Wor. Bro. Levitan was asked by
M.S.A. to develop an update of the October 1928
Short Talk Bulletin "Increasing Lodge Attendance." This paper reflects the
thinking which made his year as Worshipful Master one of the most successful
years in the history of Norfolk Lodge No. 1. We thank him for his cooperation in
sharing these challenging words of inspiration.
At a gathering of Worshipful
Masters, inevitably one will ask, "How's your attendance holding up?" It is, for
the most part a rhetorical question.
The intent of this paper is to show
that substantial increases in attendance are possible provided the Master dares
to be different. This does not imply the need to experiment with so called
"up-to-date" methodology. On the contrary, it requires stimulating those members
we already have as well as those who will be
voluntarily attracted into our midst with pure and unimpaired Freemasonry.
The sooner we stop blaming poor attendance on the failure of the Craft to
modernize, the better.
The last substantial influx of new
members into Freemasonry occurred over forty years ago. Since then, many reasons
have been suggest for the decrease in attendance.
Members have moved away from the metropolitan area lodges. Once
in suburbia their become accustomed to more leisure time, more holidays, and
longer vacations. Some turn to service clubs, where the results of their
participation may be more apparent. Others find that civic responsibilities take
up their evening hours.
Family ties now take precedence over fraternal ties. For some,
longer work hours and the pressure of doing business at night are contributing
The majority, however, do not attend simply because they choose
not to attend. They are bored to tears with business meetings. Those who are not
ritualists find little inspiration sitting on the sidelines listening to the
same brethren perform the degree work and give the lectures time after time.
Their contentions are real and cannot be brushed aside.
We live in an achievement oriented society that views ambiguous
programs with skepticism. Mediocrity no longer suffices. It's time Masonic
leaders stopped saying "something should be done" and begin saying "I'm going to
do something about it."
The call to the Master is the same today as it was when
candidates petitioned in droves: to create an atmosphere for intellectual and
spiritual growth so that the members know from experience they are missing
something by not attending lodge.
Merely to suggest programs that others find helpful is only part
of the answer. What may work for one lodge may not necessarily work for another.
Symbolic Lodge Masonry cries out for an enlightened membership responsive to the
Master who carefully lays his designs upon the trestleboard. The approach,
therefore, includes preparing the members as well as the Master. There are no
The Lodge Investigating Committee
The Masonic life of the prospective candidate begins with the
Lodge Investigating Committee. A committee that consists of one Past Master, one
line officer, and one member at large represents a cross section of the lodge.
The Master who dispatches the committee to the candidate's home
with clearly defined directives takes the first step in laying a solid and
In its visit with the petitioner and his family, the committee
should emphasize what Freemasonry is and what it is not. Their discussion should
include the following:
The purpose of our Ancient Order is to build temples in the
hearts of men;
The pursuit of excellence is one of Freemasonry's noblest
Freemasonry is religious in nature, but it has no Creed or
theology and it is not incompatible with one's religious beliefs;
Freemasonry has an obligation to the community, hut it s not a
Freemasonry stands for citizenship of the highest caliber, hut
it does not engage in political activity;
Freemasonry emphasizes one's obligations to assist the needy,
but it is not a welfare organization;
Freemasonry is not a benevolent society providing insurance
benefits; a Mason must make proper provisions for the protection of his family
in the event of illness of death.
These and many other points are proper for the Lodge
Investigating Committee to discuss with the petitioner and his family. This
approach enables the petitioner to gain a better understanding of our principles
and purpose, and the lodge can better judge his motives for seeking membership.
Few candidates arrive totally prepared for the ordeal of
initiation. Even fewer receive a kindly briefing in the preparation room.
Whatever fears the candidate might have should be put to rest at the outset.
Initiation requires a sense of reverence. It should be impressed
upon the candidate that he is about to enter a solemn and dignified ceremony.
Degrees must then be performed with a like measure of dignity. Anything less
raises doubts in the candidate's mind about the worth of the experience.
The best way of' assuming that new members return is to not only
confer the degrees, but to also make Masons.
