Vol. XXXVII No. 1 — January 1959

“They Ought to be Married”

A Discussion of Social Functions as a Stimulus to Lodge Attendance

Ralph E. Miller

This Short Talk Bulletin is an address given on November 14, 1958, at the Ninth Annual Midwest Conference on Masonic Education in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by Brother Ralph E. Miller, a member of the Committee on Masonic Education of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of the State of Illinois.

It was enthusiastically received, and the Masonic Service Association is pleased to publish it to insure a wider dissemination of its stimulating and thought-provoking message.

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The question of whether or not to promote social activity in connection with lodge programs is, of course, a weighted subject. Sometimes it is weighted heavily and persuasively to one side or the other; but it seems to me that Masons have waited long enough to really face the question and to come to some conclusion.

There are many ways of looking at the question. There is the prevalent habit of more or less deliberately ignoring it; that’s rather like the chap who has been sick so much of his life that he doesn’t know what it’s like to be in good health. Social activity in our lodges has been largely taken for granted, even though such activity might well be compared with the thumb, my thumb, your thumb, rarely thought about but tremendously important to us. All we have to do is lay a heavy hammer on it, or otherwise injure that thumb the least little bit, and we immediately discover how much we have taken it for granted!

It is usually said that Masonry is not a social organization, just as we say that it’s not a religion. But these short statements by themselves don’t say very much. Of course it isn’t a social order, as such; but neither are Masons a cloistered group of solitary penitents. Masonry is and should be Masonry; and naturally the social should be social. So is man, man, and woman, woman; but together as man and wife they provide in marriage one of the greatest institutions known to mankind

You and I know that Masonry is a way of life, a system of building personality and character by means of symbolic moral instruction, taught agreeably to ancient usages by types, emblems, moral precepts and allegorical figures, which those who have preceded us have seen fit to preserve in certain methods and in certain ways. These principles constitute our Landmarks, which we are obligated neither to change nor to allow to disappear. We must not lose them, and there’s no reason why we should.

And yet, our feeling of well-being has been shaken. There’s a rustle of dissatisfaction across the country. In the Blue Lodges and in many of the grand jurisdictions, we are looking at each other and asking questions: What’s happening in this on-rushing, ever-changing world of ours? Why are not men more interested in their labor? The Craft is still at work, but the workers are beginning to lag and to thin out. Why? While the population in nearly all jurisdictions has been steadily increasing, why is the relative size of membership and attendance in the Blue Lodges decreasing?

If we are willing to face the facts impartially, we see that we have been “enjoying the ride.” Without looking around us, without seeing current changes in standards of living, in the habits and interests of people, but fascinated by the light beyond, — the mystic light of esoteric ritual and floor work, — we’ve been enjoying it for our individual selves alone. We’ve been free-wheeling, coasting on the impetus and momentum that the good work, the true work, of William Preston, Thomas Smith Webb, Jeremy Cross, Albert G. Mackey, and others, has given to the Craft. Sticking to the Landmarks, as we should and must, faithful to the ritual, the rod and the footwork, as we should and must be, we now discover that there’s a definite need for something more, some cohesion, something to hold these things and men together. We are compelled to ask some questions: What’s happened to the sense of close fellowship, of companionship, of kinship which calls the brethren together in harmony, and unites or binds them into one sacred band of brotherhood? Why aren’t they together in lodge on meeting, nights?

We believe absolutely that Masonry’s teachings, and its methods of instruction, are so basic that the need for them will never change. The Landmarks must not change. But how to stimulate and keep the interest of our members is really the question. In a book published in 1949, H. A. Overstreet’s The Mature Mind, the author asserted:

Mankind is now in one of its rare moods of shifting its outlook. The mere compulsion of tradition has lost its force. It is the business of philosophers, students and practical men to recreate and re-enact a vision of the world, conservative and radical, including those elements of reverence and order without which society lapses into a riot, a vision penetrated through and through with unflinching rationality.

Mr. Overstreet is a psychologist of sufficient note that universities are using his observations for the purpose of teaching the younger generation to think. We are not, many of us, psychologists, and we may know little or nothing about physiology or sociology; but we do know that Masonry is chin deep in tradition, and that it holds a prodigious amount of useful psychology for all mankind. Therefore, properly interpreted, what Mr. Overtstreet might be saying to Masons is this: “Beware! The magic of unchanged ritual and your methods of teaching — and these alone as a stimulus — are losing their power!” He doesn’t say tradition is wrong; and Masons probably agree, for we believe our traditional beliefs and teachings are so basic and invaluable that they must be preserved. But, he does suggest strongly that philosophers, students, and practical men — and that’s the Masons — must review and reinterpret the needs of mankind, including those elements of reverence and order — and that’s Masonry — without which society would lapse into riot. What a responsibility! In other words, what we’re teaching is okay. We must preserve that. But how to get it into the thinking of good men and true is the important question. What will bring these together?

