THE INTIMATE LODGE; An Argument In Favor of Small Masonic Lodges by John B. Williams

Discussion in 'Prince Hall History and Research' started by Raymond Walters, Mar 19, 2013.

  1. Raymond Walters

    Raymond Walters Premium Member


    An Argument In Favor of Small Masonic Lodges
    A Presentation to the Phylaxis Society March 5, 1994

    This was one of the earliest essays in the Masonic Growth Series. I am convinced that when we allow lodges to proliferate freely, many of them will mold themselves into intimate lodges of men with like vision.

    Some people are attracted to cities that never close, big cities that offer every human attraction. These people seem to be fascinated by bigness. They like big churches and suspect that a small church is doing something wrong. They like big social affairs; unless they find wall-to-wall people, they think it a failure. They like big lodges and social clubs; nothing less than several hundred members will do.

    There are others who believe that quality time is time spent in a quiet and private way. Time spent with the family beside a fireplace on a winter day is time that has deep meaning to them because it is a period of intimacy that brings out strong feelings of belonging. At a small private dinner party, every member can interact. At a small prayer meeting brothers and sisters can attend to each other's spiritual needs with dignity and sensitivity. And everybody knows that life in a small town is a life filled with neighborly intercourse and personal interchange.

    A big lodge can operate like a business, and that gives it power. A small lodge can operate like a family, and that is gives it power of another kind.

    If you are in the first group, you will probably find much to criticize in this essay. I will admit that in some ways bigger is better. The big lodge can attract public attention by doing things in an impressive way—by giving huge banquets and social affairs that let the world at large know that Freemasonry is a going concern. Even so, small Masonic lodges are an asset to the order of Freemasonry not so much for what they can do in the political and economic environment but for what they can do for Masons. A big lodge can operate like a business, and that gives it power. A small lodge can operate like a family, and that is gives it power of another kind.

    Studies in business management give us clues as to how small lodges have advantages that make them an attractive way to practice our work. For example, there is a limit to the span of control of a manager: a manager can effectively supervise perhaps five to fifteen people. It takes tremendous energy and commitment to lead a big lodge especially if the is to attend to the needs of every member of the Craft. In the end, the management style in such a lodge tends to be autocratic because the Master will have little time to converse with and convince each member of the wisdom of his decisions. In a small lodge, a less skillful brother can ascend to the East because the job of managing the Craft is less demanding, and since each member can participate in the decision-making process, the leadership style can be more democratic, more palatable, and can be as effective as in a big lodge, even with a less skillful leader.

    Sociologists tell us that workers are most highly motivated when their work is meaningful and fulfilling. So let's consider a disadvantage of a big lodge: the problem of giving everyone a meaningful and fulfilling job. It takes only two or three dozen brothers to fill the officer's chairs and to serve as committee chairs in a Masonic lodge. In a small lodge, every member who chooses to be active can aspire to some position of importance. In a big lodge, most of the members know that they can only remain on the sidelines. In practice, many lodges, whatever their size, are administered by fewer than 20 members. Big or small, that's about how many do the essential work. Some of the big lodges create extra committees, but face it, there are only so many meaningful jobs to go around.

    There is another scientific phenomena that favors small lodges over big ones and it can be demonstrated by example. Consider the situation where two motorists are stranded on the highway. One is stranded on a back road where two or three cars pass in an hour; the other breaks down on a busy road where dozens of cars pass each minute. Which motorist is more likely to get help from a passerby? Studies show that the motorist on the back road, the one with few motorists, has a better chance of being rescued. Everyone who passes a stranded motorist has a moral responsibility to stop. On the busy road that responsibility is shared by hundreds of motorist and the responsibility felt by any one motorists is highly diluted. "If I pass him by," they think, "the next guy will help him out." On the back road, each motorist knows that if he does not help, help may not come for hours. His sense of responsibility is more intense and he feels more compelled to assist.

    This social phenomenon suggests that the more widely a responsibility is shared, the less intense the sense of individual responsibility becomes. That's why, in a big lodge, a sense of individual responsibility by some members may seem weak. A member might overlook some small matter because he realizes that someone will come along minutes later and attend to it. A committee member might fall short on the job because he realizes other members of the committee will fill the void. In a small lodge, members realize that if they don't get the job done, it is likely that no one else will. The sense of motivation and commitment in a small lodge is often greater and this can drive these men to become better Masons.

    With this introduction, I would like now to set up a hypothetical situation. Consider a town that because of population shifts has recently had an influx of one hundred Masons. There have been various proposals regarding how they should organize themselves. One proposal is that they form one lodge of 100 members, another is that they form two lodges of 50 members, and a third is that they form four lodges of 25 members. Who would benefit from either of these proposals and how would each proposal affect the Brothers, the town, the Grand Lodge, and the Order as a whole?

    For those who view attendance at meetings as a sign of commitment and involvement, the small groups may be more effective. Consider that attendance at typical lodge meetings consists of elected and appointed officers plus a small core of committee chairmen and Past Masters. If we say on average that attendance consists of 80% of the officers and committee members, 40% of the Past Masters, and 10% of the remaining membership, then we can expect to see something like the following attendance depending on which option our hypothetical town takes.

