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Thursday, June 09, 2016

Millennial Masons in England

In May I wrote a review of Brother Samuel  Friedman's important book  Millennial Apprentices, about societal trends in the U.S. found among those born between the mid-1980s through about 2000, and how they are affecting Masonry here. Well, our brethren across the Atlantic are confronting this same situation in England, and the similarities and differences between our two societies are interesting to compare. Like in the U.S., these younger members are quickly moving into leadership positions within their lodges and districts (which has always been the natural course of events throughout our history), and as their numbers increase, they will make large and small changes to their lodges, and eventually to the grand lodge and the fraternity as a whole.

The latest issue of UGLE's official magazine, Freemasonry Today, is out, and one of the longer articles is Millennial Masonry: How Those in Their Twenties and Thirties Are Changing the Craft by Padraig Belton. In it, Brother Belton interviews several younger members and asks for their opinions and suggestions regarding Masonry. They seem to want to dispense with or modify a couple of the things their U.S. counterparts want to encourage. 

For instance: 

English lodges' have strict dress codes (black suit, white shirt, black or approved GL tie), while U.S. lodges largely eschew such things. There seems to be a desire in England to start relaxing this a bit, while there is a small but growing movement in the U.S to become more formal.

English lodges often have more expensive and higher quality dinners, while U.S. lodges generally dine on the cheap. The article mentions a desire to concentrate less on the "dining club" experience, and to make it less expensive.

Curiously, English lodges don't appear to encourage Masonic education outside of learning the ritual or joining Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, while U.S. grand lodges make valiant attempts every few years to try to develop and encourage Masonic education programs of some sort. Younger U.S. Masons seem to be eager to study our symbolism and philosophy (not so much history and "famous Masons"), yet it was not even mentioned in the UGLE article, outside of ritual perfection.

Several references were made to a desire to have multiple degree conferrals at one time on several candidates, as opposed to the U.S.'s phasing out of those types of events after trying them en masse during the previous 20 years. In their University scheme lodges particularly, speed of degree conferral is seen as attractive, and getting new Masons into the officers line seems to be an important achievement. Interestingly, when one day classes and rapid degree conferrals were started and publicized in the U.S., English Masons were among the first and loudest to proclaim such practices to be appalling.

And they seem to want to continue with the UGLE's very publicly promoted charities as a centerpiece to the fraternity, as opposed to the U.S. millennials' more restrained attitudes towards our industrial-sized charities.  Yet, while the younger English Masons seem to want to continue to stress the charity side of the fraternity, they appear to want less emphasis on their massive programs and support more "individual charitable entrepreneurship."

They also deal with lodge customs that we don't have at all in the U.S., such as starting meetings at 4:00 PM. I'm not sure that such a thing has EVER been the case in the U.S., outside of a small handful of individual "daylight" lodges across the country.

From the article: 
They do not especially like to join institutions, but they are joining this one. Why? Doubtless, the deeply personal engagement with moral development encouraged by the Craft – that the ritual is there, supremely evocative, but how you interpret and engage with it is utterly up to you – appeals to Millennials with a disillusion towards authoritative institutions. As does the exclusion from the masonic space of religion and politics, both discredited discourses for Millennials.
Another convenient point of reference might be the Future of Freemasonry report, which UGLE commissioned in 2012. The document was largely a stock-taking exercise with the tercentenary of the UGLE – and modern masonry – beginning to lumber into view next year, in 2017. On page 29, the report – by the independent Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford – concludes 'even at the cutting edge of twenty-first century communication technologies, our need for symbolic exchanges that reinforce social bonds remain as evident as ever.'
It goes on to observe, similarly to the Millennials above, 'perhaps surprisingly, it was the younger masons who put the greatest emphasis on the rituals, seeing them as a distinct pull of Freemasonry from the beginning', all 'as the more formal rituals of British life decay'. This appeals strongly to younger members, in the way it combines enjoyable, entertaining aspects with more serious ones involving the 'transmission of moral codes' by reflection on the dramaturgical experiences and antique phrases.
A comparison in non-Masonic attitudes between U.S. vs. U.K. millennials is interesting, as well, and the article spends a lot of ink on studies that have been done specific to attitudes among English millennials.  Like in the U.S., they are mostly not specifically "religious," but "spiritual."  They are "fiercely individualistic," and extremely relaxed about social issues like same-sex marriage, smoking, alcohol, and pot use. Some 41% said they would rather communicate electronically than by phone or in person.  And while 2/3 of them said they are very interested in social issues, only 1/3 said they have any interest whatsoever in political issues. 

English millennials are extremely entrepreneurial, and are more likely to have set up their own business than their European counterparts across the Channel. Interestingly, they see social problems as a responsibility for individuals to solve, rather than government.

While we fret in the U.S. when lodges shrink in size, and in some cases turn in their charters or merge, we are mere pikers compared with UGLE lodges. The article points to some lodges that have as few as 7 or 8 total members there. According to the latest List of Lodges Masonic, UGLE currently has a little over 200,000 total members, yet they have 7,476 lodges. The leadership seems to be aware that more lodges need to consolidate, simply out of practicality.

