Tuesday, November 30, 2010

M:.W:. Bro. Richard Fletcher Resigns

(Photo: From left: Judy Fletcher, Nicolas Cage, Darlene Alban,
and Richard E. Fletcher, at the premier of
National Treasure: Book of Secrets in New York City in December 2007)

M:.W:. Brother Richard Fletcher has announced his resignation as Executive Secretary of the Masonic Service Association of North America, to be effective at the close if the MSA's annual meeting in Denver next February. He has served with great devotion and courage in this position since 1987. Below is an excerpt from one of his initiatives, "It’s About Time!" a report completing a study undertaken by a special task force of the Masonic Information Center Steering Committee that focused on the need for Masonic "Public Awareness". The most important part to me is the part focused on Masons image of themselves and the Craft which is what is excerpted below. (A MSA video follows that.)

Facing the Facts and Accepting the Challenge

“Freemasonry evolved from 18th century European enlightened thinking. Today, Masonry is shaped by the 19th century concept of social benevolence and the 20th century emphasis on ritual as the completion of a Mason’s education about the fraternity.”
— MIC Task Force

In order to evaluate present-day Freemasonry, we had to assess the Fraternity’s strengths and weaknesses. The Task Force proceeded methodically to question Masonry’s past, present and future. We asked a series of penetrating questions, listed our findings, and then completed each section with a summary formed by observations and conclusions. In order to properly determine a course of action for a Masonic Public Awareness Program, we believe it imperative that we understand, as a fraternity, where we have been, where we are today, and what happened in the intervening years.

Forthright answers to the questions we posed did not come easily and required an enormous amount of soul searching and critical evaluation.

Much of the data used in this report came from United States sources because those were the ones most readily available and accessible to our Task Force. We have pointed out where data was specifically from a United States source, but we have reason to believe that data from Canada would be almost identical.

For instance, there were no Canadian membership statistics available to us unless we laboriously went through, year by year, the figures from each Grand Lodge to determine if the same trends occurred as in the United States. Because we have had many discussions with Canadian Masons, there is no doubt in the minds of the Task Force that the data trends are the same.

So this report needs to be considered in the context of North America, including the United States and Canada, even though, on occasion, we list a United States source.

Exploring the patterns of Masonry

The deliberations of the Task Force were lengthy and lively. Below are the questions that guided the discussions and the summaries of our findings.


1. What has Freemasonry done in the past?

For a fraternity that is centuries old, this question is extremely significant. It asks how Freemasonry developed and what Masonic affiliation meant to Masons of an earlier time. The Freemasons of the 1700s set a very high standard. In the late 1700s, Freemasons helped build two new nations founded on Masonic principles.

Patriots chose to help create the United States; Loyalists chose to help strengthen Canada. Both groups had many Masons in their midst. For detailed information, we turned to the historians on our Task Force who led a review of our Masonic past. The key points and summaries are listed below.

In the past, Freemasonry accomplished the following:
  • Provided camaraderie
  • Created elite status
  • Served as a stepping stone to military, arts, business and social contacts
  • Attracted leaders to its membership

Guilds of Masons (early labor unions) probably originated in Scotland in the 1600s. Early Masons concentrated on the following tasks:
  • Protecting workers’ interests
  • Helping Masonic families
  • Operating lodges
  • Opening lodges to non-stonemasons
  • Formally ritualizing the method of creating new members

In colonial America, Freemasonry provided leadership during the American Revolution and throughout the nation’s history. It also provided a moral philosophy relevant to the individual and to communities. In early America, Freemasonry:
  • Promoted a philanthropic focus supporting fraternal kinship.
  • Inspired authors to create a body of popular literature, offering satiric views, i.e. Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain.
  • Stimulated thought consistent with Masonic values. Lodges became sites of Revolutionary debating, responding to contemporary thought.

We looked for historical trends that reshaped our Masonic identity. We found several pivotal events:
  • (Speculative) Freemasonry evolved into and eventually from 18th century European enlightened thinking.
  • In the late 1800s, Victorian values influenced Masonic priorities both in Europe and North America by placing emphasis on heightening social awareness and stressing social idealism.
  • Twentieth-century Freemasonry sustained Victorian idealism and reinforced philanthropic emphasis of fraternity.
  • During World War II, President Truman said that men should join the Masonic fraternity before going to war, which reinforced a rise in Masonic membership.
  • Masonic tradition became locked in ritual as an end, not as a simply part of a process.
  • Today Masonry is shaped by the 19th century concept of social benevolence and the 20th century emphasis on ritual as the completion of a Mason’s education about the fraternity. (Structured study rather and focus on the ritual but not the free intellectual inquiry that will rise independently in the worthy candidate.)

 One thing that tells me a company is in trouble is when they tell me how good they were in the past. Same with countries. You don’t want to forget your identity. I am glad you were great in the 14th century, but that was then and this is now. When memories exceed dreams, the end is near.


