Freemasonry in an increasingly secular society

Are potential candidates for Freemasonry put off by the need to profess a belief in a Supreme Being? How, in today’s increasingly secular world, do we address this?

Freemasonry is not a religion, but it does expect its members to have a belief in a Supreme Being. Every prospective candidate is asked to confirm that they believe in one of the recognised religions as part of the interview process.

This terminology is deliberately chosen to allow each prospective member to follow their own spiritual path. Making no distinction between religions enables men of different faiths to meet on the level. All Lodges will have the Bible open during ceremonies, but if members follow other faiths, their religious text will be open too. In this way, all faiths are treated as equal and their followers can participate fully in our organisation without discrimination.

freemasonry-whats-it-all-aboutI have discussed Freemasonry with a number of my work colleagues and everything was going well until I discussed the need for a belief in a Supreme Being. At this point, they looked at me and asked me if I really believe in the archetypal bearded old man image of a deity. I cannot believe that I am alone in having this disappointing experience.

The challenge for Freemasonry is that UK society is becoming increasingly secular. Secularisation is the transformation of a society from a close identification with religious values and institutions toward nonreligious values and secular institutions. This process has been underway for a while, although academics argue as to whether it is a result of the permissive society of the 1960s or a process that started in the early nineteenth century and accelerated with that more relaxed world view.

Irrespective of the causes and start date of this process, the net result is that fewer people will be able to answer the “do you believe in a Supreme Being?” question positively with a clear conscience. How then do we address this specific challenge to our membership growth aspirations?

inthechairpodcastlogoI regularly listen to the Masonic Podcast and learn something new from every episode. I was particularly struck by an idea put forward in the interview Robert Bone recorded with Dr David West which was published as episodes 23 and 24. David is a member of St Laurence Lodge 5511 in Essex and has a degree in Philosophy from Exeter and a PhD from Leicester. He has published several books and his academic background means that they are well researched and argued.

largeThe secularisation of society was one of the many topics they discussed and it really made me think. What is the true purpose underlying the question regarding a person’s faith? Whilst the Craft ritual is deliberately not religious, we do ask for divine support in our undertakings and when we make solemn promises, these are treated in much the same way as a person swearing to tell the truth in court. Historically, swearing an oath to God served to remind to remind the person that they were making a solemn promise and that they would answer to their Maker if they broke that promise.

This parallel caused me to investigate further. How is the English legal system handling the secularisation challenge? The answer is that the option to affirm rather than swear has been adopted. This not only provides those with no professed religion, but also those with deep religious convictions that prevent them from swearing an oath, an acceptable option. The difference between an oath and an affirmation is that the oath is a religious commitment whereas an affirmation is non-religious.

As we profess to be a moral fraternal society, not a religion, is it time that we allowed people to affirm rather than swear? Is a lack of faith really a barrier to leading a moral life? Are many Lodges tacitly doing this anyway by counselling candidates about the questions? For some this may be a step too far – this post is meant to provoke considered debate for the good of Freemasonry’s future.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter using the comments area below. I moderate all comments so do not be concerned if your comment does not appear immediately.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

The role of Social Media within Freemasonry

What role does Social Media play in the recruitment, retention and re-engagement of Freemasons?

Lodge Social MediaMany people are struggling to understand the place for Social Media within a fraternity that has existed for nearly three hundred years and for the last eighty years has been largely hidden from public view. For most Freemasons alive today, being a Mason was something you only ever mentioned to those you really trusted.

For the general public, this fosters the conspiracy theories, but it can be easily explained by the fear felt by Freemason during the 1930s as a result of the political situation in central Europe. There are no definitive figures for the number of Freemasons killed as the records did not always record that a person was selected because they were a Freemason. However, estimates range from 80-250,000 killed in the Holocaust.

Slowly, Freemasonry is emerging from this self-imposed isolation, re-entering the public arena and seeking to redress the balance. This is proving difficult for those who have been raised to believe that being a Mason was something that one did not talk about and that the public viewed with derision.

Today Masonic organisations run websites and increasingly are turning to Social Media platforms to get their message out. Facebook and Twitter are popular platforms with LinkedIn being used where Lodges have an affinity with a school, university college or organisation.

The Provincial Executive for Berkshire has defined three priorities for the team currently which are:

  1. Recruitment
  2. Retention
  3. Re-engagement

This is essentially a cradle to grave plan framed as the 3 Rs. So how can Social Media play a role in these three areas?

Recruitment

Many Freemasons have an issue with the concept of recruitment as traditionally we did not recruit, we nurtured interest when it was shown but advertising and naked recruitment was and is generally frowned upon. To this end, a senior Mason suggested that the term “attraction” be adopted which this author prefers, but it does not scan as well.

