May 9, 2011

Some Thoughts About Attending Lodge And Increasing Attendance

Posted in Freemasonry tagged , , , , , , at 9:32 pm by GeneGoldman


First off, let me say that I have always enjoyed attending meetings. Whether my own lodge, visiting another lodge nearby, visiting a Prince Hall lodge, or when traveling on business or pleasure, I have never been disappointed in a decision to go to lodge and enjoy the company of my brethren for a few hours. I have made friends and met some great individuals all across the country.

Usually, when traveling, I make it a point to find out if there is any Masonic activity in the area while I will be there. Sure, the dinners are not the sort of food I would order in a restaurant, but the company can’t be beat. The evening’s entertainment isn’t near as lavish as the latest Hollywood release or Broadway Theatrical , but the seats are usually comfortable, the atmosphere is warm and inviting and the cost is always very affordable.

One of the most important reasons I attend when I can is that every time I see a Degree, two things happen. First, I am returned to the time and place where I took my own degrees, even if only for a moment. Secondly, I learn or re-learn some critically important lessons. I am reminded of my beliefs, of the wonderful symbolism of our degrees and of the many moral and ethical lessons contained therein.

In my service as an officer and Master of two lodges, I have had the incredible opportunity  to assist in the initiation, passing and raising of many Masons. Some I hardly knew. Some were long-time friends already. Some became friends. I initiated my father-in-law and initiated, passed and raised my own father – what a complete joy and honor!

I heartedly recommend that every Mason attend lodge when he can. Nothing like it.

However (if you know me, you know there HAD to be a “however” somewhere nearby),

There are some masons who equate attending lodge with being a mason. They seem to believe (and express verbally) that a mason is somehow less of a mason or failing his lodge when he does not attend. Not an officer or when one has a part to play or something to present, but all the time, everyone.

Yes, as I describe above, I get a lot out of attending. I wish I could be in lodge every night. But I have a family that needs me, a living to make, my health to consider and other demands on my time, attention and energy. In my degrees, I clearly remember being told about my duties. As Master, I have similarly advised candidates during their degrees about their duties. The first, and most important duty a mason should observe is to his Great Creator. Duty to one’s country should come next. One’s neighbor has the next claim on a mason’s kind offices, followed by his own family and those he supports. Every mason has a duty to himself as well. In the ceremonies, the candidate is advised that only after these more important duties are met should one look to his service to the lodge and the fraternity.

This order makes a lot of sense to me, and is strictly in keeping with everything else we teach and believe.

Let’s look at a few examples, to put all this in context.

Which duty is taking preference when a mason should be resting up for or from a difficult day, goes to lodge and comes home exhausted?

When a mason is looking for work, who is being served while he takes time from his job search and money for gasoline to go to lodge?

There are more examples, but let’s proceed with these two for now.

I remember a lesson from a brother, who lived in Los Angeles. He described the following.

“I get up at 5:00 in the morning. I get ready for work, grab a breakfast I can eat on the run and drive an hour to an hour and a half to work. At work, I put in a ten-hour day, then drive two to two and a half hours home. If it is a Lodge night, I have to shower and change clothes, grab a sandwich to eat in the car and drive thirty to forty five minutes, maybe more, to lodge. Most lodge meetings run until 10:30 or 11:00, then I have to drive another half hour home. If you expect me to do all that very often, you are going to have to make it worth my while. Stale sandwiches and cold spaghetti, followed by boring talk about bills, or poorly-conducted ritual just isn’t going to cut it.

Give me a reason to come to lodge.”

What’s the answer?

I have heard some brothers (like the ones mentioned above) who blame poor attendance on the members who don’t show up. Maybe the lodge management team deserves some credit for attendance. I firmly believe that it is a rather simple mathematical equation.  This is true for Stated Meetings, degrees, recognition nights, special and social events and even fund-raisers.

If a lodge wants a lot of members to attend meetings, the lodge should have the kind of meetings that a lot of members want to attend. Interestingly, the same applies to increasing membership. If a lodge wants to attract members, they should be a lodge that is attractive to the kind of members they want to have.

It is simple, but by no means easy. It takes work, requires effort, demands sacrifice and risk. In practical terms, it may involve doing some things differently, and doing some new things.  Here are some questions to consider.

  • What are the stated meetings like?
  • How much time and energy goes into planning an event or a meeting?
  • Is the family included?
  • Are wives invited and provided with something to do while the members are in the private part of the meeting?
  • Does the meeting consist of anything more than the secretary reading minutes, a few notifications and bills, maybe a ballot?
  • Is there Masonic Education?
  • Are the committees encouraged to make their presentations in the dining room, to include the wives and families?
  • Is the menu the same as the last twenty meetings?
  • Is everyone wearing the same thing to every meeting?
There are lots of possibilities. I remember stated meetings that included a Hawaiian Luau, and everyone was invited to wear Aloha shirts and shorts. We wore Red, White and Blue for our July dinner. We had a barbecue, and everyone wore western garb. How about a “bring your favorite game” night? Or a talent show, travelogue, or barbershop quartet? Why not present Masonic Education for everyone, before a meeting? Maybe a round-table discussion or guest speaker? Most areas have ritual teams – a Shrine Past Master club, a neighbor lodge ritual team, ever see the Oklahoma Indian degree team…
So, instead of asking why they are not coming, ask what would make them WANT to come. There are a lot of things that can be done to turn a meeting into an event, and an event into a night to remember.  If you make it an event that people want to attend, and let them know why they want to attend, they will.

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