Sunday, April 6, 2008

Best of Both Worlds

Editorial Note: This is the final part of the Masonic Renaissance's four part series on Masonic recruitment. I must apologize for the long period of time between the third and forth parts of this series. My usual vocation has greatly needed my attention, which has not allowed me to properly apply the lesson of the 24 inch gauge. I hope to rededicate myself to this blog in the coming months and continue my mission of proposing ideas to strengthen our great fraternity for the future.

In the previous three posts of this blog, the topic of Masonic Recruitment was discussed and analyzed. General definitions for different forms of recruitment were proposed in the first post. In the second post, an analysis of the "quality vs. quantity" debate was performed. The third article focused on reconciling a position that supported both quality and quantity. In this post, an application of various programs will be proposed that will support a healthy growth in our fraternity, both in terms of membership numbers and in the substance of its character.

Let us not put the horse before the cart. Focusing on quality must come before focusing on quantity. We can not expect to strengthen the craft, while over-inflating it with poor quality members. First and foremost, we must protect the West Gate. Quite simply, we have men joining our Fraternity that should never have been made Masons. We must enact a fair amount of quality control. To do this, we must discover that which has been lost, the blackball. If you don't feel that someone is ready to join your lodge, blackball them! We do not need to let in everyone who knocks at our door. Many American Masons believe that this view point is horrible. They believe this because we have spent years being afraid of losing members and we have shied away from using quality control. If you don't believe someone is ready, then they are not ready. Plain and simple.

In my experiences with Prince Hall lodges, I have seen that they use the blackball quite liberally, because they do not want to degrade the fraternity. However, they balance this with informing their rejected applicants that although they have been denied now, they can reapply later, once they are more mature. Typically, these applicants do reapply and many become Masons eventually. Mainstream Masonry has become so afraid that a rejected candidate will not only be turned away forever, but also they will discourage other men from joining the fraternity. If a rejection is handled properly, it can be turned into a positive experience.

If a man approaches you about Masonry, do not sign his petition unless you feel he is ready. We commonly accept so many substandard members because many of us lack the backbone to look a man in the eyes and tell him that he needs to improve himself. It is our duty as Masons to keep the foundation of our Fraternity strong, not to let in poor quality men because we were afraid of how it would make us look. Men want to join Masonry because it is special and our hallowed halls are filled with men of substance and morality. By guarding the West Gate and only accepting men of quality, we make the fraternity more attractive. This attractive appearance will reap untold benefits in the future.

This proposed view requires that the investigation committee become vastly more important and their responsibilities correspondingly increase. No longer can the committee meet the candidate for a half hour and simply say, "he seems like an ok guy." In my lodge, we have instituted a sweeping change for the investigation committee. The committee must contact the references that the candidate lists and talk to them about the candidate's moral character. Our committee now also runs a police background check with the permission of the candidate. If this permission is not granted, then the investigation committee must report negatively. Meeting the candidate at home and in the presence of his significant other is critically important. Large amounts of information about a man can be gleaned by viewing his home environment. Finally, my lodge now requires the candidate to write a one to two page essay on why he wants to become a Mason. This essay is read aloud in lodge prior to the vote and allows the membership to get a glimpse of his motivations, thoughts and feelings.

The next step to achieve quality and quantity is increasing the standards of Masonic Education. Ritual will only tell us what our principles are. Brothers teach us how to apply these principles to our lives. More is learned about being a Mason in a brother's living room talking about what Masonry means to him, than can be learned during ritual. Being an apprentice means that you are learning from a master. We must focus on learning through an apprenticeship system. There should be more lodges of instruction, mentors, one-on-one nights and study. Entered Apprentices should not be passed to Fellowcraft until he can act like a man among equals. He must be able to show that he knows his craft inside and out. To be raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason, he must show that he can be a Master of his craft. Advancement must be a time consuming process. It can't happen in a day or a week or a month. We must extend this process, so that we're creating true Masters of the craft, not just Master Masons in name only.

Once these safeguards for our quality are in place, we can then work on getting men to join. Masonry is a personal organization. Recruitment should therefore be approached in a personal manner. TV commercials and billboards to attract members is not a positive approach. I propose that Grand Lodges should not spend time, money and energy on large scale advertising campaigns. Instead they should promote teaching our brothers how to talk about the fraternity with their friends and family. Men join Masonry because it offers them a different experience then the typical 21st century organization. Men join Masonry because the romantic view of the warrior monk or the enlightened scholar is attractive. Men join Masonry because of the stories they hear from a brother's lips or the excitement they see in a brother's eye. Our brothers need to know how to talk about the lodge. Programs should be instituted on the local level that instructs our members on how to talk about Masonry and personally spread our message. Every member of our craft is a recruitment billboard. Make sure they are billboards you want people to see.

Our brothers should also have events that they can invite prospective members to, so they can introduce them to other brothers in the lodge. Masonry should be an active organization, that allows non-members to participate. Prospective candidates can be invited to our picnics, day trips, dinners, etc. Masons meet non-masons at more than "Mason/non-Mason Nights." Make sure that your events display the character of your lodge and of your members. Actions speak far greater than words.

In contrast to the standard Grand Lodge sponsored recruitment, I do support Grand Lodge sponsored public education. I believe that we need to make an effort to publicize our existence and our principles. Grand Lodge sponsored open house programs are extremely positive. These events allow the public to meet our brothers and see our buildings. These types of events turn public perception away from images of darkly dressed cronies doing secret rituals and turns the perception into "these are the guys we can count on to help build and guide our community." Furthermore, we should not feel shame in producing historical and informational material for the public to view. We have a long and illustrious history, which is intertwined with our communities and our country. Masonic history is the history of the world and the history of America. It should be shared, studied and celebrated.

However, I do not believe that we need to swing the doors of our lodges open and share our secrets. Part of the enticement to becoming a Mason is our secrets. Putting those out in the open wouldn't solve anything. Some brothers promote a general openness when it comes to our ritualistic teachings. I must advise against this path. Men knock on the door of Masonry because we have something special to teach them. If these lessons are exposed in a non-ceremonial fashion, then the gravity of these moral lessons will be diminished.

Although volumes can be written on how best to implement a system of Masonic Recruitment that would maximize both quality and quantity, I have offered a fairly general solution that I have witnessed operating in my lodge and in others. To summarize, here is an outline of the general process I have proposed:

  1. Protect the West Gate
    1. Do not accept candidates that are unprepared or unworthy
    2. Strengthen the investigation committee
  2. Focus on Masonic Education
    1. Form a mentorship program
    2. Demand proficiency before advancement
  3. Teach our members how to talk about Masonry
    1. Become an individual spokesman for Masonry
  4. Have events that introduce your lodge to the community
Although this outline seems short and simple. It is not. This process will take time, dedication, flexibility, creativity and thoroughness. The membership problem within Masonry cannot be solved with an edict, a program, an event or the voice of a lone brother. It can only be solved through teamwork and cooperation.

Finally, enjoy yourself! If it's not fun then why do it? Enjoyment and excitement are contagious. Find that niche within Masonry that you love and communicate that love. Masonry is and always will be about people. People want to be part of something that is meaningful to them, so show the world why Masonry is meaningful to you. In the words of MW Brother Charles Fowler, Past GM of CT 2006, "Make Masonry Meaningful." If all of our members could follow this maxim, we'll never have to worry about quality or quantity.

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