The posts on this blog are totally my own thoughts. They are not the views of my Lodge or Province. I hope that my posts will generate discussion and offer some food for thought.
In the past few days I have had the very great privilege of attending two superb Masonic occasions. The first was the combined meeting of Royal Marines associated Lodges hosted by Royal Marine Portsmouth Lodge No. 6423 at the Purbrook Masonic Centre on the outskirts of Portsmouth. The second was a meeting of my Red Cross of Constantine Conclave during which a new Knight of the order was installed. The meetings at first glance may appear to be very different but there were many similarities. It is both the similarities and the differences that have lead me to considerable reflection and contemplation on my own Freemasonry over the past few days.
Both occasions were official visits. The PGM of Hampshire & Isle of Wight RWBro Michael J Wilks graced the occasion in Portsmouth with a very strong Provincial Team after granting a dispensation to allow the meeting to be held on a saturday. The RCC meeting was graced by R.Ill.Kt. Matthew Redgwell Burt the Intendant-General of Dorset & Wiltshire. Royal Marines Lodge Portsmouth was supported by three other Royal Marines affiliated Lodges, the ruling masters of each of those Lodges taking an office on the day. Obviously each of the Lodges has military connections and many of the 150 or so brethren present in Portsmouth had served in our armed forces. RCC is of course a Masonic & Military order and again many of the Knights present have served in our armed forces. Around 30 Knights were present for the meeting. As is invariably the case all of the officers present had worked hard to ensure the candidates at each meeting were able to enjoy a very high standard of ritual and a very enjoyable evening at the festive board afterwards. At both meetings Certificates were presented by the dignitaries to members of the Lodge. I think it fair to say that each occasion was very special in its own way, that all present at both meetings had a very enjoyable time meeting with friends old and new with whom we share a common bond, a set of values and a love of all that freemasonry brings. But what of the differences?
Well, on Saturday I was picked up by mini-bus from my village at 9.45 am. and despite leaving the meeting in Portsmouth before the festive board was over I got home just before midnight. For my RCC meeting I was collected from home at around 5.30pm and was home at about 9.15pm. Now admittedly we had left very early to allow our ruling master to attend a rehearsal, but even at that the meeting started at 3pm and we left for our Journey home at around 10Pm. We were in the Temple at Portsmouth from around 2.45 until around 5.15pm. The RCC meeting started at 6pm and finished at 7.15. Of course it takes much longer to seat 150 than it does 30 and there was an hour after the Portsmouth meeting to allow Brethren to mingle, meet up with old friends and be seated in the dining room. So I came to wondering just what it was about the respective meetings that meant one took so much longer than the other and what could be learned from this. Now please do not think for one moment that I am criticising the length of the meeting and proceedings at Portsmouth. Far from it. It was a wonderful occasion, it had a suitable amount of formality and was a wonderful celebration of the Royal Marine’s and Freemasonry. I am also a big fan of the formality, traditions and camaraderie Freemasonry affords.
At this point I really should put my cards on the table and point out that I have a real concern about the current age profile of Masonic Lodges. My own lodge is well attended, strong in numbers and we have a steady stream of candidates for initiation. The majority of our candidates however have been close to or over 60. Now I see absolutely no problem in welcoming men of this age into our fraternity, but we must attract younger men if we are to secure a healthy long term future. I know Grand Lodge and the Provincial Lodges have recognised this issue and are trying to address it. The advent of the University scheme, the increasing use of social media, increased publicity and moves to ensure we are a much more open organisation will hopefully bear fruit. All of that said we live in an age were people, and young men in particular are less likely to join clubs and associations. Social clubs, Political parties, working mens clubs, the British Legion, to name but a few, are all suffering declines in membership. The question I ask myself is this. If I were a young man visiting a Lodge what would I see? Would I see a lively engaging and fun environment in which to spend my limited free time and money? Or would I see a bunch of old men clinging to a past that has no relevance to the way I live my life? I have little doubt that if we look at our Lodges around the country and indeed the world we would see many of both and probably many that fall somewhere in the middle.
It is perhaps a Cliche but we must adapt if we are to survive. Just ask the dinosaurs! It may seem something of a dichotomy but in my view we need to show that Freemasonry offers a set of values, a sense of belonging to something worthwhile, an opportunity to contribute to the general good of society in ways that do not impoverish the candidate in either time or money. We need to help members build a strong social network without impacting negatively on a potentially limited amount of free time. We need to be a fun place to go and we need to involve members families.
