A New Renaissance in Freemasonry
A personal paper created by R.W. Bro. Ian J Bowman Senior Grand Warden, BC and Yukon
Presented at the Western Canada Conference, October 2014.
Note *I took the liberty of making a few changes to this quote from Freemasonry and the American Revolution by Sidney Morse.
Contrary to public opinion and statistical numbers regarding our membership, I believe we are entering a new period of revival in Freemasonry.
Historical data clearly shows regional numbers are declining and we have fewer lodges and fewer members than we had in the 1950s. U.S. data also supports this same trend with a membership high in 1929 followed by an expected decline through the depression
into the 1930s.
This continued through the war years of the 1940s and did not recover again until after
the Second World War.
Strangely enough though we saw membership rebound in the mid 1950s right up until 1964. Why was that and what caused the change?
So how can I stand here today and tell you that I believe we are entering a period of revival – a new Renaissance?
The answer requires you to take a step back through history with me.
We know from the facts mentioned earlier there were several periods in history when Freemasonry thrived in great numbers in the UK, the British Colonies and in the very midst of the American Revolution itself. This great throng of eager young men drawn into military service found they were welcomed by open arms into a society that was once outside of their class and breeding.
The call to arms during the American Revolution in the mid 1700s saw a marked increase in membership on both sides of the Canadian/American border. There was one point around 1770, for example, where the City of Boston with a population of 25,000 had over 1,000 Freemasons. Much of this was also due to the British Armada and military bases along the Eastern seaboard all at the time.
During this colonial time, Freemasonry expanded from Great Britain through Europe and to all the British colonies.
At one time there were no fewer than 13 Grand Lodges issuing warrants in the
American colonies, with upwards of 200 lodges operating in three American colonies alone.
During this time, Freemasonry was promoting friendly intercourse between the officials of the crown and the colonial gentry; between the British regulars and the colonial militia; and, between ship Captains and the British Merchant Marine. It was little wonder membership was so high during this period in history.
Famous meeting places such as Boston’s Green Dragon Tavern in the mid 1700s were visited by such men as Paul Revere, George Washington, Samuel Adams and John Otis (claimed author of the saying “No taxation without representation”) – all very notable Freemasons.
What a time that must have been for Freemasons and Freemasonry!
After hearing all of this how can I attempt to claim today that our fraternity could even begin to compete in membership with this colourful history of resolute men brought together by acts of patriotism?
This group of brothers with this military connection continued in great strength as history unfolded, not only through the years of the War of Independence but repeating itself again in the great sacrifices that were to follow.
From that period through the two Great Wars there were many similarities of human
conflict, a banding of brothers and the rise of great men and well known Freemasons such as Churchill, Roosevelt and many others.
After the Second World War, however, our world changed in many ways. The world was tired of strife and conflict. Great numbers of young men had lost their lives and those who returned needed to focus on building a new life and future.
While there were still many military ties and close associations that extended into the 1950s something else was beginning to change. Again membership in lodges began
to decline, but then returned to record levels in the early 1960s – why?
Many of the returning servicemen of the 1945 era were officers, men of position, heroes in many ways and influencers to their peers and of the younger generation. They also became leaders in business, in politics, in communities and in local affairs. They were experienced in life, easily admired, possessing the ability to lead as a result of their worldly experiences. They were very much responsible for healthy lodge numbers during this time. So, why the decline around 1964?
There were many first time influences around this time. The ability to travel and live in other countries was no longer restricted due to war. Women were entering the work force, not because of wartime demands, but for the first time because they could.
Family life began to change. These wartime heroes and influencers were now reaching 60 years of age, which at that time was considered “being old”.
During this period there was also a rise in other organizations and clubs where fraternal connections were no longer required to enjoy fellowship. There was no need to join a fraternal organization to feel the warm company of like minds. History shows that from this period forth our membership began to steadily decline and has not since recovered.
Not because the principles of our fraternity had changed, or that young men did not see the quiet manner of reverence afforded their fathers and uncles, but because there were too many other distractions in this new faster paced world and the previous generations of influencers were now fading more and more into the back benches.
The decline had started and lodges began for the first time to be looked upon as an older man’s organization.
Other factors affected lodge attendance and new membership during this time, and at great risk here, I dare mention some reasons why.
The Sixties began with a new generation, not only of men, but of women who were very determined and capable of becoming the bread winner.
The “Pill” had arrived and staying home with the kids was no longer the standard.
The “Secret Masonic Order” was no longer a secret with many openly written books on the subject.
Women wanted to know more and were being asked to participate in membership investigations.
Something that Washington, Churchill and Roosevelt would most likely never have imagined in their lifetime.
The Sixties was also a time of freedom from establishment for this generation.
A time to plant, a time to laugh, a time to build, a time to dance and a time for every purpose under heaven as the famous rock lyrics claimed at the time.
So after hearing all of this where am I going with the title of the speech –
A New Renaissance in Freemasonry?
On one hand I am telling you that our gentle craft once steeped in revolutionary causes,
that once drew military men in great numbers to its fold, that endured two great wars and has since seen a steady decline is about to embrace a new profound period of revival.
I will endeavour to tell you why I feel this to be so today.