Through its appropriate committee, every Grand Lodge determines
the procedure for conferring degrees. The symbolic Lodge, however, makes Masons
at its own pace. There is a distinction. And we should always remember that a
Master Mason cannot be made in three easy lessons. It takes time.
To the average candidate, the philosophical depth of the ritual
is overwhelming. He hears a set of references that he has never heard before and
phraseology he does not use in daily conversation. We then compound matters by
delivering the lectures immediately upon conferring the degrees.
Clearly we have no reason to congratulate ourselves when a
candidate rapidly memorizes the catechism and receives his dues card four weeks
after initiation. So, why not slow down the process. Dare to be different.
The Masonic Service Association is an invaluable source for
information to complement the degrees. An index of current publications is
available for the asking. The candidate who receives good and wholesome
instruction at a leisurely, informal pace away from the lodge room is likely to
become an enthusiastic member who returns frequently.
There is an old Chinese proverb that if you are
planning for one year, plant grain. lf you are
planning for ten years, plant trees. If you are
planning for a hundred years, plant men.
THE WORSHIPFUL MASTER
Knowledge Beyond Ritual Grand Lodges appoint instructors at all
levels to teach Masonic ritual. Few Masters, however, receive training in how to
conduct lodge meetings. Little is done to assure that the incoming Master has a
grasp of the history, philosophy and symbolism of the Craft. The fundamentals
of' lodge management and good programming are rarely talked about in detail. For
these, lodge officers are left to educate themselves. Many never do. Others
start too late.
Prior to setting his designs on the trestleboard, the future
Master would do well to spend at least two years becoming a knowledgeable
Freemason. This is not to suggest that he must become a Masonic scholar, only
that he become familiar with the writings of learned brethren--Joseph Fort
Newton, Thomas Sherrod Roy, H. L. Haywood, Albert Mackey, Robert Gould, Roscoe
Pound, Dwight Smith, Alphonse Cerza, Harry Carr, Conrad Hahn, and Carl Claudy
The Grand Lodge library is an excellent source for material, as
is the Masonic Service Association. There are, in addition, outstanding Masonic
publications in the United States. One is The
Indiana Freemason, which features articles
on contemporary Masonic thought as well as essays by distinguished Masonic
writers of the past. Membership in the Correspondence Circle of Quatuor Coronati
Lodge No. 2076, London, England, the premier Masonic research lodge in the
world, is recommended.
The Master who acquires a background in the history, philosophy,
and symbolism of the Craft understands the mission of Freemasonry. Lodge
attendance will reflect the extent of his preparation.
Setting the Craft to Work
Setting the Craft to work implies more than initiating, passing,
and raising candidates. It implies that the lodge is a dynamic rather than a
static entity. The Master should encourage each member to take part in the
activity suited to his character or abilities and to make sure there is an
activity in which lie can participate.
In one particular lodge, a member rarely set foot in the lodge
room for almost twenty years. A Past Master remembered that the brother spent
his leisure hours interviewing applicants for admission to a major University.
The lodge wanted to start a scholarship program for needy, and deserving
students, so the Past Master asked the brother for assistance. The rest is
history. The scholarship program has been a major commitment of the lodge for
fifteen years and the brother later served the lodge as Master.
Brethren involved in something they like to do value their
membership and return frequently. For those who like to putter around the
kitchen, help is always needed on the Refreshment Committee. For those handy
with axe, hammer , arid saw, there is wood to be chopped or a fence that needs
mending at the home of an infirm brother or Masonic widow. The lodge publication
requires the assistance of brethren with writing skills. For brethren with
experience in fund raising, help is needed on the lodge Charity Fund or Masonic
We cannot expect brethren to return to lodge week after week,
month after month, if not given a specific responsibility. With nothing to do,
sooner or later they tire of sitting on the brow of the hill and before we know
it, stop attending altogether.
The composition and character of the lodge are determining
factors in the selection of' programs. Masonry teaches that men of every sect
and opinion meet on the level. We aim for common objectives among men with
dissimilar backgrounds. The Master who combines programs of' Masonic interest
with fellowship and establishes a continued line of communication with his lodge
will sustain interest and induce attendance.
