Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Nine Lives of a Masonic Lodge

The internet tells me that a guy named Erik Erikson came up with a theory about eight stages of psychosocial development. Since eight is close to nine, I figured I would use his well thought out stages as the starting point for a talk about the nine lives of a Lodge. My legal team advises me that for the record, I should state that this is more of an homage than any sort of plagiarism. And since I added a stage, I’m already far more creative than Erik Erikson’s parents were when they named him. Legal asked me to take that last sentence out. I told them no.

Infancy, or We have a Warrant, now what? Standard Lodge No. 3579 (totally fake name) is now a constituted to work as a Subordinate Lodge. There is much to be done, but with hardly a dollar in the bank, they can’t do much more than gurgle, coo, and put their toes in their mouths. Fortunately they have a lot of siblings in the District who will help.

Early Childhood, or Let’s get growing. Standard is meeting in another Lodge’s building for now, but they are excited. The officers and members attack every problem in front of them as soon as it arises. They meet a couple of nights a week to coordinate fund raisers, pick regalia and supplies, and plan for the future. It is interesting to note that there is no distinction here between Officer and Member involvement. A large percentage of each shows up to lend a hand at every event.

Preschool, or Time to make friends. Standard is now meeting four or five nights each month to confer degrees. They have nearly doubled in size since they were given their Warrant. Outside of Lodge, the members are eager to talk of their Masonic involvement, and the joys of creating something all their own; consequently, their friends enquire about joining. The world is theirs for the taking.

School Age, or There sure is a lot to learn. At this stage, learning is fun, though. The Trustees now actually have money to invest, and they are able to generate some income. They ask their sibling Lodges for advice, and more importantly, they are willing to listen to it. The Lodge has just a few Past Masters, and they are still willing to help when called on.

Adolescence, or I need my own space. Standard is now thriving. They love their siblings, but sharing a room is becoming more challenging. They have made some great investments and the excited and active membership is willing to donate money, time, and energy to construct their own Lodge building. For most Lodges, this is the longest life stage. It can last 20 years or it can last 150 years. As long as the members work in harmony with each other, the Lodge can stay right here and prosper. If discord begins to develop and is left untreated, though, the Lodge will enter the next phase.

Young Adulthood, or You’re not the boss of me. The Lodge enters this phase when one of two things happens: either the new officers do not feel that they are being allowed to govern the way they choose, or the Past Masters feel that they are being marginalized. It is not difficult to see both sides of this argument, and many of us have worn both sets of those shoes at some point in our Masonic career. Once interpersonal problems begin, members will begin to choose sides. If these problems aren’t addressed, the Lodge will begin to fracture. If Standard’s up and coming officers survive the Young Adulthood phase, they will, with some luck, be able to return to the glory days of adolescence.
We have all fantasized about getting to relive our youth, and if Standard is smart, it can learn from its early mistakes and begin to live in harmony again. If not, things will get a lot worse.

Middle Age, or Kids these days. If they do not learn from their mistakes, more and more Past Masters will have to step up to fill chairs and do the work that they thought they had retired from. They love the Lodge too much to watch it fall apart so they do what they must to get by. If those who are tasked to repeat offices or fill chairs do it with a terrible attitude, complaining about the new members not pulling their weight, the situation will worsen quickly. No man has ever chosen to be a Mason so he can sit in a room and listen to people complain, and if that’s what he hears, he won’t do much more than attend sporadically.

Old Age, or Hey you brats, get off of my lawn. Standard is now being run almost entirely by Past Masters. Outside of the Officers, few people even attend Lodge. Money may not be an issue, but vigor certainly is – their pulse is thready at best. A few new Masons join, but they are quickly disillusioned by the lack of energy and opportunity that awaits them and consequently do not get involved.

Death, or I can’t be sick; I feel fine. Standard failed to heed the warning signs, and now it has to make the difficult decision to merge. There really is no reason to expound upon this; we have all seen it and know how sad and ugly it can be.

Where is your Lodge? Are you worried? Don’t be. The good news is that, no matter which of the first eight stages your Lodge finds itself in, the aging process can be reversed. It may not be easy, but until death, no Lodge is terminal.

It may will take effort, time and money, but it can be turned around. If your Lodge has trouble finding officers, identify a few who have run the Lodge well in the past. They should have energy, a positive attitude and willingness to serve again. Ask them to serve in succession, maybe even multiple terms if they are willing, and to develop a long range plan.

Make your Lodge a place that people want to visit. If it looks the same as it did fifty years ago, perhaps that’s why the younger members aren’t coming out. Paint, furniture and wi-fi don’t cost that much, but they send the signal that the Lodge is looking toward the future and not living in the past. That is the message that you want new Members to take home.

Finally, give your Brothers a reason to come. Great programs are essential to Lodge success. Entertaining programs can sometimes cost money. So spend it. Have a nice meal, invite the families, and pay a good speaker. Advertise it with a separate flyer – printed in color (gasp!) – in the monthly notice. Make the Brethren want to come out.

So is your Lodge going to be nimble, vibrant and young at heart or is it going to sit in its rocking chair and complain about how candy bars used to cost a nickel and were twice as big as they are now? The choice is yours.

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