Strategy for Improving Freemasonry India Grand Lodge

Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by Blake Bowden, Nov 9, 2009.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

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    Presentation by
    M. W. Bro. Justice Devinder Gupta, OSM, (GM2006-2009)

    Inspite of nearly 300 years of existence in its present form participation in the Masonic fraternity has been dropping for at least 50 years. Evidence of our decline is the fact that our membership totals are at their lowest levels in more than 80 years. Population figures everywhere have soared. At the same time membership figures for the Masonic population have dropped.

    Much is not known about Freemasonry to the popular world. In today's world of high-speed communications, the public's perception of Freemasonry is often based on insufficient information. It is not uncommon that today more people are impressed by what they see and hear than by what they read. The public's perception and public opinion of Freemasonry to-day can be said to be confused on the point that whether the Masons are a fraternity, a religious organization or an alternative religion? They are also mistaken that Freemasonry is an old-fashioned organization and is meant only for elder people. It is also oblivious that most of the people are not even aware that Masonry still exists. Masons are not visible in the daily life of their communities. Moreover what little is known about Freemasonry to a small fraction of people outside is also based on misunderstanding and misinformation spread by the media and others who have no idea of principles and philosophy of Freemasonry.

    Though the degree of such misinformation and perception regarding Freemasonry may vary from country to country, all of us are well aware that the popular perception about Freemasonry is that it is a Secret Society which is shrouded in mystery. In some jurisdictions there are even accusations that Freemasons are conspiring to establish a world order! While as Freemasons all over the world we do know what Freemasonry is a serious men's organization, dedicated to self-improvement coupled with community involvement. It is a provider of camaraderie, trust in each other, instant fellowship, and brotherhood. Masonry brings together a group of people who emphasize individual excellence. It is an organization that makes good men better. It is unfortunate that the tenets and principles of Freemasonry advocating "Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth and which believes in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, have remained within the confines of our Lodges and are not known to the popular world outside.

    Today Masonry is shaped by the 19th century concept of social benevolence and the 20th century emphasis on ritual as the completion of a Mason's education about the fraternity. There were and are tensions inherent in our organization today, including but not limited to the perceptions that there is a slight movement toward wanting to educate the public about the fraternity; there is recognition that traditional communications tools have failed to heighten public awareness; the inclusion of family members at Masonic events has produced mixed results; masonry is no longer identified as an elite organization; and current Masons do not understand the true meaning of our fraternity.

    It is heartening to note that now most of the Grand Lodges all over the world are becoming increasingly concerned with declining interest, lack of growth and loss of membership, which I feel is a direct result of sufficient efforts not being made by us as Freemasons, for creating more awareness about Freemasonry.

    Need for Masonic Liberalization

    I am strongly of the view that in this era of Globalization and Economic Liberalization there is also need for what I would like to call as "Masonic Liberlisation". When I took over as the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of India in October 2006 I suggested the following Vision and Mission Statement for Freemasonry in our country.

    Vision:
    Masonic Liberalization.

    Mission:
    • Adopt "Each One Bring One" as a slogan so that we not only have more men in Freemasonry but also more Freemasonry in more men;
    • Spread the message and philosophy of Freemasonry widely to instill more Freemasonry in men;
    • Check dropouts by vigorous efforts at Lodge level;
    • Endeavour to make Freemasonry more vibrant and dynamic.

    In fact Grand Lodge of India has issued a circular letter to all the Lodges under its jurisdiction suggesting some of the modalities that can be followed by which such Masonic Liberlisation can be achieved.

    I feel that since the problems faced by the Grand Lodges all over the world are somewhat similar, the steps suggested to be taken by Grand Lodge of India, to bring about Masonic Liberlisation, may also be relevant to Grand Lodges elsewhere, of course subject not only to the actual condition of Freemasonry obtaining in the jurisdiction of the different Grand Lodges, but also on account of the cultural, ethnic, economic and other differences, that inevitably exist between jurisdictions. Nevertheless, I take this opportunity for sharing various steps which Grand Lodge of India has been advising the Lodges to implement, to bring about Masonic Liberlisation which I feel can bring about improvement in Freemasonry.

    5-'R's Strategy for bringing about improvement in Freemasonry and implementation of the Vision and Mission

    R1:-"Reach Out" Strategy for Masonic Liberalization.

    Masonic Liberalization implies:

    • Reaching Out to the Public and the Community by:-
    • continuously dispelling the notion that Freemasonry is a secret society;
    • exposure to Freemasonry through some of the Masonic events which may be open to the public including ladies along with media coverage, Press Conference etc. when ever and where ever possible;
    • explaining that Freemasonry is neither a religion nor a political organization or a social club but that it is a system aimed at improving individual, whereby good men can be made better members of society;
    • drawing attention to the various charitable projects being organized by Freemasons all over the country and the world; and
    • bringing to notice the names of prominent Freemasons, both within the country and elsewhere in the world..

