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Foundations or boat anchors?

February 3, 2015 2 comments

I’ve listened to Bro. Eric Diamond’s podcast X-Oriente in the past, and like many of you, was disappointed when he took a break from from his insightful ramblings. Eric is one of those guys who started back in the Golden Age of Masonic Blogging, and always put some thought into his topics. Well, I’m happy to say that he’s had a little rest and is back rocking the mic. Inspired by Nick Johnson’s post on the old Scottish Rite political agenda, he spent some time bouncing ideas off of both Nick and I one evening on the topic of Freemasonry and Social Awareness.

You’ll have to wait for Eric’s podcast to hear any more details, but I wanted to bring up a tangent point, because it happened to be in interesting co-incidence between the Scottish Rite post and the one from a little while ago about the closing of yet another one of our large mausoleums Temples.

Eric brings up the point that Freemasonry no longer seems to bring in  “the movers and shakers,” at least, not in the way that it did a century ago. Why is that? Certainly, if in the 1920s, the members of the Scottish Rite — one of the more influential branches of the society — could manage to take the time to formulate a concrete social policy that cut across party lines, there must have been men in the organization who could make such things happen. Where are those men now — the political thinkers, the statesmen, the philosophers, and the men who know how to set those wheels in motion?

My own response is that, while some of those men may have been attracted to the fraternity, chances are they aren’t staying because the real movers and shakers aren’t wasting time sitting in lodges in which the important issues are things like how to come up with the money to replace the coffee maker, or to fix the roof. The successful people are already busy. If you have a lodge meeting on Wednesday evening in which someone says “I need a few brothers to come down to pain the kitchen,” those guys probably won’t be there; not because they’re too elite to paint the kitchen, but because their weekend has already been booked for the last month — the way their evenings are already taken up by work, networking meetings, family time, children’s homework, PTA, and several business association meetings. These movers and shakers want to see things done, and the last thing they want is to be held up by an hour discussion on picking a contractor to fix the potholes in the driveway.

Which brings us back around to the topic of a couple of weeks ago: maybe those Masonic Temples dotting our landscape are dragging us down. Without the resources to support them (i.e., members and assets), they are cutting into not only our capital, but our time — time that could be better spent on Masonic education, or in having a nice dinner, or in friendly fellowship, or in inspiring (or being inspired by) the movers and shakers of our communities.

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Now, I’m not suggesting that we need not have any buildings, or that we should not spend time discussing maintenance on the ones that we do have. But maybe we — that is, the members of each lodge — need to take a step back and look at those buildings with a different perspective, and ask whether we may not actually be better off without them.

Do you think that our temples and buildings are actually dragging us down?

 

 

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Where is your lodge?

January 15, 2015 8 comments

I have mixed feelings whenever Gloomy Gus Chris Hodapp writes “another building lost” post – which, to be fair, almost seems to be every other month.

On one hand, it’s always sad to see a nice older Masonic Temples — or any well designed and decorated building, for that matter — falling into disrepair because the upkeep is too expensive for the membership. The period from the early to mid 1900s that saw so many fine temples erected didn’t have the expensive issues of heating and air conditioning costs, specialized maintenance, accessibility upgrades, or power needs that we now think of as essential, and even just maintaining those buildings, let alone improving them, is a huge drain on the resources of the members.

On the other hand, how much of a drain on our membership does it take before we all will figure out a new model? Lowe's Lodge & Community Center in Meriden, CT

The late 1800s to early 1900s saw a different model: have a large building in which several different lodges could meet on different nights, so it wouldn’t sit unused. All the different lodges would pay a little rent to the building association (and this raises the question if Masons “invented” the co-op), and the steady influx of members would assure that the capital reserve funds would be adequate to repair the boiler or to shovel more ice onto the roof, whitewash the picket fence, or do whatever the heck was normal repairs back in those days. And I’m sure that many of the brothers at the time were proud to belong to a lodge that emulated – to some degree – the Temple of King Solomon. Many of the older buildings were richly appointed, and had massive columns, arches, and other fine details.So, yes, it’s disappointing to see those old temples fading, or being sold off so that they can be turned into office condos or meeting centers. As the membership declined, there was simply no way to keep them forever.

But on another level, maybe we need to ask ourselves: is a lodge the building or the members?

Back in the 1700s to 1800s, when many lodges were essentially a few dozen guys meeting in a pub, they probably didn’t worry about that kind of thing; if the pub closed, they found another one. Having  a building was a bit extravagant for guys who might only meet once a week, and certainly ridiculous for a group that would only meet once a month. Some found a home, literally, in the older home donated or sold off from a member’s estate. New England is full of lodges that meet in these small buildings, and almost every other town seemed to have one during the boom years. But even that becomes expensive as turn or the century houses need to be upgraded with better electric and plumbing service, new stairs, fire exits, better insulation, and other upgrades to make them more accessible for our older members.

Nick Johnson recently posed the idea of a “dinner lodge,” a return to the older days when brothers met to discuss some bit of education, and enjoy some friendly association. Maybe the next few decades will see more large temples being sold off, but — hopefully — more active members meeting to enjoy fellowship, without worrying about fixing the potholes, repairing the roof, or wondering how they are going to pay for the upkeep on a mausoleum that only gets used once a week by a dozen guys.

After all, is your lodge the building, or is it the members?

Edit: I should have mentioned Connecticut’s own take on this: both Quinta Essentia Lodge No. 500, and Hospitality Lodge No. 128.

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