large cities," he says, "where they are able to surround themselves with every facility for making their meetings attractive." That sentence alone stamps the whole argument as far-sought and far-fetched. For any candid observer, instituting a comparison between large Lodges and small, would be sure to write a sentence something like this: "The large Lodges are situated in our large cities, where alone they come into competition with the Scottish Rite bodies and the Shrine, which invariably deprive the Lodges of two-thirds of their strength, not only by monopolizing the time and the energy of many of the most active workers, but also by conflicting with the Lodges in prestige, in social activities, in attractiveness of work and in every possible way, and compete upon terms most advantageous to the higher bodies and most disadvantageous to the Lodges, due to the fact that the Lodges and Grand Lodges can always be deceived into legislating against their own interests and in the interests of their chief rivals." 

This is what any candid person would write, for these are the facts which strike any intelligent observer right between the eyes. A man looking for facts will see the primary disadvantage of the city Lodges. A man engaged in muddying the water, as higher degree men commonly do, with the object of concealing their purposes, will call attention to some fictitious advantage which city Lodges can be said to have. 

Of course it would occur to a candid man that the city Lodges have other competition naturally affecting attendance, in the way of theaters, clubs, lectures, musicales, shows and entertainments of a hundred kinds, which the country Lodge does not have. However, this element in the case, powerful as it is, is secondary to the one first pointed out. 

The Grand Master points out that Minneapolis Lodge, of Minneapolis, had an attendance at funerals of only 2 6 - 10 per cent of its resident membership. Reference to his table shows that this means an average attendance of twenty-five, at thirty-six funerals. 

Now a candid man would see at once that an attendance of twenty-five may be just as large for a Lodge of 1230 members as it is for a Lodge of 123 members, for the reason that the former will have ten times as many funerals as the latter. While the large Lodge is having thirty funerals, and turning out 750 of her members, the small Lodge in the same time is having three, and turning out 75 of her members, exactly the same percentage. 

We have understood that Minneapolis Lodge has the matter of attendance at funerals systematized. Any Lodge as large as she, and having as many funerals as she, ought to and must systematize the matter. We admit that an average funeral attendance of twenty-five seems small, but only because it would suggest an attendance upon some occasions of fewer than twenty. 

The average attendance is of no consequence, in our opinion. The important question is, what is the minimum attendance. A minimum attendance of twenty-five is large enough for any Lodge, and many more than that would represent a waste of human life and energy, limited as these assets are. 

An intelligent administration will try to accomplish three results in the matter of Lodge funerals: First, that the attendance shall never fall below a minimum which is becoming and creditable. Second, that each member shall do his share, unless unavoidably prevented, and; third, that the time of the members shall not be wasted by giving to funerals a disproportionate amount of time. Unless upon some special occasion, there is no satisfaction to any thoughtful man in attendance at a funeral of one hundred men, seventy-five of whom might be doing work to make the world better or richer. The individual member will get just as much good for himself out of one Masonic funeral a year as he would out of attending thirty-six. 

If Minneapolis Lodge has the matter so systematized (as we have understood that she has) that her average attendance of twenty-five means, as a rule, not the same twenty-five, but so that in due time practically the whole Lodge is turned out, then no one outside the Lodge has any license to criticise her. And if we were inside the Lodge, our only effort would be to make the average of twenty-five a minimum of twenty-five. And if the system is such that the average and the minimum are already practically the same, in that case we have nothing but congratulations for Minneapolis Lodge upon her solution of the funeral problem. 

It remains to be said that the conclusion drawn by the Grand Master of Minnesota is predicated upon insufficient data. Even if the showing made by the large Lodges of Minnesota is not creditable, there are large Lodges elsewhere. The annual report of Palestine Lodge of Detroit, for example, shows that her average attendance during 1910 at all meetings, exclusive of funerals, was 301, and the average attendance at funerals was fifty. This with an average active membership of 1535, Last June THE AMERICAN FREEMASON printed statistics of sixteen large Lodges in eleven states. Not one of them is in Minnesota. Fourteen of the sixteen gave their average attendance at all meetings, including funerals. Following are some figures relative to those fourteen: 

Aggregate membership of fourteen Lodges 9380 
Aggregate average attendance 1618 
Per cent of average attendance 17.2  
Highest per cent 27  
Lowest percent 8.4 

These are percentages of total membership, not of resident membership. And the Lodges which keep the average down are certain old and inactive Lodges, which would make a very different showing if only resident membership were considered, as in Grand Master Patton's figures. 

It would be fair to conclude that the condition in Minnesota is exceptional. It certainly is such if we are to understand that but one of Minnesota's large Lodges makes any attempt to promote social features. It is our experience and observation that the larger Lodge becomes, the more it cultivates the social features. 