    Action Plan for implementing R-1 Strategy to "Reach Out"
    At Grand Lodge Level:
    • Dissemination of Masonic Information through Pamphlets and Publications, for wide distribution and popularizing its website;
    • Encouraging holding Masonic events such as Masonic Foundation laying ceremony and Long Term Service Jewel presentation etc. involving Family Members and non- Masons;
    • Organizing National level Press Conference and involving the media, whenever possible.

    At Lodge level:
    • Organizing Charitable projects at local level involving families & non-Masons & collaborating with Non-Government Organisations & other Civil society groups in such projects wherever possible;
    • Providing media exposure to such events, wherever possible;
    • Encourage formation of Ladies Association at the Lodge level
    • Developing Lodge websites and encouraging potential candidates to visit it;

    At the level of individual Brethren:
    • Involve family members actively in outside Lodge events
    • Feel free to talk about Freemasonry when asked questions about it by non-Masons;
    • Be ready with answers to likely questions from non-Masons;
    • Participate actively in Masonic Workshop/Seminars/ Quizzes and browse websites etc, for improving and acquiring adequate Masonic Knowledge;
    • Only by acquiring adequate Masonic knowledge it will be possible for individual brethren, to furnish effective and meaningful information to prospective candidates;
    • Not hesitating to invite prospective candidates and non-Masons, for interaction with other brethren at the festive board and other outside the Lodge events;
    • Keep handy Masonic literature such as pamphlets etc for being given to prospective candidates.

    R2:-Strategy for "Re-Vitalization of Lodges"
    • Re-Vitalize is intended to re-kindle the waning interest of those who attend Lodges rather routinely and those who attend some-what irregularly and are in danger of becoming drop outs. Declining new membership and consequent laxity in Ritual working resulting in Lodges falling into a rut of dull routine, is one of the reasons for members loosing interest and for irregular attendance;
    • Every Lodge should therefore resolve to adopt the slogan of "Each One Bring One" and make special efforts to be on the look out for prospective candidates;
    • A good starting point will be to remember how we ourselves became a Freemason;
    • Another reason for loss of interest of Members is often the style of Management of Lodges. Lack of proper leadership in the Lodges, also sometimes makes them like a rudderless ship not knowing which way to go! Therefore in order to Re-vitalize the Lodge, it is necessary to develop proper leadership as well as a consensus type of management involving maximum number of brethren ;
    • Lodge Members come from all walks of life;
    • Each has some skills to offer, which must be tapped to Re-Vitalize the Lodge, for improved administration and planning of activities, involving the members and their families, thereby maximizing membership interest and involvement;
    • Members devote prime time in the Lodge against other competing interests;
    • Busy executives often come to the Lodge, as a haven of relaxation and for spiritual and moral upliftment;
    • Lodge meetings must therefore be made interesting, through frequent family/children get together, involving the Lodge and its members actively in Grand Lodge meetings and by sponsoring of and participation in various charitable projects;
    • Educate Brethren to use their Masonry, beyond the limits of a Lodge room.
    • Education in fundamentals is the essential elements in Freemasonry. Help Brethren to understand the true meaning of our signs, symbols and customs, the ideals of the Order, the Ancient customs and usage's of the Craft and the Ancient Landmarks of the Order and about what organized Freemasonry is, what its principles and purposes are, what programs it is engaged in, how it carries them out, and what satisfactions the individual Mason derives from his Masonic membership.
    • We, as a Fraternity, have reached the point where far to few of our members have even the faintest idea of why they are Freemasons, let alone, have any real knowledge about our history and heritage. The real nature of the Fraternity as a spiritual force, as "a way of life" which seeks to improve men morally and spiritually, by associating with other idealistic men who want to improve the quality of life around them by means of a brotherhood which emphasizes the Fatherhood of God. As such to kindle a general desire for Masonic Knowledge, which would lead Brethren to study the history of Freemasonry and thereby appreciate their noble heritage more fully, the symbolism of Masonry by which they can understand its teachings, and the philosophy of Masonry, which is the chief reason for its existence.
    • Freemasonry is an educational organization. By means of the ritualistic ceremonies and other educational programs, Masons learn and teach the truths of morality, justice, patriotism, and the necessity of brotherly love to achieve those universal ideals. Reverence for the Great Architect is inculcated because men are brothers only if they are related to God as the, sons of the Creator Father.
    • The making of a Freemason is a continued course of education, training and character forming or symbolically known as the search for more light. It is also an innermost desire, followed by obligations, that makes one a member of the Craft, yet in a truer sense, a man is not a Freemason unless he lives up to his obligations.

