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WHO CALLED THE LEADERSHIP TO REFRESHMENT?
by Abraham Benjamin
Freemasonry has been without true leadership since 1958 when our membership hit an all time high of 4.2 Million Masons. Today, 1996, there are less than 2 million Masons in the United States. Why did the Craft allow its leadership to be called off from Labor and onto Refreshment? Many Masons believe that their Grand Lodge is going to develop some fabulous program that will save their Lodges. Other Masons believe that our current membership problem is a myth. They believe that the membership drops really haven't occurred. Also, that only 10% of our membership is active is propaganda and that Freemasonry will regain the prestige it enjoyed in the late 1940's and 1950's.
It is difficult to convince these Masons that there is a definite problem in the Craft when the Grand Lodge officers visit Lodges and tell the Brethren that everything is fine. They tell us the Fraternity is stronger than ever! The publications off Freemasonry only print articles that tell the Craft that Freemasonry is terrific, doing well, and can do even better. Freemasonry is the greatest Fraternity ever created by God and Man but it is suffering; membership wise, community image wise, and age wise.
Our communities where our Lodges reside have a negative image of Freemasonry. The cover of the October 6, 1956 issue of LIFE MAGAZINE had the 49 Grand Masters of the United States on the cover page plus a 12 page color article about Freemasonry. An unbelievably positive article describing the goodness and charities of the Craft. Here in 1996 the hottest selling pieces of Masonic literature are: "A New World Order", "The Deadly Deception", and "Duncan's Ritual of Freemasonry." All of these publications give away the secrets of Freemasonry in the most negative ways.
If you look at the publications today by Freemasonry, books on Freemasonry, MSA Short talks, the Northern Light (by the Northern Masonic jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite) you will find positive and rosy articles about how terrific and fine the Fraternity is. There will be the occasional article that talks about how we could make this Fraternity even better. It is time for the leadership of Freemasonry to come off refreshment and back onto labor and start doing what leaders do!
A top mind in the field of Leadership, Warren Bennis, author of several leadership books and a professor of leadership and management, indicates that the first thing a leader must do is define the current context. Leaders define the current reality of the organization. I like to add to his definition not only defining the current reality but also accepting it.
This facade (of not accepting the reality of our situation) is seen all over the Fraternity. It is time to end this facade. It is time for Freemasonry to get "REAL" leadership in the Craft at all levels and in all Masonic organizations. "Real" leadership will define and accept reality. Reality is that we are losing 3% of membership in Freemasonry every year. Freemasonry will become extinct in the United States within the next 20 years unless YOU DO SOMETHING! Let me repeat that, unless YOU DO SOMETHING NOW! You cannot afford to wait for your Grand Lodge to realize what is happening and develop the correct answer to the problem. If you wait until your District Deputy comes up with some solution or your current Worshipful Master, who is your Lodge's Manager and not its leader, to do something then your Lodge probably will not survive very long into the 21st Century.
It is up to each of us, every Mason has this obligation, to change the current situation of the Craft. We need leadership. So why did the leadership go out to refreshment? This can be attributed to several reasons. The popularity of Freemasonry in the 1950's and early 1960's dropped. Changes in society that occurred in the 1960's, women's rights and equality, the space age, racial equality, and others, caused men to think and look at life's obligations differently. Freemasonry did not accommodate these changes.
In fact Freemasonry does not meet the needs and expectations of 90% of its own membership. For if it did then we would have higher levels of attendance at stated meetings and Lodge activities. Without leadership in place we have lost touch with members needs and expectations from their Fraternity. The current management of the Lodges have created programs that meet the needs of the few. They put more ritual into the meetings to fill the open gaps that should be filled with programs that cater to the current inactive Masons.
Back in the 1940's and 1950's Fellowship would have filled 75%+ of a Mason's time in Lodge for a month, today is barely fills 15% of that time. You cannot fellowship with your fellow Brethren when you sit in a stated meeting and listen to minutes and bills and rituals. Rituals have filled the voids of the meetings. Ritual includes the routines that we do at every stated meeting. It includes the opening and closing of the meeting, the reading of the minutes, the reports that are given and balloting (just to name a few). Masonic ritual for degrees and the opening and closing of meetings should never be abolished. But we should not allow the ritual to encompass the entire meeting time.
Some Lodges allow the Secretary to read the minutes of the last stated meeting for over 30 minutes. A man in his 30's or 40's does not desire to sit for 30 minutes and listen to that secretary. If he was that interested in that meeting he would have come to the meeting or have gone to the secretary before the meeting to review the minutes. We have treasurers who insist that every bill be read in Lodge. Not only this month's bills but all the bills we paid last month. They tell us where every penny of income came from, all of the sources, one at a time. This is fine for the Mason who's only expectation of the Craft is to sit in a meeting and feel like he belongs to something.
