Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Excerpts from a noted PGM's on Improving the Craft ( Intro and 4 Parts)

Introduction: Excerpts from Dwight Smith, PGM 
"Wither Are We Traveling"

We are looking at the symptoms – not the disease. The real source of the trouble is within ourselves.

Such problems as we may have will not be solved by forcing men to memorize a set of questions and answers, nor by cramming books and lectures down their throats… nor by devoting our energies and resources to other organizations or movements, however worthy they may be.

The cure isn’t that simple, either. The patient’s indisposition will not be relieved by nostrums. The treatment, too, must come from within.

Part I Self Examination
Part II Light from the East
Part III  Squaring Our Work
Part  IV Charity at Home


Answer honestly! Can we expect Freemasonry to retain its past glory and prestige unless the level of leadership and quality of membership is raised above its present position?  Let us look to see that we have the material necessary to build and maintain a good lodge.

        1. Good leadership, full stop. On many an occasion in the past 14 years, Masters and Secretaries have come into my office to ask my advice on what to do about lagging interest. Again and again I have said, “There is nothing wrong with your Lodge, nor with Freemasonry, that good leadership will not cure.” I believe that.

        2. How well are we guarding the West Gate? We are permitting too many to pass who can offer the fee and little else. On every hand I hear the same whispered complaint, “We used to be getting petitions for the degrees from the good, substantial leaders in the community. Now we are getting. . . .” Just what it is they are getting, you know as well as I.  

        3.  Has Freemasonry become too easy to obtain? The Lodge demands little and gets little. It expects loyalty, but does almost nothing to put a claim on a man’s loyalty. When we ourselves place a cheap value on Masonic membership,how can we expect petitioners and new members to prize it?


A teacher in the public schools of a neighboring State cherished a long-standing desire to become a Master Mason. His petition to the Lodge in which he resided was accepted. He presented himself for the Entered Apprentice degree, but never returned. The Brethren of the Lodge concluded, I am sure, that they had made a mistake in electing that Entered Apprentice because of his apparent lack of interest.

But it was not lack of interest that caused him to go out of the door, never to return. It was disappointment and disillusionment. The performance of the Master of that Lodge was such that it constituted an insult to the candidate’s intelligence. Because the head of the Masonic Fraternity in that community was careless and crude, because he was attempting to do something for which he was not prepared, because he was trying to give “good and wholesome instruction” on subjects he knew nothing about, a good man was lost to Freemasonry.

On first hearing, that story made a profound impression upon me. The more I have thought about it, the more I am convinced that the Number One responsibility for any tapering off of membership, any lack of interest and attendance, rests squarely upon the shoulders of our Lodge leadership.

Yes, I know the subject is a touchy one. But in introducing it, I am only putting into print what has been whispered in the corridors these last ten years.

Take a long and thoughtful look at the names of the men who served our Lodge as Master 100 years ago – or even 50 years ago. Consider the positions of importance those men occupied in their respective communities. Then let us ask ourselves whether our present day leadership is in the same league.

One unforgettable Lodge meeting stands out in my mind. ALodge was having trouble maintaining interest; membership was dropping; it had called for help. When the hour came for the meeting to begin, there had been no preparation. I sat around waiting for Lodge to be opened; sat around while the candidates were being prepared; sat around while a Warden tried to enlist a craft, actually calling for volunteers, wheedling, cajoling; sat around while the Master, asked those on the sidelines to say a few words. There was no business to cover and no agenda which means the meeting has no reason.  So in short, I sat around. What was there in that meeting that would make anyone want to come again?

Looking back on some of the meetings the year I was Master, it is a wonder to me the Lodge held together. Many of my meetings were such a first class bore that I would do almost anything to avoid getting trapped in such gatherings today. We want our Lodges to regain the position they once occupied in the interest and loyalties of men, we had better gain a proper perspective; we had better sort things out in the order of their importance. To open the discussion, permit me to make four pertinent observations:

1. We must pay more attention to proficiency in the East. We make a great to-do over proficiency of candidates. We want to devise some method whereby new Master Masons may be forced to memorize a set of questions and answers rather than demonstrate an understanding of the degree. But we do little or nothing to insure proficiency where it really counts. A Master is expected to be Master of his Lodge. Theoretically, he “sets the Craft to work and gives them good and wholesome instruction.” Yet what do we require for election as Master?  (Continued after Picture)

2. There is far more to being Master of a Lodge than the mere recitation of a ritual. We are paying the penalty of years of “mass production” practices, and a bitter penalty it is. When Masters of Lodges are so lacking in imagination and vision that they cannot conceive of a Masonic meeting unless a degree is conferred, then we need not expect a revival of interest and attendance and we need not look for an upswing of membership short of war. I would a thousand times rather see as Master of a Lodge a man who can provide real leadership, a man who can give “good and wholesome instruction,” a man who comprehends what Freemasonry is all about, even if he cannot confer a single degree. Suppose he can not recite the ritual. So what? There always are those who are eager and willing to do ritualistic work, but there are precious few who can provide inspired leadership.  

