THE CUSTOM LODGE
By W. Bro. Allein G. Moore PDJGW
[Editor’s Note; This is beautifully written; it is engaging as it is interesting and informative. It is indeed an honor to present this piece of writing to our readers. One can only hope that this article will inspire one of our number to petition for a Custom Lodge in our District.]
We cannot escape the fact that Freemasonry has become less attractive. Since 1950s, the numbers of masons in the UK, and other countries, has declined. Not only is it becoming increasingly difficult to recruit new members, there is a worrying number of members leaving the Craft.
Both in London and in Kuala Lumpur, a lot of thought and discussion is going into ways to halt the decline. I would like to explore here one idea that could lead to growth.
The past may hold the clue. In Europe, during the Middle Ages, merchants and artisans formed guilds. These organizations not only regulated trade and the training of apprentices, they brought noveau-rich traders, excluded socially by the aristocracy and rich landowners, into a community. The weavers, metalworkers, dyers, tanners, haberdashers, saddlers etc. could share ideas and socialize with other men in their own trade. In England, you will still find in the old towns historic guild halls dating back to those times.
As Craft members, we are familiar with our own history of operative stone masons forming Lodges to protect themselves and their trade skills. Besides a working relationship, the members would have shared a common peasant or working man background.
The new speculative Freemason’s Lodges which sprung up in the late 17th and 18th century, by contrast, attracted the intellectual classes. The Age of Enlightenment had sparked an interest in the new sciences and philosophy. The members conducted researches into alchemy and astrology as well as the ‘hidden mysteries’ they felt had been lost.
As Freemasonry formalized itself in England, it deliberately sought royal patronage, believing this would give the organization some caché as well as protection. The membership soon consisted of the wealthy upper-middle class or aristocratic strata.
This tended to weaken the esoteric side and, by the 20th Century, Freemasonry in the UK had become the domain of middle-class businessmen and local VIPs. Probably the only thing members had in common was a support of the right-wing Conservative Party and a dislike of trade unions!
While the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) has tried in recent years to modernize Freemasonry, it appears that fewer men in this day and age find anything in the Craft to interest them. We may need to package the teachings of our beloved ritual with a new element in order to attract fresh members as well as retain current members.
One way, I suggest, is to create custom or specialist Lodges. By combining the important lessons within Freemasonry with the personal interest of each members, the Lodge may better integrate with their lives. By having a shared interest beyond masonic knowledge, the bond would be closer and the attraction of membership more clearly displayed.
Custom Lodges are not new. Military Lodges were established as early as 1728 and were usually attached to a regiment. The Royal Navy had three by 1762. Obviously, the members of such ‘travelling’ Lodges shared common foreign experiences and hardship as well as uniforms. Incidentally, these Lodges are credited with spreading Freemasonry around the world.
Over 200 years ago, the Apollo University Lodge was formed in Oxford and the Isaac Newton University Lodge in Cambridge followed soon after. From 2005, the UGLE has been encouraging Universities to set up Lodges for undergraduates, post-graduates, and alumni.
Recently, in the UK, there have been lodges formed under the UGLE that focus on sports. For example, the Chequered Flag Lodge No. 9441 and Silverstone Lodge No.9881 both of which have attract men interested motorsports.
Soccer has long had Masonic Lodges focused on this game; not surprising when we have Sir Alf Ramsey, Don Revie and Ron Greenwod as prominent managers and masons. The most recent Lodge linked to this sport is Football Lodge No.9921.
Two-wheel enthusiasts in the UK can now join The Thames Valley Motorcycle Lodge No. 9885 or Sons of the Widow Chapter No.9889 in Southampton.
There is even a British Sub-Aqua Lodge! So far, I haven’t discovered a Golf Lodge but certainly some Provinces in the UK have Masonic Sports Associations which cover several sports including golf and Durham is the home of The Sportsman’s Lodge No. 9440.
If masonic groups or teams go out into the community to take part in sporting events, this will raise awareness and create opportunities to meet and invite potential candidates.
Within Singapore and Kula Lumpur there are, I feel, sufficient members to explore setting up two or three new Lodges (or rebranding weaker Lodges as Custom Lodges) which focus on a particular sport or interest. Of course, not all members in the District are keen sportsmen and let us admit it, many of our brethren enjoy the fellowship more than the ritual. Often they are at their most animated when discussing whiskies or wines! A Gourmet Lodge or Bacchus Lodge, where the food and the wine are taken to a higher level than at the normal Festive Board, could attract these members and their friends. The Matthew Lodge 9926 in Bristol UK is a fully operational Lodge but meets just four times a year offering an impressive dining experience. A gourmet-focused Lodge could organize wine or cheese-tasting sessions, visits to restaurants and culinary classes.
How about The Mozart Lodge that would be home for music lovers? Members would entertain each other during the Festive Board and plan group visits to concerts. Maybe part of the ceremony could even be adapted to a light operatic presentation. This Lodge could train Lodge Organists and again bring masonry to a wider audience with public performances by members.
Lodges could also be organized into professions. For medical practitioners we could have the Physicians Lodge and for those working in the law we could offer The Justice Lodge. Within these Lodges, professionals they could discuss ideas and innovations with brethren who would have more understanding of the terminology.
The concept of a specialty Lodge to help develop a deeper knowledge of Freemasonry is already concrete in our two research lodges in the District, Lodge of St Michael and Fidelity Lodge. These two Lodges bring together brethren particularly interested in masonic history.
Perhaps we could extend the core of freemasonry further. Creating a Lodge of Operative Masons in both KL and Singapore would move our charity work onto a more practical and visible level. Senior and junior members of these Lodges would be active in the community - visiting old folks, painting orphanages, or working with trouble youths.
Maybe the DGM could insist that all Entered Apprentices spend a year in this Lodge and demonstrate their worthiness before being passed to the Second Degree.
Beyond this, I would propose the addition of a Lodge Socrates in both KL and Singapore. This move would answer the growing demand inside District from young masons for a return to the days of Ashmole, Newton, Inigo Jones, and Wren when non-masonic ideas were presented and discussed. While open to all MM, I would see membership of Lodge Socrates as obligatory for all Fellowcrafts. No Fellowcraft would be raised unless he had attended a certain number of lectures. Within these educational Lodges, everything from chemistry to cosmology, from logic to literature and so forth could be presented and discussed. This would cover the study of Liberal Arts and Sciences have been neglected for a long time.
Brethren who enjoy and excel in performing the ceremonies could join The Ritual Masters Lodge. This might be restricted to Past Masters and would help raise our performances to a
higher level. It could become an honor to be admitted.
Lodge members would give demonstration in the District showing the correct way to conduct the ritual and coach new teams before or immediately after each Installation.
For the more spiritually inclined, we could form The Lodge of Higher Purpose. I believe there are many current members who seek a more deep and meaningful experience within our ceremonies. We may claim that Royal Arch Chapter already offers a more spiritual environment, however, this degree does not appear, currently, very popular and a junior mason would have to wait years before he can join.
Finally, I cannot resist highlighting a custom Lodge I discovered in my research. The Lodge of Brevity No.9903 in the UK. This caters for masons who prefer a shorter ceremony!
Our District has 12 Lodges that meet in the Read Masonic Center. Basically, they all offer the same package. While the ritual must obviously remain similar, it would be beneficial to create a point of difference between them and guide the prospective mason to the personally most suitable Lodge.
Becoming a member of a Specialty or Custom Lodge where the brethren share your outside hobbies or interests, could prove to be extremely attractive proposition. Might this be a possible solution in our search to gain and retain membership?