Volume LVIIINovember 2011Number 4

Courage in the East (The Time for Change)

In his inaugural address, Bro. Thomas K. Sturgeon, R.W. Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, shared his thoughts and recommendations on how to address our fraternity's needs. The Masonic Service Association (MSA) wishes to thank Grand Master Sturgeon for allowing us to share his thoughts with our readers in this "Short Talk Bulletin" - Editor (Published by MSA in December 2010. Reprinted with permission.)

For the last one-half century, membership in Freemasonry has continued to decline. Candidly, that may be phrasing it too gently since our fraternity has lost approximately 66 percent of its members during that period!

Believe it or not, some brothers sincerely think that reduction is good, calling it a "cleansing" that would result in a fraternity of "higher quality men."

What I believe they fail to understand is that our average member today is just as qualified as any Mason in previous times. Looking even deeper into this argument, I would ask a brother with an opposite opinion: Who are we to judge the level of the quality of a man if he is found to be morally and ethically sound?

No matter what your opinion is on that matter, I think we can all agree that a membership issue does exist. Having agreed to that, I suggest that solutions to this issue require a need for change that makes the fraternity more contemporary to 2010 than to a past era, say 1910.

But, to make this level of needed change requires courage, most especially from the East. It also takes patience, tolerance and flexibility from the general membership.

Solutions

Membership Process

Some Grand Lodges still do not permit a member to invite a good and decent man to join; instead, they still depend on the ancient and archaic policy of requiring interested men to ask. Truth be told, many Masons have not adhered to this policy anyway, so why not permit what has already been an "underground" practice? If we expect our membership numbers to rise, this practice must change. Many good men never joined our fraternity because they never knew that they had to ask. I have authorized this change in Pennsylvania.

We recently held a statewide One Day Masonic Journey simultaneously in 13 locations in Pennsylvania to grant all three degrees, and this event added thousands of new brethren to our rolls. While these types of events should not be conducted on a regular basis ... probably no more frequent than every five years ... I believe the One Day Masonic Journeys are a valuable membership development tool that allows many good men to become Masons who just cannot join the lodge in the traditional manner. While detractors of this idea say One Day members come in one door and out the other, the experiences in Ohio and Pennsylvania in permitting these swifter inductions proves otherwise. If fact, many brothers who gained membership in One Day Masonic Journeys not only have continued their Masonic experience in an active manner, but are officers and Worshipful Masters of their lodges.

We also need to remove unfair barriers to membership. For example, we need to determine how many candidates are rejected for membership and then work to determine if every rejection was for a valid Masonic reason. And, this is doubly important when we stop to think about the effect that rejecting a good man has on the reputation of our fraternity.

For example, many times the rejection is because a brother simply does not care for the recommender. Should we, as Masons, be taking the objection to the recommenders or to the Committee of Inquiry? The candid answer is yes, and no matter to whom the objection is given, the rejecter should have to give his reasons for objecting. Often, it will end up not being for legitimate Masonic reasons.

Therefore, we need to change the voting process to protect a decent man from being rejected. Toward that end, the time has come to require more than one blackball, and if he is the only person using a blackball, he must explain his reason to the District Deputy who in turn, should have the sole authority to uphold or reject the objection following a thorough investigation. This process must also be done in total confidentiality with no explanation required by the District Deputy or to anyone else, including the Grand Master. We have adopted this procedure in Pennsylvania.

Improve Meetings

Gaining membership is one problem. Another is getting brothers to attend lodge meetings and be present for the conferring of degrees. Where can we find answers to attendance problems? First, try asking inactive Masons. There must be a reason why these men are not attending. We should not be afraid to find out what our shortfalls are. Most decisions made in our lodges are made by those few who actively attend, and the end result is that we too frequently continue with an attendance-squashing status quo.

Equally important is to ask what active members think of our meetings. I have found that brothers want to attend their lodge meetings for the fellowship and to learn something. They want the meetings to be more social, shorter, less ritualistic and provide an opportunity to listen to an interesting speaker. Most brothers don't care to hear the minutes read in their entirety and endure lengthy rituals, but rather enjoy dinner before or a lunch following the meeting and the opportunity for time for fellowship.

That is not to say that members do not want to witness the beautiful and impressive ritualistic ceremonies of our degree conferrals. What they don't want to see, however, is the same degree conferred several times at the same meeting.

In Pennsylvania, we have also relaxed the meeting attire. While jeans and T-shirts are not permitted, neither is a suit and tie required.

Printing the Ritual

Courage to change also means that the ritual of the three degrees can be printed, and we must discontinue the use of codes and ciphers. How secret are these degrees and rituals in our age of information anyway? When "Googled," all of the so-called secrets can be found, and even the secret word of the third degree was broadcast on mainstream television specials about Freemasonry. Knowing this, we need to instead help young men with families, who face the everyday stresses of family life, to more easily learn our ritual and want to assume leadership positions. In my opinion, the true secret of Freemasonry is not in the ritual, but rather it is the special bond that exists between Masonic brothers. This special bond cannot be defined, nor can it be described. It just exists, and that is our true and real secret that no person can take away.

Separating the Fraternal & the Financial

While almost every Mason enjoys and supports the fraternal bonds of brotherly love and the beautiful ritual of our degrees, few have been provided the matter-of-fact information that would also allow them to understand and address the weakening financial side of our fraternity. We simply have not done a good job of making certain our dues and fees have kept pace with the cost of living increases. For the first time, we in Pennsylvania have attempted to do just that through words and charts in our statewide Masonic magazine. I, as the Right Worshipful Grand Master, have also discussed this growing problem at every speaking opportunity. Similarly, those leaders in the East of other Masonic jurisdictions must address and come up with solutions to the financial plight of the fraternity, because when we can no longer pay the expenses of our halls and temples, the fraternal side will suffer exponentially.

A More Transparent Organization

We need to be more aggressive in dispelling the misinformation about our fraternity. We must become more transparent, while at the same time maintaining our privacy. We need to have open houses in our meeting places, march in parades, visibly help in community projects, do more random acts of kindness, and generally let our neighbors know who we really are, what we stand for and the good that we do. Let us begin to talk about the many charities that our fraternity supports, publicly share our history and create do-able plans that would make us a real element of our communities. If we do so, this will end up being our best membership development tool.

Another step in becoming more transparent is to hold open installations of lodge officers and give non-Masons a preview of what takes place within our walls. Let me go even further and suggest that every lady should be entitled to witness her man being installed into his lodge office, because it is she who will be sitting at home while he is doing his Masonic duties. Certainly, we can balance how we do this by displaying the elegance of our meetings while still protecting our sacred ritual. We now permit this in Pennsylvania.

Fair Judiciary

Grand Lodges and symbolic lodges must adopt a system of due process when administering discipline to a member. Arbitrary expulsions and suspensions should not occur without the brother having an opportunity to present his defense. Our fraternity should mirror, at least to some degree, how our justice system works. In addition to doing what is right, this change may well eliminate potential legal fees and judgments that are more and more commonplace in today's litigious society.

Conclusion

To do nothing and expect better results will not solve our problems. All of these changes and a myriad of other changes must occur if we expect to be a significant fraternity in the future. Losing two-thirds of our members during the past 50 years should cause us pause. As leaders of this greatest of fraternities, we need to ask ourselves and our brothers, "Are we doing all the right things today to assure there is a future Masonic fraternity, including one for those Masons yet to be born?" The time to change is now, and no change will take place unless there is ... Courage in the East!


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