THE DECLINE IN MEMBERSHIP
My brothers, please grant me a few minutes of your time, to enlighted you on a few facts, and I hope you will carry this message to others. Some have said I am crying out in a wilderness, No one cares.
In this paper I give you the truth, You may even in the end agree with its contents, yet, this paper will end up in the trash. You may say, "I agree with what you say but what can I do about it?"
Let us put down a few statistics. Nobody likes statistics, but permit an old man to bend the rules.
At the end of the 1964 masonic year and the beginning of the 1965 year, there was a grand total of 15,839 lodges in the United States, and a total masonic membership of 4,005,558. During that year, 11 Grand Lodges showed a total gain of 4,181 members, and 37 Grand Lodges showed a total loss of 31,505 members. At the end of the 1984 masonic year and the beginning of the 1985 year, we find grand total of 14,653 lodges with a grand total of 3,039,017 members.
During that period, only one grand lodge showed a gain of 1,603 members, ( Kentucky), while the balance showed a total loss of 63,920 members.
There is not a Grand Lodge that has not cried out, "Stop the loss! Lets get to work and show the people of your towns and cities, what Masonry can mean to the community." Yet not one Grand Lodge has bent to help the situation. Not one has offered to bend the old and out of date rules and regulations to help the lodges.
You cry out, "NO! NO! Never change the rules." "You will ruin Masonry." Yet in the last 35 years, to my knowledge the lecturers and working committees have made many small changes in the ritual. Yet you will never get them to admit it. Let us just make one or two changes which might help the lodges and stop the loss of new members, and aid in getting new applications. and which has been asked of the Grand Lodges and they have forbidden it.
Permit me to give you a first hand example of what happened in my lodge, and which made me give up coaching candidates in the first two degrees.
My first candidate, was a young man in his twenties, married three years, his wife worked, and they were trying to fix up an old house and make it into a home. He came to my house for instructions, and we began the first degree. I was pleased at how quickly he picked up the work, however during the period of three months, he broke eight appointments. He explained, he did not have the time to spare. During the second degree catechism, which he never finished, his wife called me and put her foot down. Her reply to me was as follows.
"My Father and Grand Father were masons, and I would love to have my husband be a Mason but I need him at home helping me. We both have to work to make ends meet and he has his share of the house work to do. I don't remember my father being out so many nights, maybe sometime in the future he can begin again but I need him at home now." He never came back for instructions. They now have a baby and they are both working.
My second candidate that year was an older man, closer to my own age. He had a time learning the catechism. He had plenty of time and never missed an appointment, but it took him four months on the first. The night he stood his examination, he was a nervous wreck, as I examined him, his coat was dark with sweat. The next day he could not get out of bed, his Doctor gave him some medicine to quiet his nerves. The old guy was stubborn, a month later he was back to receive his second and came to me for instruction. He about wore me out but after five months he was ready for examination. His Doctor put his foot down, "He can not stand the examination." He even gave it to me in writing on a prescription blank. The Doctor himself was a mason and knew the problem. He suggested that it would be O.K. if he was allowed to sit down with three or four Past Masters and quietly take the examination. and then voted upon by the lodge, but his heart could not take the strain of a public examination.
I spoke to the lodge, and the Master said ask for a dispensation from the District Deputy. The District Deputy said it could not be done. I then went to the Grand master with the question, But the Grand Master upheld the District Deputy. (passing the buck.) I invited two of the Past Masters to sit and hear the brother, and they said he was very good. Yet the Old Man was never able to finish his masonry. Oddly he has never once shown any animosity against the Lodge or of Masonry. I told him, with the first two degrees he had received, he would always be a mason, if not a master mason.
The third candidate, a young man of twenty three, made two visits to my house for instruction, the next three appontments were broken. When I stopped by his apartment, his wife read me the riot-act for taking her husband away so many nights. They both worked, and she wanted him home with her and helping with the house work. I never saw the young man again.
As a cure to some of the problems, and you may shrug your shoulders, it would be well for the Grand Lodges to make some changes to fit the younger generation and changing times. This younger generation does not have the time to spend on learning catechism. Both husband and wife have to work to support a household these days, they have to work together.
