Saturday, November 8, 2008

What Would You Do As Grandmaster #6

Having just returned from my Prince Hall Grand Lodge Session, I want to emphasize that this series pertains to Mainstream Masonry although Prince Hall is welcome to use any of the ideas that all the Brothers here have put forth.

Well it looks like it's my turn although I warn you some more great essays are on the way. I want to thank all who have participated in this venture and to thank all you who have visited The Beehive. May we have many more enjoyable times together in Brotherhood.

Wor. Frederic L. Milliken
aka Squire Bentley

My very first act as Grand Master would be to separate the Grand Lodge from the Shrine, the Grotto and all other Side or Appendant Bodies except for Scottish Rite and York Rite. Because Freemasonry is dying and becoming irrelevant, drastic, immediate action is required to preserve what we have. Many Brothers have commented on the fact that Freemasonry is better off as its numbers diminish. It is not. However, it will become stronger if it downsizes within itself thereby concentrating on the core message of what is most important that the Craft wishes to transmit and stand for. Right now Freemasonry is competing with itself and quite frankly the same Brothers cannot be everything.

Freemasonry must reduce itself to a philosophical society which is mainly concerned with its members. The core message which drives the Craft is the philosophy for which it stands. Everything else is complimentary. The philosophy is the meat and the potatoes and the vegetable and salad are side dishes complimenting the meat. We need to as a society stop trying to be all things to all people and stop trying to cover all bases and be what we were originally formed to be. We are going to pare the Craft down to just its essentials. Isn’t that what a good businessman does in a time of economic depression? You might be surprised that we may with this approach attract more members at a cheaper overhead.

Next it is vitally important that Freemasonry have a mission to interact with society. It has a mission for itself but it has been totally lacking for a mission on how to be of purpose to society as well as itself. What has been tried is to try to buy friends and recognition by doling out goodies to the general public. Thus has Freemasonry in many Jurisdictions pursued The Shrine Model and turned itself into a Service Club. My second act as Grand Master would be to abolish all Grand Lodge Charities except one that followed through on a Grand Lodge Societal Mission. If local Lodges wanted to perform community action programs and public charity that would be up to them. But I would not impose any Grand Lodge charities on local Lodges.

There is a reason we no longer get the prominent, powerful, professional men to join our Fraternity. Freemasonry came out of the Enlightenment and as such in an era of civil government Monarchy and Roman Catholic Church monopoly, in other words a time of Totalitarianism and religious intolerance. Freemasonry bucked the trend of the day. It pushed democratic government, separation of church and state, free public schools and religious freedom. It was societal relevant and hence attracted many movers and shakers within the community. Quite frankly, today we have nothing that we can find common cause with the profane.

In looking over the civil issues of the day I find two that are heads above any other. They are Health and Education. Freemasonry does much in the health field already, too much. So my connection to society and my societal mission would be in the education field, so important in developing good citizens and prospective Masons. I would set up a state Education/Library/Research Center open to the public and offer courses in mathematics and history. I would provide a large library and many computers and high tech audio/visual aids as well as instructors. In essence this would be a school and research center available for the public and the Craft. We are in the Information Age and I would want my Grand Lodge to be a leader in that field. It harks back to Freemasons of centuries ago who worked so hard for education and free public schools.

Next, as you might have gathered from my drift so far, we are headed for extinction. What is killing many Lodges is, that as their membership dwindles, they still are faced with the enormous costs of maintaining an old, drafty, antiquated building. The reason Freemasonry does not grow in many Lodges is that every cent that they take in goes to maintaining that building and no money is left over for Masonic programs, to help subsidize the practice of Freemasonry.

Therefore my next act as Grand Master is to require that all Lodges within a twenty five mile radius meet in one building. That would require many Lodges to sell their building and merge into another already in operation or many Lodges to divest themselves of property and build a brand new building for many Lodges. Brand new buildings are more efficient, up to code and less costly to operate. Ten Lodges that met in a building could all pay rent thereby sharing the costs. Local Lodges through jealousy and stupid pride will most often refuse to take this step by themselves. As Grand Master I would force them to do so for their own good. This is called practicing economies to scale which any good businessman would do in a time of economic downturn.

Lodges in rural areas would get a special Grand Lodge subsidy to upgrade their building or build a new one.

