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Sunday, April 10, 2022

Welcome Brothers: GL of Ohio Raises 780 in Statewide One Day Class



by Christopher Hodapp

On March 26th, the Grand Lodge of Ohio F&AM conferred the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees on a total of 780 candidates as part of a statewide One Day Class at several locations. Naturally, the Masonic Intertube discussion boards, Twitbook, and Facetwit sites went mildly berserk over the news. As many as 780 may sound, it's only about 10% of the record 7,700 Masons raised by the Grand Lodge of Ohio at a similar statewide one day event back in 2002.

Even though these types of mass membership events originated thirty years ago, they continue to remain controversial within the fraternity. Indeed, many online discussions that took up the subject over the last couple of weeks sounded every bit as vitriolic as they did twenty years ago.

Origin

The first 'Grand Master's Class' was held in 1992 as a two-day festival by the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia . In that single event, their small jurisdiction raised 113 candidates — an astonishing 55% of all of DC's candidates for the entire year of 1992. 

Despite having no internet in those days, it didn’t take long for the word to spread. By the next February, DC's event—the first mass raising of Master Masons of its kind—was the heated talk of the Conference of Grand Masters. The practice picked up steam nationwide in a startlingly short time, especially for an institution as resistant to change as Freemasonry. By 1998, the Grand Lodge of New Jersey trumpeted that 96 lodges participated in their first one-day degree event, and raised 434 new Master Masons.

At the time, the bulk of Freemasons worldwide were aghast, and more than a few foreign grand bodies grumbled about perhaps withdrawing recognition of their U.S. counterparts that had held such mass raisings. While similarly massive events were overwhelmingly typical of degrees conferred on large classes of Scottish Rite members, the vast majority of Masons agreed that they were wholly inappropriate for new initiates into the fraternity. The three Symbolic Lodge degrees—especially for the Entered Apprentice and the Master Mason—were particularly considered to be individual and deeply personal experiences. At best, critics alleged, men made Masons in a day or two would undoubtedly be the fastest ones to leave. They would fail to become proficient in the required memory work. If they remained members at all, they certainly would cease to participate, much less take on the requirements to become officers. Lodges that relied on such classes to do all of their degree work for them would quickly lose any ability to confer their own degrees forever. In short, the naysayers claimed, the entire fraternity would be both cheapened and robbed—from the candidates themselves, right down to the lodges and their own members.

Ohio's Record-Setting Class of 2002

By 2001 at least thirty-one U.S. grand lodges had conducted one or more of these events in varying permutations. Then in April 2002, Ohio left everyone else in the statistical dust, setting the astonishing record of initiating, passing, and raising 7,700 Master Masons in multiple locations throughout the state in a single day. Throughout the seven years prior to their first enormous Grand Master’s Class, the state of Ohio had raised a combined total of 10,341 Master Masons in the traditional, individual manner. Their 2002 Grand Master’s one-day event nearly doubled their entire prior seven-year membership increase in just a matter of hours. The rest of the Masonic world’s nose-counters bolted straight up in their collective seats and took notice.

Ohio’s colossal one-day increase was never again equaled anywhere. They staged two more such events in 2003 and 2005, and studied the after-effects at the end of 2006. In a little more than five years, one-day Masons raised at their three events alone represented more than 10% of Ohio’s total Masonic membership. While their two subsequent classes never came close to equaling their enormous premiere event, other jurisdictions still looked enviously at Ohio and judged them a triumph. Numerically speaking, anyway.

Results

One of the major criticisms from the start was an assumption that one-day Masons would not go on to become active lodge participants, proficient ritualists, or officers. “Easy in, easy out,” was the oft-repeated, doleful warning. But several jurisdictions that amassed enough data over time were able to disprove that assertion.

A study was conducted in 2001 by Paul M. Bessel for the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, which was the first of its kind to analyze the long-term results of such conferrals. Their grand lodge was unique, since they had conducted two-day degree events annually for eight years and had the data to analyze. Bessel found that the retention and participation rate of members initiated, passed, and raised in the slower, traditional manner, versus the Grand Master’s Class candidates, were statistically identical. Subsequent years demonstrated the same results, clearly disproving objections based only upon fears that dejected Master Masons who were disappointed or unimpressed by their one day experience would vanish faster than their traditionally raised brethren.

Other jurisdictions that bothered to investigate their own circumstances and results came to the same conclusions. Ohio did its own study in 2007, five years after their record setting class. In the three Grand Master’s Classes held between 2002 and 2005, they found that 8% of one-day class members were serving or had already served as lodge officers. That worked out to more than 1,000 officers in their 534 lodges, or almost two officers per lodge. The actual numbers among lodges varied—several reported as many as five of their current officers were one-day members. 

