"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Saturday, September 07, 2019

Seniors, Loneliness and the Lodge

(Getty Images)
A study was just done in the United Kingdom that brings up a sobering problem, and Masonic lodges in particular need to take notice of it.  Grand lodges are single-mindedly obsessing about the Millennial generation, but the truth is that, right this moment, the biggest growth cohort for new Masons is currently the Baby Boomers - men over about 55 years of age.

If you read the Path Forward survey done by the Scottish Rite NMJ three years ago, you'll discover that our current TARGET now should be the Baby Boomers, aged 55-75. They are settled, with time and money, stable, more likely to be married and with older kids and grandkids, frequently bored now that their careers are slowing (or ended), and most important, still have a grounding in the virtues and morals from the remnants of any shred of religious traditions or connections from their own upbringing. Sadly, more Millennials don’t have that and are rudderless, which means more heavy lifting on our part to teach what they don’t have just to reach and retain them. That’s all why the Boomers are currently our growth target right now.

We already have a major percentage of Brethren over the age of 65, and more are joining every day. Moreover, if you look at the precipitous decline in the birthrates in the U.S. and most European countries over the last 40 years, the simple law of supply, demand and aging are all combining to further skew our demographics to the older range. As fewer of our own members have children and even get married less, by their retirement years they will have even less of a close support network than seniors have today.

Which brings me back to the study in Old Blighty. A group called AgeUK partnered up with Cadbury Dairy Milk for a study on aging in the U.K. They surveyed 1,896 seniors over age 65, and they veered into a situation that is alarming, depressing, or just plain sad, depending on how you look at it. 

And our lodges can actually do something about it, if only among our own members.

According to their survey, about 22% of seniors over 65 (around one in every five) will speak to no more than three fellow human beings in an average week. In the U.K. that translates into about 2.5 million seniors who don't have any human contact on a daily basis. Bore into it a little deeper and you'll see they found that 225,000 seniors there will go a whole week without talking to anyone face-to-face. And one out of eight seniors say they don't leave their homes at all because of loneliness.

So, sure. That 225,000 sounds like a lot until you step back and see that the UK has 67 million people. In that light, a quarter million is a rounding error statistic. But it isn't.

From the article Lonely Lives: Alarming Number Of Seniors Go Entire Week Without Talking To Anyone:
“Loneliness is a huge problem because retirement, bereavement and ill health mean many older people find they are spending a lot less time enjoying the company of others than they’d like,” says [Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK]. “Loneliness can affect your health, your wellbeing and the way you see yourself – it can make you feel invisible and forgotten.”
About 40% of seniors say they’d feel more confident to head out each day if they knew their neighbors. Just the thought of someone stopping to chat with them brightens their outlook: 54% of respondents agree that even a short conversation with a neighbor or acquaintance would greatly improve their day overall. And a quarter of older adults say it makes them feel good when someone smiles or acknowledges them while waiting in line at places like the bank or grocery store. One in five would be thrilled if someone stopped to ask them how their day had gone.
Meanwhile, another survey of 2,000 people ages 16-45 in the UK shows that 55% of younger folks admit to worrying about being lonely in their elder years. With that in mind, two-thirds of this segment say they’re willing to do something to help boost the confidence of a lonely senior, but 37% worry that such a gesture wouldn’t be well-received. Another 30% feel too shy to spark up a conversation with seniors, 27% admit they aren’t sure how to help, and a quarter say they’re simply too busy themselves.
As you age, your connections with the past are more important than at any other period in your lifetime, and yet they get yanked away at an ever increasing rate. Talk to literally anyone over about 70 and you'll begin to hear the same thing over and over. "All my friends I've known are dead, dying, or moved far away to retire or be with their grandkids" (if they have any). It's highly probable that they've lost their spouse, all their contemporary friends, and even the house they lived in and treasured for 30 years gets replaced by a 8x10 room in a retirement community. That's where the loneliness sets in described in the study.

How many times have we all contacted a Brother whom no one in lodge ever heard of to pin a 50-year (or 75-year!) pin on their lapel, and heard him say,"Gee, I haven't been in a lodge in 45 years?" As a lodge Secretary, I heard variations time and again. "I still proudly keep my card in my wallet. But I couldn't work my way in, I've forgotten everything. And besides, I don't know anybody there. All the guys I joined with, and my mentor, the officers - all gone now. It's not even the same building I was raised in. Why don't you just mail me that pin?" 

You hear it over and over.

Freemasonry's core principles are Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. If your lodge has a group of aged members you've never seen or heard from, make it a point to call them all. Visit them. Sit in their living room, hear their old stories, learn their histories, and invite to drive them to lodge events. Become their new mentor to bring them back to their lodge again. Ask them to just come and describe the old lodge to your members as your education for a night. Tell then they are the connection with the lodge's past that the rest of you need. Make them a star for the evening. 

Within reason, be a pest in the most fraternal way possible, because what you're really fighting against is his firmly held desire not to be a burden to anyone. Just like your old physics teacher said, objects at rest require far more energy to get moving. It goes for people, too.

Do the very same thing for your lodge widows, because those ladies may be every bit as lonely and bereft of human contact as your senior Masons. 

And don't just do it once, keep it up. Because in addition to actually engaging in Brotherly Love and Relief, you're also setting an example to your fellow lodge brothers to follow when the day comes that it's YOU sitting alone in a retirement home.


  1. A challenge is the large number of Masonic buildings that have not adapted to physical needs. There may be a ramp at the entrance, but the bathrooms, lodge rooms, dining rooms are not adapted, many temples lack elevators, and the hearing devices which are common in churches are unknown. Moreover, there is a shameful lack of calling on the incapacitated. There are exceptions, but the general state of our attention to all of this is shameful.

