Does Pennsylvania Have A Clue?

pennsylvania freemasonry, pennsylvania freemasonry grand lodgeIt seems that the sweeping changes that MW Thomas Sturgeon made to Freemasonry in Pennsylvania upon assuming the Grand East will be one of the top Masonic stories of 2010 not only for its swift boldness but even more so for its far reaching modifications.  As such you can expect more than a few articles to be written about what Sturgeon has done and a multitude of comments to follow.

The goal of modernization and some of the steps taken is what Frank Haas did for West Virginia. It is my fervent hope that the succeeding Pennsylvania Grand Masters do not reverse all the changes Sturgeon has made or worse yet expel him for what he has done.  Already we have the lines of battle drawn with a group of “traditionalists” rallying to reverse the reforms.  It looks to me as if these changes were mandated by edict rather than submitted to a vote of the entire Grand Lodge membership. To pounce on Pennsylvania Freemasons with so many changes without allowing any input can be both a dangerous card to play and too much for the membership to digest in such a short period.

grand lodge of Pennsylvania sealOver and above that most parties involved are not talking about the most important aspect of these changes, namely that which has been omitted. Rather the entire debate is focused on approval or disapproval of Sturgeon’s 3Ms – Modernizing, Marketing and Membership.   What Sturgeon and the rest of y’all have left out (HatRock excepted) is the need to have a membership committed to the principles of Freemasonry as a way of life, to be well grounded in the belief system of Freemasonry and to accept that as the foremost reason to be a Mason. Mainstream Masonry just hasn’t learned yet that when you spend all your money, time and effort in marketing a product rather than on the product itself, then you end up marketing an inferior product. Short term the marketing works.  But when dissatisfaction with the product sets in users and believers start to disappear.  This holds true for any product.  And that is why we have a retention problem.  The performance of Freemasonry doesn’t match its hype and what follows is apathy and disinterest.

The viability of Freemasonry has to rest on something solid, something that inspires and fires up the heart and soul, something that holds for the individual the very meaning and essence of life.  Without that then the practice of Freemasonry becomes superficial and shallow.

An illustration of how important this is to most any organization can be illustrated by the plight of the Protestant Church.  Those Protestant Churches labeled Mainline, such as Congregationalists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc. have seen their membership plummet in direct proportion to their de-emphasizing doctrine and personal salvation, rather concentrating on social, community and political ends.  Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, AME, Evangelicals, Black Baptists and a number of nondenominational communities who hold Bible Study, Prayer groups, mentoring and in depth and far reaching education from day one are strong congregations and are growing by leaps and bounds.

These more conservative and traditional Protestants are doctrine driven. Freemasonry should be doctrine driven, doctrine driven first.  And then from that will flow the social, the community outreach and the fraternalism of fellowship.  Belief must propel practice.

This way of looking at Freemasonry is often misunderstood. Such thinkers are not calling for some education in the Craft, they are calling for a focus of knowledge commitment.

I have sat in many a Mainstream Grand Lodge Session and watched the donations and money pour in.  Yet Grand Lodge cannot place the outflow in its proper place with the proper priorities.  Freemasonry is a bonding society.  But the bonding needs to come from a sharing of the joy that emanates from an understanding of how Freemasonry changes the heart and inspires the nobleness in life. And that comes when the belief system of Freemasonry is ingrained in every Mason’s heart and soul.

To these ends Lodges and Grand Lodges should be financing and leading Masonic

  • Seminars
  • Libraries at the District and local level
  • Computers in every Lodge with a Grand Lodge connecting Server
  • A statewide Masonic Speakers Bureau
  • A Grand Lodge movie
  • A Grand Lodge radio program
  • Lodge of Research
  • The use of high tech equipment to produce videos and Power Point presentations
  • Esoteric study groups

Lest any have forgotten this is The Information Age. Invest in Freemasonry to make it a superior product rather than an inferior one.  Then watch it grow.  It will sell itself.

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About Fred Milliken

Fred is a Past Master of Plymouth Lodge, Plymouth Massachusetts, and Past Master of Paul Revere Lodge, Brockton, Massachusetts. Presently, he is a member of Pride of Mt. Pisgah No. 135, Prince Hall Texas, where is he is also a Prince Hall Knight Templar . Fred is a Fellow of the Phylaxis Society and former Executive Director of the Phoenix Masonry website and museum.

Comments

  1. Fred, I found myself both agreeing with you and disagreeing with you in almost the same thought. I agree all the tools that you mentioned would go far to help invest the membership with the ideas of the fraternity, but without leverage of use behind them, they become just another tool in the tool shed.

