Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Two Models of Success in Craft Masonry

A global review of lodge models clearly shows there are two foundational principles of success in sustaining a long term positive growth in membership.

First, we must be committed to the idea that all Masonry is local.

Lodges (individual governing units) may be ruled by a set of codes and laws which are enforced by Grand Lodges (state governing units); but these rules have been enacted by the lodges themselves, acting collectively for the good of the whole. Thus, it has always been the lodge which determines the rules. It is good to recall that lodges existed for more than a century before the first Grand Lodge was formed in 1717. The foundation of Masonry has always been the lodge itself. It either thrives or dies based almost wholly on the vision and attitudes of its own members.

This is the way it has always been.

Second, we must understand that the sovereignty of Masonry is with the lodge. Grand Lodges may have dozens of rules prohibiting this and that in regard to member behavior, rights of entry, lodge procedures, and ritual ceremonies. But again, these rules, whatever they may be, have at one time in the past been authorized by the lodges themselves, acting on behalf of the collective good of the Order. Grand Lodges exist to preserve harmony over the global culture of Masonry; and to serve the constituent and sovereign lodges within the geographic boundaries of their state or province. It is important to note that everything otherwise legal, moral or ethical that is not prohibited in Masonry; is permitted.

These two foundational principles, then, ensure that all lodges have an equal opportunity to succeed. The outcome is left to the virtues of leadership, ability, vision, relationship, and action.

If we can agree the above two principles have validity in Masonry, then a worldwide review of lodge practices calls me to suggest there are also two exemplars of governmental success, at least in the American Masonic culture today.

There are thriving lodges in America who stay focused on delivering Masonry with a well-rounded agenda. These lodges characteristically provide accurate ritual work, measurable charitable activities, visible community services, regular family and social activities, and a meaningful fraternal experience for their members. Successful lodges do this consistently year after year. Such fraternal associations are often well known in the community largely because the lodge is an integral part of it. And in such lodges, many of the members are known in town not only as good community volunteers, but also as Masons. Lodges that are increasing in membership in the United States typically do the things mentioned above better than most. Successful lodges also do these things better than other community organizations which otherwise compete for a man’s time.

The second model of success is the lodge that is focused only on Masonry as a place where personal, fraternal and spiritual growth may occur; one in which meaningful tools for personal improvement and spiritual development are consistently delivered to members in a private sanctuary of brotherhood month after month.

Such lodges are centered on what we call the “inner work,” in which the appeal is wholly fraternal and carried out in privacy, with little public visibility. This is the model which has proven most successful in many foreign jurisdictions. In America, we think of these as “traditional practices” lodges in the sense that the traditions derive from lodges which predate the typical historical American timetable. Many of these lodges have sustained a 3% annual rate of growth over many decades.

We should be fully supporting and encouraging both models of success for the overall American culture. The one brings us public presence, image, and credibility; the other fulfills the expectations of many younger men (those born after 1975) who want to be on the journey of self-development and improvement.

Both models offer the right kind of patriarchy and role modeling which can guide men to mature and manly judgment. Both follow a time-tested path toward truth and authenticity. Both are nurturing and fulfilling to the male psyche.

In the academic studies I’ve read concerning the needs of men in today’s society, the lodge that is centered on education, spiritual development, role modeling and fraternal bonding may be the most powerfully compelling organization to join in America for men who fall with the 19 to 40 age range. When such a venue exists for men in every community, everyone benefits.

Those who seek these things in their own life will always be welcome in our classic “Men’s House”—the manly and sacred space of lodge; where together we lead each other to our own transformation and rebirth.


Lon said...

This is a fascinating post. Thank you. If I could ask you to expand on your thoughts, I would ask the following questions:
1.Is it your observation that these two models of governmental success are mutually exclusive?
2.Have they elements in common?
3.In your opinion, does the Community Focused Lodge bring more or less personal growth to the Mason than the Transformational Focused Lodge?
4.Do you prefer one over the other, or do you think that elements of both would be optimal?

Robert G. Davis said...

These are excellent questions. Certainly, there are advantages to both. The highly visible, productive, community-supporting lodge gives its members a chance to practice outside the lodge what they learn in it. It is the kind of lodge experience that the Masonic Renewal Committee of North America once projected would appeal to 3% of the male population in the United States. This represents millions of potential members. One can hardly find fault with a lodge culture that is so open and popular. Any organizational venue that visibly contributes to the welfare of a community is good.

But it is also important to understand the lodge with the well rounded agenda meets different needs in men than the lodge which is focused on the purely fraternal experience. The "public" lodge does many of the same kind of things any number of other community-based organizations do. Men seeking only to do good can find many opportunities to be of service to others without being Masons. The criteria, then, of giving service alone, or being a community service organization, does not provide us an adequate definition for Freemasonry.

We are first and foremost a fraternal society. For this reason, I believe it is the second model of success that Grand Lodges should begin sanctioning as a matter of fraternal policy. The studies I've read and the conversations I've had with young men born after 1975 suggest to me that younger men want a much clearer sense of spirituality and emotional stability as adults than they had growing up. They have a hunger for meaningful adult male role models in their life. They want spiritual development that comes from an universally reliable source. They embrace the idea that Freemasonry is a quest which is shared by three or four generations of men. And the goal is to find the mature masculine within themselves which leads them to personal development, self improvement and clarity of understanding about many things.

I believe the real work of Masonry is to connect generations of men together in a protected, private space where no invidious distinctions exist; where there is no basis for envy or jealousy, no presumption that the usual behaviors and attitudes one finds outside of lodge will be duplicated within it. A place that offers a venue for truth-seeking, a vehicle for self development; a quest for the spiritual. The real work of Masonry is to cultivate, experience, and protect such a path because it is the path of the mature masculine soul.

This is inner work--deeply personal work. And when this work is done right, there is little need on the part of members to use such a distinctive "Men's House" for any other purpose. It is our Transformative Art that distinguishes us from the rest of the community.

What we learn and become inside the lodge is what ultimatley improves society.