|Volume LVII||January 2010||Number 1|
"It's About Time!"
...for a Masonic Renaissance
Since the end of World War II, population figures in North America have soared. Up until 1959, Masonic membership increased, as well. Since then, however, while the general population has continued to grow dramatically, Masonic membership figures have dropped to their lowest levels in more than 80 years. Even at our membership's lowest point in 1941, which included the Depression years, Freemasonry still had 800,000 more members than we do today.
According to the Masonic Information Center (MIC), this can only mean that Masons have simply not kept pace with our changing lifestyles. "Change is the one constant, and Freemasons have done little to keep pace with change," stated the MIC Task Force charged in 2004 with evaluating the membership trend and proposing recommendations for enhancing the fraternity's public image. "Clearly, Masons are not satisfactorily addressing ways of keeping our members involved and enthusiastic about Masonry."
They began by asking themselves, "Who are we as a fraternal organization within the context of the 21st century?"
According to Dr. Michael Hammer, president and founder of Hammer and Company, a business education and research firm, and the author of four books, "One thing that tells me a company is in trouble is when they tell me how good they were in the past. Same with countries. You don't want to forget your identity. I am glad you were great in the 14th century, but that was then and this is now. When memories exceed dreams, the end is near."
Along the same vein, the MIC Task Force stated, "Our Masonic memories are to be treasured, but our Masonic dreams have faltered. Simply put, we have forgotten our Masonic identity so that our memories truly do exceed our dreams. It is about time we brought our actions in line with our aspirations." The first step, the task force advised, is to focus on making Masonry relevant to our changing communities and our 21st century lives. Taking "the initiative to participate in building our own destiny, brother by brother, lodge by lodge."
Current lifestyles often require two spouse incomes. More people are commuting longer distances to and from work. Family time is squeezed into the evenings and weekends, and very often the children have their own activities. In addition, the technology explosion has provided a source for entertainment, activity and connectivity that competes with any organization requiring a time commitment. In short, while society has changed, Freemasons have changed very little to keep pace with the modern world. The landline has been replaced by the cell phone, the typewriter with the computer and regular mail by e-mail, yet "Freemasons still grouse about any increase in dues or per capita. It is time to readjust our thinking and come to realize that both time and money are necessary factors in creating a quality organization," the MIC Task Force concluded.
Yet one aspect of the fraternity has, and must continue to remain constant, they agreed: "Freemasonry wants to attract fellow journeymen who are seeking enrichment in body, mind and spirit through participation in a brotherhood committed to good works and personal growth."
In order to continue to do so, it is essential that Freemasonry work on improving its visibility and image.
"With few exceptions over the last several decades, we have been content to listen to excuses, avoiding examination of the complicated set of changes that has weakened Masonry's relevance to our contemporary lives. Even today, we want to think of 'loss of membership' as our major problem. This report argues that membership loss is not the major problem. In fact, our study asks that we shift our thinking to consider our loss of membership as merely a symptom of the problem," the MIC Task Force stated.
Based upon its study, the Task Force proposes that our core problem is two-fold:
1. Loss of Masonic identity
2. Lack of energy invested in Masonry
This means our fraternity has suffered a loss of Masonic identity as an observable way of life, and our lack of energy invested in Masonry no longer makes the fraternity relevant to our busy contemporary lifestyles, the task force explained. As Masons, we have taken our fraternity's identity for granted, and we have allowed the general public to forget how important we are to the fabric of society. We forgot that what we do for each other, our lodges and ourselves enriches the quality of life for our families and communities. Only recently has Masonry found a new place in popular culture with the introduction of Dan Brown's books, "The DaVinci Code" and "The Lost Symbol" and the "National Treasure" movies. These novels and films position our public identity in the context of historical fiction. "We owe the public more than fiction; we owe them facts, and we owe them our best performance every day," the task force proclaimed.
"The Masonic Information Center proposes that Masons must first take ownership of an identity that distinguishes Masonry from other men's organizations. Masonry is a process of lifelong learning and discovery that delivers a way of living a principled life, observable in the simplest behaviors, whether at lodge, at home, or in the workplace," they said.