It has been said that the most dangerous phrase in the English language is “we have always done it like this”. So I came to wonder what we could do as individuals, Lodges and Provinces to attract younger men whilst preserving the values and traditions of our fraternity. As I pondered on these issues it seemed to me that we should ask ourselves some questions. Now I don’t pretend that I have the answers to any of these questions nor do suggest that they are directly relevant to my own lodge. Perhaps answering some or all of them may help. I invite you to consider them.
- Does your Lodge tile at the right time for the members or do you find that many members struggle to arrive in time?
- Do your Lodge formalities finish at a reasonable time, a time that is not too late for those who have to work the next day, or too late for elderly members?
- What social events does your Lodge hold? Are these social events what the members actually want? If you see only the same few faces at social events and the majority of members do not attend it would suggest that you need to look at this aspect.
- Do you hold a formal ‘Black Tie’ Ladies festival? Is this well attended by members or do you find that it is a struggle to get members to attend and many of those who do attend are guests? If this is the case could you hold an alternative event? A weekend away, a summer barbecue, an event that children can attend?
- If you are lucky enough to have some younger members can you encourage and support them to introduce their friends and family to Freemasonry?
- Are your members recruiting others to your Lodge? If not why not?? Is there something stopping them? Have you asked them?
- Are you retaining your members? If not do you ask those who resign why they are leaving? The standard reply seems to be that they don’t have sufficient time. Is this really the case or is there a deeper reason? Have they simply lost interest or stopped enjoying Freemasonry? If this is the case you need to understand why. The answers may be uncomfortable but if you don’t know the answers you can’t put it right.
- Do you have a disruptive element in the Lodge? If so has that person or group of people been challenged? This is not easy, no-one likes confrontation, but handled properly it can prove very positive for all concerned.
- Could the formalities be shortened? Could you reduce them, for example by circulating minutes and asking for comments in advance of the meeting rather than reading them? Is it necessary to read an extract from historical minutes every meeting? Is it necessary to salute Grand Officers & Provincial Officers at every meeting or could it be done just on promotion or a first & last visit?
- Can toast lists be cut down at the festive board? You could conceivably just have 3 or 4 toasts and save the longer toast list for official visits?
- Does your lodge have a group of people with shared interests where new members could be drawn from? This could be ex-servicemen, co-workers, golfers, motor sports enthusiasts or just about anything else. If you do is it successful in attracting new members? If not why not?
- Do you know what your members want from their Freemasonry? Do new members want to progress through the chair? Do they enjoy learning ritual? If not how do you support and keep them interested? Do your members have interests or skills that could be of use to the lodge?
- Do you have younger men on the lodge committee? Is your committee innovative and open to new ideas or stuck in its ways and unwilling to change?
- Do you or could you hold an information evening where men interested in Freemasonry can get some information, experience the ambience of the lodge and festive board? Could you also invite wives or partners to this?
- How well does your lodge support its new members? Are they given opportunities to get to know other members, is it possible to seat them with their proposer or members of a similar age and with similar interests?
- Does your lodge have arrangements to get older brethren or non-drivers to lodge? Can members who live near each other take turns to drive to lodge?
- Does your lodge make effective use of social media to keep in touch with members and non members alike?
- Does your lodge notice if a brother hasn’t attended for a month or two? Do you get in touch to ensure all is well to provide assistance if needed?
- Do you offer the opportunity to spread the cost of membership over the year by allowing payments monthly by Direct Debit or Standing order. Do you include dining fees the annual subscription? If so could this be changed to allow brethren to pay only for meals if they attend the meeting or fail to cancel with reasonable notice?
- Is your Lodge doing everything it can to recruit and retain members? Do you know which lodges in your province are doing well? What is their recipe for success?
So there you have my version of 20 questions for Masonic Lodges. I am sure there are many more. The list may seem a little daunting but I think that if your lodge can honestly answer “yes” to most of them then you will be a member of a strong lodge with a happy and growing membership. If there are a lot of “No” or “Don’t Know” answers then perhaps I have given you some things to consider.
Please do share your thoughts. You may wish to ‘Like’ and ‘follow’ this post so that you can see what other brethren think.