The role of recruitment
24 January 24
Recruitment – what role should it have in Freemasonry and how should that role be achieved?
Attracting new members is of crucial importance, as in recent times the decline in numbers has been in the order of one thousand per year. Fortunately, there are several aspects of the recruitment process which we handle exceptionally well. We are highly skilled in screening and inducting men who ask to join. These candidates soon become aware of the many paths leading to various levels of satisfaction, productivity, service and enjoyment within the system. But despite these enticing benefits, we are not attracting and retaining large numbers of new candidates. Why?
Close examination hints we lack efficiency in explaining our doctrines to the community. There is no doubt those of us ‘on the inside’ of Freemasonry are well aware of its benefits. It is neatly summed up, for us, in the phrase ‘brotherly love, relief and truth’. However, relaxing comfortably in the security of our philosophies and practices, we have lost the ‘get up and go’ necessary to broadcast these concepts widely.
Masonic ritual is rich in vocabulary and allegory, but at times brethren delivering charges have little idea of the meanings of some of the words. Try this challenge. Here are eleven familiar words from the ritual. Without consulting a dictionary, explain their meanings. Indite, candour, inviolate, equivocation, premise, admonition, ebullitions, assiduity, indigence, baneful, prevaricate. What was your score? Congratulations if you made 100%.
I am reminded of this old story about a conversation overheard at the festive board. First brother: ‘Our Worshipful Master has bought a parrot, and I hear he’s teaching him to recite the first working tools charge.’ Second brother: ‘That’s a waste of time because he won’t be able to appreciate the beauty of the language or the richness of the allegory.’ First brother: ‘That doesn’t really matter, because neither will the parrot.’
My point is this. If a man delivering a charge doesn’t know the meaning of some of the words it contains, he can’t render that charge with the dignity which its message deserves.
In addition to words, there is the colourful symbolism in the ceremony. Fortunately, there are many lodges which induct their candidates with elegance and vigour, taking great pride in their work. Sadly this is not the case in every lodge, and it may well be that a lack of commitment in the transmission of our tenets is a factor in the current membership crisis. It is most important that initiates have enjoyable and intellectually rewarding experiences of Freemasonry in order that they may speak favourably of its benefits with their friends.
I suggest we should sharpen up our act from within. Increased pride in lodge activities would allow us to exude more enthusiasm and confidence when speaking publicly about Freemasonry. Here are two practicable approaches.
Firstly we must empower members with an ability to explain our underlying philosophy of peaceful brotherhood and charity. Each mason should be able to answer that barbecue question, ‘What’s
this lodge thing about?’ in a manner which will attract new candidates. Our enlightened man might say, ‘Freemasonry encourages good men to lead peaceful, responsible and productive lives.’
Secondly, I strongly suggest that we highlight the importance of ceremonial protocols by seeking continually to improve our performances in degree work.
Here are strategies we might employ to achieve these ambitions.
- Invite experienced masons, who are accomplished speakers, to deliver informative and entertaining educational presentations. Perhaps a symposium during which a number of members explain their personal interpretations of various aspects of the ritual, including both vocabulary and allegory. Topics could include the winding stair, the hidden mysteries of nature and science, the pillars, or the ashlars.
- A district team could be convened to demonstrate excellent performance by delivering brief excerpts from the ritual followed by open discourse of the allegorical messages they contain.
- Invite some of these men to explain the motivation for their outstanding work, and to share the techniques they employ to learn and present ritual.
Of course, such activities require strong leadership at lodge and district levels. Therefore we must choose officers who are so inspiring that members will come away from management meetings feeling a strong impetus for action.
When our lodges are brimming with enthusiastic members who are imbued with masonic knowledge, proud of their ceremonial work and able to communicate our philosophy in plain language, then we can confidently turn our attention to ‘convincing mankind of the goodness of the institution’. The attraction of new recruits will surely be a natural consequence.
This is a condensed version of the winning article in the Grand Master’s 2017 Literary Award by RW Bro Robert Hughes.