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From: Masonic Perspectives, by John Hamill.
W.Bro. John Hamill, is the Director of Communications (2008) of the United Grand Lodge of England.

Developed by W.Bro. Kent Henderson
Dip. T., B. Ed., Grad. Cert. Ed., Grad. Dip. Ed., M. Ed, Diploma of Masonic Education (Sth. Aust.)
Past Junior Grand Deacon, A. F. & A. Masons of Victoria, Australia.


Change is a natural and healthy thing if the impulse comes from within and if the change progresses our Institution. Change for change’s sake or changes brought about by pressure from outside is not. Nor is clinging to outmoded customs and practices simply because they are old. I would not advocate a modernisation programme simply to remove old customs but there are often things which we do in Freemasonry which work against us today and we continue to do them in a mistaken belief that they have always been done that way when an examination of their origin shows that they are, in fact, relatively new in historical terms. Complacency is an enemy in any part of life. The attitude that “it will do because it always has done” is a killer. We need to stop every generation and look at ourselves to see what needs to be done to preserve our Institution for future generations.


The current problem


One of the tasks I do for my Grand Secretary is to review the Proceedings of our sister Grand Lodges as they come into the Library each year. From that review over the last few years it has become all too apparent that the pressing problem in Freemasonry worldwide is falling membership. We have been lucky in England in that despite a period of sustained anti-Masonry in the media we have been holding our own and have not experienced a major drop in membership. We have been holding steady but we do not appear to have been increasing the number of new members each year. Aware of the problems in our sister Grand Lodges and seeking to stem the problem before it arises in England we have been looking at ways of avoiding it. We have come to a general conclusion that the problem is twofold: the internal organisation of the Craft and the public’s perceived reaction to Freemasonry. In short terms Freemasonry has to offer something to its members and retain their participation and it must also have a good public image to attract members in the first place.




The question most often asked is how, without active recruiting, do we attract the right sort of candidate? You do not do it by hiding your light under a bushel. For too long we have been over-protective of our privacy, refusing to talk about Freemasonry to non-Masons and gradually withdrawing from public view. By remaining silent we have allowed a body of misconception and conspiracy theory to develop which can only be off-putting to possible candidates. Our American brethren are probably the most open about their membership of Freemasonry yet even they have been reticent when asked questions by non-Masons. So concerned were they about falling membership and the lack of young members coming forward that a number of American Masonic  bodies jointly commissioned a market research group to conduct a national survey of public attitudes to Freemasonry. The result did not please them. Freemasonry was seen as secretive, an old man’s pursuit, self-serving and open to accusations of conspiracy and malpractice. We all know that Freemasonry is a force for good in society and that its principles provide a practical guide to living a life worthy in the eyes of God and of service to our fellow man. We all enjoy our Freemasonry and are proud to be members of it. Why, then, are we shy of sharing that pride and enjoyment? One of the surprising things that we found out in dealing with the anti-Masonic problems in England in the mid-1980s was that not only the public but many of our members believed that they should not disclose their membership or discuss Freemasonry with outsiders. They were, of course, wrong. Our obligation bind us to preserve the secrets of Freemasonry - the traditional modes of recognition - but there is nothing which says you must keep silent about everything. Can we really expect to attract candidates if we are not prepared to discuss Freemasonry in general terms with them? Can we really be surprised at accusations of secrecy?




Candidates must come into Freemasonry “of their own free will and accord”. They must ask; they are not invited. To ask someone to join is improper solicitation. Many of us will know of men who would have been good Freemasons and either come into the Craft late in life or not at all because they were waiting to be invited. Logically if there is improper solicitation then there must also be proper solicitation. England looked at this idea a decade ago, decided that there could indeed be proper solicitation and issued guidelines. In broad terms it is not improper solicitation to make a neutrally worded approach to someone you think will be a good member of the Craft. Once done he must then be allowed to think. If there is no response you may give a gentle reminder but if that elicits no response then the subject must be dropped. The crucial words are neutrally worded. It is still contrary to the principles and rules to ask someone to join, but an informal discussion can often lead to the right question being asked, which is surely better than losing potentially good candidates capable of giving good service to the Craft.