Suppose we dig a little deeper with another question. What attracts men to Masonry? Out of dozens of answers there are at least two things widely known to attract men to Masonry: (1) the character of men known as Masons, and (2) a Mason’s rapport with people. (Rapport includes harmony with others, and harmony means not only acceptance but active fellowship.)

It is true that Masonry does some screening. Instead of trying to make good men out of any kind of material, it seeks to find workable material (of a certain quality) and to instill in the good man principles of fine character which will make him stronger, more vital and more useful to his family, nation and the world. The earnest Mason does become noticeable for his good character, leadership, and citizenship. It is this that others see and would like to have or to emulate.

But a Mason’s rapport with people means his contact with others, his good judgment, his fair dealing, his ability to meet people, to enjoy them, and to be genuinely sociable. It is all very fine to say that man’s real search is for an understanding of truth, that man naturally seeks more light and understanding, that he is really hungering for a closer walk with his Creator; but, actually — and you know it — man’s greatest yearning is for recognition of himself by others as a fellow human being. He must first find acceptance and esteem; then, if he is truly inspired, he begins the real search for light, more light, and further light!

“No man is an island.” He will do almost anything to get recognition. He demands attention and relationship with others. Without these, the charming personality and the staunch character are barren, and the individual shrivels and dies.

The individual, at one time or another, does indeed have a feeling that there are forces other than he has been able to find, sources of power which, if he could but find the key, would open a short cut to untapped knowledge, strength, character, influence — yes, influence with people — who would then recognize his particular abilities. High school and college students, (and why stop there?) as they move into the management of the world s business, are tremendously concerned and filled with a yearning to be popular; that is, they want folks to see and recognize the growth, the blooming and fruition of the individual.

This desire to find a key leads some to become deeply religious, others to seriously study occultism and mysticism. But a greater number, seeing strong men of good character at work and at play, conclude that such men have found a key that others do not have, and the flickering yearning to be recognized flames into a new hope. They want to know those people better, to find what they have found.

There are at the luncheon meeting, the play, the “get-together,” the social program, all kinds of opportunities to foster recognition and fellowship. For these two specifics, recognition and fellowship, there is no competition from the television set and the movies, which lack the personal contact people need and yearn for. Man is by nature a social creature. He must live by, for, and with other people.

It is readily granted that, if degree work could be presented in all its best and meaningful drama, devoid of the childishness and misplaced humor that sometimes creeps in because of misunderstanding and lack of learning, both interest and attendance would be increased. But it still would not increase to a significant degree, because men basically are seeking not merely knowledge, but also fellowship.

This can be roughly illustrated in this way. Most of us have tried to learn ritual or floor work by imagining ourselves working with a candidate. Another person is on our left hand as we walk with the rod in our right; another person is standing before us as we call to mind exact phrases and exact sentences; and always the brethren are there to see whether we point the toe and step off as we should. How long would any of us do these things ifwe really believed that no one would ever be in those imagined places?

This tells us that there is also a human, life-and-blood element, that while the degree work is the real artery of Masonry, that while it can interest some of our membership, it is really most important to interest people before they are members, to give them something to chew on which will help them to think of petitioning for membership. And it also shows that there must be something which will not only make it “stick to the ribs”, but also fuse it into the very thinking of the candidate, by convincing him that “This is it. It’s real. The teachings are right, for here are people living and enjoying life by the principles they are talking about!”

Men need not only the teachings of Masonry; they need wholesome fellowship,—good, Masonic fellowship; and good, Masonic fellowship would not only be good for them; their dynamic interest in Masonry is what the Craft needs too.

If the benefits of Masonry are what we sincerely believe they are, then we have an obligation to our members that turns into a fourfold responsibility, to Nature, to Others, to the Craft, and to the Creator:

  1. To Nature: It is most natural for all of us to want to pass on something unusually good and beneficial which has been generously given to us by those really interested in us: a responsibility both moral and spiritual.
  2. To Others: We should want to do more than just pass it along. Surely, if that which we have received is uplifting, instructive, helpful, then we cannot keep it for ourselves: the responsibility becomes a duty to help others know about it.
  3. To The Craft: If we have received from the Craft, then we owe to the Craft our enthusiastic promotion of its teachings.
  4. To The Creator: Since we believe that the Great and Eternal Lord God has looked with favor upon our undertakings to build stronger principles and character in men through the teachings of the Craft, it is our responsibility to see that man (meaning me and my brother) is lifted closer to the Creator of the Universe!

