Lodge Renewal - Part One
by Wor. Brother Frederic L.
The peak of
Century Mainstream Freemasonry membership is generally conceded by Masonic
scholars to be 1946-1960. After that things went steadily downhill and we are
not just talking about membership.
It has been a
long time hypothesis of mine that the Vietnam War was the principle culprit of
the 60s and 70s decline of Freemasonry. The feel good, drop out culture had a
lot to do with dissuading anybody from joining anything. Freemasonry wasn’t
the only one to suffer. Other Fraternal Societies, churches, ethnic clubs,
sewing circles, literary guilds, agricultural Societies – you name it, they
all withered and dried up. Some went belly up and others just struggled along
at half speed.
hypothesis holds true then FREEMASONRY SKIPPED A WHOLE GENERATION. The history
of Freemasonry shows that about every 20 years or so the Old Guard would be
replaced by the New Guard. You could in that time period see a total
transformation of leadership with the corresponding vitality that youth
But when the
Masonic leaders of 1940-1960 were not replaced because membership lagged
significantly, what happened is that the Forties to Sixties leaders did double
duty; they stayed on for another tour through the Sixties and Seventies. Thus
Mainstream Freemasonry had the same leadership from 1940-1980 (of course there
was a trickle of new blood replacements).
This had some
really bad effects on Freemasonry. The older leadership was less ambitious.
Craft Lodge members withdrew into a comfort zone of inactivity. They became
Isolationist Freemasons. Degrees were seldom performed. Masonic education was
something that was felt to be unneeded. If you were 80 years old and you
didn’t know it now, then you never would.
Just like my
Grandfather who perpetually failed to understand why things cost so much more
when he was 80 then when he was 20, Craft Lodges couldn’t understand the need
for raising dues, so they froze them. For many years, retired seniors living
on fixed incomes and who were a Lodge’s voting majority artificially held down
the cost of maintaining Masonic membership. In the process they strangled the
finances of a Lodge. Masonic programs, lavish social events and well attended
ceremonies had to be cut or eliminated. Masonic buildings suffered in decay as
funds to repair and maintain them were lacking.
Most of the
officer’s chairs were occupied by Past Masters. Masonic Communications most
often consisted of a business meeting followed by a collation of baloney
sandwiches and coffee with the consistency of molasses. The sad part to all
this is that Lodges met without practicing Freemasonry.
picture is a bit of an exaggeration. There were many fine Lodges that did
great work, just not enough of them. The inability to provide a great Masonic
experience made it difficult to attract new members.
along the line Grand Lodges woke up and realized that something had to be
done. Unfortunately sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease. Grand
Lodge responses of jurisdictional mandates, relaxed standards,
Institutionalized charity and One Day Classes brought in some quantity without
the quality. Now we had a flock of Masons in name only – MINOs. And some MINOs
assumed positions of Masonic leadership.
Information Age hit and every household started to get a PC, the Masonic
response was archaic and self-defeating. Instead of embracing the new
technology they dismissed it or banned it. When they finally admitted that
they were wrong, instead of employing outside professionals it became in house
Some in the
Craft were muttering enough is enough. Along came an Australian Mason in named
Kent Henderson and the Masonic reform movement was born in 1992.
Oh, I’m sure
there were some noteworthy earlier contributors but Henderson wasn’t just a
talker he was a doer. In 1993 he, with 34 others, formed Lodge Epicurean based
on the European Concept. When Henderson wrote his paper explaining the
European Concept –
BACK TO THE FUTURE: A prescription For Masonic Renewal - he spread the
word to the United States and beyond.
The Creation of Lodge Epicurean
1992, a group of mostly young (but Masonically experienced) freemasons
living in Victorian provincial city of Geelong, lamenting the state of the
Craft, decided to do something about it in a practical way. They determined
to form a new lodge which would be quite different in a great many ways to
others working under the Victorian Constitution. Lodge Epicurean, as they
named it, would be a top quality lodge, with the highest standards. Anything
not consistent with such high standards would be discarded.
