True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Sunday, October 21, 2007

That which you get cheaply, you hold cheaply

Advice is worth what you pay for it…

What you get cheap, you hold cheap…

These are two aphorisms that seem to best describe the dues policy in many lodges in the United States. I can’t speak to the dues structure in any other country. I will use the Grand Lodge of California as an example here, since I am a member of that Grand Lodge.

I am told that when my grandfather joined the Glendale Masonic Lodge in 1944, the entry fee was $10, and yearly dues were about $15. To give context to that, $10 was about two weeks wages for an skilled laborer in 1944, and my grandfather was a journeyman printer and 39 years old.

Today, the average initiation fee is $150 and the average dues in our lodges are $49. Per capita in 2005 was about $23, so the lodges are, on average, keeping $26 of each members dues for rent, upkeep, utilities and fraternal activities. Many lodges had hundreds of members, so this was a tenable situation, and one which has created the problem we now face.

In 1944, it took two weeks wages to be initiated and three weeks wages to be a member of a lodge. Today, the initiation fees are one day to a few HOURS wages, and dues are at most, 4 hours wages even at minimum wage.

Over the past 50-60 years, masons have kept our dues unreasonably low, because the vast number of brothers entering the fraternity supported such a thing. There was little looking toward the future, for whatever reason, so the dues structure has not changed.

Today, we have a decline in membership that is due, I think, to three things:

The first is the brothers who joined in the 1940-1970 time period are aging out of the craft (in California, the average age of joining has been 44 years of age since the Grand Lodge FORMED in 1850). The second is the 1960’s. The hippies rejected everything their parents stood for, from their morality to their clubs to the entertainments. As a result, we have lost a generation which would have started joining the lodges in the late 1980’s.

Third, and perhaps most damaging to all volunteer organizations is the change in culture overall. People just don’t join volunteer organizations like they did in the past. Every organization from the local bowling league to the local church have seen declines in membership, and Freemasonry has been no different.

In fact, a rational argument could be made that Freemasonry has done itself no service by becoming insular and turning inward, away from the communities. That, however, is an issue for a different paper.

As the membership has started to decline, a number quick fixes have been proposed, from Recently, I had occasion to rise at my Grand Lodge in opposition to a one day conferral program offered by the then Grand Master. Most Worshipful felt very strongly about the program.

We spoke about the issue of dues, and he was concerned with the declining membership that Grand Lodge would have to raise the per capita significantly to meet the financial responsibilities of the Grand Lodge, and he felt the only way to get numbers into the lodges quickly was one day conferrals.

As noted above, the dues are an average $49, which is about $4 per month. If the dues in 1944 were the equivalent of about three weeks wages, and we carry that forward to today, with an average wage of $60,000 per year, three weeks wages would be about $3,500 per year, per brother.

This is a tad high, even today, but imagine what your lodge could do if every brother contributed $3,500 per year to the activities. One can assume that the 80% that do not, or rare do come to lodge would be there every time there was something happening!

So, talking reasonably, the dues should probably be $240-$360 per year. Why this figure? Well, its $20 to $30 per month, which, while low for the amazing value Freemasonry provides us, is a more reasonable fee. Yes, this structure is 8 times higher than the current average in California, but it is a reasonable amount to support our lodges.

More than that, as was noted above, we have all seen that the vast majority of brothers in our lodges never darken the doorways. Why? Is it because the dues fee is low enough that many can afford to be stick and pin Masons there?

We would be better to have 100 active members in our lodges at $240 per year each than 400 at $49 each. This is where the title of this paper falls into place: What a man gets cheap, he holds cheap, but what a man pays dear, he holds dear.

This may sound arrogant on its surface. We all know brothers that struggle to make the rent every month, and we all have brothers in the lodge that are retired on social security and little each, who have trouble buying food and medications every month.

The dues structure is not about keeping out men that are not rich, nor is it meant to run men out of the lodges. There is not however, anything in Masonry that says the lodge cannot aid a brother in paying the yearly dues, in fact, quite the opposite is true! It is part of our obligation to aid and assist a worthy brother master mason.

To make the dues easier, the lodges could actually join the twentieth century and create a subscription, so dues could be paid monthly instead of annually. There are many things we could do, after all, we are a fraternity of brothers, with an obligation to each other. If a brother simply cannot afford the dues, the lodge should remit his dues for him, no questions asked, with the brother paying what he can.

We have a duty, an obligation, to aid, support, and protect each other, and this obligation should extend to our lodge, and to our future brethren. Yes, to the future. The lodge may not need $240 per brother per year today, but if the lodge is to be able to aid, support and protect the brothers, it needs to have more than the minimum operating funds.

It seems it is our duty to consider raising the dues, and to stop worrying about numbers. If we pay reasonable dues to ourselves through the lodges, we can concentrate on Guarding the West Gate, and keeping the standards of Freemasonry high. That way, we can do the work of Freemasonry, making ourselves better men before g-d and man.

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.


Anonymous said...

Lower the bar too low, and people will trip over it. Then again, the type of Freemasonry practiced in a lot of local lodges is worth about a $1.05.

BC 2006

Greg Stewart said...

In this I disagree. Dues are not the answer to flagging membership. Dues will bolster hungry institutions that need $ to survive, but not keep or attract members.

I disagree.

Just as your post implies, you want something of value if you pay a lot for it, so then what does a high dues get you? More of what is already being offered?

At this juncture, as membership is such a state of decline, I suggest that the fraternity divest itself of its buildings and hindrances of economy and make itself more fleet of foot to progress and take its role in society. Not sit back in old moldery buildings counting how many beans we have left.

Anonymous said...

I agree and disagree with the Blog. It falls in line with my overall feelings about American society. "When you lessen the Lesson, You lessen the Reward."

I truly believe that Theron is using the dues to show us all, just a small piece of our overall problems within the fraternity. After reading "The Greatest Generation" by Tom Brokaw, I realized that the Greatest Generation was both the rise and fall of America. Yes, they build our great nation into a superpower, but they also worked so hard (feel like Bush speaking, lol) at making sure their children did not have to, that they crippled a whole generation with no team concept and no work ethic. Me, Me, Me!!!!

The worth of our dues as an individual is not what is as stake here. The operations of our Lodge is. How many Lodges now struggle just to pay to keep the lights on. How many times has a brother motioned to put on an event for our brethren, wifes, youth orders and or widows and the treasurer has had to inform them that the Lodge cannot afford it. At the same time, how many lodges have chosen not to invest a certain portion of the money into long term investments to ensure that a Master Mason could be raised by that Lodge in twenty years.

To the comments of "More of what is being offered".
Then volunteer to become what should be offered!

The Lodge has many responsibilities and our ability to look at the bigger picture is at risk. I am ranting but I think you get the GYST of my thoughts.

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