ISSUE 15, October 2005
Editorial
Historic: Nelson and Freemasonry
Grand Lodge: Pro Grand Master's Speech
Grand Lodge: Quarterly Communication
Hurricane Katrina: Grand Charity Relief Chest
Royal Arch: John Knight
Masonic Embroidery: A stitch in time...
Travel: Walzing along the Danube
Specialist Lodges: Martial arts
Library & Museum: The two Freemasons' Halls
    Anniversary: Jersey's Liberation
Anniversary: Dorset's 225 years
Obituaries: Lord Swansea OSM
Pro Grand Master: Whither directing our course?
Charmian Hussey: A Mason's wife on Masonry
International: The Grand Lodge of Israel
Education: Sheffield's big plans
Education: Forthcoming events
Education: The Second Degree
Masonic Charities
Letters, Book Reviews, Gardening

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The largest Grand Lodge in the world, with over 272,000 individuals, but 40% of members have been lost in the last 30 years
    I start with the disclaimer that the views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of Grand Lodge. As Pro Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, and therefore the most senior representative of the Grand Master, one of my responsibilities is to try and steer the Craft in a direction which I hope will be beneficial to its future.
     With nearly 300 years of experience under our belt we must be doing something right, so why should Freemasonry in, say, 25 years be any different from the model we have today? We may be by far the biggest Grand Lodge in the world with a membership of 272,000 individuals spread over the four quarters of the globe, but something is wrong with Anglo-Saxon Freemasonry.
     An enormous amount of effort has been invested in our future both in London, the Provinces and Districts, and many brethren are working hard to recruit, retrieve and retain members. But the overall picture is not satisfactory.
     Although statistics were not available before and during the 1980s, we have lost at least 40% of our membership in as little as 30 years. Our recent losses are often blamed on the fact that we consecrated 1,000 Lodges in the five years following the Second World War to accommodate men returning from active service and wanting to join a fraternity. But that is not the whole story as most of those brethren have long since passed away and we have continued to shrink at the rate of between 2-3% every year.
     While the decline has lessened in the past two years, we are by no means out of the wood, and with an aging membership we face an uncertain future. However, while membership numbers have shrunk so dramatically, the number of Lodges has actually increased, and we now have a very large number of Lodges that are struggling to survive with few members.
     The situation is made even worse when you factor in low attendance figures. It is not easy to see how we can correct this situation except by encouraging Lodges to consider closing or amalgamating when their numbers drop below a viable level.
     The danger of having too few members in a Lodge is that, in their desperation to survive, brethren may accept candidates regardless of whether or not they fulfil the conditions for initiation laid down in the ritual. Worse still, because at best they only manage to attract one new member each year, they rush the poor candidate through the three Degrees without giving him any time to pause and contemplate what it all means.
     Candidates are often stewards before they are Master Masons and on the officers’ ladder as soon as they are raised. Six years later they are either in the Master’s chair or have made some excuse to drop out, never to return.
     A recent survey in Buckinghamshire showed that 30% of all Master Masons ceased attending their Lodges within three years of being raised. I don’t blame them. The pressure of having to learn so much ritual in such a short time, before you have bonded fully with your peers and without any real understanding of its meaning, must test even our most committed candidates.
     This is not Freemasonry as it should be practised, and only slightly better than the mass one-day classes we all deplore in America. If Lodges start to initiate men regardless of their suitability because they are desperate to increase their numbers, then we should be worried about any long-term future for the Order. The quality of our members is more important than their quantity, but it is possible and preferable to have both. There are plenty of ‘just, upright and free men of mature age, sound judgment, and strict morals’ in society, if we could only attract them to join us.
     Until we can find ways of increasing the size of our Lodges, thereby giving more time for progression to the chair and more time to learn and understand the rituals, we must make do with encouraging Lodges to share out much of the work among the Master Masons and Past Masters. It often makes for more variety and therefore more enjoyment, and involves many more of the Lodge members at every meeting.


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