It was decided to form the lodge on Two Great Pillars, which are as
- A high
quality lodge must be paid for — therefore dues need to commensurate with
this. Based on the successful European formula, it was decided on dues at
about the average weekly wage.
- A lodge
has two main challenges: getting members, and keeping them.
(a) GETTING MEMBERS. Only
an existing member can propose a candidate. We suspected that the reason why
members did not repeatedly propose candidates, if ever, was because they
either consciously or sub-consciously did not think their friends would be
interested. There are probably a variety of reasons for this, but one is
probably fear that in the event that their friends do not like the lodge,
their friendship might be affected. Members these days are rarely proud of
the standards of their lodges. However, if a lodge has very high standards,
members do not hesitate to ask their friends to join. This is the secret of
gaining new members, and lots of them.
KEEPING THEM. A high quality lodge will greatly assist in holding
new members in the longer term, but this is still not enough. There are
other social organizations that offer quality. Freemasonry has one great
thing more to offer, available nowhere else — freemasonry! But what is it?
It is not a charitable organization like Rotary or Lions (though some would
make it out to be), although charity is an important part of its teachings.
Masonry is first and foremost an education society, one which TEACHES moral
and ethics – a way of life. Secondly, Masonry is a universal brotherhood,
with all that implies. Thus, what a lodge must do is teach. Exposure to the
three degrees is but the beginning. What a lodge must understand is the
overriding reason why a brother will sit in a Masonic lodge in the medium to
long term is because he knows exactly why he is sitting there. The answer to
keeping them, therefore, is to give them quality, and to concurrently
educate them in Masonry.
The word was
picked up in Texas where a European Concept Lodge was formed in College
Station, St. Albans Lodge No. 1455, founded in 1992 by Pete Normand and
elsewhere about the U.S the most notable being in Indiana. In a popular
Internet Indiana Masonic Forum much discussion led Jeff Naylor, Chris Hodapp
and Nathan Brindle, among others, to form the Traditional Observance (TO)
Lodge Vitruvian and to publish the American version of BACK TO THE FUTURE,
LAUDABLE PURSUIT with due homage to Past Grand Master Dwight Smith.
Vitruvian operates under what has come to be known as “The European Concept”
as popularized by Lodge Epicurean, among others, in Australia.
European Concept is known for its dedication to a number of primary tenets:
and high standards are to be maintained by the Lodge in all its
short of excellence in ritualistic work is acceptable.
Candidates shall be advanced only after having undertaken an intensive
program of Masonic education and proving themselves proficient in open
Lodge enjoys the fellowship of the Festive Board at a local restaurant
following all Regular and Emergent Meetings of the Lodge.
are expected to dress properly to attend to the duties of the Lodge.
- A Lodge
of this caliber must be paid for.
a short time to the founding of the
Masonic Restoration Foundation where TO Lodges nationwide were encouraged,
aided and networked. President Dennis Chornenky in his paper
THE TRADITIONAL OBSERVANCE LODGE, once again makes clear what is being
Masons may have heard about European Concept lodges, which are themselves a
relatively new concept in American Freemasonry, few have heard of the
Traditional Observance lodge. Traditional Observance lodge s are similar to
European Concept lodges in that they also incorporate higher dues, festive
boards, a strict dress code and higher standards of ritual, but differ in
that they choose to follow a close observance of the traditional initiatic
elements of Continental European and South American Freemasonry.
observance is characterized by a solemn approach to holding stated
communications and conferring degrees, the use of the Chamber of Reflection
as part of the initiation ceremony, forming the Chain of Union after the
meetings, longer time between degrees and the requirement for candidates to
present a paper before the lodge on the lessons of each degree prior to
advancement. Traditional Observance lodges are also more likely to use the
term Agape rather than Festive Board to describe the meal which follows the
meetings. Agape is the ancient Greek word for “love,” and in Freemasonry the
term signifies a meal eaten in common by a congregation of Masons in token
of Brotherly Love.
while they continue to grow, have never really caught on to the point that
they can be found neither in every state nor in abundance anywhere.
All this serves as background information for what follows. In Part 2 to
this article we will explore alternatives to the TO concept that can be
adapted to existing Lodges.