CRISIS, WHAT CRISIS?
In 1988, a group of very experienced Masons were selected to form the Masonic
Renewal Task Force. This Task Force was to investigate and search for answers to
several problems, which, at that time, had been threatening the Fraternity for
nearly thirty years. Unfortunately those same problems still exist today and
have now gone unchecked in New Brunswick (and North America in general) for the
last forty-one years.
Following are some of the more critical problems that the Task Force
identified that still remain problems today:
1. The average age of a member of the Fraternity has been climbing steadily
and now rests at about 68 years of age. This causes several problems as
mortality rates are much higher, the ability and desire to contribute serious
effort diminishes and the desire to change nearly disappears. This makes it
hard to break the cycle of events that got us into trouble in the first place.
2. The Fraternity is not as representative of the society around us as it
used to be or as it should be. As an example, in my home community not a
single working teacher is a Mason in spite of the town having a large regional
high school, a middle school and two elementary schools. There are a few
retired teachers who still maintain membership but they do not attend Lodge
even on an infrequent basis. Another change has occurred with law enforcement
personnel. At one time several of the R.C.M.P. members and nearly all of the
Customs officers were Masons. Now only one of each remains and only one of
them attends regularly. It may also be noted that in spite of having a large
regional hospital, not a single doctor is a Mason. Something is not right
3. Overall membership numbers have decreased steadily in New Brunswick and
across North America. Forty-one uninterrupted years of declining membership
numbers should be scaring someone in the Fraternity by this time. In 1959
there were approximately 9000 Masons in New Brunswick while today there are
barely 5000. The really bad news is that it doesn't look like the trend is
going to change any time soon unless there is a major Fraternity wide push for
significant change in how we attract men to Masonry. Do not mistake this as a
call for solicitation, it is not. There are other ways to attract men but that
will form the basis of another module.
4. The rate of initiations has dropped off steadily over the years and
though the rate of decline is not as great as with membership, it is
significant. We currently initiate about 90 new Masons a year. This is a long
way from the 190 and 200 initiations we have known at times in the past. These
lower initiation rates become a particular problem when the death, demit and
suspension rates remain relatively steady which they have.
5. To add insult to injury, our average rate of participation at Lodge
meetings and events is 10-15% of our membership. This means that in spite of
membership numbers on paper of over 5000 men, only 500-750 of them are active
(active being defined as being seen among the brethren at least three times
per year). That would just about fill the officers' chairs in the Lodges of
New Brunswick (14 officers x 50 Lodges = 700). It's amazing that we get
anything accomplished at all much less support a project like Camp Goodtime.
Imagine what we could do if we had 50% participation.
6. Although we are in crisis the bulk of our membership, 95% or more,
refuse to accept it or react to it. Our levels of complacency and apathy are
at all time highs.
7. Last but not least our leadership in its present condition is not going
to lead us out of the wilderness. The accepted system of Masonic Leadership
allows a man to be Master of his Lodge for one year but it does not prepare
him for that year. He therefore arrives and tries to learn as he goes. This
works or doesn't work depending on the man, his abilities and how many Past
Masters are willing to catch him if he falls. He may be very late in his year
before he gets an appreciation for the larger problems of the Fraternity
external to his own Lodge and he may never even see some of the potential
solutions much less have time to study or implement them. The truly sad thing
about this situation is that Grand Masters and Grand Lodges are absolutely
helpless to change this. The changes needed must come to each Lodge through
its leadership and currently leadership has no time to listen, less time to
study and no desire to add to their work load anything that hasn't been done
before and proven effective.
Before we go on it should be made clear that all these problems exist in the
Province of New Brunswick but they also exist across North America. We should
never be deceived into believing that we are the only ones with a problem. This
is the primary reason that we feel that the work and conclusions of the Masonic
Renewal Committee of North America need to be studied and implemented here.