    Lodge Members:
    Members 100 50 25
    Officers 18 15 12
    PMs 8 4 2
    Brothers 74 31 11
    Officers 14 12 10
    PMs 3 2 1
    Brothers 8 3 1
    Per lodge 25 17 12
    # of lodges 1 2 4
    Combined 25 34 48

    As far as our hypothetical town is concerned, almost half the total Masons might be involved with a Masonic Lodge on a regular basis if the brothers decide to form four small lodges. If attendance is the first step toward commitment, the argument goes in favor of the small lodge. I will take a leap of faith and speculate that the four smaller lodges can get more done in the way of attracting attention within the community. The affairs they put on may be small, but they can put them on more frequently. By attracting more attention in the community, they can conceivably grow faster as well.

    Consider also that Masonry has an educational goal. A big part of the educational process, the process of making good men better, is helping them work their way around the chairs toward the East. A man cannot serve as Master of a Masonic Lodge for a year and not come away changed—hopefully, for the better. If the Masons in our hypothetical town congregate themselves into four lodges, this stage of the educational process occurs four times faster.

    Preparation by brothers to become Master of the Lodge serves also as a major source of personal motivation. Once a brother senses that he has a reasonable chance to ascend to the east, his concept of commitment and devotion seems to improve instantly. If the brothers in our hypothetical town congregate into four lodges, there will be four times as many brothers motivated in this way. It should be apparent also that four times as many votes would be cast in Grand Lodge thus giving the Masons of our town more clout in Grand session than they would have as one big lodge.

    Only a limited number of Masons strive to attain the office of Master in a big lodge because members know that not everyone has a chance to serve. In a lodge of 25 members, in which the master serves one-year terms, any member who enters the lodge at age 21 and who serves faithfully can reasonably hope to become Master of his lodge in his lifetime. In a lodge of 100, with current mortality rates, there is no such hope.

    Let's also consider what happens when a brother finds himself at odds with the lodge and decides to withdraw his membership. If there is only one lodge in town, he is likely to sever all ties with the fraternity. If there are three other lodges to consider, he may demit into another lodge. Brothers have options when there are multiple lodges. If a brother works on the days his lodge meets, there may be another lodge that meets during his off days. If one lodge tends to be too rowdy for Deacon Jones's tastes, he may be able to find another lodge whose members conform more closely to his ideals.

    Another advantage of a small lodge is that it seems to suit us more naturally. In fact when the lodge goes to refreshment, Brothers tend to congregate into small groups in which each member can interact comfortably. In big lodges these small groups can eventually become permanent cliques and cliques can become divisive. Small lodges are not immune to cliques but at a certain size the entire lodge becomes the clique and no one is harmed or slighted by cliquishness.

    The process of visiting the members of the lodge becomes more difficult as the lodge gets bigger. Big lodges are less intimate in this respect because it becomes impractical for any brother—especially the Master—to visit with every member of the Craft in his home. With 350 members he would have to visit a different brother every day and it would take a year to get the job done. The job of the secretary in such a lodge becomes difficult and thankless. If you've ever had to address, stamp, stuff, and seal 350 envelopes, you know that it can consume a large part of your day.

    At the same time, there are things a small lodge can do that a big lodge cannot. They can congregate on short notice in somebody's back yard and not have to exclude members from the meeting because there was no time to reach them by phone or because there was not enough room to accommodate everyone.

    Please understand, it is not my position that a big lodge is inherently undesirable. Not at all. A lodge would never get big unless it had something special going for itself. Big lodges working at their peak are a joy to behold. But is it true that it takes a big lodge to make big things happen? If the four small lodges in our hypothetical town join together for a joint venture—a joint Prince Hall Day celebration, for example—they can put on a celebration that would rival the best of the big lodges.

    There is a mood today that a lodge must be big to be something. There are jurisdictions that say seven Masons are not enough: if you can't start big you can't start at all. This might be a mistake. According to the 1987 Prince Hall Masonic Directory the Grand Lodge of Alabama has 541 lodges with 30,862 members, an average of 57 members per lodge. The Grand Lodge of New York, working with almost three times the Black population of Alabama, has 83 lodges with 9,421 members, an average of 113 members per lodge (twice the average size of lodges in Alabama). Although I have not had the opportunity to visit either of these Grand Jurisdictions, I would guess that both are doing wonderful things. But Alabama, with the largest body of Prince Hall Masons on the planet, many of whom are in small lodges, must be doing something special. With one-third the population, Alabama has three times as many Masons and six times as many lodges as New York. Consider also, that in England, where Masonry began, in the City of London alone, there are more Masonic lodges than in the entire state of Alabama. It would appear that Masonry is practiced in New York on a grand scale; in Alabama, Masonry extends to village level; but in the City of London, Masonry is a neighborhood activity, much as are the pubs in London a neighborhood phenomenon.

