So we return to the question: do we need to reform Freemasonry so that it can once again attract young men actively seeking an organization that offers something to believe in? Hopefully, by now the answer is clear: No. What we need to reform is not Freemasonry but how we govern Freemasonry. Again, with a clearly articulated core ideology, Grand Lodge leadership becomes an exercise of aligning strategies, tactics, policies, operating practices, cultural norms, processes, structures, and methods with Freemasonry’s core purpose and core values.110 The key learning is that to maintain alignment, we must continuously adapt how we govern Freemasonry, and remain willing to adapt our noncore practices to a constantly changing environment. We must always preserve our core, but in so doing, we must never fail to also stimulate progress.111 Freemasonry can succeed in the 21st Century, with enlightened and open-mined grand lodge officers leading the way, focused on serving their lodges and members, so that together, we can better serve the needs of today’s young men.
Please look for my next work which will explore how grand lodges can help lead Freemasonry to renewed vigor in the coming years.
At the 2007 convocation of the Grand Lodge of Ohio, I presented six legislative proposals for consideration. Unlike some of the ideas presented in this paper, the proposals before the Grand Lodge of Ohio were rather tame. Although legislative proposals for change are generally not well received in Ohio, I thought that it was important to try, if for no other reason than to encourage a brief dialog about change.
Most of the proposals were aimed at driving basic lodge governance decisions down to the local lodge level. One would have reduced the number of mandatory stated meetings per year from 10 to four. Another would have permitted lodges to rehearse degrees rather than mandate that each be conferred twice per year regardless of the presence of a live candidate. Another would have permitted each lodge to decide if alcohol could be served on its premises. Another would have made it clear that members could possess (but not work) masonic rituals from other jurisdictions without fear of being charged with unmasonic conduct. All in all, none were really that dramatic, and certainly none were hostile to the landmarks of Freemasonry.
The most important of these proposals was the one to reform the mechanism for forming new lodges. I am intimately familiar with this subject through my work with my home lodge, Caliburn No. 785, which was the first new lodge to seek a Dispensation to work from the Grand Lodge in Ohio in nearly 25 years. It was an unbelievably difficult process, even with the enthusiastic support of then-Grand Master Most Worshipful Brother Jack Allen. Some lodges in our district looked at us as competition, and the way the rules are written, a small number of lodges could block a new lodge from forming.
The hostility that we encountered was breathtaking; I could not understand how my masonic brothers could view a group of enthusiastic young men as such a threat. I finally came to realize that they simply did not understand that we were not trying to take a piece of their pie, but, rather, trying to grow the pie bigger for everyone. They were looking at the pool of potential candidates as a fixed pie; and lodges as consumers of that pie. The more lodges (mouths to feed) the smaller the piece of pie each lodge got.
I look at lodges as bakeries, however, not as consumers. And, the more bakeries you have, the more pies you can bake! The logic is simple: the more lodges we have, the more candidates we will be able to attract to the fraternity overall. Membership is not a zero-sum game! If existing lodges are not able to attract a certain segment of the population (e.g. busy young professionals with young families) then perhaps new lodges could. This has been exactly our experience at Caliburn Lodge. Caliburn has been successful in attracting young candidates who had previously expressed no interest in Freemasonry. We did not steal candidates from the other lodges; we went out and found new ones. In effect, we began fishing in new ponds.
The principle that underlies Caliburn Lodge is simple: we strive to keep Freemasonry in perspective as an important part of our lives. Hence we have earned the derisive moniker from some veteran masons as wanting to be only part-time masons. In a sense, this is true. We never hold more than one lodge meeting per month; we do not attend the monthly district meetings; we by in large do not participate in the other myriad masonic bodies; we do not send representatives to the dozens of inspections in our district. We keep Freemasonry in perspective as a part of our otherwise full and balanced lives. Our members have families with young children, often with a working spouse, and are active in their professions and communities in ways unrelated to the fraternity.
In short, we eschew the professional mason archetype: the man so dedicated to Freemasonry that he allows it to crowd out every other aspect of his life. In the end, Caliburn Lodge teaches that it is not the number of masonic meetings that a man attends that makes him a good mason, but how he lives his life outside of the lodge room. The men of Caliburn Lodge are full-time husbands, full-time fathers, full-time professionals and business owners, and full-time members of their communities. And it is the way that we conduct ourselves away from lodge in our homes, careers, and communities that mark us as full-time masons.
Since receiving our Charter in 2002, we have more than quadrupled our membership. At Caliburn, we endeavor to create a small and intimate lodge for men who value fellowship and want to enjoy a Masonic experience in a convivial atmosphere. We seek to transcend the time-consuming practices found in older lodges and focus on the convivial fraternal experience typical in an English Masonic Lodge, and put into practice the purpose of Freemasonry to promote a universal system of morality that prepares good men to build a better society. No, our model is not right for everybody; and, yes, there are many different ways to run a lodge. But for us, our program is working. We have successfully found our place among the lodges beholden to the Grand Lodge of Ohio. All we ever asked, all we ever wanted, was the opportunity to apply the timeless precepts of Freemasonry in new and innovative ways. This we have done; and, we are happy with the results.
So Mote It Be!