Vol. XLV No. 2 — February 1967

Computers, Specialists, and Master Masons

Conrad Hahn

Two special committees made thought-provoking reports to the Grand Lodge of Illinois at its annual communication in Chicago, October 1966. These were the Committee on Metropolitan Migration and the Committee on Unfinished Work, which investigated the reasons why “almost twenty percent of the Apprentices in Illinois never become Master Masons.”

The first committee was authorized to learn, if possible, the whereabouts of migrant Masons, to suggest ways and means to reactivate them in nearby lodges, and to encourage temple-building in non-lodge areas where Masonic clustering has occurred.

Focusing its interest on the metropolitan Chicago area, where “long established temples are slowly withering away in the graying areas because both members and prospective members are moving to the suburbs,” the committee was hampered by the lack of cooperation of many lodges that failed to supply the data requested by the committee. However, by projecting figures with methods approved by statistical experts, the committee was able to arrive at useful approximations.

There are 73,000 Masons belonging to lodges in the twenty metropolitan districts. About 37% are located conveniently near their lodges; 25% live elsewhere in Illinois; 38% are elsewhere in the world.

If these projected figures are reasonably accurate for the entire state, they suggest that not more than half the members live conveniently near their lodges and that at least three of every ten Illinois-made Masons don’t live in Illinois.

The committee also discovered that there are 8,000 Masons in the state who live in 75 communities NOT now served by a lodge of Master Masons. Obviously, there are many opportunities for new Masonic activity in Illinois, if the necessary interest and leadership can be aroused in those localities. “Virtually every one of the non-lodge towns has a large enough Masonic cluster to start a new lodge.” The committee obviously believed that efforts should be made to “encourage temple-building in non-lodge areas where Masonic clustering has occurred.”

The more information the committee gathered about migrant Masons, the wider the area of investigation became. If thousands of Illinois members live outside the state, how many sojourning brethren from other jurisdictions now reside in Illinois? If migrant Masons are to be reactivated in nearby lodges, the problem of migration must be dealt with nationally as well as locally, because so large a number of Illinois Masons live in other jurisdictions.

To gather accurate data for a project of such magnitude, the committee recognized the need for specialists — truly modern specialists — since it realized that its own survey was only a “first small forward step.” The committee on Metropolitan Migration recommended that the grand lodge rent or buy an electronic computer, because they “make it very easy to track down migrant brethren — and with more convenient and attractive lodges, obtain their full support of progressive programs.”

From lists supplied by all constituent lodges a complete membership roster could be entered in a computer, containing the name of every Illinois Mason, his lodge number, complete address including Zip Code, Masonic offices held, professional skills, date of birth, and all other information that Grand Lodge officers and computer experts would determine to be necessary for expanded uses of the data.

In addition to the general uses of such a membership list, it could be employed swiftly and easily for special purposes. A lodge in town C will celebrate an anniversary. It wants to invite all Masons in its neighborhood to the celebration. The computer could be programmed to give the names of all Masons, regular members and migrants, living in towns A, B, C, D, and E. It could select the names in one or two minutes. If there were nationwide membership lists in such databases, Illinois could include on its list all non-Illinois Masons living within its borders and insure that they would be invited to the anniversary if they lived in the specified towns. Such uses would undoubtedly help to increase attendance. To what extent can only be guessed at now.

The committee also recommended that the grand master initiate steps with all other grand lodges to exchange information about the migration of members between states. Even if the objections (and inertia) to such an exchange could be overcome, it would require a greater use of computers (and specialists in their operation) to collect the voluminous data that such an exchange implies. Such exact knowledge would undoubtedly be useful; but its accumulation would involve a tremendous expenditure of time and money. The complete success of such a “counting of heads” would depend on a 100% cooperation of the thousands of individual lodges, from which the original membership lists would originate. The frequency with which families move in this era would require a constant effort to keep the changes and corrections flowing promptly to the specialists who would maintain the computerized rosters.

One or two questions intrude at this point. Electronic computers and the specialists who program them can undoubtedly produce a Masonic membership list of all the Masons in the United States that would be accurate as of the preceding day, if not of an hour ago. In minutes, an "electronic brain” could extract all kinds of information from such lists, about individuals, groups, their skills, their interests, etc.

But is this the paramount need of Freemasonry today? A worshipful master (with some hard-working assistants) can gather such knowledge about the members of his own lodge without specialists, either human or mechanical. Whatever Freemasonry needs, it needs it most at the level of the constituent lodge, where Master Masons are made, one at a time, individually, to learn the skills of a speculative builder.

There may be 8,000 migrant Masons in Illinois now living in 75 communities where there are no lodges. No counting specialist, no computer, no magnetic tape is going to set the Craft to labor in those towns and cities. It will take individuals with zeal and determination to work hard, to put speculative builders to work in those places. What is to be the principal labor of the Masons they reactivate? Is it sensible to exert great efforts (which may enable specialists to computerize 8,000 Masons as “active” again), only to have most of them fall away once more because they experience only the same routines and activities that bored many of them into inactivity in the first place? What kind of Masons will new lodges in those towns actually make? Will one-fifth of the initiated be found in the category studied by the grand lodge Committee on Unfinished Work?