"Throughout history, both European and North American Masonic values consistently influenced people's daily lives by encouraging the right to question existing dogma and by upholding our right to express one's own thoughts and ideas. These values promote toleration of all religious and philosophical views. The fraternity has been a constructive, stabilizing and enlightening force throughout history."
So how does the public perceive Freemasonry today?
The task force devised the following response:
In today's world of high-speed communications, the public's perception is often based on insufficient information. Research suggests that today, more people are impressed by what they see and hear than by what they read. We believe that the public's perception and opinion of Freemasonry can be summarized briefly in the following ways:
1. Confused. Are the Masons a fraternity, a religious organization or an alternative religion?
2. Mistaken. Only grandfathers could be in such an old-fashioned organization as Freemasonry.
3. Oblivious. People are not even aware Masonry still exists.
Ouch! That hurts.
"Masons are not visible in the daily life of their communities. Their identity is frequently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press and by religious critics. There is little reserve of positive memories of Masonic activity remaining in our communities. Consequently, they have lost their significance within the context of community," the task force observed.
So how can we change this and regain the stature Freemasonry once held in society?
"The model Masonic fraternity member would be easy to identify in the community by his actions and words. Public awareness of Masonry begins at a grassroots level. Masons must be visible in the community to demonstrate Masonic values in many aspects of their lives," the task force concluded.
"As trustees of Masonry's rich and valuable heritage, members must continually invigorate their approach to Masonic participation, making it an experience that is rewarding, enriching, and relevant to its members, their families and the greater community.
"We have individually and collectively allowed our lethargy to encrust the jewel of Masonry, which has been bequeathed to us to pass on to the future. Our focus on the past has blinded us to the challenges of the present. And it is the present that we must address both as individuals and as a fraternal organization. Our reliance on former brothers' successes has weakened our commitment to achieving our own Masonic identities. We must look squarely into the challenge of performing Masonry to the betterment of our fraternity and ourselves.
"The Square and Compasses, the best known symbol of a Mason, cannot replace the identity of living the life of a Mason, which is itself perpetually in a state of improving ourselves in body, mind and spirit. Masonic imagery is a valuable resource when it inspires us to take new action consistent with our personal growth and enlightened thought. We must discover our own Masonic calling, our own place in the history of Masonry, by making authentic Masonic performance our top priority.
"We must begin by uncovering the Mason within us so that we can present Masonry in fact, and not in fiction. The personal journey will establish the presence of Masonry in the public's view. Each of us has a responsibility to steward our respected fraternity into the future, calling on our own spirit rather than deferring to those of our predecessors. We must exercise the same determination that we admire and celebrate in our heritage.
"We need ways of recognizing success, encouraging creativity, and rewarding accomplishments. Small actions, kind words and expressions of concern for others are just a few examples.
"Our Masonic resources are great; the tools for honing the Perfect Ashlar in each and every one of us are at our disposal, but they lie scattered across lodges," the task force observed. "We must put them to good use. We urge each lodge to inventory its tangible and intangible assets, such as people, places, artifacts, relationships and systems. Although each lodge has an individual and valuable identity within the context of Freemasonry, there is much to learn and share from one another's lodge-based activities. With more than one and a half million members in North America, Masons are poised to sharpen the tools of our Craft to improve ourselves and to fulfill the promise of the stewardship of Freemasonry."
Specifically, the task force recommends planning meaningful meetings, programs, activities and events at the lodge level that clearly put Masonic values into action. It will require imagination, open-mindedness and discipline.
The change won't be easy and it won't happen overnight, but don't we owe it to our forefathers, our children, our community, and ourselves? It's about time for us to take the concept of Masonry off the shelf and put the values of Masonry into action.
Let's make it the fraternity that WE want - brother by brother, lodge by lodge!
The information within this article was derived from "It's About Time," a report completed following a study focused on the need for Masonic Public Awareness. Produced by a special task force from the Steering Committee of the Masonic Information Center, the report fulfills a request made at the 2004 Conference of Grand Masters in North America to identify the image of the fraternity and its need for increased public awareness.
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