In addition, lodges reported an average of 15% of one-day members attended meetings regularly, which was virtually identical to (and often greater than) the participation rate of traditionally made Masons. Numerous lodge secretaries expressed the belief that one-day classes had actually “saved” their lodges. 

More recently, a 2015 study of current lodge officers in Washington State revealed that one out of six officers are one-day class members.

As of 2017, my own Grand Lodge of Indiana has raised a total of 6,976 Master Masons via one-day events since its first in 1997. Of those, 3,958 still remain Masons across those twenty years. Many have been officers and Worshipful Masters, and all have simply been as active or inactive as their traditionally-made brethren. To date, there have been several grand masters all across the U.S. who received their degrees at one-day events. 

Tens of thousands of U.S. Masons have been initiated, passed, and raised in one-day classes, and the loss of them due to inactivity and demits is no better or worse than traditionally made members. In Indiana’s case, figures clearly show that one-day Masons have actually remained members in a substantially greater percentage than those traditionally made.

That which was lost

The philosophical question as to the loss to the candidate of a more individual, transformative, initiatic experience is what cannot be measured. What has been commonly echoed by men who received the accelerated degrees is that they returned to their own lodges and discouraged their officers and fellow members from sending future candidates to them. So in their own way, one-day classes actually encourage lodges to increase their proficiency at conducting degree work, and not abandon it, as was initially feared by some. 

Retention and participation comes down solely to the way the members are treated and mentored once they start attending their lodges, and rests on the interest and dedication of each individual Mason. A one day class conferral of the three lodge degrees doesn't let the lodge and its members duck their responsibility to provide a trusted, knowledgable mentor to those brethren who need more coaching and education, not less. 

Maybe more to the point is that we don't have two classifications of Master Mason in this fraternity. If at their next meeting after their raising they are referred to by ostensible brethren as ‘McMasons,’ ‘Blue Lightenings,’ or ‘One Day Wonders,’ receive no mentoring follow up, and suffer through dull stated meetings with no Masonic education and un-Masonic infighting, they will be unlikely to send in their dues renewal in December.

One-day classes were developed largely in response to the screams of lodges over membership losses and their own inability to confer their own degree work. So, those early massive classes did exactly what the lodges begged for—they brought in new members, by the bucketful. One day classes will only end if lodges stop demanding them. As I've said repeatedly, if you have a visceral reaction against the practice, fault the lodge who sent him to the class, not the candidate who is now your Brother. 

The lodges that failed to keep them coming back managed to accomplish that part all by themselves.

                                                                                          

This isn't the first time I've tried to tackle this topic, and probably won't be the last. Have a look at:

10 comments:

  1. Interested readers can find Paul Bessel's analysis here:

    Paul Bessel, “Evaluation of Grand Masters Classes in the District of Columbia, An,” Heredom, vol. 9(2001): 199–208.

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  2. I was Entered in Lodge at a Robbie Burns Night . The experience when allowed to see the light and roughly 100 Brothers seated around me was one I would never forget. I could not sleep that night whatsoever with the sounds, words ,and the voice of my guide etched in my brain. I can not see how having all the degrees the same day would be anything more than a bunch of word soup when it was over. It takes time to absorb and learn. At least it did for me. IMO .

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  3. When I travel, being from Ohio, I am often asked about ODC outcomes. The lack of distinction between groups can be viewed two ways. Either ODC is just as good as traditional OR we do such a bad job with educating traditional candidates that it is no better than ODC alumni. I prefer the latter as lodges with intense and rigorous candidate education have retention/activity rates well north of 60%.

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  4. Though we usually see eye-to-eye, on this we do not totally agree.

    Results:
    First, for the statistics of retention and activity. Kansas pulled 25 years of membership data and found the following:
    • 66% of One‐Day participants dropped out of Masonry.
    • 60% of C2A participants (2 degrees in one day) dropped out of Masonry.
    • 49% of Standard Path participants dropped out of Masonry. (still a horrible retention rate)
    • It is 2.5X more likely for C2A or One‐Day participants to drop out within the first 12 months.
    • It is 13% more likely within the first 5 years for C2A or One‐Day participants to drop.
    • Even after 22 years as a Master Mason, it is 2X more likely for C2A or One‐Day participants to drop.
    • 2.5X less likely for C2A or One-Day participant to serve as Master of their Lodge.