To a younger man the feeling of just belonging to an organization is not enough. Younger members are looking for other things from the Fraternity. They are looking to become leaders of the craft. They are looking for a chance to do something for their communities through the Lodge. They are looking for a chance to participate with their energies and resources to a worthy charitable event. They need the opportunity to involve their families with what they are doing. They want family activities from Freemasonry, from their Symbolic Lodges!
One of the problems with the current leadership of Freemasonry is that we allow an individual to get into a leadership position then we let them keep that job for life. They never give the next guy the chance. An example of this is the Royal Order of Scotland who has had the same Grand Master for over 30 years. A Mason entering that organization with the desire to lead and become the Grand Master one day will quickly realize that the dream can probably never be obtained. So these Masons with leadership skills become inactive or leave the organization.
With the negativism of Freemasonry in our communities, community leaders will not become Freemasons. In the 1940's and 1950's a Mason found that his boss, his boss's boss, and the President of the company were sitting in Lodge with him and they networked with each other. Today you do not find CEOs in Freemasonry. The President of the United States, who is a Senior DeMolay and a State Master councilor would not even admit publicly that he was a member of the DeMolay, a Masonic organization. Naturally, he will not consider Masonic membership and he grew up with a good understanding and appreciation of the values and morals of Freemasonry. Men like John Glenn and Bob Dole do not desire to publicly admit to being Freemasons. Freemasonry is not a positive asset to one's political career. And that is very unfortunate since it was the tenants of Freemasonry that built this country.
How can we fix this problem? We need to take a look at how we run our Lodges and how we place men into the East and call them the leader. It is time to understand and accept the fact that just because you can do the ritual, or are willing to attend the meetings and sit in the chairs that you should be given the reigns of leadership of the Lodge. A Mason should demonstrate leadership skills and be trained in leadership before he can be given the chair in the East. Perhaps it is time to have degree teams that do the rituals of the Craft and have a leadership team who will lead the Lodge into the future. The leadership team would go through the chairs and become the Worshipful Masters.
Strategic Planning is critical to the survival of a Lodge. A well developed and systematic strategic plan will take a Lodge from its current state and improve its chances for survival into the 21st Century. Without a plan Lodge activities are not coordinated each year. Each Master cannot continue to do what he wants without concern to the overall success of the Lodge. All incoming Masters must work together for the common good of the Lodge. Remove your current line of ritualists and put 8 leaders into the chairs. These men would create and implement a plan for the future success of the Lodge. Let the ritualists run the degrees and let the leaders run the Lodge. The leaders will create a vision of the future of the Lodge and will strive to get there.
The Lodge's leadership, the Grand Lodge's leadership, must get out and talk to the Brethren. The Grand Lodge officers must get out of their special room where only the Right Worshipfuls are allowed to enter and mix with the Brethren. Talk to them and find out what they need and expect from the Fraternity. The Lodge officers must do the same thing. Before a stated meeting the Worshipful Master must go out and talk with the Brethren instead of finding out what he is doing that evening from the Secretary. Leaders would not act this way. Leaders would be constantly talking to the membership and be make continuous improvements to the Lodge's activities. Fellowship is our greatest product. Our leaders must deliver that product the best they can.
It is time to put leadership in charge of the Lodge. It is time for the Past Masters and Secretaries of the Lodge to stand aside or stand behind the new leaders in the Lodge who will make the difference that we need. Leadership will develop strategic plans for the future. Leadership will retain those programs that are successful and remove those that are not. Leadership will be interested in the good of the organization and not for their own edification.
Only YOU can make a difference in your Lodge. Your Grand Lodge cannot save your Lodge. Each of us must want to fix the problems of Freemasonry. Each of us must want to place leadership into the East of Lodge. That is the only way to make it work. If your Grand Lodge develops some program that they believe will help the Lodges but the Lodges do not have the leadership in place to implement such programs then the programs are of no use to the Lodges.
You must also be willing to accept change. If you are part of the 10% of the Fraternity who likes what is being done you must be willing to step aside and allow new programs and processes to be implemented for the good of the Fraternity. A large stumbling block to change is the current active membership. They like what is happening and they do not want to change anything. This group must realize that for 37 years the Craft has been doing it their way (and for many years before 1958) and in today's world these programs and procedures don't work anymore. Step aside and let the new blood run and improve the Lodge for the 90% of the men who are dissatisfied with the way things are and for the future members who will be coming into the Craft during the next years.
It is time for you to go into your Lodges and look at what the Lodge does, and ask yourself the hard questions; Why are we doing what we are doing? How can we improve this Lodge for all of our membership? What can we do to attract the younger man to the Lodge? How can we get leadership into the East so that we can change and make a difference?
These are all difficult questions to answer but they must be answered and the solutions implemented. The only person who is going to save Freemasonry is YOU! You must want to save your Lodge for the future generations. Freemasonry is without any doubt worth saving. So go back to your Lodge and demand that the leadership come back to labor. Be there to help and support them. So that we all can start getting the job done!
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Last modified: March 22, 2014