Shorten the catechisms. This can be done without taking any of the real meaning away from the history of Masonry. Also make a change in the examinations, permit dispensations for medical reasons. I have seen young men fail to stand in the Lodge for examination.
I sometimes wonder how much our Brother Masons know of the history of masonry. They say the Catechisms are the foundation of Masonry and they can not be shortened. It would ruin Masonry. How strange. After all there never was a catechism in any one of the degrees until the Webb Ritual came into existance in 1812 approx. How strange they think it so important. I wonder what Washington, Franklin, John Blair, and other of our founding fathers might say. After all they did not have any Catechism to learn.
How many of you have heard a Father say. "I wish my boy would ask me about Masonry." I believe that every Father, Grand Father or Uncle, should be permitted to say a few words to the young man about the importance of Masonry in his own life and how much he has enjoyed his membership in the fraternity. The Pennsylvania (SOLOMON II PLAN) is a step in the right direction, and I believe it should be promoted. It sure can't hurt, and it may be a great help.
Oh Yes! there are so many ways the Grand Lodge can change the rules for dispensations issued. They say they cannot change the rules and regulations. Yet they do it every year. Just read your proceedings. As James Noah Hillman, Grand Secretary and Past Grand Master of Virginia once said. "The Grand Lodge is always asking the question, 'What is wrong with Masonry?' They never look at themselves for the answer. They always expect someone else to answer the question."
Yes, I could write on and on about the many small changes which might be made for the benefit of the younger generation. They live in a different world than we did. We must change or we lose in the end. I once asked two DeMolay, young men that I knew very well, if they were going on? Joining Masonry with their Fathers. They laughed, and said. "We might like to go on and join Masonry but we don't have the time, there is to much to learn, and we don't have the time." When they left me, one of the young men said, "Maybe sometime when we get older."
Yes, is Masonry only for old men who have time? You would think so to look at the members in attendance.
At this point I attach a full sheet of statistics, so you may see for yourself how each state has declined in the last seven years.
Every year I type these statistics, and make copies to hand out to those who will listen and seem to care. Many brothers around the country do the same thing. You can find copies in the proceedings of the Grand Lodges. There are others out there who can say it better than I, and do, but nobody listens. One Grand Master even spoke against me, saying, "He wants to change Masonry". He forgot to add, "to save Masonry."
If every Jurisdiction has a different form of ritual, and every Jurisdiction a different set of rules and regulations. Why can't every Jurisdiction change their rules and regulations to adjust to the younger generation and their needs. Today a man's time is much more limited then it was just twenty years ago.
Please believe me. This younger generation, which we want, needs masonry in their lives, they need the brotherhood we teach, as badly as we need them to carry on after we are no longer here. We must make the changes to permit them to become members. You do not believe me? Please check with the Secretary of your lodge. Ask him how many candidates never finished the degrees? and why?
Do you realize the drop in membership just since 1979? Let me reiterate:
Now my brothers. If you feel I am 100% wrong, if what I have suggested would destroy Masonry. if you honestly believe that the ritual should never be changed, that the catechism should not be shortened or tampered with, that you agree with the Grand Master that there should be no dispensations to by-pass the ritual or the catechisms, that health and medical reasons should make no difference. If you believe that we should continue all those qualification rules which make it hard to find officers for our lodges, and why so many Past Masters are recycled.
If you believe what I have suggested would destroy Masonry. I ask you this question. Why then can a Grand Master by-pass all rules and regulations and make a Mason at sight? Without regard for ritual, or the 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree catechisms. He can make a mason at sight without the many ballots or statutory period for consideration. Has he destroyed Masonry?
If you still believe what I am suggesting would destroy Masonry, what about our Founding Fathers and their membership requirements? They received their instruction in the lodge. They had no catechism for the degrees, George Washington never stood a catechism examination.
The catechism was just one more part of the Webb Ritual which was introduced into masonry in the early eighteen hundreds, and we have been adding to it ever since. The next time at Grand Lodge when the Grand Officer cries out about the loss in membership, get up and ask, "What the Grand Lodge is willing to do about it?"
Thank you for your time,
William A. Brown, P.G.H.P.
P.S. The Royal Arch Chapter once had a catechism on the Royal Arch Degree. The catechism was eliminated, and it is now long forgotten.