The new member


One of the contributions to falling membership is the new members dropping out within a short time. In some cases this is because they have found Freemasonry was not what they were looking for but, regrettably, in other cases it’s because of neglect. All too often the new member finds that, having been the center of attraction whilst going through the ceremonies leading to becoming a Master Mason, once he achieves that he becomes just another member of the lodge with nothing to do and little interest shown in him until he begins to work through the offices. The Provincial Grand Master for Antrim, under the Grand Lodge of Ireland, and for Yorkshire North and East Ridings, under the United Grand Lodge of England, independently set up a Committee of Young Master Masons in their Provinces to look at the current state of the Craft within their Provinces. Both committees identified this point as a danger point. The key words which they used were participation and education. The younger men coming into Freemasonry today are not only keen to take part in the ceremonial and administrative work of the lodge but want to know more about Freemasonry in general. Being spectators at ceremony after ceremony with nothing to do until they took office brought neither satisfaction nor enjoyment. In larger lodges years of waiting to get into the Officer Line fund dissatisfaction and led to resignations. The Grand Master himself addressed this problem in his address to Grand Lodge some years ago when he suggested that lodges should be of a size whereby the members knew each other as individuals, not just faces and names, and a new member, if he so wished, could go from initiation to the Chair within a reasonable time span. In his view a reasonable time was ten years, which would enable the brother concerned to work through the progressive offices and gain the necessary experience to rule the lodge as Master.


The Past Master problem


Another problem point arises with Past Masters. Having worked through the offices, served as Master and IPM, a Past Master suddenly finds himself back as spectator on the back benches waiting for one of the permanent office holders to give up or die before he has any hope of giving further service to the lodge. A bad tradition in Freemasonry has been that of Treasurers, Secretaries and Director of Ceremonies hanging on to office for twenty or more years. Again, in a recent address to Grand Lodge our Grand Master suggested that this was not a good tradition as it prevented Past Masters giving further service. He suggested that eight years was long enough. Longevity in permanent offices is also unhealthy for a lodge. With the best will in the world it is impossible for long serving officers not to begin to regard the lodge as their personal bailiwick and for the members, in turn, to believe that these officers run the lodge and have the final say. That cannot be healthy for a lodge. Another tradition is that the brunt of the ritual work falls on the Master, which in a busy year can make life difficult for the Master. In England we have a certain amount of freedom in ritual matters. The basic ritual was agreed by grand Lodge in 1816 but we do not have an official ritual or Grand Lodge ritual committee and the detail is left to the individual lodge, resulting in over fifty different English workings. As a result the Master can do all the Chair work or he can divide it up and invite Past Masters to assist. At a recent meeting of the staff lodge at Freemason’s Hall, London, we initiated a new member and the work was divided in such a way that the Master and five Past Masters carried out the Chair work. You, I believe, have a Grand Lodge controlled ritual and may not be able to do the same but I offer it as a way of maintaining interest in the Past Masters.




I commented earlier that the younger members coming in were not satisfied simply by ritual work but had a genuine curiosity about Freemasonry which needed to be satisfied. Another old tradition is that the purpose of a lodge is to make, pass and raise Masons. That is certainly the basic purpose of a lodge but what is the point of a lodge being a degree factory if the producers have no idea of what they are involved in? Over seventy years ago Lord Ampthill, then Pro Grand master of England, said that what was needed was not more men in Freemasonry but more freemasonry in men. That still stands today. There seems to me no reason why the occasional meeting should not be set aside for a lecture or a structural discussion on some Masonic topic Indeed, participation and education can be joined together by getting lodge members to prepare a five minute talk on a particular point at each meeting, thus both increasing knowledge and enabling someone to actively participate in the meeting.

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