    That which was lost:
    If the candidate was not the one being led around our altar in darkness, something was stolen from him. If he did not get to experience that deep connection between a new Mason and his coach as he learned what it meant to be an EA, FC, and MM, something was stolen from him. If, when he returned your EA, FC, and MM proficiency, he was not actually describing the experience that he was part of, e.g. how he was dressed, entered the room, took his obligation, etc., something was stolen from him. And so on. I have no doubt that in most cases these events are a good experience for the candidate, but it is not the experience as thought to us by our founders and forefathers. The experience of our new Brothers should be that of being an active participant in their initiation. It was never designed, nor should it be, observing the experience of others.

    Value to the Members vs. Value to the Grand Lodge:
    It is interesting that during my presentations regarding retention rates, I have focused on the value to the new Members, and why they stay of leave. I focus on what we can do to make sure that we are providing what they are wanting when they join our Fraternity. I never once commented on overall membership numbers or revenue from dues.
    When the current Grand Master of Ohio gave his presentation about retention rates, he was very much focused on overall membership numbers and was happy to constantly equate that to a revenue number for his Grand Lodge.

    A matter of value:
    Making it easier to become a Master Mason is one part of the overall value equation. What is the perceived value of an organization that rushes you in in one day, charges you $75, and then only charges you $50 a year to be a member? Unfortunately, the perceived value is very low. For too long, we have focused on cheaper, easier, and bigger. We did so to the point that we started losing our value. Cheaper, easier, and bigger did not work, and in 2010 the Grand Lodge of Kansas made the conscious decision to focus on excellence and value. We focused on excellence to regain the value that our Craft deserves. We focused on excellence in engaging our Members, especially during the critical first 3 years. With this renewed focus, Kansas has increased it retention rate during the first 5 years of membership from 50% to 72%. I believe the proof is in the numbers. Cheap, easy, and big equals a 33% retention rate for Kansas. Focusing on excellence and the true value of Masonry equals a 72% retention rate. I pray that we continue on this path.

    Brotherly Love:
    I have never faulted a Brother for how they became a Master Mason. I never ask a Brother if they went through a one day class. At the one-on-one, Brother-to Brother level, it does not matter. They are my Brother and I treat them the same.

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    Replies
    1. Br. Stoops - let us now apply your ideas (there's likely no analysis that can be done) to the AASR - which, in at least my own Valley of DC, was still doing one degree at a time, in a Lodge conferral format, not an elaborate stage play, shortly before WWI, and men sometimes never advanced out of the Lodge of Perfection.

      I have met MANY AASR Brethren who think there is NO REASON to look at the old way of doing it, because no one still alive ever had it; but that making EVERYONE go through a One Day Class, with just one exemplar, should NEVER happen and COULD never happen, because everyone should have the opportunity to experience it the slow and individual way, if they want it.

      They cannot see that someone could eventually make the argument that we can get more Craft Brothers in in a ODC, than the older way, so why not JUST do only that?
      Because THEY would never do it, they cannot imagine anyone else would . . . and yet, it happened in the AASR.

      Delete
  5. It is my understanding that similar expedited measures were undertaken to accommodate deploying servicemen during both World Wars, albeit perhaps not on such a large scale nor coordinated by a Grand Lodge.

    N.L. Curry
    Conroe 748, Conroe TX, AF&AM
    Utopia 984, Utopia TX, AF&AM
    Old West 813, Newhall CA, F&AM

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  6. There is too much in the degrees to absorb the meaning of all three in a single day initiation.

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  7. One of the things I find so beautiful and special about Freemasonry is that it is definitely "a ceremonial approach towards truth".

    Many of the groups which imitate us fall short, whither, and eventually die. Quite honestly, it is not at all easy being us, but the old heads know it is definitely worth the effort in the long run.

    There are a few good Non-Masonic organizations out there for truth seekers which can actually initiate their candidates to membership by a superior form of instruction
    by correspondence. For these organizations, beautiful group ceremonies often takes place, but they are considered secondary while experimentation is considered primary.

    Freemasonry is different. The personal experience of our Rites, Ceremonies, and Symbolism is of the utmost importance. There is no form of written correspondence which can make a man a Mason. There is no such substitute.

    Becoming a Freemason is truly a group effort done in person, man to man. Everything else, though it may be very good, is secondary.

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  8. Whether these brethren stick around is not the point here - this (lack of) ceremony robs those brothers of an incredible initiatic experience that forges those first bonds with the members of your lodge. Thank goodness we do nothing of this kind on this side of the pond...

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