Most Worshipful Dwight L. Smith, Past Grand Master of Masons in
Indiana, in his widely acclaimed essays "Whither Are We Traveling?", suggests
that Masonry should be a social, cultural, and intellectual experience. A
balance of all three elements is the Master's objective in setting his designs
in the trestleboard.
Programs for a typical year might include patriotic observances,
Ladies' Night, Past Master's Night, Founder's Day Observance, Youth Night,
Father and Son Banquet, lodge picnic, Mother's Day Breakfast, and Masonic plays.
By the time he becomes a Senior Warden, a line officer should
have assembled sufficient material to begin looking around for brethren to
present papers on selected topics. Masonic book reviews should also be
The distinguished Masonic scholar, Most Worshipful Conrad Hahn,
observed ". . . the
lack of educational work in the average lodge is
the principal reason for the lack of interest and
the consequent poor attendance in Masonry over
which spokesmen have been ringing their hands
for at least a Century. "
The educational meeting is for enlightenment and fellowship.
Lodge business is not discussed. Ample time should be allowed for those present
to ask questions and make comments. Meetings .of' this type usually last one
hour and often the discussion continues in the dining room at refreshment. A
well balanced program of' Masonic education includes films, video tapes, arid
slide presentations, some of which are available through MSA or the Grand Lodge.
Ask those who at one time regularly attended why they stopped
and the most frequent reply is, "The meetings are boring and much too long. If
the Master doesn't put me to sleep, the Secretary does."
Not all Masters are comfortable in the role of presiding
officer. However, there are steps the Master can take which minimize the anxiety
of sitting in the East.
One is to smile from within. A lodge senses devotion and
understanding from the Master.
Another is to control the meeting. The Master who looks to the
sidelines for a Past Master to tell him every move to make does not have
Nor should the meeting come unraveled at the Secretary's desk.
Most correspondence read word for word can be Summarized, including
communications from the Grand Lodge. Usually, whispering good counsel in the
Secretary's ear gets the point across without creating an adverse relationship.
Interminable introductions are the downfall of many meetings,
particularly when Masonic dignitaries are present. By the time for the man
event, the members are worn out from jumping up and down to salute each group
the Master paraded to the East.
One innovative Master said, "Enough!" Laying aside the manual of
ceremonies, he announced, "Brethren, tonight we are honored to have as our guest
speaker a distinguished Freemason. In addition, we have with us two Past Grand
Masters and several Grand Lodge officers. In order that you will have an
opportunity to meet our visitors, we will dispense with the usual procedure for
presentations and salute you in a manner we trust is worthy of your high office.
Instead of appointing committees to present four separate groups
of dignitaries in the East with accompanying salutes and responses, the Master
introduced them at their seats Past Grand Masters, Grand Lodge officers,
District Deputy Grand Masters, and Worshipful Masters. Other groups were
recognized at their seats without individual introductions. A forty minute
procedure was reduced to ten minutes, and the lodge enjoyed the extra time at
refreshment following the meeting. It came as no surprise when the Master
received an overwhelming endorsement for the way he handled the introduction.
The festive board is an ideal way to divide a long meeting. When
there is an unusual amount of business to come before the lodge in addition to
the program, the Master would be well advised to start the meeting one hour
early, take care of lodge business, call off for dinner, and return for the
program. Those who want to come for the business portion will be present, and no
one complains about having to sit through an overly long meeting.
Some lodges guard against lengthy meetings by convening two
stated meetings by each month-the first to conduct lodge business and the second
for a program.
Good attendance is the natural result of stimulated interest.
Stimulated interest is the natural result of preparation, planning and
First, the Candidate must be prepared to receive the benefits of
Second, the Master must be prepared to execute a year by
planning intelligently, communicating effectively, and conducting meetings with
dispatch, dignity, and diligence.
Continuity among line officers is required to sustain an
increase in attendance. Nothing kills momentum quicker than the failure to
follow an up-tempo year with another up-tempo year. Regenerated enthusiasm
becomes contagious. Word spreads about the enjoyment of returning to lodge.
increased attendance feeds on itself. And Freemasonry's light burns brighter
because the Master dared to be different.
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