Freemasonry has always adapted over the centuries and generations to reflect the attitudes and desires of its active members, and anyone who thinks we have remained the same since "time immemorial" is deluding himself. It is perhaps just a little more startling to those who have been Masons for a long time, simply because of the increasing speed with which changes have occurred in society over the last two decades. That has been driven in large part by technology. But on a societal level, it is in greater part due to the massive changes in attitudes and customs brought by us baby boomers in the first place. As a group, we boomers tore apart an awful lot of the long established "glue" that held together the previous society. I'll leave the evaluation as to the ultimate success or failure of that to future sociologists. But now that we are the aging farts on the sidelines, a lot of us are making a last redoubt and, to use the old Bill Buckley line, "standing athwart history, yelling Stop!" That is a perhaps noble, but ultimately useless, gesture. While I often heard throughout my Masonic life from my fellow baby boomers in reference to the WWII-era guys, "What we need are a few more Masonic funerals," the realization must come that the selfsame observation is now being made about us. The millennials will remake Freemasonry in their own image just as we did, and they can and will accomplish great things.  As the Fellowcraft degree says, "Freemasonry, notwithstanding, has still survived." 

Brother Belton sums up:

The Craft is acquiring, quickly and in some numbers, a generation who show no signs of caring especially for rank, whose predilection to see masonry as a dining club (though admittedly, the best dining club) is weak, guided by a sense of moral seriousness and dissatisfaction with the answers, for the grand questions, on offer either from organised religion or political parties – questions to which their strong disposition is to answer themselves, educated, and charitably entrepreneurial.
More speculatively, others have raised the question whether Millennial masonry may produce a different and closer working relationship between UGLE and the two women's grand lodges. 
In any case, and in nearly all respects, the inclination of Millennials will be to nudge us back to where we began – a less top-heavy institution, a haven of tolerance in a partisan and angry world. And a Craft whose charitable efforts share a bit more in common with the entrepreneurial start-up culture of the tech sector, and show a bit less of what Mike Baker calls 'masonic porn', what one Millennial quoted above called 'grip'n grin' – old men, holding a very large cheque.


  1. The last summary paragraphs are the most concise descriptions of where I see Masonry heading. I am very optimistic about Freemasonry's future.

    Jon Ruark
    PM, The Patriot Lodge #1957, Fairfax, VA

  2. We have a leadership crisis - switness the termination of so many brothers for having opinions in New Jersey, the use of charity funds to enhance already generous salaries in the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction,the way the gay issue is being handled, the many many problems over race, the recognition issues viz politicized grand lodges

  3. Absolutely agree. Others (myself included) have said were in a renaissance period in the Frateenity. But I think the truth is, we're always changing and adapting to the new generation. It's never an over night thing so we don't notice it when it happens. It's usually over a period of 20 years and involves kicking and screaming.

    Anyway, here's to the kicking and screaming.

    R. H. Johnson, PM
    Waukegan Lodge 78
    GL of IL

  4. (Just as a completely unrelated aside, I hate the newly designed UGLE logo...)

  5. I am currently in Ottawa, Canada, visiting our wonderful Canadian Masonic brethren. Tomorrow I will visit Quarry Lodge of Canada. Aside from the attendance of many Canadian Masonic leaders of Ontario, two other special features of Quarry Lodge is that the Lodge meetings are held in a real Rock Quarrie and there are plenty of young Masons (20's to 40's) in attendance. It is a pleasure and honour for me to share techniques of applying Masonic principals to daily life with younger Masons.

    Years ago, people outside the Craft and outside the influence of anti-Masonry would tell me they knew Masons were Moral, Honest, or trust worthy. They said we were men of our word and knew how to pray. They said they could tell all this by simple observation, by the kind of life we lived and by how we carried ourselves in daily living. We need a return to those earlier ideas people had of us because the Masonic principals which made them real are still alive and working in the hearts of some Masons.

    And yeah, I agree. That is not a good looking logo. As a matter of fact I would like them to change it and make it look more (in your face type) Masonic.

  6. I have heard of dispensations being given here for degrees being conferred on as many as 5 candidates at one time in the Craft, and I myself have attended a Mark Masonry Advancement with 17 men at one time. The floorwork at that ceremony should get the Director of Ceremonies Grand Rank at the very least.

    It's not only millennials who are getting itchy for change in some of the customs surrounding the Craft. As Secretary of my Lodge, on the one side I have to handle the resignations of Brethren who don't find the dining club culture very attractive, and on the other hand I have to soothe the fevered brows of the Past Masters who want nothing to change, and have a hankering for the old Ladies' Weekend excursions to Bournemouth as the height of Masonic camaraderie but won't come into central London for a night to go to a pub and just shoot the breeze. The younger Brethren shudder if "Bournemouth" is brought up as a Masonic social destination.

    Freemasonry Today just landed in my mailbox yesterday, so I haven't had a chance to read it yet. I may have further thoughts when I do.

    You're right about the logo. It reminds me of a picture I've seen of a shark skeleton viewed head on with the mouth wide open. Oh, well, the old Craft tie will still be valid for use in Lodge so I won't have to wear the shark's mouth one with the new logo.

    All opinions are mine alone and aren't necessarily representative of the Lodge, Province, or Grand Lodge of which I am a member.

    W.Bro Chris Hansen, Secretary, Goliath Lodge #5595 UGLE

  7. The logo looks like the radiation warning in a lab.


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