SHORT TALK BULLETIN

Vol. XLIX No. 5 — May 1971

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WHY DIDN'T THEY ADVANCE

Why do candidates fail to advance after becoming Entered Apprentices? Answers to this question can provide much information which helps to understand the problems of declining membership and lack of interest in the activities of a Masonic lodge.

The question has been frequently answered by guess work or snap judgments. Recently, however, the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin undertook a serious study to find factual answers to the question. In 1969 a Research Committee headed by Past Grand Master Edward W. Stegner sent out a questionnaire to 729 "defaulted Entered Apprentices" to learn the reasons for their failure to advance.

The results of that canvass are the body of this Short Talk. To the concerned Mason, there is much food for thought in this report.

In Wisconsin, a candidate is "in default" after he fails to advance within one year. The survey of 729 defaulted Apprentices was started in late 1969, but it was February, 1970, before the returned questionnaires were tabulated and analyzed.

The questionnaire was sent to each individual with a letter over the Grand Master's signature, with a stamped, self-addressed envelope for the reply. Of the 729 men contacted, 204, 28%, returned the questionnaire — a surprisingly large response for such an inquiry. Even more significant is the fact the 190 responders signed the questionnaire, although that was optional. 155, or 77%, made personal comments or suggestions, which indicates that one out of five of the defaulted Apprentices still had considerable interest in the fraternal organization he had become a part of so briefly.

The tabulated results of the questionnaire furnish a summary of the information resulting from the survey; the following questions and statistics are taken from the Wisconsin Research Committee's 1970 report.

A. Do you feel you had sufficient direct personal contact with members of the Lodge prior to the acceptance of your petition?

B. Do you feel you had sufficient direct personal contact with members of the Lodge between your acceptance and initiation?

C. What was the attitude of the Masonic Brethren to you?

D. Were you able to identify with the Masonic Fraternity?

E. What were your feelings about the teachings of Freemasonry?

F. What were your impressions of the Entered Apprentice Degree?

G. What problems did you encounter in completing the degree work? (Number in order of importance. Add any in unmarked spaces.) (The following numbers indicate the frequency with which the problems were ranked first.)

(Other problems added to the list)

H. Do you hold membership in other civic or fraternal organizations?

I. Would you be interested in continuing your Masonic work now?

J. General Comments or Suggestions

While most of those returning the questionnaires checked answers which indicate a favorable attitude to Freemasonry, the really significant replies are those which point out weaknesses in a Lodge's handling of candidates or Masonic customs or practices which "turned off" a candidate. E.g., approximately 12 1/2% (one out of every eight!) of the replies indicated "insufficient contact" between the candidate and the members of the lodge before and after the acceptance of the petition. Why does that happen in a Masonic Lodge? The same question should be asked about the significantly large number who couldn't readily "identify" with the Fraternity.

The frequency with which certain problems were checked under Question G suggests a number of areas for Masonic study and examination. Granted that some candidates are making excuses for themselves in listing 'time" and "memorization" as the principal obstacles to their advancement, the fact remains that some of them (in their comments) challenged the archaic ritual of Freemasonry and the posting" requirements as obsolete and unnecessary. Could this be why 14 defaulted Apprentices "lost interest"? A thoughtful study of all the problems mentioned would stimulate recognition of the basic fact that candidates need more information, more Masonic enlightenment, and more stimulation than they seem to receive at present in the first stages of initiation.

The Wisconsin Research Committee reported that "we are more concerned in applying the yardstick to ourselves" than to the candidates, because "our next task is to remedy the situation." What prompted their purpose to find possible solutions was the many frank comments from the defaulted candidates themselves.

"These comments surprised us and caused the Committee, to do some real soul searching as to how we could improve our lodge operations, and whether we are meeting the needs of young men today. Is time (for Masonry) a limited factor in today's world, and if so, how can it be conserved for the candidate? Is the problem of memorization also a factor, due to time, and how can we assist in this regard?"

The comments are really the most interesting and provocative items in the survey. Unfortunately, space prevents their complete reproduction here. But since many of them are similar, they can be summarized by means of the following composite quotations.

"I'm too busy keeping my head above water in the rat race of modem life. I admire what Freemasons stand for, but I can't devote time to it, so I shouldn't become just a name on the roll of members."

"Masonic ritual and ceremonies might have appealed to me when I was 12. Now they seem childish."

"Attendance was very poor and the members were generally so much older I couldn't identify with the group."

"There is too much emphasis on memorization. Some of the work was even taught out of sequence and had to be relearned."

"Most of my evenings are taken up with school activities, book work, and helping the children."

"Lodge activities are not attractive to young men. Masonic work should be related to the present world."

"The lodge kept changing the date I was to appear again. Last time, they called me just before the meeting. I had another commitment. A new Mason should be better informed, and soon enough."

"My wife didn't like my joining the Masons. I have to keep peace at home."

"Thank you for your interest and concern about me. I'd like to continue, but at present just don't have the time."

"I was much younger than most of the members, which caused feelings hard to pinpoint. But inside I feel it's the greatest fraternal organization a man can encounter. I hope some day to continue."

"I hope very much to continue, but lack of time and a poor memory hinder me somewhat. My father is a Mason. I will keep trying."

"I was never called after that. I did not feel it was up to me to tell the lodge what to do."

"After the first degree I was moved to obtain more education. I would like to finish the Masonic work, but it will have to wait till I get my degree."

"I lost interest in the lodge because of the gentleman who was my instructor."

"When I was working to become a Mason, the Brothers showed no interest in helping me, so I gave up trying to join. When I considered joining somewhere else, I was told there was a lot of red tape to go through. I'd sincerely like to become a member in good standing if the organization itself showed some interest in helping me to get this all straightened out."

"Your letter and questionnaire is really the first sign I have had that Masonry is interested in me. I'd like to continue, and I'd like to meet you."

Some of these responses cry out for good Masonic rejoinders, but those must be left to the particular Lodge whose business it is to make a Master Mason of the individual candidate it has investigated and accepted.

One may be tempted to ask of some of these commentators, "What did you expect?" But one should really ask the Lodge, "What did you teach him to expect?"

The Wisconsin study of defaulted Entered Apprentices suggests that the problem of good public relations begins "right at home" with the particular Lodge. What does the local community expect of a Lodge of Master Masons? In Masonic language, "Is the community convinced of the good effects of our fraternal association?"

The Masonic Service Association of the United States of America