Whither are we travelling?

From Steve, PDDGM, New York

Many years ago MWBro. Dwight Smith published a paper entitled "Whither Are We Traveling." The paper, written over 35 or so years ago addresses the issues with the Craft at that time and spells out in plain English what the remedies were and dispelled many of the fallacies as to the decline in the fraternity. These issues are as true now as they were then. One of the addressed issues concerned membership. I bring this up because my Lodge Brothers and I read that paper about three years ago and took his message to heart. Now, we are seeing some change - some good and some painful - but the Lodge is hopefully in a positive transition. I am now looking at the possibility of becoming Royal Patron of my local Amaranth Court and I find myself looking into the same precipice as I did three years ago as I contemplated another run at the East. My worry is that I am not certain that my Brothers and Sisters of my Court have the motivation to deal with some hard issues.

After our Court meeting last month, a few of us gathered together and discussed what course of action we should be taking in the months ahead. We find ourselves divided into two camps: the first placing membership attainment as the primary issue, the other placing Court reorganization and improvement as the first goal. So, my question to all of you is which is more important? Both are essential, but if you needed to fix one as the primary and place the other in support of the first, which takes the lead?

The membership camp places all the blame on a decline in membership. They cite the various causes - television, two-income households, the internet, and many others. They bewailed the same old comment lament, "Things just aren't how they used to be. I can remember when the sidelines were full. Now look. We need to get more members." They then go on to blame the Lodge. "You guys are raising a bunch of younger men. We need to get their wives involved. Why don't you guys support us and have them come up?" To this camp, it is all about numbers. It's the "quantity = quality" mentality of "fish-fry Masonry" all over again.

Personally I am strong supporter of the other side. This is not just because I agree with MWBro. Smith, but because I am seeing it work. MWBro. Neal Bidnick, PGM of New York once told me that numbers aren't the issue. "I can make it possible so that you could raise 100 Brothers this year. But, if you don't offer them anything - none of them will likely stay." I have to agree. If the group is malfunctioning, if there is poor or undirected leadership, a myopic vision of direction, an unwillingness to consider alternatives and a complete lack of activity - why would anyone want to stay?

I submit that reform needs to begin from within. For our Court to survive we must determine a direction and commit to that plan. We must all dig in do what we can. We must look at our current way of doing business and determine what we can and cannot change and decide if we are willing to change it. We must decide if we are willing to make the Court a priority in our lives for the short term in order to change the course. Lastly we must have the fortitude to stay that course, even in rough times, in order to really see if the reforms we instituted really worked. The Court must be a functioning, lively and positive environment, otherwise we are dooming ourselves to extinction.

The question becomes whether or not the Court really has the drive and motivation to continue. If they do, it is worth a shot and who knows, we might actually start having some fun. If not, well...it might be better to euthanize this Old Yeller of a Court and spare it the slow painful death we are experiencing.

So I put it to all of you. Which is a better course - membership with reform support or Court reform with a membership component? Or is there a third course of action?

From http://workonthetrestleboard.blogspot.com/2011/02/whither-are-we-traveling.html

Response to Steve from Devotion’s WM

Hi Steve, although I replied by other means, I thought I would also put a response in the Newsletter to accompany your blog. I congratulate you on the content and thoughtfulness of your entries at http://www.workonthetrestleboard.blogspot.com/ which I always read and find interesting. I recommend it to our readers.

In response to your question - I think you need to address both membership and operational reform at once starting with internal reform. You need to establish;

  1. we are failing

  2. we don’t want to fail

  3. set some meaningful goals towards success

  4. buy in from all key members towards goals, then converting all members to buy in,

  5. all underpinned by a willingness to work towards rebuilding through change approached in a pragmatic and flexible way towards meaningful goals shaped by the needs of members and future leaders..

If you are going to get candidates, you need to be able to hold them. All Masonic organizations need new blood to carry on their traditions. At Devotion we have been willing to effect change to do that – but both have been hand in hand, responsive to needs, and also trying to anticipate them.

Numbers at Devotion have gone from 19 to 31 of committed masons. Five EA’s and one FC and two newer MMs in the line, a couple in the wings supporting and ready to step in. PM's willing to empower and who understand that the test of leadership is being able to form something sustainable and creating, training and empowering the next generation of leaders. To some, it might seem our success has been achieved by luck, but a series of Masters have all set an agenda towards change and success – focusing on the needs of candidates and joining members, the later who we have not been indiscriminate about recruiting, but seeking men who compliment our culture, and who will be well served by it.

What feeds this change is success. The candidates represent that, but they are only going to be held and bound to the lodge if they get something out of it – grow, friendship and enjoyment and feeling VALUED.

So a willingness to change is the first step, some change in attitude the next, some actual change towards success, then some growth, then building upon the growth with reform to meet and hold candidates to your organizations – court or lodge.

I wish you all the best with Amaranth my friend and brother.

The warmest of fraternal regards,