[Square & Compasses]

Bro. Klaus Replies

Dear Bro. Dryfoos,

WOW! I'm impressed by such a rapid reply! Thanks!

I thoroughly appreciate your thoughtful reply. In many ways I think our positions are pretty close together, if they are on opposite sides of this issue.

Yours are very much the arguments I understand were presented during the several years it took to amend the Masonic Code of Iowa to include these classes. Here I can't speak from personal experience because I had not yet joined the fraternity when these discussions occurred. I have, however, had in-depth discussions with many of the "movers and shakers" on both sides of the issue in Iowa, and feel I have at least a partial handle on the situation.

As I understand things, declining membership was only one of a number of issues involved. Like so many Grand Jurisdictions, Iowa's death rate among Brothers exceeded the initiation rate for a number of years. Over a decade or so, several changes were put in place. The first two were actually more important than the institution of ODCs. The first to occur, as I understand it, was the removal from code of the injunction against "recruitment." Indeed, many of my senior Brethren here are still suspicious of the notion that we may now discuss Masonry--with several proscriptions, of course--with non-Masons. The days when Lodges were prominent in almost every city and village in Iowa are, sadly, long past. Moreover, the days when many residents of a given community had deep family and business roots in their places of residence have disappeared in proportion to our society's inceasing mobility and our less-secure job market. In addition, and probably because of greater mobility, men are less inclined to ask the "right question" about how they may join a Lodge--there seems sinply to be greater reticence about discussing such matters with mere acquaintances. At the same time, there are indications that the present generation of men between the ages of (approximately) 18 and 30 are actually MORE potentially inclined toward Masonry than any generation since WWII veterans returned to civilian life. (I recently attended a very interesting seminar presented by M.W.B. Bob Conley, P.G.M. in Michigan, who suggests rather convincingly that the present generation of young men has more in common with men at the beginning of the twentieth century than with any generation between them.) Whatever the reason, we in Iowa are seeing a significant increase in interest among younger men. Being able to approach men openly and honestly to discuss Masonry is, in my opinion and experience, a very good thing.

The second important change to our code is the institution of the "Invitation to Petition." Because of Masonry's decline in Iowa (and this applies rather specifically to my home Lodge), there were often well-known, highly-respected, highly-qualified men in communities who had never considered joining a Lodge. In Iowa, these men can now be brought up in open Lodge and discussed prior to their petitioning for admission. Three Brothers in good standing sign the Invitation to Petition. They must have known the potential candidate for at least two years. I have attached the form in PDF format. While we certainly do not use this method indiscriminately, it has been a very valuable tool: when one can approach a friend after he has already been "approved" by the Lodge, it has proved generally to be viewed by the potential candidate--as it should be--as a great honor.

And then came the ODC. In my experience, your credit-card analogy has not proved accurate, at least in our Lodge. As I noted previously, in three years we have probably Raised about 20 new MMs in ODCs. Of these, one is now serving in the Mid-East. Several have moved out of the area. A couple of them have not been very active. One has demitted. However--and I just went through our membership list--fully 15 of these Brothers are actively involved in the activities of our Lodge, attend the majority of Communications and participate actively, serve on committees, assist enthusiastically in community service projects, and so forth. Several have also joined the Scottish Rite (more active in this area than is the York Rite) and are equally as active in the Consistory. One is presently serving as Venerable Master of our local Knights of St. Andrew chapter as well as being Junior Deacon in our Lodge.

Thus my personal experience has been that we have Raised some really good Brothers via the ODCs, and most of these neophyte Masons have involved themselves enthusiastically in our Lodge's work. Moreover, I know for a fact that at least five of these enthusiastic new Masons WOULD NOT have joined us had the ODC not been avaiable; two of these had dropped out previously, one after the Entered Apprentice Degree, and one after the Fellowcraft.

In short, and arguing from a huge sample of a single, rather rural, small Lodge, the Iowa ODC has breathed new life into our Lodge. In a Lodge with a total membership of 83, with only about 40 within a cable tow, this is a major turn-around. Interestingly enough, it is the OLDER Brethren who seem most reinvigorated by this influx of "new blood." Our oldest active member is 91, never misses a meeting, has served several times in every chair, saw his Lodge reach the brink of extinction less than a decade ago, and now can't stop grinning about belonging to such an active and enthusiastic Lodge. His joy alone is enough to make this worthwhile. (Can you tell he's a dear friend?)

Meanwhile our in-Lodge Degrees have probably tripled in number, In 1999, two years before I did my work, our Lodge had NO degree work. The next year two candidated went through the work. This year we have already Raised five Brothers in-Lodge, and have several still on the agenda. So, far from diminishing our local work, the ODC seems to have increased it, since some of these candidates had ODC members as top-line signers. Increased in-Lodge work, of course, increases the frequency of our ODC Brothers to see--and participate in--Degree work regularly, and that was NOT available before, simply because there WAS almost no Degree work.