    So how do you decide? What should the Masons in our hypothetical town do? The decision depends on what one expects from a Masonic Lodge. If it is to be a force in the community—a viable economic and political force—big lodges may be the answer. If the lodge is to take good men and make them better, the small lodge has much to recommend it. Small lodges may not fill their coffers like big lodges can, but they can make Masons as well or better, especially if we agree that the process of making Masons begins with initiation, passing, and raising, and extends to the grave. The task of educating, motivating, and nurturing Master Masons can be done effectively in an intimate lodge, one small enough for everyone to form close ties.

    Some Brothers are attracted to a big lodge because they need the assurance of a crowd to validate their feelings about the Order. For some of them, their commitment to the lodge and to the Order is superficial. When the crowd thins, they might be lost. Brothers who are attracted to small lodges are often drawn to it by intimacy. When the lodge goes through hard times, the relationships endure. The lodge is held together by friendship and brotherly love.

    It may not be a good strategy to force big lodges to reorganize into smaller units, but it would be questionable strategy to prevent them from doing so when they feel the need. In some jurisdictions, seven brothers may petition the Grand Lodge for dispensation to form a lodge. Even if they split from another lodge, such a split does nothing to weaken the Grand Lodge, which can gain, not lose when it charters a new lodge. If the mother lodge is so badly weakened by such a split that it cannot survive, perhaps it does not warrant being saved.

    In the final analysis, maybe nothing needs to change about the way we do business, but we should periodically examine our policies to see whether we are driving ourselves out of the business of Freemasonry by misplacing our emphasis. If we direct our strategies toward making Master Masons better Masons, any secondary goals we might want to achieve with respect to public and community service will likely be achieved as by-products this simple effort.

    Bill Lins and AndreAshlar like this.
  2. AndreAshlar

    AndreAshlar Registered User

    Beautiful article. A must share.
  3. Bro. Staton

    Bro. Staton Registered User

    This is a great read and one too truly think about in comparison to larger and smaller lodges....
  4. Rifleman1776

    Rifleman1776 Registered User

    Sorry, did not read it all. Very long. In my experience if we didn't have small lodges, we would have no lodges at all. Attending a large lodge with many attending would be an interesting experience. Where might a Brother find one to visit?
    AndreAshlar and Bro. Staton like this.
  5. Bill Lins

    Bill Lins Moderating Staff Staff Member

    You might check with your Grand Lodge- there's probably large Lodges in Little Rock & Fayetteville.
  6. Rifleman1776

    Rifleman1776 Registered User

    Thanks. Maybe one day.
  7. Warrior1256

    Warrior1256 Site Benefactor

    My mother lodge is a small one and I am very happy there.
  8. Rifleman1776

    Rifleman1776 Registered User

    Old thread but an interesting viewpoint. Using churches as a comparison, I believe people view a large church as doing something right. They don't see small churches as doing anything wrong but it does cause concern as to why they are not larger. OTOH, Lodges are different. I have no experience with big city lodges, maybe one day. But, in my area we are fortunate to maintain our Lodge membership at sustainable levels. We have a large population of retirees and they have a tendancy to get ill and die. Family age men simply do not have time for Lodge and that is a fact. Large or small, we take what we can get and make the most of it.
    Classical likes this.
  9. Warrior1256

    Warrior1256 Site Benefactor

    I also belong to a small church which I prefer.
    So true. We get enough members at my mother lodge to keep our numbers stable and we are in great shape financially.
  10. Glen Cook

    Glen Cook G A Cook Site Benefactor

    My faith actually divides congregations when they become large.

    I was a family man, and had time for lodge and appendant bodies.
    Warrior1256 likes this.
  11. Warrior1256

    Warrior1256 Site Benefactor

    Agreed. Back in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s when many Masons were in the age group of 30-50 they had families and jobs.
  12. Bloke

    Bloke Premium Member

    Most of the lodges I am in have officers 25-45 years of age.. they seem to balance it.. the key is to allow them to put their families first when they need to - that is why one of the rehearses 9:30 am Sunday - it does not bite into family time... (rehearsal is once a month).

    And I like the lodges I am in because they have less than 45 members total - they enjoy many of the strengths referred to above in the OP.
  13. Warrior1256

    Warrior1256 Site Benefactor

    My mother lodge has around 75 members and we like it this way.
  14. Brother JC

    Brother JC Vigilant Staff Member

    My Mother Lodge has over 200, my second has around 45, and my present lodge has 13 MMs... I seem to be scaling back as I go.
    My UGLE lodge, on the other hand, grows larger every year.
  15. Classical

    Classical Premium Member

    We have ten on a good night!
  16. Warrior1256

    Warrior1256 Site Benefactor

    We usually have 15-20 each meeting.
  17. Carl_in_NH

    Carl_in_NH Site Benefactor

    We typically have between 15 and 20 for a Stated Communication - with a dozen of those being current office holders. Not all that bad when you figure total membership of under 60 brothers, currently.

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