Letters and Figures
More often than not, success is always measured in numbers. In the context of declining membership, most of the letters or articles I have seen and read were the expressions of concern of a “dying Fraternity.” Because the Order loses X number due to passing away or disinterest compared to X number of raised to Master Mason degree with its collateral result of amount of paid membership dues. This writer tends to lean in favor of the camp of those who believe in quality rather than quantity. Like many of the current members, this humble traveler will be extremely glad if more good men flock to join our Fraternity in a hope of making themselves a better man. However, reality dictates that the Craft is not the only group that offers that notion. Freemasonry does not have the monopoly of self improvement while respecting other beliefs. Our Craft will always have “competition” to the pool of good men and to dream of taking them all is just like that word---dream.
An argument could be advanced that the Fraternity was never conceived to be a large group. All the indications to limit the membership were still being practiced and observed despite of the attempt of those craved for change to adapt to modern times. It seems that adaptation means a way to reverse the downward slope of membership issue and the mathematical answer to the problem is to increase the production. Many ideas that floated around and some were actually implemented were designed to bring more individual “to participate in our privileges” as in one-day conferrals and ease off usual requirements such as writing an essay instead of “committing to memories certain parts of the lecture.” How many of us do not even pause to discard something we consider cheap, easy to replace and of little value if not outright worthless?
Men used to flock in our Fraternity because they expect that the Craft were “above” or rather, not like other organizations. The Order used to attract men who are not “ordinary” people; they may be living better than familiar folks, possess skills that are not common or engaged in a profession that pays a notch or two higher than average. The fact was that during the Golden Years of Freemasonry, members of the Fraternity were not your everyday “ordinary” men. One could ask why does “exclusive” country clubs have a year-long waiting list for membership. Despite of expensive membership fees, men who can barely play golf lined up to get in? Why? Because they expect quality; be it may in service, using real glass instead of Styrofoam cup, real sit down dinner instead of being catered by amateurs or kids, or maybe the need to be associated with people and environment that is not “ordinary.” An assembly with room full of attendees wearing open neck shirt and jeans feels different than with a gathering of people wearing coat and tie and/or tuxedo. Men who understand quality dressed up for important events, they “adorn great and important undertakings.”
This humble writer submits that our Fraternity is not for everybody and limited only to those who qualifies. Just like military or religious vocation, our Craft is NOT for general population. Not everybody can get in; there are requirements to be met such as capability to meet financial obligations, mental aptitude to tackle what are needed for the rituals, availability of time for the Craft without concern for second job, etc. The lowering of standards such as requirements to be more financially “affordable,” and taking anyone who ask without regard to the issue of “bringing honor to our ancient institution” are some of the reasons why members dropped off and some of unintended consequences of quantity approach and not to mention an unpleasant result in the coffers of those who depend on it. A Master once said that he rather have a membership roll with nine names of brothers who regularly shows up in meetings and conferrals listed than one hundred names on the roster including names of those regular nine. People showed up because they like to and not because they have to. Numbers seems irrelevant in the context of maintaining “those truly Masonic ornaments, Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.”
Printed in Ventura County York Rite Bulletin May-June 2007