Trying to use Evidence to Evaluate the Success of Lodge Mergers

From WBro D Hudson PM, Sec & Editor

Some will say a lodge merger is an excellent idea for two weak lodges, that they come together to form one strong lodge. While on occasion this might be true, I have generally observed that combining two weak lodges often simply results in one larger weak lodge. While a merger might be a short term strategy to address personnel or financial pressures, unless you address the underlying causes of the weaknesses, those issues that led to a merger are very likely to simply re-emerge.

Some time ago Bro Ange Kenos, Library Volunteer and Masonic researcher, gave me a list of all known Craft Lodges of United Grand Lodge Victoria (UGLV) since foundation. The list noted if a Warrant was returned, active or merged with another. The list has evolved since Bro Ange first gave it to me in 2016, but using that list, and the 2018 Masonic Guide, I have been able to begin an examination of what most experienced Freemasons know but can’t prove; that a Lodge merger in itself is generally often not a good strategy to create a long term sustainable Lodge. That said, it does work for some Lodges, but merger is not the wonderful solution it is sometimes presented as. Despite the idea of merger being strongly promoted by GL in the past, it is only a stop gap solution.

As always with membership, we love to use anecdotal or qualitative data (and random facts represented as datasets) rather than quantitative data – so I have tried to start to put some hard numbers to what happens to Lodges after they merge

On this page is a graph I have created from Bro Ange’s list. It records every known Warrant issued under UGLV, both current and past. It is somewhat misleading as two lodges which merge and still exist either as a double barrel name (“Arcadian Veritas” or “Robbie Burns Phoenix) will count as at least two warrants within “merged existing”, therefore overstating the number of Warrants actually operating in that cohort (it should probably often be divided by at least three for each loge which merged plus add the new lodge often created). I think the methodology in that might beg review, but it acts as a starting point. It’s better than the numbers we have now – none.

Success of Lodge Mergers in Freemasonry

What we sometimes see is a merger, often followed by further mergers, but the end Warrant finally being returned to Grand Lodge.

Sometimes we seen this pattern several times before the final group surrenders its Warrant. For instance; St Kilda District No 901 (warrant returned in 1998) absorbing some members of Ashwald (others going to Asburton No 563, returned in 2002), NSW Reunion No 509, South St Kilda No 755, Decision No 796 and Probity No 873. The death of that Warrant (901) saw the end of the Masonic line of succession for 6 Lodges. Advancement No 908 (returned in 2004) which included Duke of Albany No 91, Lodge of Hartwell No 597, Erskine Murray No 617 (seemed also to be associated with 336), Crotona No 716 and Sir Francis Drake No 770. The return of that warrant saw the death of 6 Lodges. Lodge Kingston No 917 (returned 2014) seemed to have incorporated Kitchener No 240, Concentration 272 (or members went to Concentration which seems more likely), Cheltenham No 644, Tolerance No 764, The Nepean No 809 and St Christopher No 819. The death of that warrant (917) saw the end of the Masonic line of succession for 7 Lodges. Three examples of when the merger strategy seemed to run out of stream and eventually sees the path of multiple Warrants end. Perhaps could this be because underlying issues were not addressed? Very likely!

Relying heavily on the list, and without direct access to the Library or GL records, nevertheless, the data suggests merger results in a rate of about 4 deaths to one survival. If we take the total number of merged Warrants (246) divided by the Warrants resulting from Merger but still operating (59) only 24% of the Warrants involved in mergers continue to operate in some form. While it may be that the lodges involved in merger were perhaps doomed anyway, 24% is not a good success rate.

In many ways, you can consider a Lodge as a business unit. Grand Lodge has long been asking us to take a business approach to running our lodges. A Lodge needs income to meet its expenditure, and new blood and ideas to sustain itself. As a business strategy, a merger can be a band-aid, but for 76% of merged Lodges, it has not solved their problems and lead to the death of the line in the legacy of the Warrants (and many memberships) of those merged into new lodges.

The return of a merged Warrant often represents the death of at least 3 lodges; the 2 who formed it and the new lodge formed. Often, when merger has been used several times as a long term strategy, surrendering a merged Warrant represents the end of many Warrants. This has had a multiplying effect on the decline of the number of Warrants in Victoria; and that effect is not widely recognised and rarely discussed.

My numbers here are not exact, but in the several businesses I help manage, I understand you often can only gain a high level understanding of issues, and taking time to delve “down to the weeds” will only cost you money and time and generally might give further comfort in a earlier and obvious course of action, wasting a lot of resources when the same conclusion will be reached. What you we need to do is be wise enough to recognise problems, willing to effect change to address them and nimble enough to adjust our tactics and strategy when our solutions are not working. This article is only a very cursory glance at mergers, but suggests they are not a solution in themselves. Perhaps someone with access to better data (or give it to me) could look more closely at this problem, but based on the information we have, Lodge merger should be seen as a last resort and not a standard practise.

In 1985 VWBro Ray South, then “Grand Superintendent of Liaison” wrote that Lodges were asked to “adopt a positive approach by building on strengths we have and merging (a lodge) when necessary for strength and development – not survival” yet most merged lodges do not survive. It seems Bro Ray’s advice was not followed.

I think too often Freemasons are too willing to merge their lodge in the subconscious hope it will shift the burden of solving its problems to other shoulders and minds. We’ve been doing that for at almost 30 years with ever diminishing number of Warrants – perhaps it is time to stop? Perhaps it is time you planted your flag in the sand next to your Warrant and defended it by purposefully planning and fostering your next generation of successors? I know that is much easier in the city than country, but that simply means Country Brethren have a special challenge and perhaps it’s time our Peak Body sat down and worked out how to duplicate some of the marketing success it has had in the city for those Country Brethren ?

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

George Santayana (1863-1952) philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist.