I had a wonderful couple of days at the 2007 Midwest Conference on Masonic Education in Evansville, Indiana this weekend. Grand Masters, Past Grand Masters, education officers and others interested in Masonic education throughout the region gathered for this annual program to discuss the nuts and bolts of programs used in their jurisdictions.
Terry Tilton, PGM of Minnesota and 2nd VP of PSOC kicked off Friday evening with a presentation on the Philalethes Society, joined by PSOC president Bob Tomlinson, PGM of Kansas.
Saturday was the nuts and bolts day of business for the group, but several GLs presented educational programs their states were using, developing or continuing. And a presentation was made explaining the background and goals of High Twelve International.
Mark Tabbert, myself and Chad Simpson.
Mark and I are not dwarves. Chad is just tall.
I was honored to be asked to participate in the afternoon session, moderated by brother Chad Simpson, Asst. Grand Secretary of Ohio. Because so-called Traditional Observance and European Concept lodges are gaining in popularity across the country, Chad brought a group of us together who are involved in these lodges to explain and demystify them, as well as to debunk some of the misconceptions around them.
The others on the panel were:
- Dennis Chornenky of Academia Lodge No. 847 in California, spoke about Traditional Observance lodges and the Masonic Restoration Foundation (MRF). he also gave a brief explanation of California's Masonic Formation Certification program.
_ Robert Tomlinson, PGM of Kansas and Master of Inner Quest Lodge No.456 spoke about their strict interpretation of the T.O. concept.
- I explained the differences between Traditional Observance and European Concept lodges, and our desire at Lodge Vitruvian No. 767 in Indianapolis to create our own model of a formal lodge, with a greater concentration on the festive board and Masonic education, as opposed to the stricter T.O. formats and ceremonies.
- Joesphe (Joey) Skyles of Kansas gave an outstanding presentation on generational trends and why the WWII generation, the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and the Millennials believe, say and do what they do.
- Mark Tabbert, Director of Collections for the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Museum in Alexandria, Virginia finished up the session with an historical overview that magically seemed to wrap up all of our presentations, even if we didn't all collaborate ahead of time.
There have been situations across the country when Grand Masters have been unnerved, put off or downright spooked by the notion of TO/EC lodges, claiming them to be elitist, exclusive or otherwise discriminatory to the American customs of Freemasonry (Terry Tilton used the word "antithetical," which I disagree with). Those who have attended them know this is far from the truth. But what is clear is that an admittedly small - but growing - population within the fraternity is looking for a more formal lodge and educational lodge experience, a more convivial festive board, slower degree advancement, realistic dues, greater involvement of EAs and FCs. These lodges are smaller - intentionally so - but stress regular involvement instead of passive card carrying members who never show up.
What I find interesting is that the Allied Masonic Degree chapters are patterned on just this kind of model. And the AMD is the fastest growing appendant body in the US. AMD is filling a need with its small chapter size and concentration on education, participation and the feast.
Neither AMD nor TO/EC lodges are some magic bullet to "fix" Freemasonry. They are probably not the future of American Freemasonry. But they represent the 21st century inklings of what Masonry has done historically since its modern beginnings in 1717. Masonry has changed like clockwork every 25-30 years to suit the needs and desires of the society in which it resides, and the men who join it - until 1970, when it stopped. Because Masonry froze in its post-WWII model and failed to make changes 30 years later, we now sit here suffering from six decades of hardening of the arteries. That's no one's fault - the WWII generation has kept this fraternity alive and running when the Vietnam-era men refused to join. We owe them our gratitude and respect. But we have to make twice as many changes today as evolution would have naturally done before.
