Growth and Decline Across Grand Jurisdictions
Getting to travel across the country so often, I have been fortunate to plan travel around Masonic events with a good degree of regularity. For those that enjoy seeing Freemasonry in different forms and practices, I cannot stress enough that one must LEAVE their local towns and cities, and travel as often as possible to other Lodges in other Jurisdictions to appreciate differences among us in the same Craft.
For those of you who are super fortunate to travel overseas, or to a different country, DO SO! And go visit new Lodges. Lodges in different countries provide a vibrancy and color that one cannot experience anywhere else. For many, it is a one-time experience. If you have the chance, I highly recommend you do so.
Now that the happy-banter-phase is over, I would like to discuss a couple of brief examples of what I have seen most recently in two different Grand Jurisdictions in the United States. They were both this year, in Jurisdictions that are not overly close to one another, but are both Regular Lodges that are parts of Grand Lodges recognized by the Conference of Grand Masters of North America (for more information click HERE).
Both of these stories involve Grand Masters' visits to two Lodges, one in each Grand Jurisdiction. The first Lodge visit involved the Grand Master's Official Visit, which consisted of a dinner, followed by a public section for guests and relatives, then a Stated meeting with the pomp and circumstance and all that jazz. Then we get to the Grand Master's address to the members of the Lodge. This was my first visit to this Lodge, and I only knew two other members, so I didn't know what to expect. The room got quiet as people got settled and we all stared at the East while this particular Grand Master gave his address to the members of this Lodge.
The address to the members was about 15 minutes long but the only part that stuck out to me was the part where the Grand Master referenced something about how happy he was to see so many people in attendance (there were about 18-20 people total) and how it was (and I am paraphrasing because I didn't write this down) "great it was to see so many people for his visit, and that apart from raising Candidates and reading the minutes, "there is little else for Lodges to be working on."
I looked around the room to see if anyone else had the sickening reaction that I had that evening, after that statement. "Reading the minutes" and "raising candidates" sounded so shocking and awful, I could not get it out of my head for days. If that is what a Grand Lodge feels in most important to the members of the Craft, that is not a Grand Lodge that stands on pillars of success and meaning. The Lodge experience means little to nothing in this part of the World, and if this ideology has been the status quo here for a while, I can only help but feel saddened at the State of the Craft. I left the next morning to head to my flight home and decided it would be a long while before I returned.
Now, fast forward a month to another Grand Master's visit to a local Lodge, this one much closer to home. The dinner was splendid, four courses and merriment in the dining hall. It moved directly into the Stated meeting, which proceeded with a solemn and heartfelt invocation by the Grand Chaplain, and proceeded with the Grand Master's address. The highlights of that address included phrases like "I'm so glad to be sitting in a Lodge that cares more about quality over quantity," and "to have people from all colors and creeds that kneel at the same altar is the highest goal for any Lodge anywhere in the World," and most notably "education and introspection are what we as Masons should be most focused on."
All I saw was nodding heads as I scanned the room, which had over 45 people who all stood up at the end to give this Grand Master a standing ovation.
On my way to the train station, all I could think of was the disparity in thought between two people who wield so much authority over Freemasonry in their respective parts of the world. Two men who shape the destinies of the Craft and probably wonder at the results of their Labors.
So I went ahead and checked. I looked at the last few years of membership statistics for both of those Grand Jurisdictions, and to my sarcastic surprise, the first Grand Lodge had sharp declines year over year for the past few years; the latter had small levels of decline and even positive growth numbers for a couple of years within the past decade.
Is there a correlation? I can't say for sure, but I can say this: to rule and govern over an organization of thousands of people, regardless of whether they kneel at a sacred altar or just meet up once a month to talk about days gone by requires a vision and a desire for positive change. Wading in the past leaves you no path to move forward. Without a vision: a person, group of people, or a large organization will grow stagnant and decay, like many of our beautiful Lodge buildings across the country. To have a defined and established vision, and then help in it's execution (from the front, not the rear) is the goal of every great Leader. We need more of these visionaries if we, as a Craft, are going to move through this next painful evolution, to a brighter and more hopeful tomorrow.
~~ FDTL ~~