To meet the demands and choices of the 21st century my Grand Lodge would need to get much more in tune and in practice with the use of computers and the Internet. If you saw what Obama did in the last presidential election you can appreciate what full use of the Internet can yield. I would immediately upgrade my jurisdictions computer hardware with the most modern system available including running a Grand Lodge Server from which all local Lodges could connect. I would create a Grand Lodge position of Communications Director with a full staff to support him. Some of the areas I would charge my Communications Director to work on would be:

1) A software program of accounting standard for all Lodges with capability of filing all Grand Lodge reports electronically.
2) A Grand Lodge website of unique distinction
3) A Grand Lodge Masonic Forum and Discussion Board
4) Ability to tap into GL Library, new Instruction Center and Research Society
5) A Grand Lodge radio show – a podcast from the Grand Lodge with interviews of Masons of the day with call in participation.
6) A Grand Lodge Cable TV show
7) A grand Lodge movie production dealing with many different subjects. One for those inquiring about membership and others on the history of The Grand Lodge and still others on current events and ceremonies. DVDs and CDs would be available for a nominal cost.
8) Power Point and DVD presentations on the degrees to supplement Lodge education programs.
9) A quarterly Grand Lodge magazine geared to philosophical and esoteric Masonic thought rather than meet and greet photographs.

Next I would streamline the participation of Grand Lodge members in the decision making process of their Grand Lodge. Twelve Hundred members coming to Grand Session and trying to legislate and vote on proposals in one weekend with everybody wanting a say is totally unwieldy and frankly managed chaos. I would immediately institute a Masonic Legislature whereby many members would be represented by one legislator. Thus a body of fewer than one hundred legislators representing all the members of a jurisdiction could gather to debate and vote on Grand Lodge business and proposals. This would not do away with Grand Lodge Session but would rather allow the Grand Session to devote more time to planning, addresses, workshops and inspiration rather than hours and hours of haggling. Think about it. Can you imagine all 300 million Americans showing up in Washington one weekend to vote on our nation’s future? So why let it happen in Freemasonry?

My next ruling would be to allow all Lodge business under $2000 in cost to be conducted outside a tyled meeting by the Three Principal Officers and whoever else they would like to include. The Lodge has voted on and put their trust in their Master and Wardens and I am sure that they can be trusted to make decisions of the Lodge in the small day to day minutia that comes before it rather than take up Lodge time with trivial pursuit. Thus we would eliminate the mundane from our meetings and could then hold meetings of great dining, great Masonic education with great Masonic speakers and great fellowship. I would allow and suggest that all Lodges in my jurisdiction go from a twice monthly or a monthly meeting to a quarterly meeting with an additional quarterly meeting for degree work. Thus I would be ruling that there would be a four month minimum between each degree.

I would charge each District Deputy to form District Degree Teams for each degree with representation from all the District Lodges whereby each degree (four months apart) would be performed on all the candidates for that degree from every Lodge in the District on the same night at the same place. In addition I would form a state degree team and offer the Grand Lodge for a giant raising if desired.

I would form a Research Society for my Grand Lodge and I would charge each District Deputy to form District esoteric/research/study groups that meet separately from Lodge meetings.

I would allow liquor served at Masonic buildings to be a local Lodge decision but never disallowing it as Grand Master. I would, again acting on economies to scale, arrange at reasonable cost for all Lodges, insurance bargained for at group rates including all. This insurance would include liquor liability insurance so that Lodges could rent out their facilities for public functions. I would also change the Grand Lodge ruling that stipulates that the Grand Lodge owns a local Lodge’s building. From now a local Lodge owns its own building set up under whatever tax structure they deem to be in their best advantage. The only provision in the by-laws would be a requirement that in the event of sale or foreclosure that Grand Lodge have the first right of refusal.

As Grand Master I would outlaw all fund raisers. Lodges within my Jurisdiction must charge enough in dues to cover all their expenses.

I would mandate a District Lodge of Instruction for all candidates run by the District Deputy to insure that all candidates receive the proper instruction at the start of their Masonic journey. I would empower a District Board of Questioners and a State Speakers Bureau with Grand Lodge paying speakers a stipend and travel money so that local Lodges could afford them.