2. What is currently happening within Freemasonry?

Obviously, this question has no right or wrong answers because—like public opinion—it asks for personal perceptions and observations. The Task Force members agreed that there were and are tensions inherent in our organization today, including but not limited to the following perceptions:
  • There is a slight movement toward wanting to educate the public about the fraternity.
  • There is recognition that traditional communications tools have failed to heighten public awareness.
  • The inclusion of family members at Masonic events has produced mixed results.
  • Masonry is no longer identified as an elite organization.
  • There are disagreements regarding priorities of financial commitments to Masonic buildings and charitable obligations versus starting new programs.
  • Current Masons generally do not understand the true meaning of our fraternity.
  • A reliance on historic heroes inhibits Masons from achieving contemporary significance. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

UK Freemasonry and UGLE University Scheme's Astounding Success, Challenges


from United Grand Lodge of England, (edited for clarity for U.S. readership)

Although still in its early years, the Universities Scheme has tremendously grown and expanded, not so much like a balloon, but rather more like an inflated rubber glove. The thought that (with renewed focus) university masonry would spread in predictable and orchestrated fashion is one that I abandoned in the first few months of the Scheme’s existence, when it became swiftly apparent that it would take on its own life and character, irrespective of what intentions we had for it. We are now seeing lodges taking up participation not only across England and in areas of South Wales but also, potentially, beyond these shores, wherever the writ of Grand Lodge runs.

The stated aim of the Universities Scheme is to establish or enhance opportunities for undergraduates and other (targeted university and college) members to join and enjoy Freemasonry. What that means in practice is creating a network of lodges, each linked to a university to whose suitable members it will offer lodge membership, including while undergraduates and including if under twenty-one. Participating lodges adapt their way of operating to ensure that they are truly undergraduate-friendly, whatever that may mean in the context of their university. As I write, there are twenty-one lodges in the Scheme, but that figure will immediately be out of date.

Although, at the outset, Provinces were approached and lodges were invited to participate, it is now many months since the scope for lodges to apply to participate was first announced and since that offer was first taken up. The Scheme has long outgrown its Steering Group’s capacity to provide one-to-one coordinator support for every lodge. That transformation, which has depended crucially on the skill and enthusiasm of key individuals, both in the lodges themselves and in provincial executives, has allowed the Group to focus its time and resources on the critical issues that are common to university lodges and to university masons.


One such issue is how to retain these young masons when they leave university and move on. In the Universities Scheme, retention is a subject of special significance as graduates will often move many hundreds of miles to settle into their new lives as young professionals. Unless the Craft takes care to avoid it, the chance that those young masons will lose contact with their lodge is high.

For that reason, we are creating a structure to ensure that university masons will always have a ready welcome into a lodge within easy distance of their new abode, at least while they stay in England or Wales, (albeit that ‘easy distance’ takes on a special meaning for those who choose to dwell, say on the Lizard or the Lleyn Peninsular.)

Scheme lodges have an important mentoring duty to provide detailed advice and practical support for their young members’ future masonic careers and various areas of personal development and advancement.

In most cases, and particularly for London-bound graduates, a lodge will develop a few ‘standard’ routes which are expected to become well trodden in time.

The link with London is especially important, as that is the destination for a large proportion of graduates. There, the Steering Group has identified a number of ‘receptor’ lodges whose character makes them suitable for graduates moving to the area, and in the vanguard of these are the Lodge of Honour and Generosity, No.165; Phoenix Lodge, No.173; and Tetragon Lodge, No.6302. All of these meet in Great Queen Street. For graduates moving elsewhere, Scheme lodges exist in many cities and may be able to offer them membership.

Many graduates will find that their old (secondary) school has a lodge, many of which are affiliated to the Federation of School Lodges or the Public School Lodges’ Council, while some universities have lodges for their alumni that meet in London. Graduates can also look to their future careers when identifying a suitable receptor lodge, as many ‘specialist’ lodges welcome members of particular professions. As the need grows or befitting changes that are welcomed, the development of more specialist lodges and receptor lodges will be necessary.

Meanwhile, in London, groups like the Connaught Club, informal social groups for younger masons which meets regularly and is well placed to offer advice.

The process of retaining these young men in masonry involves an element of altruism for Scheme lodges, particularly in those university towns where many students pass through rather than stay. It is a duty to the Craft in general and the long term rather than to their own immediate well-being, and includes the need to stay in touch even after a graduate has moved on. (This also may involve programming a limited number of special or home-coming events, including those corresponding to university alumni programming.)


If that represents the present and perhaps the immediate future, what will these arrangements look like in ten or twenty years? Will the receptor lodges grow out of all recognition? That will depend on a number of factors, the most important of which is whether that is their wish.

Were each receptor to receive a larger number of joining graduates per year than they might otherwise receive from any other source, in a few years they would be well above average size with many joiners not offered the opportunity to take office. Is that a problem? Yes and no.

Large lodges can provide much enjoyment, as the Grand Stewards’ Lodge with its four hundred members can well attest. And progressive office is not universal and receptor lodges may choose to introduce alternatives to that norm. And lodges have many equally important functions with office holding being only one, and one that does not appeal to many.

The receptor lodges may also recognize that one function that they perform is as a conduit, or perhaps bridgehead, in the graduate’s new location, providing the opportunity to meet other masons locally and to join other lodges either as informal "secondary receptors" or not.

It is possible that receptor lodges may resolve at some point that they need to change their status once more and withdraw from that particular role, either permanently or temporarily, while digesting their new cohort of members.

Or they may operate on the basis of an annual limit, but in doing so forgo the benefit of a prompt build-up of members of similar age and aspiration, with its valuable scope for attracting the like-minded. Just as there are many questions; there will be many different solutions.

The Universities Scheme has always avoided, and will continue to avoid, prescription. The Steering Group’s role is to guide and encourage, never to rule, the lodges that participate in the Scheme. Each lodge, having made its own decision to take part, determines its own course to achieving the Scheme’s objective. And with that number growing as it is, the future looks fascinating and very bright.