This group was instructed to find out why almost twenty percent of the Entered Apprentices in Illinois failed to become Master Masons, and to make suggestions for correcting the situation. (In 1964-65 there were about 4,000 initiations.)

These committeemen also became statisticians and learned to project overall figures from incomplete returns of questionnaires. Impressive, however, was their thanks to “many lodge secretaries and other officers who went out, contacted candidates, and reported the reasons" for their failure to advance. That is the hard way, but the Masonic way, to get behind the generalization or the statistics, and to discover what Freemasonry really needs because of what happens to individuals.

This committee considered 65 percent of such initiates “salvageable.” Many of them (27%) had been too busy, or the lodge had procrastinated too long; the initiate really was “forgotten.” Some had conflicting hours of work, some had moved from the area but their addresses were known, a few stopped for reasons of health, some had entered the Armed Services, a very few had financial problems, but one out of every twenty-five “couldn’t (or wouldn’t?) learn the catechism.” Eight percent of the total had been “contacted, revived, and were progressing.”

The 35 percent considered “lost” included those who had moved and left no address (about 15% of the total) and the 12.6 percent of those “not interested in continuing.” (That’s one out of every eight!)

The initiates in the former category, the "salvageable,” could “probably” all be saved “if conservation programs were carried on by the lodges,” i.e., if the worshipful master and his officers inspired and led the members of the lodge to do something about it. Whatever Freemasonry needs, it needs it most at the level of the constituent lodges, where Master Masons are made, one at a time, individually, to learn the skills of a speculative builder.

The suggestions from the Committee on Unfinished Work to improve the situation are all concerned with administrative, investigative, and ritualistic practices in the constituent lodges. One of the simplest and most useful, worthy of imitation is to “change the petition form to include the name and address of some relative (next of kin) who does not reside with the candidate.” This would provide a point of contact if the candidate suddenly moves and leaves no forwarding address. But relatives and next of kin may also move. They must be contacted immediately after an initiate becomes an “address unknown.” Otherwise, they too may be “lost” in a matter of months, if they become part of the 20 percent of America’s population that moves every year.

To reduce the large number of those who failed to advance because of “lack of time, busyness, procrastination,” on the part of the lodge as well as the candidate, the committee recommended that a “master should instruct the Entered Apprentice in his duties and responsibilities. He should make up a definite work schedule (draw his designs on the trestleboard) for lodge meetings and inform both the coach and candidate of the date set for conferring the next degree.” Such definite planning will eliminate much of the procrastination that leads to lack of advancement. Who knows how many of the “unsalvageable” — those “not interested in continuing” — may have lost the desire to become Master Masons because of such procrastination, such lack of planning, such lack of interest in the individual candidate?

It was also recommended that each lodges annual report include a list of all unfinished candidates for the past five years, as part of “the plans upon the trestleboard” which need completion. In addition, each master should appoint a membership conservation committee, one of whose duties would be to “check each bogged-down candidate personally and restore him to active status.” (More opportunity to get our craftsmen to work.)

The final suggestion of the committee on unfinished work points out another area in which the individual lodge has been weak in its speculative labors of making Master Masons. Almost 25 percent of the candidates failed to advance because of “religious or family objections,” “objections made — poor character,” “cannot learn catechism,” “not interested,” and “other reasons.” Many of these candidates probably had little or no explanation of what joining a Masonic lodge involves. The investigating committees who first contacted them missed an opportunity to “first prepare them in their hearts.” Some of those candidates should not have been recommended.

“Last but by no means least,” advised the committee, “masters should appoint investigating committees who will make a thorough and complete investigation, and show no hesitation in rejecting candidates who will not be an asset to the Fraternity.” In other words, guard the West Gate against mere joiners. Admit only those who are potential builders.

The Grand Lodge of Illinois is to be congratulated on the reports of two special committees that did a lot of hard work to study some of the problems of the Craft and to make thoughtful suggestions about how to go about solving them.

What these dedicated brethren have really pointed out, however, is the need for constituent lodges to make Master Masons, not merely members who may be statistically significant, but spiritually ineffective. The officers of a lodge of Master Masons must seek and use more knowledge about the individual members of their lodge. They must become more expert, more imaginative, in carrying out the organizational and administrative functions to which they have obligated themselves. They must be more effective in giving good and wholesome instruction to the craftsmen, not only by excellence of the ritualistic work they perform, but also by the tasks they set and the activities they arrange for every member of the lodge, whereby he acquires the skills of a master workman. They must be constantly concerned with the inspiration they arouse in every brother to practice the skills of a master builder. They must work hard.

Whatever Freemasonry needs, it needs it most at the level of the constituent lodge, where Master Masons are made, one at a time, individually, if they are made at all, because a Master Mason worthy of the name is a specialist in the development of good human relationships by means of brotherly love, relief, and truth. A Master Mason is not primarily a statistical unit in an organization. He is an example of brotherhood in action.

The Masonic Service Association of North America