"I Could Have Watched it on YouTube"
This will not be a pleasant post. It is not meant to be. It should dishearten the spirit, and raise an eyebrow at least to those that have heard this before, or at least experienced something similar. Losing a brand new member the SAME NIGHT he was raised is a shocking experience (at least in my opinion). And that is what I saw a couple of weeks ago.
I hopped on a plane and visited another Jurisdiction, a few states away, where an Outdoor "One Day Class" was being held and I looked forward to making the trip out there. Note: Let me say upfront, that I am not the biggest fan of one-day classes, however, I do not think that they should be used as judgment against any particular member. I have met many absolutely wonderful and learned one day Masons. I have also met numerous lazy, uninformed, and disinterested traditional-process Masons.
The site for the degrees was beautiful; a campground away from the world with a two story fort where things like Degree conferrals can be conducted in privacy. The lighting for the degrees was beautiful; the large area adorned with lights and nuances that gave the location a very earthly and mysterious field.
I did not watch the first two degrees; but I made sure I was available to see the third, in all its moonlit glory. I have never seen an outdoor degree in the evening, and I thought to myself how this resonates with those of us that delve into the more ancient aspects of our Ritual.
The degree conferral itself was great. The cast was prepared, the costumes were beautiful, and the exemplification, I thought, was received well by our newly raised brother. There was one exemplar, or candidate participating in the ritual itself, while the other 40+ sat in the audience, next to their mentors.
As the ceremony ended, my friends and I left the fort, to walk back to our cabin. We sat and talked for a bit, nerding out about the festivities of the day: what we liked, what we didn’t like, what was different where each of us came from, etc. One of us went to grab pizza, and came back ten minutes later, with a look of shock on his face.
He proceeded to inform us that he rode back to the parking lot with one of the newly made Master Masons, and asked the simple question of “How’s it going?” The answer he received was not what he expected:
“I waited a whole year for this. I could’ve watched this on YouTube. I got nothing out of this. I got an apron though. So that’s something. I get to wear it when I’m dead, that’s what my mentor said.”
We all sat there in disbelief and just stared at one another. What followed was no less than two hours of speculation and discussion and reflection on the events in the evening. Was this an isolated incident? Did a lot of the new members that night feel that way? Why was this person waiting an entire year to go through the Degrees, only to be so disappointed that he left, never to return?
As we could only conjecture on the exact reasoning behind the statements our new Brother made, I sat up that night and thought about it for quite a long time. What I concluded was this:
We need to decide as an organization whether we want MEMBERS or BROTHERS.
If we want only members, just to keep the coffers filled, and the Temples in repair, then execute membership strategies for that path, and go full steam ahead.
If we want only members, set those expectations up front with new prospects, have side groups and appendant bodies cover the little nuances that some members seem to enjoy, and advertise everywhere. On billboards, the Internet, pop-up ads, the works.
If we want only members, increase the dues, create a National component to govern and oversee it all, then lets head down that path.
But, if we want Brothers, then we need to nurture these new members, make them part of the Organization from Day One, and foster long and meaningful relationships with them.
Can you have fantastic and dedicated Masons who came up the ranks from a One Day conferral? Absolutely. Can you have erudite and involved Masons from the traditional candidate process? Sure can. The opposite holds true for both as well. No matter which path you choose, the ritual on initiation is only a small part of the process in becoming better than your current self. But that process must have seeds planted at the very beginning of the journey.
What we can never do, ever, is cheapen the experience for our incoming members. Giving them a half-assed experience, for something that most will only ever witness or participate in once in their life takes the meaning and essence out of the entire process. No matter which flavor of Freemasonry you subscribe to: the social-club Mason, the dinner-and-drinks Mason, the education-only Mason, or the progressing-thru-the-line Mason, what is never acceptable is to cheapen and diminish the Initiatic experience for someone new, most especially with disinterest on your part.
You don't know what kind of Freemason they will want to become, so don't decide for them with a
lack of effort or care into the process of making them a Freemason. For someone to walk away the very night they became a Brother, there had to exist one or more of the following conditions: a lack of mentorship, a lack of general interest to begin with, a poor initiatic experience, or a combination of these. For someone to say that they could have simply "watched this on YouTube" is both disheartening and telling for the current state of the Craft.
Get your sh** together, Freemasonry. The ones that leave the night they join are more damaging to us as a whole than the ones who never join to begin with.