    1. Brother you raise an excellent point. I'm a younger Mason in my 30s but I was born with a permanent physical disability that leaves me in a wheelchair. I'm as active as I can be in my Lodge, I'm the current Senior Warden but I had a hell of a time finding a Lodge near me that I could get in the door. Only three of the 15 lodges in my Masonic District are physically capable of having wheelchairs in their Lodge room and I know from experience none of the restrooms would possibly be big enough to maneuver a wheelchair given the age of the buildings, all of which accept one in the district predate the Americans With Disabilities Act and yet the only discussion of going into the building maintenance funds is a perpetual well that money is there in case we need a new roof.

  2. This reinforces my determination to try to get a high12 ...or is it 12high group going in my area ...Piqua ... Sidney...Gettysburg are along I75 in Ohio. So far theres been no response from the two email addresses on the 12high websiite, but I will try leads from Lafayette area lodges next. Your speaking there got the idea out. Thanks much for the inspiration

  3. An interesting parallel -- the common logic is we need to entrance embrace Facebook and Twitter and email to capture/engage with them damn fooled youths.

    But the truth is, Instagram is where the youth market is at:https ://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/10/share-of-u-s-adults-using-social-media-including-facebook-is-mostly-unchanged-since-2018/

    We are so blind to our seniors we don't even see them on platforms where they dominate other age groups. It's like pre-conscious agism.

    Kinda makes the advice to call your mom, grandparents, etc all the more necessary.

  4. "Man has no choice but to love, for when he does not, he finds his alternatives lie in loneliness, destruction and despair".

    By Dr. Leo Buscaglia.

  5. I joined the Lodge at 22. Now 35 I can tell you the real reason my peers don't join is because we believe that reviving old traditions should be taken seriously and not considered "silly" or "elitist" by older members. We don't want to sit around and talk abt paying bills. Let a committee do that. We want to sit in a Lodge, well dressed, and discuss the philosophy and history of the fraternity. We want presentations and lectures. And a well prepared meal would be nice. We will happily pay higher dues for the experience. Simply having a program where the Lodge raises a fund and gifts newly Raised brothers with an endowment would do wonders. Further, please step aside and let your youngest brother run the required social media sites. The culture online moves too fast for anyone over 25 or so. Embrace the old and new ways and we will come back.

    1. Brother Deverell, you are completely right. Most meetings are a total waste of time and the food is awful. There are exceptions but we are a sorry lot and the leadership is uninspired, to put it mildly.
      How to lose 3,5 million members and hundreds of wonderful buildings.

    2. Bro. Deverell, great post. My Lodge in Liverpool, England has modernised. Fortunately the sensible foresight of directors of the Masonic Building which houses over 20 Lodges have brought in private commercial tenants to unused space which has seen improvements to the building which has no doubt increased in value over the past couple of years. The Lodge, as in all English Lodges, insists on at least smart dark suit, shirt and tie. My Lodge has either new or refurbished regalia. We have reviewed our ritual which has one or two unique parts. Our festive board is formal yet fun with several innovations. We have this year a different 'world meal' at each meeting - Chinese, Thai, Philipino etc. Visitors now want to come to our meetings, as well as prospective candidates to our festive board on occasions. We had a famine of candidates for some years. We have now been initiating candidates, have a waiting list and last night were planning work till 2021. Mentoring of our new candidates is also important as well as trying to give the new members 'something to do' without undue pressure.Our increasing social calender is also thriving and attracting membership interest especially as people see 'younger members ' We had to be brave at times to instigate change but it is working. You are right Lodges need to to hold on to all the traditional base and formality which makes freemasonry so special but also remember that freemasonry itself has evolved over the years so why not move on and innovate sensible change. Nothing new or special in my comments but I was just a little inspired by by your post..

  6. The average person deals only with the problem that is parked on the desk in front of them. The older grey hairs in the 1980s and 90s cooked up the one day classes and dropped proficiency standards and anything else they could dream up to make Masonry cheap, fast, easy and universal. That's what happens when you've got 70 year olds telling 80 year olds "what young men want."

    Trouble was that those "solutions" were designed to appeal to "young men" who were still in the throes of unsettled careers, raising families, plus the leading edge of of the decline of the well-paying middle class jobs that so dominated the first 3/4 of the 20th century. And combine that with the measurable decline in civic and voluntary participation across the board. That target group in those days weren't ready to commit to groups like Freemasonry.

    The point I was trying to address was that there is a big bubble of 55-70 year olds right now - those same guys who either never joined, or did and walked away for a thousand different reasons. Retirement age brings on a whole new outlook by people, and the isolation and loneliness described in the article is a big one. That will only increase, as the birthrate has plummeted. The NEXT generation will have even less of an extended family to call upon for support.

    All I'm saying is that some singleminded approach to "appealing to the young" is always a fool's errand in this fraternity in part because of its very nature. It requires time, money, dedication, a fairly settled life, an understanding spouse (if you have a spouse), along with just being interested in it. Plus our requirement of even a modicum of some sort of faith tradition, which more and more people are rejecting as the generations continue. As working habits have shifted to the vast majority of people working as "independent contractors" (meaning zero job security) and frequently working from home with no more real quitting time anymore, that means younger men will find more and more reasons to avoid structured groups like Freemasonry, at least until much later in life.

  7. As to the decline in faith, perhaps one would say that the decline in organized religion is not necessarily a decline in faith -- faith in goodness, people, culture, the mysterious universe -- lots of things that people who have turned away from organized religion believe in. Unfortunately the prayers offered in lodge are often awkward and not inspiring, even offensive, and the symbolism of the Grand Architect not understood. There is nothing wrong with Freemasonry, but a great deal wrong with its deaf and historically illiterate leadership.


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