These lodges are satisfying a growing niche that NEEDS to be satisfied, of men who are completely turned off by the 1950s model lodge of meeting for a bologna sandwich, opening, reading the minutes, paying the bills and going home by 8:00. These smaller lodges treat the whole evening as lodge night and their members want their evening to be special. Freemasonry is supposed to be anything but ordinary, but the last five decades have concentrated on membership and the grinding out of the work to keep numbers up. The new men knocking on our lodge doors know more about us than most of our members do, and they are seeking the legendary lodges of our illustrious forefathers. If what we give them is a flat, dull experience and lodges that do not serve the needs of their active members, they won't be back. And they'll be the worst anti-Masonic salesmen ever created – not on mythical anti-religious grounds, but by warning off other men because Freemasonry wasted their time, their money and their enthusiasm.
As far as my experience is concerned, the biggest success of TO and EC lodges has not been a stream of enthusiastic members flooding into them. The biggest success has been visitors or just interested bystanders who have read about them taking the ideas from these lodges and making positive changes in their home lodges. These brethren are simply doing what every generation of Masons have done until the 1970s - they are remaking Masonry to suit their needs and desires.
Sunday was dedicated to reports from the various Grand Lodges about the specifics of their education programs in the past year, and their plans for the next year. Indiana has not participated in this conference for almost 15 years, and did not officially participate in this one. Our Grand Secretary Max Carpenter PGM was in attendance, and the conference was in Evansville because of the decades of individual participation by Wbro. Ike Hoshauer. Ike was a big promoter of High Twelve, and the group's secretary for ten years. I hope Indiana's future Grand masters see a need for a real education program for Indiana Masons - for new members, existing ones and for officers. This annual conference is an outstanding way for GLs to share what works and what doesn't. While it's not really designed for flocks of masons to attend, it is essentially to educate the educators, and that is a noble mission. The last Midwest Conference held in Indianapolis was in 1967, and that is a shame. Dwight Smith, PGM addressed the group. In his talk, he asked a flurry of questions we still have not answered 40 years later:
Why have Masons lost interest in Masonry? The way to find out is for a Mason who used to be disinterested to ask a Mason who still has no interest.
What else can we learn if we have the courage to ask the questions?
Whether newly raised Masons were solicited, directly or indirectly, to petition for the degrees.
Why the disinterested Mason became disinterested.
What the Brother expected and hoped to find in Masonry; whether he found it.
Whether the Brother has been disappointed or disillusioned in his Masonic experience, and if so, in what manner.
Whether the officers of the lodge "got through" to him when the degrees were conferred.
Whether his intelligence was insulted by the manner in which the ritualistic work was presented.
Whether the degrees of Symbolic Freemasonry impress him as challenging, or meaningless, or somewhere in between.
If the jurisdiction in which he was made a Mason has a so-called Intender Plan or Counselor Plan, was it able to contribute to his enlightenment as a candidate? How did it actually operate (not on paper, but in actual practice)? Or did it operate at all?
Whether the officers and Brethren conferred the degrees upon him and then showed no further interest in him except at dues paying time.
Whether he ever had an unfortunate experience in the "inquisition" so often conducted when a Mason seeks to visit another lodge.
Whether he is bored by our ritualistic work, or by the meetings of his lodge in general, and why.
Does he feel that Freemasonry has become anachronistic; i.e., something that does not belong to the times in which we live?
Has he ever been called upon to do anything for his lodge - anything that was really challenging, that is?
Would he enjoy performing a service for his lodge? - What can his lodge do to regain his interest?
What does he think about the quality of Masonic membet~ship, particularly in his own lodge?
What does he think of the quality of leadership in his lodge? - Does he feel comfortable when attending a meeting of his lodge?
Does he have anything in common with the membership? - Does his lodge provide a source of fellowship that is satisfying?
In his mind, what kind of image does Freemasonry have?
What is the image of Freemasonry in the circle of his acquaintance?
If the public image of Freemasonry in his circle of acquaintance is good, why is it good" If poor, why is it poor?
What does Freemasonry mean to him? If it should cease to be of any force in his community and nation. would he miss it?
Is he proud to be a Mason?
The time is long past for us to have answers to these questions and more. Maybe by the time it's in Indianapolis again, we will have some.