by Ronald C. Radatz, MPS
I just finished reading an article by Brother Laurence E. Kynett relating the benefits of solicitation or recruitment of candidates. I agree that it could be a definite means of building our membership someday, but only in the future after certain other steps have been developed.
I have been in a variety of lodges and find, after much research, that there is an inherent problem within, at least the "American Masonic Lodge." The problem has been stated on numerous occasions and deserves to be stated again. We are putting the man into Masonry and not putting Masonry into the man. Until this is done, no amount of solicitation, social events, "charity", conferences, or what have you, will build our fraternity to what it could be.
Since coming to Germany about two years ago I have learned a few things about their system that would be of great benefit to us. First, a proposed candidate attends certain functions of a lodge for approximately one year and is observed by the constituents before being considered for the degrees. Then, if he is accepted, the ritual is read to him. I am told the reasoning for this is the insurance that all candidates receive exactly the same indoctrination. (I have also found, after 8 years here, that the Germans are absolutely meticulous with explanations.) After one has received a degree he must wait approximately one year before advancement. In addition, he must write an essay on what he has previously learned. This must be done for each degree. Therefore, the prospective candidate must wait a total of three years before becoming a Master Mason. Then, after attaining all of this, his dues are at least, and in most cases more, double or triple of what our most expensive lodges require.
The surprise about all of this is that most German lodges do not have financial problems. They also do not have difficulties in attendance, retention of membership, or ritual work. Now the question arises: What is it that they do to produce these results?
The main difference between the German, or any European lodge for that matter, is that Freemasonry is not just handed out for a small fee and some memorization, which quickly evaporates. How many brethren do you know that have come into out lodges and are still active one or two years later? Why? Because they aren't given what they are looking for - and that is Freemasonry.
The majority of brothers I have become acquainted with either don't know anything about Masonry or won't tell you any of the "secrets." What I have learned I have searched for. in about three years I have acquired approximately 120 volumes and asked questions with everyone I meet. The important fact of acquiring those volumes is not the acquisition itself by the actual reading of each one as well. Without that act of perseverance there would have been no accomplishment. Freemasonry isn't and can't be, just handed out.
I have listened to Masters of lodges request some of the most ridiculous anecdotes to try, in vain, to raise the membership numbers. The fraternity's problem is not quantity but quality. Until that is raised there will be no actual progress. The "modern" Soviet Army is a perfect example. If they had the quality in their quantity the rest of the world as we know it would be Communist within a very short time.
So how do we get this quality if we can't recruit it when it is recognized? First of all there are ways of making the fraternity known without waving flags and having a marching band. By each individual actually putting Masonry into his life each day will show the profane world what we are. In all walks of life, we all are constantly asked questions that can have answers with bits of our fraternity involved. Haven't you ever gone to a sports event and talked about if for some time after? Haven't you done something that was emotionally uplifting and related it for weeks on end? Why can't we do the same thing with our Craft? The main reason is that there is very little done that is so uplifting. But let's just suppose for a minute that that had happened - last night when you went to lodge. You don't have to expose the ritual or any of the "secrete." "When I was at lodge last night" is usually enough to evoke the question "What lodge?" or "Are you a Mason?" Isn't that an excellent opportunity? If that doesn't evoke "How can I be one?" or "Why haven't you asked me to join?", then maybe they aren't interested in what you have!
But maybe you haven't gotten a chance to answer a question or carry on a conversation about that special event. Another way to approach the subject is simply by letting him know that you are a Mason and that if he has any further questions on the subject you would be happy to answer them for him. Solicitation to the point of "asking" someone to join the fraternity has been forbidden, and for good reason, down through the centuries. PGM Dwight L. Smith defined the rule in his "Why This Confusion in the Temple?" produced by the Masonic Service Association. Asking someone to join would obviously violate our obligation of "own free will and accord!"
We can never hope to achieve members by asking them. And, we can never hope to retain our Freemasonry by just giving it away as an inducement for membership. What we must do is let those around us know that we are Freemasons by the normal things we do. Let them see Freemasonry in action, as a functional part of our lives. Then, and only then, will it not be necessary for us to show our diamond rings and watch fobs as our only obvious signs that we are Masons. There will always be the guys who want friends to join the club and ask them to do so, whether authorized or not. There will always be some who slip through an examination by the skin of their teeth and drop out later. There will always be those who are not up to the intelligence standards of others. But there should always be that majority that maintains the standards of the Craft. When those standards decline it is factual that the fraternity does likewise.
We cannot ever even consider the idea of direct solicitation. It is nothing more than a positive direction in the certain destruction of our Order. We can, on the other hand, demonstrate our Masonry on a daily basis before our society and make them want what we have found. But we can't do that until we find it ourselves. That is the education of putting Freemasonry into the man and not the opposite.