Sunday, August 2, 2009

The fundamental problem of the Fraternity

by M.W.Bro Harold J. Richardson
Grand Master of Masons in New York

from the proceedings of the Grand Lodge of New York for 1928

As for myself, I am convinced that many of our most perplexing problems resolve themselves into phases or aspects of one fundamental problem, which is not difficult to envisage. We might describe it as the difficulty found buy the Craft in properly assimilating the new members and by the new members in assimilating the Craft.

Consider the picture! On the one hand is the new member. He is an individual. He comes to the door of the Lodge with only the vaguest of what kind of thing Freemasonry is. He has heard dim accounts of its mysterious history and vague rumours of its hidden activities. He brings nothing with him but his own head and his two hands, and he is perhaps a little timid and somewhat embarrassed.

On the other hand stands the great Fraternity, with all its complexity. Behind it is the vast sweep of its history, with its ever increasing richness of traditions. Within it is its ritual, the language; its symbols; its intricate system of jurisprudence; its peculiar system of offices; its truly bewildering complexity of activities; like a vast machine whirring, wheels within wheels. Around it are all manner of outgrowths, concordant bodies, side orders, and social organisations without number.

How shall the individual find his way into this strange, new world? What are the paths for him to follow? Where shall he discover his own appropriate place or station? How shall he learn to perform his duties? How can he become a Mason in fact as well as in name?

If he fails, he loses interest, drops from sight and becomes a mere name on the rolls, receives nothing except the satisfaction of calling himself a Mason, and gives nothing except his annual dues. Or else, if he becomes active, he may do himself and the Craft more harm than good, not from malice, but from a complete misunderstanding of Masonry, its practises, its rules, and its purposes; he may, for example believe the Lodge to be a social club, existing merely to give him a good time; or a sectarian organisation out to make war on some church or political party; or act out of some other misconception equally wild.

The solution for is for us to organise ourselves in all our parts and branches to close the gap between the Fraternity and the new member. We must keep the paths open for his feet to travel; we must develop to the full every possible means to to acquaint him with the fraternity, to enable him to understand it and to find his place in it, to appropriate it into his very own private life, and to contribute his life to it.

Everything that can help close the gap between the individual and the Craft should be used by us, I believe, should be encouraged and supported, not as a fad or as a a luxury but as a a necessity under the new conditions our extraordinary growth (comment from the Webmaster: growth could easily be replaced by decline here to reflect the current situation) have imposed upon us. By all possible means we should create and sustain such an atmosphere of enlightened interest and understanding throughout our whole membership that it will become the natural and inevitable thing that for every member to have a living knowledge of Masonry under his skin, flowing through his blood, shaping and inspiring his life. In so many cases Masonry does not have a chance with a Mason; it must be given that chance lest the day come when Masons cease to be Masons and become members only.

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