All this I would do because Freemasonry is dying. It has lost its focus. It has lost its sense of mission and bonding with society. It has lost its capability to put on good degrees all the time. It has lost its commitment to Masonic knowledge and philosophical thought. It has become populated by a Brotherhood more interested in the social then in the virtues and the no nothing leaders of our Craft are leading us down a path of ruin. Once again our youth is filled with many seekers, searching for adding meaning and purpose to their lives. That purpose and meaning is right here in Freemasonry if we operate it correctly. But if we just give lip service to the great body of esoteric thought and the Masonic way of life that is there for the study we will lose them to another organization that is what it says it is. We don’t need to help everybody who isn’t a Mason while we starve ourselves. We don’t need to become a glorified Lions Club or as Stephen Dafoe said, “Rotary with Regalia”. We don’t need to market Freemasonry. All we need to do is practice Freemasonry and offer those seekers a good product, exactly what they are searching for.

To enter that path of redemption now is the time to get creative. Now is the time to think outside the box. Now is the time for radical action.


The Palmetto Bug said...

Squire: Though you and I disagree that the Fraternity is facing extinction, you have have some good ideas mixed into your article - some of which are already being practiced in some GJs. Examples:

1) "...would be to abolish all Grand Lodge Charities..." We have no GL charity in my GJ.

2) "I would immediately institute a Masonic Legislature whereby many members would be represented by one legislator." This is basically how my GL is already structured. Each Lodge has three reps (WM, SW, JW) with one vote apiece. If, say, only the WM attends - which is not unusual - he carries all three votes for the Lodge.

3) "My next ruling would be to allow all Lodge business under $2000 in cost to be conducted outside a tyled meeting by the Three Principal Officers and whoever else they would like to include." A simple By-Law change by the Lodge should fix this. That is how we handle it in my Lodge. Bills are never read in Lodge except in the case that an unexpected high dollar expense rears its ugly head.

4) "I would form a Research Society..." My GL did this in 1988. It meets quarterly at various places around the State.

5) "I would also change the Grand Lodge ruling that stipulates that the Grand Lodge owns a local Lodge’s building." This has never been the case in my GJ. The Lodges own their buildings and they must be the sole owners of such (no partnerships w/ other bodies is allowed). In the event a Lodge goes dark, the GL assumes ownership as a trustee for 10 years.

There is one thing that you mentioned that I especially like though we are not currently doing it. Insurance coverage under one plan for all the Lodges should save Lodges a chunk of money. I would need to talk to an insurance expert to learn more about this.

Frederic L. Milliken said...

Maybe that is why South Carolina is doing so well. You don't do One Day Classes either.

You don't mention getting more computer savy and using the Internet more effectively. You don't like that idea?

I find more traditionalist Grand Lodges that are doing well such as yours to be the worst at using the Internet and instituting a comprehensive computer management sytem in their jurisdiction.

Frederic L. Milliken said...

Just allowing the three principle officers of each Lodge is still too large. 300 Lodges X3 = 900 members at a Grand Session.

Also a Masonic Legislature would not be limited to a once per year meet and have to try to cram all its workings into one weekend. It could meet for many weeks or periodically throughout the year.

And it would be under 100 members making its ability to debate and work together a much smoother operation. I envision small states could have a Masonic Legislature of about 50, a very workable body.

The Palmetto Bug said...

Squire: Yep, I do agree with some of your computer related ideas. I mentioned something along the same lines in my article. Of course, I don't we should ever get so Internet dependent as to reach a point where no one remembers how to do it the old way. Besides, there is something neat about putting that Lodge seal on a document. Of course, I'm my Lodge's "Keeper of the Seal" so I may look at it a little differently than others.

I misunderstood what you were saying about a Masonic legislature. I believe each Lodge should maintain its own representative(s), but I do like the idea of more Grand Communications rather than just one annual one. Many moons ago, my State had quarterly Grand Communications - and that was in the days of the horse and buggy. I'd like to see us go back to that.

Frederic L. Milliken said...

Massachusetts Mainstream still does quarterly Grand Lodge Sessions and I just returned from my Texas Prince Hall Grand Session. We do two per year - a winter and a summer- November and June.

san diego freemason said...

Bravo Squire! All great ideas for reforming Mainstream Masonry. I especially agree with you regarding the Shrine, Grotto, etc. They are not Freemasonry and should become separate, independent organizations. Too many young men think that Masons are just elderly men in funny hats.
It really is long past due for Freemasonry to return to it's philosophical, Enlightenment roots.

Jose Ruah said...

Interesting discussion theme. So many differences between your Grand Lodges and mine.

Although we like to call ourselves a worldwide fraternity, we are indeed very different.