    Other ways of Re-Vitalizing Lodges would be to:
    • Start Lodge meetings punctually at stated time and conduct the meetings in a business like and disciplined manner
    • Organize and participate in Seminars/Workshops/Masonic Quiz, and other such events
    • Organize periodical meeting for interaction of Senior Masons with newly made Freemasons
    • Arrange for and participate in Lodge inter-visitations
    • Arrange social get together and fund raising events for charity projects, such as musical evening, magic shows etc.
    • Make Installation nights memorable
    • Visit sick brethren and families and offering help and encouragement to them and their families
    • Develop Lodge website and News Letter to keep the interest of members on the ongoing activities and Masonic news

    R-3: Strategy to 'Retain' the interest of new Initiates, during their early years, to prevent their loss of interest & drop-out.

    • First point to be noted under this strategy is the Importance of Candidates:
    • He is the most important person in our organization
    • He is not an interruption in our work - He is the purpose of it
    • He is part of the Organization - He is not an outsider
    • He is not a cold statistics of an increase in our membership
    • He is a person with feeling and emotions like the rest of us.
    • He is not just a face or a number on our roll - He is an individual with a distinct personality and has an equal role in Lodge affairs
    • He is a person who has come with lot of expectations - It is our duty to fulfill them
    • He is the life blood of the Organization - Without him there is no future for the Organization
    • He is eventually going to occupy the Master's chair in your Lodge and rise even higher - so it is as well that we pay proper attention to him!
    • Second point to be noted is the role of Proposer / Seconder, who should:-
    • Brief the candidate adequately about Freemasonry and Masonic philosophy, verbally and through Pamphlets etc, as also the fees etc. payable, for initiation and membership, the place of the meetings and their frequency etc.
    • Encourage him to visit Masonic websites of Grand Lodge and the Lodge
    • Correct candidate's wrong or improper notions, if any about Freemasonry
    • Provide opportunity for interaction with other brethren of the Lodge to the extent possible before the candidate is proposed
    • Continue to take personal interest in candidate ensuring his regular attendance and nurturing him
    • Help candidates to fill up the forms and inform them about balloting and interview by Lodge Committee
    • Be present at his interview by Lodge Committee as well as when he is balloted and initiated
    • Remind candidates on the date of initiation and brief them about the dress code and accompany them if necessary
    • Being candidate suitably to enable him to go through the ceremony comfortably and confidently
    • Enable candidate to meet as many brethren as possible and be made to feel welcome after his initiation.
    • Brief the candidate suitably beforehand about the Toast that will be taken for him and how he is expected to reply.
    • The third point to be noted in this Strategy is the Importance of the Ritual:
    • It is the Ritual that separates us from other Organizations
    • It is therefore very important that the Ceremony of Initiation, Passing and Raising must make a lasting impression on the candidate
    • The Ritual and the ceremonies should therefore be conducted with dignity and decorum by all the officers concerned in such a manner that the candidate understands the significance of every step of the process;
    • The candidate's proficiency in each degree must be tested adequately before he is given the next degree.
    • Education in Ritual work. This is essential not only for elected or active office-bearers but also for prospective office-bearers. In this connection much more liberal use could be made of the Lodge of Instruction. I would suggest for instance that any Brother aspiring to office should be trained before hand so that no new office-bearers would be an apprentice but rather a trained Craftsman.
    • The ritual does not make Masons. It only makes members! A candidate who is left hanging at the end of the 3rd Degree, having heard a lot of words and really not knowing what they mean. Until the Degrees are explained to the candidate he has no idea of what he has gone through. To suggest that the explanation is complete with the lectures of each Degree is again burying our head in "Masonic Sand."
    • " We have thousands upon thousands of books on Masonry and for the most part the one thing they have in common is that they are unread. We have to find a way of developing material that will be used in the Masonic community. Realistically we have to insist that every Lodge must offer a course in Masonic education. If they don't have the resources within the Lodge to provide that education then it must be done either by another Lodge or at the regional level. Commitment, on the part of knowledgeable Masons within each Lodge is essential, who will actively accept the responsibility to see that all Masons are taught about the Fraternity.
    • Isn't it time we reintroduced ourselves to the meaning of Freemasonry and got back to living and practicing this beautifully descriptive picture of our order?!
    • The fourth point is the Role of Lodges.
    • Lodge should launch an Education Programme and allot at least one meeting in a year for interaction with the newly made Masons and to clear their doubts, by inviting knowledgeable speakers to talk about:
    • what Freemasonry is and What Freemasons stand for;
    • The set up of the Grand Lodge and the privilege of being allowed to attend other Lodges, both within the country, as also anywhere in the world and inform them about the procedures and details in this regard
    • Making advancement in Masonic knowledge through higher degrees and how to proceed in this regard
    • Lodges should involve younger Mason actively in various Lodge Committees and encourage them to participate in charitable projects and other events organized from time to time.
    • Lodges may introduce a "Mentor" system to complement the role of Proposers, whereby, a group of senior brethren are assigned to the newly initiated candidates, as also during their subsequent progress, in the initial years.
    • Further points to be noted:
    • Besides the Mentors/Proposers/Seconders, the Worshipful Master and Secretaries have a special role towards the younger Masons
    • They should periodically interact with them on one to one basis, on Lodge procedures and offices, to make them feel at ease
    • Periodical family get together, picnics, sports etc. should be organized actively involving younger Masons and their families
    • If some of the Members do not turn up at meetings special efforts must be made to contact them, to find out the reason and provide them and their families any help they may need
    • Younger Masons must be encouraged to attend Grand Lodge meetings, to provide them wider interaction and exposure and to increase their Masonic knowledge