    The problem that I see, and something I’m mulling on how to approach, is that for all that the degrees teach us, once we get them then what? where is the practice of it? I can see how, in what Pennsylvania is proposing, there is a suggestion of Masonry applied. And maybe in this 21st century renaissance, that is the goal, to apply masonry.

  2. Fred, your following words are so beautifully said and true:

    “But the bonding needs to come from a sharing of the joy that emanates from an understanding of how Freemasonry changes the heart and inspires the nobleness in life. And that comes when the belief system of Freemasonry is ingrained in every Mason’s heart and soul.”

    Masonry ALREADY puts forth a mystique of reverence and amazement to those wishing to be a part of it. It’s just that in too many lodges where they step through the door and find an empty room, not for lack of members, on the contrary, but for lack of mystique and amazement that you told them to expect.

    And superficial grand lodge edicts won’t change any of that. Why? Perhaps it’s a lack of inspiration and dictatorial creed that Masonry itself often finds offensive.

    It should be said, if you build it (inside) they will come. If you believe in Masonry, Masonry will believe in you.

  3. I think you will find that the reason we “traditionalists” oppose 8 of the 31 reforms is because those 8 change fundamental customs of Pennsylvania Freemasonry without adding any tangible benefit. Simplifying, skipping or rushing through our ritual removes even the remaining skeletal structure of the Craft. Where are the lessons? Where is the teaching that actually ‘makes good men better’? Retention is a bigger membership loss issue than death, both in terms of actual numbers lost and because it means men aren’t finding our Lodges worth the cost of 1 dinner at a nice restaurant. The younger men the RWGM seeks to bring in are looking for us to be more than we are, not less. While 3/4 of his reforms are good and help fix problems we face, the 1/4 we oppose are those that strip away even more of what essential teachings of PA Freemasonry remain. They also reverse 4 years of work done at the direction of the two previous GMs that focused on improving instruction, connecting more personally with new Masons and increasing in the understanding of not only the words, but the meaning of our ritual. To gut all that work now in the name of making meetings “faster” is the opposite of what we need to improve the quality of our Masonic education. Those 8/31 changes are going the wrong way – ‘fixing’ symptoms of the problem without addressing the root and the result of that will likely be an even greater loss of value in the Lodge. A cough means you have an infection. Just taking a cough suppressant to ‘fix’ the cough is a great way to turn that initial cough into bronchitis or even pnuemonia. The 8/31 we oppose are just quick fix ideas that lower the bar and ultimately will not only allow but hasten the further weakening of the meaningfulness of Freemasonry. Without meaning, we cannot retain members. Without retention, we’re dead. That is what we hope to make clear to this and subsequent GMs.

  4. Nothing sells itself. Many of my lodge’s best young members would never have petitioned without a personal approach because they didn’t know Freemasonry existed. Publicity (letting people know we’re still here) is essential.

  5. It looks to me as if these changes were mandated by edict rather than submitted to a vote of the entire Grand Lodge membership.

    How interesting that over the last several years, nobody seems to have learned the obvious lesson here.

  6. QUOTE:Fred, I found myself both agreeing with you and disagreeing with you in almost the same thought. I agree all the tools that you mentioned would go far to help invest the membership with the ideas of the fraternity, but without leverage of use behind them, they become just another tool in the tool shed.

    The problem that I see, and something I’m mulling on how to approach, is that for all that the degrees teach us, once we get them then what? where is the practice of it? I can see how, in what Pennsylvania is proposing, there is a suggestion of Masonry applied. And maybe in this 21st century renaissance, that is the goal, to apply masonry.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Too often we look for concrete tangible results to result from something we invest in. If we can’t see something happen or result that our eyes can see, or ears can hear, or nose smell, or tongue taste or hands touch then it is not real. And so if we do not see Masons performing charitable acts, doing random acts of kindness then we do not see that Masonry has done anything for an individual. And that is precisely the mistake that Sturgeon has made and the mistake you are making.

    The payoff is in the betterment of the individual internally, to the growth of his soul. What use is a college education? Just to enable the individual to earn more money? Or perhaps could further education lead to further understanding which is an end in itself?

    I am surprised that my good friend so steeped in the mystical would demand such concrete results.

    A question I have asked before – are we human beings or human doings?

    Do we always have to do, cannot we just be and in just being can we not evolve ourselves to a higher plane?

  7. I was pretty disappointed when I read this month’s issue of The Pennsylvania Freemason which addressed some of the changes to come. Especially the black ball. It is so rarely used anyways I’m not sure why they increased it to 3. With all these changes we could be looking at a period of time when the blackball is crucial to maintaining some of the Craft’s core beliefs.

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