3. It is high time we start looking about for the best possible leadership and enlisting the support of men who can lead. But instead, we consider only those who come to Lodge, those who stick it out in the endurance contest. We “start in line” the man who is on hand whenever the door is opened regardless of whether he has even the most elementary qualities of leadership. If the practice of automatic ladder promotion of officers must be discarded in order to obtain the kind of leadership we should have, then by all means let us discard the foolish custom. There is nothing in the winning of an endurance contest, in itself, that qualifies a man to be Master of his Lodge.

4. If the so-called “line” of officers must be shortened to enable men of ability to serve their Lodges without years in minor offices, then what are we waiting for? Why not shorten the line? Is not good leadership for one year more important than keeping a seat warm for five?

5. If Freemasonry is to command respect in the community, then the man who wears the Master’s hat must be one who can command respect. The young teacher who did not return for advancement because his entire conception of Freemasonry was colored by what he saw and heard in the East. The Master of a Lodge is the symbol of Freemasonry in his community. If he is not a man upon whom intelligent people may look with admiration, then we need not expect to reap a harvest of petitions from intelligent men. Make no mistake. Men judge Freemasonry by what they see wearing Masonic emblems.


Look it in the face: too few Lodges, with those Lodges we do have much too large. Instead of devoting our thoughts and energies to ways whereby a new Master Mason may find a sphere of activity within his Lodge, we let him get lost in the shuffle. Then we nag and harangue at him because he does not come to meetings to wander around with nothing to do. We are hard at work to make each Lodge so large that it becomes an impersonal aggregation of strangers – a closed corporation. 

1. Has the American passion for bigness and efficiency dulled the spirit of Masonic charity? The “Box of Fraternal Assistance” which once occupied the central position in every Lodge room has been replaced by an annual per capita tax. That benevolence which for ages was one of the sweetest by-products of the teaching of our gentle Craft has, I fear, ceased to be a gift from the heart and has become the writing of a check. And unless the personal element is there, clarity becomes as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.

2. Do we pay enough attention to the Festive Board? Should any reader have to ask what the Festive Board is, that in itself will serve to show how far we have strayed from the traditional path of Freemasonry. Certainly the Festive Board is not the wolfing of ham sandwiches, pie and coffee at the conclusion of a degree. It is the Hour of Refreshment in all its beauty and dignity; an occasion for inspiration and fellowship; a time when the noble old traditions of the Craft are preserved.

3. What has become of that “course of moral instruction, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols,” that Freemasonry is supposed to be? If it is a course of instruction, then there should be teachers, and if ours is a progressive science, then the teaching of a Master Mason should not end when he is raised. I am not talking about dry, professorial lectures or sermons – heavens no! That is the kind of thing that makes Masonic education an anathema. I am speaking of the conversation among Masons who have taken time to review Masonic literature and look into themselves to see how they might humbly improve themselves.

4. Hasn’t the so-called Century of the Common Man contributed to making our Fraternity a little too common? We can not expect to retain the prestige the Craft has enjoyed in the past if we continue without challenge to permit this.  

Part IV CHARITY AT HOME: The Most Masonic Virtue

Ask the average Mason what has happened to Masonic charity and he will rattle off an impressive list of organized, institutional projects of a benevolent nature. He will tell you that there is a Masonic Home, hospitals for crippled children, research programs for mental illnesses, prevention of blindness, muscular dystrophy. If he is well informed he will tell you about a visitation program in Veterans’ Hospitals.  

Pin him down and ask him what his Lodge does in the way of benevolence in the Craft. He may tell you that a portion of each member’s dues goes to help operate the Masonic Home; that sometimes a goodly sum is collected in voluntary contributions for the Home; . . . and besides, the dues of several hard-pressed Brother were remitted several years ago. 

Then nail him to the mast and ask him, “How long has it been since you went on foot and out of your way to deliver aid and succor a Brother and his family, or worked to improving his situation?  When is the last time that you personally acted to improve the community around and the life of the people in it through direct action with no fanfare?” 

1. Brethren wanting to gain approval among the purple line working overtime to make Freemasonry another big charity? It was an unhappy day when some eager beaver conceived the idea that our Craft should adopt the methods of the service club, (adopting some part of the human anatomy subject to misfortune and calling for funds to be placed to some outside agency to benefit it.) What of the personal charity and assistance of Mason to Mason within our lodges?

2. What has happened to Masonic Charity? Time was when it was one of the most commendable teachings of our gentle Craft. It was not accompanied by any fanfare but the community knew about these acts of Masons all the same, and the prestige of Freemasonry reflected that knowledge. Why, then, do we neglect that phase of our Masonic life that can have the most gratifying results? What has happened? We don’t want to be bothered by anything that will require more time and effort than the writing of a check.