2B1ASK1This approach was widely described as “To Be One Ask One” which was fine when people were open about being a member but flawed when nobody knew who to ask. The challenge was also that only the brave would be prepared to join an organisation surrounded by all of the negative publicity that Freemasonry was suffering over the last 40 years.

Social Media allows us to address both of these issues. Having a presence on the popular platforms makes it easier for the curious to find someone to ask about joining. Our presence on the platforms also encourages us to publish stories about what we are really doing and thus become more open which promotes a generally more positive opinion of the institution. This should result in a positive feedback loop where more positive opinion results in more people being curious about joining.

Retention

In common with all clubs and societies, Freemasonry suffers with people losing interest in the organisation, perhaps as their family or work life makes it more difficult to attend the meetings. Strenuous efforts are being made to ensure that we keep these Masons interested and engaged even if they cannot attend formal meetings. We want to keep in contact with them, let them know that we are ready when they feel that they can come back and that there are ways to keep in contact.

Social Media enables them to follow the activities of their Lodge and, in cases where they have moved away from their Mother Lodge (the Lodge through which they joined Freemasonry), to more easily find a new Lodge that meets their needs.

Equally, Social Media is playing a role in increasing the enjoyment of those who are active Freemasons. Members connect across the globe with other Masons to get a better understanding of what Freemasonry means in other jurisdictions. Meetings are arranged when Masons go on holiday, allowing people to experience different ways of doing things.

Social Media is also being used like any other communications tool to exchange views, to support one another and to share jokes. All of this can be done via any other medium, but it is easier through these platforms. They are geared to bring together like minded individuals. All of the Social Media platforms encourage you to increase your network by adding people that your existing contacts interact with. This is no different than being introduced to someone new in your Lodge, the pub or at work, it just happens more quickly and as the result of a computer suggestion.

Re-engagement

Inevitably, some Masons will drift away from the organisation, perhaps due to the aforementioned pressures but times change and they may be encouraged to return. Re-engaging “lapsed” masons is a great way to bring them back to the organisation.

Many people use Facebook to keep in touch with family, friends and former colleagues that they have moved away from. Families are probably more geographically dispersed today than they have been at any other point in history. As a result, one of the fastest growing demographics on Facebook is the so called Silver Surfer generation who are using the platform to keep up with their children and grandchildren. As the younger generations move to new platforms, the older generations will inevitably be encouraged to follow them.

With this in mind, it is worthwhile Provinces and Lodges engaging in Social Media to enable these lapsed Masons to re-engage more readily.

Is Social Media the magic bullet?

There is no magic bullet to address these issues, we need to adopt an omni-channel strategy encompassing in person, printed and online communications to reach our intended audience. As with all communications strategies, we need to talk to potential members (including the lapsed and disenchanted) in the medium and language that they are using.

Social media is not the be all and end all, but it is an underutilised part of our toolbox.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

Ask not what Freemasonry can do for you

Being a Freemason is about what you can do for other people, not what Freemasonry can do for you.

Turning the key
Turning the key

…ask what you can do for Freemasonry

Once you have finished talking about rolled up trouser legs and “funny handshakes”, one of the first questions asked by non-Masons discussing Freemasonry is “What’s In it For Me” (WIFM) as they look for a motivation to join. Undoubtedly, Freemasonry rewards people for the amount of effort they put in. However, the rewards cannot be measured in silver or gold but in terms of being a better or more rounded person.

If you are only looking to join Freemasonry for what it will give you, I suggest you are looking at the wrong organisation. Freemasonry will not:

  1. Give you money or make you rich
  2. Make you famous or help you get a recording contract

Freemasonry expects you to:

  1. Contribute both financially and by giving your time to good causes, without causing problems to either yourself or your family
  2. Pay annual Lodge subscription fees
  3. Attend regularly, recognising that the proper order of things is Family, Work, Freemasonry

In return, you will join the world’s first social network, meeting people from all walks of life and learning important lessons about yourself and life in general. Other pages on this site will help you understand more about Freemasonry in general and specifically the Hungerford Lodge, feel free to look around.

If you have got this far and are still reading, please feel free to apply to join the Hungerford Lodge.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

Nine Reasons to join Freemasonry

Turning the key
Turning the key

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If you ask five Freemasons why they joined, you will get at least five different answers. Each person has their own reasons. (I say “person” because there are female freemasons, albeit not as part of the United Grand Lodge of England) These reasons can be intensely personal and for many there is not a single reason.