    R 4:-Strategy to 'Renew and Revive' the interest of inactive Members

    • It is the usual experience of Lodges that attendance in meeting is often just about 30 to 40% or even less and those who attend regularly among them, is even lesser
    • The regular absentees and those who attend irregularly are potential drop outs and are also often defaulters in their dues
    • In some Lodge the attendance at the Festive Board far exceeds the attendance at the meeting
    • In some smaller Lodges some times there are not enough members to even open the Lodge and the meeting is sometimes minuted as having been held!
    • In some Lodges despite initiations and joinings during the year there is decline in membership
    • Experience has shown that if these negative aspects are not attended to properly and systematically, Lodges are known to deteriorate further leading to more Resignations and Cessations.
    • Systematic drive is therefore necessary to identify interest of Members by not only the cause for this situation, but also, to interact with the irregular members, to find out the causes for their declining interest, individually and take remedial action to Renew and Revive their interest
    • It is desirable that Lodges set up a small committee of Senior Brethren to contact defaulting members to find out the reasons for their loss of interest and the steps that need to be taken to renew and revive their interest
    • Each such Member's concerns should be addressed carefully, for suitable action, by the Worshipful Master and the Members
    • It may be a good idea to place the findings of the Committee before the Permanent Committee of the Lodge and even to have the findings discussed in the open Lodge, to take appropriate remedial action, to Renew and Revive the interest of such members
    • Such indifference may have its roots even to the members' poor initiation and follow up, or may be indifferent health, or financial trouble, family problems, trouble at the work place, or as simple an explanation, as lack of transport
    • Sometimes such loss of interest is caused due to lack of recognition and frustration caused by being sidelined for offices
    • Though humility is said to be an essential qualification, clash of egos is also often responsible for loss of interest of members.

    R 5:-Strategy of 'Raising the Bar'

    • At the end of the 4 Strategies presented earlier it may look as if nothing new has been said
    • This is no doubt true
    • However, it must be admitted that Freemasonry is not being taken as seriously as it should, at various levels
    • While the same amount of dedication may not be found in all Members, it is up to the leaders, to show the way by precept and example
    • Who are then the leaders?
    • The Lodges are the units where Freemasonry is practiced
    • Obviously the first level leadership has to be in the Lodge
    • Good leaders are those, who first learn to follow, before they learn to lead
    • Those who manage effectively to DEAL with men, material, time and resources will be best fitted to LEAD
    • No amount of direction from the Grand Lodge can help, unless leadership action is taken at the Lodge level
    • However it is the action taken by the Lodges and its officers, as leaders, in "Raising the Bar' that will show results
    • Lodges have therefore to set standards for the performance of their officers to implement the various aspects of the strategies as described and then 'Raise the Bar'
    • What Does 'Raise the Bar' mean
    • Like athletes involved in High jump or Pole Vault "Raise the Bar' to improve their performance and jump higher notch by notch, so have the Lodge Officers to set standards of performance and then improve them further
    • The Grand Master can ask every one to 'Raise the Bar' of their performance, but it is ultimately the Lodge as a whole and its leadership, which has to 'Raise the Bar' of its performance if all round success has to be achieved, to give shape and substance to the Grand Master's Vision
    • Developing Leadership and improved Standards of performance and Raising the Bar can be achieved by
    • Holding Seminars and workshops at the Lodge level or by two or three Lodges working together
    • Past Masters' Lodges and Lodge of Instructions providing support
    • Conducting Workshops for improving performance and Leadership for Worshipful Master, Wardens, Secretaries, Treasurers and for Directors of Ceremonies. Grand Lodge can also help by producing Standard Modules for such Workshops.

    The aforementioned are some of the measures, if taken in right earnest by drawing up an action plan will go a long way in improving the health of Freemasonry.
     

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