The baby boomer generation has established itself as the greatest group of leaders in the Western world. Today, and for the last 20 years and for the next 10 years or so they will continue to dominate society.
They are the first generation to be able to say that their children will never surpass what they have achieved.
This generation has entered our fraternity right up to the highest level of office, with expectations to succeed and with the confidence that they will.
Now in their early sixties they are not looked upon as old, far from it!
They are active and they have the energy and power to influence.
More importantly, they are the leaders cultivating a rejuvenation of the craft and they will continue to do so for some time to come.
This current baby boomer generation has the experience and empathy to respect what has been done by the generations before them, creating a bond on both sides of the divide between youth and maturity. They fully understand and respect the realization that equilibrium between both is essential for growth.
The influence this generation has over the next generation – today’s members – is enormous. They understand the need for today’s young men to have a deeper belonging in this instant gratification world.
They realize that today’s membership is looking for something else out there that they are missing –spiritually, fraternally and socially. They know these potential new members have all the material things they can ever want.
In most cases, money is no object as they are used to paying top price for quality goods.
These young men see these leaders move and work in the same circles as they do: men who are not old in thinking; who seem to be at great ease with themselves and each other; who display a special bond; and, who have trust and values that appeal to them.
I look around me now at the calibre and quality of young men entering the craft and I believe this is the basis for the Renaissance I speak of – but not in numbers as it was in the past.
I anticipate we will continue to see fewer lodges, fewer regional districts, in some cases fewer meetings, but this Renaissance I talk of will be built on quality and not quantity.
However, we cannot expect this just to happen on its own. It will require vision and bold leadership. It will require inspiration and change. It will require solid management of our Craft – all the while embracing our ancient landmarks and customs.
Our leaders today and in the next few years have a great challenge on their hands if they wish to be the foundation of this new Renaissance. I say new, but it is already underway, I’m happy to say, in many areas of my jurisdiction in BC and the Yukon.
It begins by first understanding the needs and lifestyles of our new membership. What they expect from belonging to Freemasonry is far more than their grandfathers ever expected. They expect much more from their leaders, their lodge officers and especially their Grand Lodge.
Are we ready to meet that challenge?
Are we ready to change our expectations on their valuable time –that time they set aside to attend lodge and lodge functions – or are we going to keep expecting them to use up long weekends and precious family time to be active in Freemasonry?
Their tux is not laid out on the bed with their dinner ready so they can attend lodge as their grandfather did.
They have to help make the dinner, feed the kids and iron their own shirt so they can go to lodge.
Can we provide the quality premier lodge experience they expect or are we going to continue with the “same old” because this lodge has done it this way for years?
As leaders of the Craft, the choice is ours.
The quality fish are in the river, brethren. Are we going to let them pass because our lures are dull and blunted?
The rejuvenation conditions required for a Renaissance in our craft are there.
It is not the new members that need to make any change, brethren, it is us, the caretakers now, that need to do so.
It is the existing lodges that need to become stronger to be able to offer a quality experience to not only those who join our ranks, but to those who are already there.
When we have looked inside our organization and taken into consideration the new time constraints of our membership, we will have inched closer to the perfect conditions for a Renaissance in our Craft.
We have an opportunity, brethren, to begin this process by building on the solid foundation of principles and proud history of our gentle Craft, while, at the same time, recognizing the expectations of the generation of men who will be tomorrow’s members and Grand Lodge officers.
We, brethren, have in our grasp the ingredients to enrich and begin a quality Renaissance, not a number Renaissance, but a quality Renaissance forever forged on our priceless heritage.
We must forget about comparisons to numbers. The number of people attending church today is much less than it was 50 years ago – that does not mean religion has failed. There are fewer young people joining scouts and guides than there was 20 years ago – that does not mean that these are not great institutions.
There are fewer than 250 players in the Premier League and fewer than 750 in the NHL. Would doubling these numbers make for better soccer and hockey? I doubt it. In fact, it would most likely be diluted.
It is a Quality Renaissance I talk of, brethren, built on the solid principles of our order – not on numbers. This is summed up, very eloquently, in a few words by US Masonic author, Sidney Morse, from 1924
“The Masonic institution is the greatest stabilizing influence in modern life, and all Freemasons should study their priceless heritage in order that it may be consistently continued with the highest Masonic ideals.”*
I hope this paper and my brief walk through history will create some consideration in the thought process of how we look at membership, leadership and the management of our Craft so that we can all be engaged in a new Renaissance.
Brethren, I had the privilege of being present at the Victoria Lodge of Education & Research Meeting on Nov 18, 2014 (last Tuesday) when our guest speaker was R.W. Bro.Ian Bowman and was privileged to hear this paper presented in person.
In my recollection, I do not recall having heard such a succinct measurement of where we have been and WHY the future looks so promising for us as a Fraternity.
It is my fervent hope that this paper be given the distribution that it so greatly deserves, that by being shared in Lodge Notices all over the World, and discussed in OPEN Lodge.
My personal thanks to R.W. Bro. Bowman for his efforts on behalf of our Craft.
He is currently our Grand Senior Warden so we are truly blessed.
Have a wonderful day & God Bless