As a new year approaches it is not unusual for us to start considering the resolutions that we’d like to make (and hopefully keep) once January arrives.
A new year represents a fresh start and, because of this, it is an excellent time to re-evaluate, not only how we can improve ourselves, but our lodges as well.
The following are eight suggestions that can give you a head start if you are trying to figure out how you can start improving your lodge. When reading each point below, don’t look at it as an all-or-nothing package, instead think of it as a buffet: take what you like and leave the rest.
I’d also caution about pushing for too many changes too soon. Improvement is a slow process and you can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.
Set an annual budget
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, odds are that your lodges operating cost doesn’t change very much each year aside from some small fluctuations.
Look at the operating cost for your lodge for the past five years and create a budget for your lodge. This has two big advantages:
- You can vote to automatically pay monthly bills and expenses so long as they don’t cost more or less than a certain percentage of their usual cost. This means that there is less need for discussion and there is no need at all to vote to give the Treasurer permission to pay the bills.
- When you know how much your annual expenses are then you know how high you need to raise your dues to cover those expenses.
Re-evaluate your dues and endowments
See item # 2 on the previous suggestion.
If you are like 99% of the lodges operating in the United States then your dues are too low.
Similarly, if you are a lodge in Texas and your endowments aren’t 20X your dues then you are losing income from your endowed members each and every year. You can’t do anything about brethren that are already endowed but you can arm yourself with information to fix the hole in your bucket.
Guard the West Gate
Brothers, Freemasonry isn’t for everyone.
Before you leave a comment to tell me how obvious this is, ask yourself what percentage of petitioners are accepted into your lodge.
Would you say 50%? 70%? 99%?
If a high percent (I’ll leave the actual number to you) of petitioners end up receiving the degrees of Freemasonry then not only is your lodge failing to be selective of its membership but its also holding the door wide open for toxic people to gain membership.
Toxic people are lodge killers.
In closing this point I’d like to leave you with a quote from “What a Petitioner for Degrees in Masonry Should Know” which was published by the Committee on Education and Service, In Authority and with the Approval of The Most Worshipful Grand Master of Texas:
“…Who are fit and proper persons to be made Masons?… This is a matter on which every single member of the Fraternity should hold a very high ideal. It is impossible to exercise too strict caution in regard to new members. Numbers count for nothing, quality is everything. Because a man is a chance acquaintance of a club, or in business, it does not follow that he is suitable to be proposed the moment he expresses any wish for membership. We should carefully and without haste test him in many ways.”
Create a mission and vision for your lodge
If the brothers don’t have a vision for the future of their lodge then how does everyone know if the lodge is successful?
If the brothers haven’t created a mission statement for their lodge then how do they determine what programs to implement?
Any man or organization without a mission statement and vision, written down or not, is like a ship out at sea without a sail and no destination. If it ends up anywhere then it’s entirely by accident and you’d expect the majority of the men on board to abandon ship – and they do!
Set a dress code
Brethren should strive to look their best for meetings.
This may seem out of place in a list of suggestions to improve your lodge but a room full of well-dressed men sets a very different tone than one full of men who look as though they just threw some clothes on and came to lodge.
I’m not suggesting that everyone should wear a tux but a two-piece suit should be the goal.
When you make the effort to dress up for an occasion you are both consciously and subconsciously preparing yourself for something important. In other words, you’re telling yourself and others that you take the work of our fraternity seriously.
This isn’t about being elitist (everyone can afford at least one suit) and don’t give me that line about it not being the external – it isn’t talking about clothing.
Meetings, either stated or for degrees, are supposed to be important and we are members of the oldest and the most prestigious (at least once) fraternity on the face of the Earth.
We should all be honored to be members! Dress like you give a damn, or at least make the effort.
That being said, I don’t look down on any brother that dresses otherwise in lodge*. Remember that this list is pick-and-choose and any improvement a lodge can make is still a positive thing. Some brothers may have legitimate reasons for their dress and often times lodges are just glad to have them.
*Excluding tank tops, shorts, flip-flops, sandals, etc.
Bring value to your stated meetings
When I first joined the fraternity here in Texas it was not allowed for a brother to sit in lodge before he was a Master Mason. I was very excited to attend my first meeting and it was something that encouraged me to work hard towards reaching the point that I could attend a stated meeting and see Freemasonry at work.
What I saw was reading of minutes, discussing the bills, local communications, Grand Lodge communications, ad nauseam debating about fundraisers, and closing.
It’s enough to drive a man away from the fraternity. It did for me temporarily and it does so permanently for many others.
This ties back to creating your mission statement and vision: find out what your lodge is about and direct your focus your Stated Meetings towards that.
Tell petitioners what your lodge is about so they know what to expect. If they don’t want to focus on fundraising, or community service, or education then that’s ok but maybe your lodge isn’t for them if they won’t find value in your meetings.
It’s better to be forthcoming with what your lodge is all about than to let them blindly join without knowing what they’ll be doing once they’re a member. There’s no shame in directing them to a lodge that would better fit their expectations, in fact, it’s pretty responsible.
Create rules and regulations for your lodge
Does your lodge have a set of rules and regulations that your members have agreed upon?
Are they well known to every member and provided to every new EA?
Don’t confuse rules and regulations (R&R) for by-laws. By-laws are required by Grand Lodge (at least in Texas) and any changes you want to make have a procedure associated with them which includes submittal to Grand Lodge.
R&R allow you to set the standards and expectations of your lodge without making any changes to your by-laws. Here are some examples of things you can set in your R&R:
- Dress code
- Office requirements and expectations
- Policies regarding the costs of dues and endowments
- Procedures for things such as petitioners, dual memberships, & transfers
- Anything regarding committees
- Important programs
Properly made R&R can really define a lodge and having them written down and known by the membership will help the lodge to maintain its standards and avoid contention.
Streamline your business meetings
I’ve hinted at this a few times in this article but I’ll say it outright: don’t waste anyone’s time with things they don’t care about.
- Decide what your lodge will be about and make that the focus of all of your meetings and activities. Brothers will attend and men will join for things they care about, they will stop coming if they need to find what they are looking for elsewhere.
You can’t be everything to everyone and neither can your lodge!
- Create and pass a budget to expedite the Treasurer’s report.
- Circulate a copy of the previous minutes and the Treasurer’s report before the meeting begins. Instead of reading through each report the Secretary can ask if all interested brothers have had a chance to read each one and state that unless there are any questions or corrections then someone can make a motion to accept them.
- Local and Grand Lodge communications can be posted publicly somewhere within the lodge building for interested brothers to peruse. If Grand Lodge wants something read in lodge they will typically say so within the communication.
- Every officer should know his parts when opening and closing the lodge, receiving a District Deputy, calling to refreshment, or balloting.
Sitting through any ritual in which even one brother does not know his part can be very time consuming and frustrating to those in attendance.
Stated meetings should be planned out ahead of time and have a flow to them. Unless it is a special even then stated meetings should never last longer than an hour.
There are many paths to lodge improvement and any efforts to raise the standards and create a better Masonic experience is a noble undertaking.
Do you have any lodge improvement success stories? Is so then leave a comment, I’d love to hear about them!