The large Lodges of Minnesota are exceptional, there must be some reason. Our guess would be they have abandoned the social side of Masonry wholly to the higher degree bodies, and that the limit of their ambition is to qualify men for these other bodies. 

Undoubtedly such is the tendency in American cities. Unquestionably that is the cause of our enormous American Lodges. And this we feel bound to point out for the benefit of our British cousins, who cannot understand a Lodge of more than a thousand members. This is, perhaps, the first time that any one has undertaken to show them the why of such a Lodge. 

We once had the original system, which still survives in the British Isles. The first edition of Webb's Monitor, published near the end of the eighteenth century, states, in effect, that when a Lodge has more than fifty members it is thought to be too large, and in such case some of the most expert Craftsmen, gathering to themselves some of the other members, will leave the old Lodge and form a new one. At that time Lodges had no competition. Afterwards competition of the Commanderies had the effect of increasing somewhat the ordinary maximum. Until the present generation very large Lodges were unknown, or almost unknown, and it is not more than ten years since an American Lodge for the first time touched a membership of 1000. Now, it is only within the present generation that the competition of the Scottish Rite and of the Shrine has been felt. 

Suppose in an average body of fifty Masons there are just enough active members to keep a Lodge moving. Now in a large American city you must have fifty more to furnish workers for some Chapter, fifty more for some Commandery, one hundred more for some set of Scottish Rite bodies, and fifty more for a Shrine. Total 300, and the Lodge has lost all the advantages of small size, and has nothing left to work for but the advantages of large size. 

Our British cousins will understand this at once, for they know in what the advantages of small size consist. They will also realize how different is the Masonic spirit in an American city Lodge from that in a British city Lodge. Compare two of the same size, whether of fifty or five hundred, if you can imagine an American city Lodge of fifty or a British city Lodge of five hundred. Let each of our British cousins think of the most zealous and enterprising Lodge which he knows, and then imagine the same Lodge with five-sixths of its best men giving their time, their interest and their energy to other Masonic bodies, thinking when they think of Masonry, not of the Lodge, but of Commandery, Consistory or Shrine. 

Of course it is understood that these bodies are always relatively large, Consistories and Shrines especially. A Consistory (which is a short term meaning, in popular American usage, a set of Scottish Rite bodies, officially comprising a Lodge of Perfection, a Council, a Chapter and a Consistory) or a Shrine (meaning a Temple of the so-called Ancient Arabic Order, Nobles of the Mystic Shrine) is always relatively large. They exist in the large cities only, and there is always only one of each. Here are two instances illustrating the character of their activities in America: In Chicago last month Oriental Consistory and its concordant Scottish Rite bodies conferred the Scottish Rite degrees upon 1251 Masons in a single class and in four successive days, and must have collected in fees not less than $125,100. Medinah Temple of Chicago a few years ago had a single class of upwards of a thousand men. Both of these bodies have plans for great buildings, that of the Shrine (Medinah Temple) for example, is to be 150 by 218 feet in size. It will seat 5,000 men and will have a stage 70 feet deep. It will have a banquet room large enough for 2,500 men to sit down at one time. The figures of the membership of these bodies are not accessible at this moment, but they have each 8,000 or 10,000 members. 

But a very small part of the influence of such bodies upon the Lodges has been analyzed, and the limit of a single article is reached. But, to hint at a great deal in a single: sentence, let us ask, what figure would each Lodge cut if there were in the same city five or six hundred Lodges of fifty members each? They might aim at prestige in legitimate ways if they were all on an even footing. But with these great and wealthy bodies overshadowing them, what choice have they, if they have any ambition at all, but to try to rival them upon their own ground? An American city Lodge which wishes to amount to anything must have a large membership and large funds. It may be that in the cities of Minnesota, even the large Lodges have become nothing but the vestibule to Masonry, of no consequence in themselves and fulfilling no function except to qualify men for the higher degree bodies. In other cities they represent a heroic struggle against such a fate, and they ought to be appreciated and applauded instead of being depreciated and condemned. 

Finally, the time has come when Lodge men should make the plans for the Lodges, and the advice of men should be received with some degree of coldness when they are men who, figuratively speaking, are Lodge men only one day in each year, and for 364 days (in leap year 365) are Commandery men, Consistory men or Shriners. They have each chosen to prefer some other body to the Lodge, and cannot complain if they are rated accordingly in the Lodges. The interests of these several bodies are not identical but diverse, and very often adverse. Any man who argues that they are identical is always a man who, when the time comes to make a choice, will choose the interest of some body other than the Lodge. They are all honest men, no doubt, and do not realize that adversity of interest. It is not denied that they have the right to prefer what they call the higher bodies. There is not in this article any appeal to them to change. But there is in it a call to Lodge men to see the truth as to the situation of American city Lodges, and to become and to continue open-eyed and watchful.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014