Yes, technically speaking, the old "sponsor system" was supposed to enrol new Brothers. Here, at least, it didn't, probably because there was no real structure. The enlightenment course HAS structure, but it is open-ended; it probably raises more questions than it answers, and leads easily, in my experience, to more extended discussions. As you know very well, the more one explores the craft, the more excited--and committed--one becomes. So I think it's not so much having the MEC replace sponsorship, but rather the structure of the MEC. The MEC is now required by Iowa code, as is its mentoring structure; not to follow this procedure with some care is thus potentially a Masonic offense. In almost every case, the top-line signer serves as mentor. And all too often in the past, it seems to me that rote memorization of obligations was simply that: rote without reflection. The MEC forces reflection and discussion. Curiously enough, many of our newer Brothers have CHOSEN to memorize the Q & As and the obligations, and I find that vastly superior to rote.

And yes, we probably DO remove some individual attention with the ODC. In fact, some of our local and active ODC Brothers have some regrets about having taken the ODC route. HOWEVER, this is with hindsight--and they freely admit this. WITHOUT the ODC, they would never have become Master Masons at all. So, when they discuss joining the fraternity with their friends, they often recommend doing the work in-Lodge. Interestingly, they don't really feel they were "cheated," only that, knowing what they now know, they'd have stayed at home and joined here. And since there does seem to be some correspondence between the institution of the ODC and an increase in in-Lodge work, the ODC Brothers have a greater opportunity to see and participate in work at home than was the case before. The ones with time problems--and I maintain that these can be very real, having spent a career in a job that often required 90 hours of my time per week--are eternally grateful for the ODC.

So it's a mixed bag. I do not feel, speaking only for myself, that the GL has cheated our ODC Brethren or ourselves. Like the Invitation to Petition and the ability to recruit, the ODC is a tool. It doesn't work for every job, any more than a screwdriver can drive a nail better than a hammer, but then, a hammer's pretty ineffective at driving a screw too... I don't feel, again arguing from a sample of one, that we have somehow "swindled" our ODC Brethren. Several of these new Brothers are close friends of long standing. We regularly discuss Masonry over coffee (sometimes even over a snort!). Their experience in the INITIAL stages of Masonry is certainly different from yours or mine. Because I haven't been in their shoes, I can't say whether that's good or bad. What I DO know is that these are good Brothers, vitally interested in and involved in our craft. They are accumulating libraries of books on Masonry, and reading them. They follow to the letter the admonition to discuss Masonry with their senior Brothers. They can participate in MANY more local degrees than they could have just a few years ago. And, because they were raised with Brothers from all over the state, they are more excited about attending state-wide functions, such as the annual GL Communication, if only to renew friendships formed during the ODC.

The mentoring program is, as noted, a part of Iowa Masonic Code, and was instituted prior to our ODCs. Thus the two issues are divisible. And, with all due respect for your point of view, and while the mentoring program is, in fact, very successful, it does NOT address several concerns the ODC addresses head-on: isolation of individual Lodges, dangerously declining membership numbers, the PERCEPTION of the amount of time required to become a Mason, and introduction of a truly state-wide (and, by implication, world-wide) brotherhood. Attending the first-ever ODC in Iowa at the Des Moines Scottish Rite Temple, candidate in tow, with 400 prospective Brothers and 600 Brothers present, was an awe-inspiring experience, even for my jaded world-view. That kind of cumulative fraternity simply cannot occur is a Lodge with 15-20 Brothers present. 1,000 male voices singing the National Anthem, accompanied by a noteworthy pipe organ, beats our local Pledge of Allegiance all hollow! And the ritual was--and has continued to be--excellent. The degrees are, of course, somewhat longer, because there are appropriate pauses in ritual for the mentor and candidate to exchange signs of recognition and so forth. EACH candidate repeats the obligations, with the Book of Holy Law held by his mentor.

I paint a rosy picture. I genuinely believe the ODC has been a very good thing FOR THIS JURISDICTION, and certainly for Mount Vernon Lodge. It does NOT work for every Brother--but then, I submit, neither do in-Lodge Degrees. Who knows how many potentially excellent, commited Brothers we may have lost in the past? I think it's a tool, not a revolution... After all, most Lodges no longer have a box of cigars on the Tyler's table, or spittoons spread around the Lodge, nor do most Lodges have their own supply of wine and Scotch to use following meetings. Do we cheat those Brothers who anticipated their monthly fine cigar with such glee? (Sorry! Those analogies are also unkind!)

Thanks so much for the discussion! It's almost as invigorating as our area outdoor Third Degree last night, where one of our own local Brothers was Raised by the Grand Lodge. The ritual, food, and fellowship were as good as it gets!

Sincerely and fraternally,

John


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