Some of the reasons people give include:

  • Family
  • Curiosity
  • Wanting to join an organisation
  • To meet other people
  • Looking for a new challenge
  • Charity
  • Camaraderie
  • To have fun
  • To learn new skills

Family

For me this is a very significant reason. My father, grandfathers and great-uncle were all masons at points in their lives. It has been part of my consciousness from an early age and I had always wanted to join.

This is not unusual; many masons are brought in by blood or in-law relations. It is wonderful to see how Freemasonry can reunite families who live significant distances apart, when one member has a special occasion to celebrate, such as becoming Worshipful Master of their Lodge.

Curiosity

I knew my father went out in the evenings “suited and booted” with his case and I wondered what it was all about. I read as much as I could but nothing prepared me for the warmth and affection I found when I was initiated.

A note of caution here – the ritual is available on the Internet if you look – but please don’t, it will spoil your evening if you do.

Wanting to join an organisation

Humans are social animals and many love the engagement with others that joining an organisation brings. The wide ranging spread of freemasonry really helps with this desire. Lodges exist throughout the country and wider world. Changing address does not mean that you lose contact with Freemasonry. Also, if you have to move for some reason, what better way is there to build a new local network of friends than by joining a Lodge in your new area?

To meet other people

Freemasonry brings together people of varying backgrounds, faiths, skills and interests and gives them a common bond. Whilst membership of a golf club tells you that a person likes and plays golf, being a freemason tells you about their moral values and being an initiation society ensures that all freemasons have a common shared experience.

Looking for a new challenge

Freemasonry offers a number of challenges, from learning the ritual, to public speaking, acting as secretary or treasurer or even the highest accolade any member can be given by his Lodge, to act as Worshipful Master.

Charity

Freemasonry is inextricably linked with charity. It is unusual in that all funds raised come from the membership. Freemasonry does not look to raise money from non-Masons but expects all Freemasons to give freely within the bounds of their personal capability. Charity is described as the “distinguishing characteristic of a freemason’s heart.”

Camaraderie

There is always a degree of banter and joking within a group. Within freemasonry there is a tendency to be supportive and a recognition of the effort required to memorise long tracts of text and deliver them with sincerity to a candidate. The ritual also encourages the amicable settlement of any differences before entering the Lodge.

The discussion of religion and/or politics is expressly forbidden within masonic meetings. This removes the foundation for many arguments and has enabled brethren to meet across an otherwise unbridgeable divide. For example, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Israel is a Palestinian.

Having fun

It should be remembered that first and foremost Freemasonry is a hobby. For some officers within the Lodge it can sometimes seem like a job, particularly when others are enjoying the camaraderie at the bar and you are still collecting dining fees! However, when you go visiting you can forget all that and let someone else take the strain.

Visiting is one of the joys of being a freemason. Seeing how other Lodges “have always done it” differently to your own Lodge means every Lodge meeting is a joy. Meeting old friends and new is the cornerstone of freemasonry.

Learning new skills

Freemasons who take an active role within the Lodge will learn many things. The ritual elements are single act plays, delivered out loud by a small cast to a highly supportive audience. As an active officer, masons will gradually become comfortable with the idea of speaking in public. They will also have learnt the art of memorising the words and standing in the right place at the right time.

Secretaries and treasurers learn the skills required to successfully organise and run what is essentially a small not-for-profit business. Those attaining the office of Worshipful Master will learn how to manage to consensus and to rule their Lodge.

If this post has inspired you to join Freemasonry, all you need to do is ask.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

Learning the Ritual

Turning the key
Turning the key

A year ago I went to a great seminar organised by the Berkshire Masonic Education Team on the topic of Learning the Ritual. It was not a cramming session on a particular part of the “little blue book”, rather it was a discussion on the science of learning. I was intrigued to find out that we don’t all learn in the same way. There are different methods which influence the way a person takes in, understands, expresses and remembers information. The other part of the course was learning when not to attempt to learn. It may seem like common sense but sometimes it has to be said before people realise it.

Trying to learn when you are tired, stressed/upset, hungry, or have consumed alcohol will typically make the learning  less effective. The problem with this list is that most Masons are busy people anyway and so they will frequently be tired or stressed which will make it particularly difficult. As for being hungry or having consumed alcohol, well that is more personally controllable.

The session established in my mind, not only the need to foster the right environment for learning, but also to learn in the right way for me. But what is the right way for you? People can be divided into five categories:

 1. Visual

Visual learners learn through seeing. They’re the ones most likely to drift off during a long lecture. Masons in this category are more comfortable with images, than working with words. Visual learners generally find tools like diagrams, flowcharts, pictures or symbols key to learning the ritual.  A good trick for visual learners is to develop a system of images to replace the written word. It can be useful for visual learners to colour code their notes, to create more visual stimulation. Another trick is to associate parts of the ritual with a mental image of a part of the Lodge or the particular Working Tool.