The Masonic Renewal Task Force, faced with the aforementioned problems,
decided that a good place to start was to commission a survey of non-Masons as
to their knowledge of Masonry, their desire to join, their limitations, and
their expectations. The survey was done in 1988 by a professional group hired by
the Task Force and the results tell us a lot about the difficulties we will face
finding new membership. What follows are some of the highlights of that survey.
First of all, 85% of men do not belong to any fraternal organization and they
gave lack of time as the most common reason for not joining. As a matter of fact
56% of them said that they had less than 5 hours a month that they could spare
for something like a fraternal organization. Of this group of men only 2%
indicated an active interest in joining while 22.2% indicated they might be
interested depending on what the benefits of joining might be. When then asked
what benefits they would like to get from joining their top eight answers were
1. new friends
2. community service
3. social activities
4. activities with current friends
5. doing things as a family
6. professional contacts
7. develop leadership skills
8. take a leadership role
Please note that there is nothing in this list which Masonry cannot provide
and by so doing does not have to compromise its constitutions, rituals or
The second thing that came out of that survey was that 71% of the population
has no idea what Freemasonry is or what it is about. Another 26.1% of them claim
to know a small amount about the Fraternity and they generally have a favorable
opinion of the institution. That leaves only 2.9% of the population who have
some knowledge of the Fraternity and maintain a negative or neutral opinion. In
effect, this means that although 24.2% of the male population are or might be
interested in joining, three quarters of them don't know anything about us and
the others have only a vague idea.
Following this survey, the Masonic Renewal Task Force decided it needed a
survey of what Masons thought of the Fraternity that they were members of. This
survey was conducted in 1989 by the same group of professionals that did the
initial survey. The results should cause alarm bells to go off all over the
First of all, 53% of the Fraternity is over the age of sixty, 59% have been
Masons for more than twenty years, 50% of them are retired and the vast majority
of them don't attend Lodge even on an infrequent basis. Only 30% of those
surveyed belonged to any other Masonic body so blaming the Star or the Shrine
for their lack of attendance doesn't seem to be the answer. Oddly enough when
asked about attendance many of them initially lied, elevating their attendance
presumably due to embarrassment about their lack of support for their Lodges. It
was found that the younger and newer Masons were the best attendees. Fully 87%
of Masons indicated they are satisfied with the Fraternity and yet they don't
attend. 72% said that they had had no major disappointments with Masonry and yet
they don't attend. 75% gave time as the major reason for not attending but 50%
are retired and 70% don't belong to any other Masonic organization.
The conclusions for the Masons of New Brunswick are not pretty but they must
be faced and are enumerated here for your consideration.
1. Most of the Fraternity is comfortably uninformed, sitting at home,
confident that the Fraternity will always be here whether they attend Lodge or
2. Most of the Fraternity does not know, and does not care to know, about
our membership and participation crisis. They do not realize that change is
critical and generally do not want to change anything even though they
currently don't attend Lodge for a variety of reasons, the most common of
which is time.
3. The general population of men in our communities who might become
members share a lot of common characteristics. They see the family,
fellowship, community, charity and leadership as important things in their
lives. They see time as a constant limiting factor to pursuing membership in
any fraternity. Finally they know practically nothing about the Fraternity,
good or bad.
4. As a Fraternity we need to let the general population know that we can
help fulfill a man in the areas he is most interested in and that we can do it
at very little expense to him in time or money.
5. We must attempt to reactivate the vast majority of our membership and
get them involved again. We can not afford to have 85-90% of our membership
dormant so that their experience and ideas are lost to the rest of us.
6. We must move soon. The teaching and implementation stage of these plans
take years and results take even longer. Unfortunately the decline is not
going to stop and wait while we get organized. Masters must be made aware of
how critical the situation really is and must be urged to begin to act in
their own Lodges.
7. Our Blue Lodge leadership must hear about, understand, believe in and
activate positive solutions to these problems. This can only happen if they
are confident and well trained and that will not happen by accident.
This is the crisis. It is real as are all the problems listed here. It makes
for a difficult picture to stare at but stare at it we must until either it goes
away or we do. Look for some of the proposed solutions in subsequent modules.
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