Why is it that so often, after a candidate has been raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason, he attends a few times and then fails to return? He’s gone — the light that has been so carefully kindled sputters and dies out. Why? There are many possible answers. One is that the light wasn’t so carefully kindled. Another is that there was a mistake, and the candidate wasn’t good material in the first place. But another important reason is that there was nothing social afterward to make him really feel a oneness with his brothers. If he did think on the things Masonry tried to teach him, there was perhaps nothing to bring him into a close human relationship, which all of his life he has basically wanted and continues to seek. He didn’t find the cohesive, — fellowship!

But since man also needs continual personal contact with others, recognition and mutual esteem, should we not insist that a high quality of degree work and sound Masonic education be linked with interesting and informative social programs as an elixir which would, because of the combination, stimulate interest and attendance? What’s wrong with rejuvenating the lodge hall into a meeting place for family and friends? It used to be done, and significantly, it was done during those days when Masonry enjoyed the highest esteem in the family and in the community. Very possibly it was in this way that Masonry began its phenomenal growth in America.

It is therefore suggested that our fraternity would enjoy a resurgence of interest and attendance if the social were married to the speculative, because social functions would:

  1. Bring Masons and non-Masons together, furnish the means to get acquainted, to learn of each other’s interests, and to broaden friendships. Here men would find Masonic principles real, alive, beneficial, stimulating, challenging.
  2. Interest and inform families and friends of Masons for here they don’t have to depend upon secondhand information. They would meet Masons talk and laugh with them. They could ask questions and be answered in word and deed, —over the hand of good fellowship!
  3. Broaden the outlook of Masons, as the social function would extend the Mason and relate him to other aspects of the world in general. He would rapidly learn that there are relationships and obligations to others, and that there’s a reward in extending those relationships.
  4. Win the immediate family to the man. Instead of playing a lone hand, in what sometimes seems to be an offhand secret fashion, the Mason would find many things he and his family could share together. A new understanding and support would come both to him and to the family.
  5. Inspire not merely pride in membership, but a greater sense of satisfaction, because the Mason finds others enjoying his Masonry with him. The more others know of the purposes of the Craft, the more approval and participation would be forthcoming.
  6. Inspire thought, and even ambition, for in the increased interest of those around him the individual Mason would find the initial spark of “Light” fanned into a desire to seek further light and to accomplish still more. Here would be found the germination of officer material for the lodge.

There are, of course, two aspects of such social functions: (1) the closed meetings of lodge, and (2) the public programs. Both should be informational and educational; both could use the devices of entertainment in some of their programs. The closed meetings would primarily offer purely Masonic education, while the public meetings could use the broader possibilities of all wholesome and beneficial entertainment together with education, tying Masonry to the program and the program to Masonry. The growth of Masonry and the development of the democratic way of life in America have had a significant relationship; they have traveled down the years together, and both the Craft and our friends and neighbors ought to know that story. Since it has been so good, we should seek to recapture the strength which Masonry can give to community and national life.

For lodge meetings; where every member needs, in addition to the degree work, new and stimulating thoughts about the meaning of Masonry, what it stands for, who has embraced its teachings and how it benefited them, what it means to America and other countries, it is always possible to provide dynamic speakers, engaging pictures, unusual music, interesting literature, worthwhile books,—all on the subject of Masonry. It would take thought, work, time, and a bit of ingenuity, of course; but with willing diligence the officers of any lodge can add more education to their programs, and put more fellowship into the meetings through song, food, discussion, drama, film, contests. . . and so on. . . . The well can never run dry!

For public social functions, how is it possible to overdraw from the Mammoth Springs of music, drama, pictures, literature, science, languages . . . and so forth. . . ? There are unlimited riches to be tapped; there is hardly a field in which Masonry has not also had a part. In every area of human endeavor it has contributed its principles of morality and good judgment, always re-emphasizing the necessary support of the pillars of Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty. In all of this, in the lodge and before the public, the Mason should feel quite at home. The more the family and the community can share it with him, the more he and his Masonry will grow.

Social functions as a stimulus to lodge attendance? Yes, indeed! The two should not only go together; they should be married to each other. Of course we should be more careful and conscientious in our educational programs; but we should be continually awake to the desirability, nay, the necessity, of offering enjoyable fellowship to all people, and of finding ways to provide it.

This is the cohesion we need. This will bring men and Masonry together, and hold them.

The Masonic Service Association of North America