2. Auditory

Auditory learners learn by listening. Lectures, tutorials, and group discussions are essential, for these learners. Auditory learners can focus better on text passages by reading them aloud, so they can hear how the words sound. Masons in this category may benefit from recording themselves delivering the ritual. The advent of the MP3 and iPod/iPhone devices allow auditory learning Masons to play the ritual over and over in the car or on the journey to work.

3. Read/Write

Reading and writing are the main methods, here. Masons who are read/write learners may find it helpful to write out the piece that they trying to learn.  They should read it, then create a new, condensed set of study notes. Masons categorised as read/write learners often benefit from the creation of mnemonics, for example as children we were taught to remember the sequence of the colours of the rainbow with Richard Of York Gave Battle in Vain (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet). It might therefore follow that you could create a mnemonic for the seven liberal arts and sciences or the five noble orders of architecture.

4. Kinaesthetic

Kinaesthetic learners learn by doing. These Masons will get an enormous amount out of the Lodge of Instruction by rehearsing the piece over and over again. Learning exercises should aim to bring all their senses into the experience. This will provide multiple cues to aid their recall of the ritual. For example, walking to the Junior Warden’s chair should trigger the memory of the specific part of the ritual.

5. Multimodal

Masons who are multimodal learners will display two or more of the above learning preferences equally, or near equally. This is more of an ideal condition, as combining elements of different learning styles can be beneficial, regardless of your predominant preference.  Learning styles can and do change, over time. This is often influenced by changes in your life and learning environment.

Personally, I have tried auditory and kinaesthetic learning as I find that I need to learn the words and then practice the associated floor work.

Which type(s) of learner are you?

This questionnaire uses 16 questions to  determine your learning style. The test presents a variety of learning or explaining scenarios, and asks how you would best make a decision, or give advice, or integrate this new information. It’s a good idea to retake the test annually. That way, as you change you can adapt your learning style to meet your current needs.

This thinking can be applied to all forms of learning, not just Masonic ritual. I hope this post helps you to find the best way for you to learn the ritual and as a result it takes some of the stress out of the process.

Further Study

You may also want to listen to this podcast from In The Chair where Robert Bone interviews Rick Smith author of the great book “Learning Masonic Ritual, the Simple, Systematic and Successful Way to Master the Work”. He has also written a companion book “Learning Royal Arch Chapter Ritual”.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

Becoming a Freemason

Long before their initiation a person has already prepared themselves for life as a Freemason.

Turning the key

Most people think you become a Freemason by going through an initiation ceremony and to some extent they are correct. However, long before a man is initiated, he will need to have become a Freemason in his heart. The ceremony of initiation simply confirms that transition.

Candidates for Freemasonry are typically looking to make themselves better men by being more useful to society in general and are already volunteering or involved in charitable activities. For example, there is a strong association between the Scouting movement and Freemasonry. The values instilled into young people during their time in the Scouts mirror those valued by Freemasons. There are several Lodges, such as the Be Prepared Lodge no 9845, for whom this bond is part of the reason they exist.

Freemasonry nurtures an inherent desire to be more than an individual, to serve the community and to grow as a person. Scouts learn to always do their best and to be prepared. The aim being to help them achieve their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potential so that they become constructive members of society. The degree structure of Freemasonry leads the individual on a spiritual (not religious) journey from ignorance to enlightenment or self-awareness.

Candidates will come via a variety of routes but all will be looking to become something more than they are today. If you believe that you are ready to take the next step on this journey, we recommend that you read through the following paragraphs and the What is involved? section and when you are ready, contact us to discuss how to take things forward.

Essential Qualifications

The essential qualifications for becoming a Freemason are:

  • You believe in a Supreme Being
  • You are at least 21
  • You are free and of good report

Belief in a Supreme Being

Craft Freemasonry is open to men of all faiths and does not focus on the name they use for that Supreme Being. Freemasonry acknowledges and respects that people find different routes to understand their own spirituality.

Being of mature age

The rules of Freemasonry require that a man has reached what was considered the age of majority at the time of their writing. Certain lodges in Oxford and Cambridge had a dispensation to initiate at 18 as they were aligned to the universities and this is being expanded under the Universities Scheme to cover more and more universities. The rule is intended to ensure that men are sufficiently mature in their thinking to make such an important decision.

Free and of good report

Freemasonry and therefore the ritual text predates the abolition of slavery and the requirement to be free or freeborn harks back to that time. Being of good report is a reference to the need for all candidates to be of high moral standing and with no unspent convictions.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748