Pennsylvania Masonic Restoration


One of the oldest customs of Pennsylvania Freemasonry which had remained unchanged these nearly three hundred years was the complete unanimity in which we worked. Every man who entered our fraternity knew that there was not a single Brother who wished him ill or held any grudge against him. He entered Freemasonry as one with every man who entered before him and who would enter after him. Such was considered necessary for the harmony of Freemasonry and to prevent its workings from being disturbed by discord. So integral was this precept that it stood the long test of time unmolested by even the most reform minded members...until now.

The Right Worshipful Grand Master has destroyed the unanimity of Pennsylvania Freemasonry and replaced it with an arbitrary number. Now a petitioner is admitted so long as there are less than three members who oppose his admission. Why three? Why not five? Why not ten? Why not a majority? Why not just skip the ballot altogether and let recommendation alone be enough? Whereas unanimity is a clear and easily defensible methodology, there is no real reason for the arbitrary selection of three objections as opposed to some other number. A look at fraternal history will clearly demonstrate that this change is but the first step along a path others have followed that first destroys unanimity and then degenerates further.

For example, in the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, a black ball must be justified to the Master and determined to be a good enough reason by the Grand Master or else it is disregarded and the petitioner declared elected despite the objection. Wisconsin currently has an annual rate of membership decline 25 times faster than that of Pennsylvania and has fallen below 15,000 members. Thus, despite the destruction of unanimity within Wisconsin Freemasonry, there has been no benefit and it may actually be contributing to its much faster rate of decline.

Truth be told, Pennsylvania's rate of membership decline is below the national average and we are in the top 3 Grand Lodges in the entire world in numbers of members. In fact, there is roughly the same percentage of Pennsylvanians in Freemasonry today as there were during the "Golden Age of Fraternalism" after the Civil War. It was during that time that our Masonic ancestors built the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia.

The membership bubble of the post WWII era was a statistical anomaly and basing the future of our fraternity on attempting to re-inflate the bubble is unrealistic. Other organizations have tried and suffered tremendously. During that "Golden Age of Fraternalism" when Freemasons in Pennsylvania erected our beautiful Temple, it was the Independent Order of Odd Fellows that was the world's largest fraternity. In an effort to combat the loss of membership, the IOOF changed ballot rules, printed rituals and created degree rallies. Today the IOOF is nearly non-existent with lodges admitting members by simple majority vote, reading opening and closing ritual from a manual, most lodges unable to perform degrees, are now admitting women as well as men and are still in membership decline. Here in Pennsylvania, the Odd Fellows are reversing course and tightening up the rules after decades of failed innovation. The disastrous path they traveled should serve as a warning to us and the fact that they are trying to reverse course on their innovations - the exact same innovations this Grand Master is forcing upon us.

One Day Classes are offered on the excuse that potential members are too busy to get their degrees. If they are too busy to come to Lodge to get their degrees, then they are likely too busy to come to Lodge after their degrees. If all we are concerned about is increasing the number of men who call themselves Freemasons but who learned nothing of Freemasonry and put nothing into it, then a One Day Class is perfect. By why stop there? Why not just put the degrees on video and just let candidates watch them at their leisure so they don't have to even be bothered to show up to a One Day Class? If taking part in the degree is now considered unnecessary and watching it is enough, then it's just as good on a TV screen as it is on a stage.

 "I came into Freemasonry during Pennsylvania's first One Day Class. I've never felt that I'm truly equal with the other Brethren in the Lodge. I feel like I was cheated and had I known what I was going to miss, I would have refused the class. I wasn't prepared. I wasn't put into the proper position. I didn't travel that same road. I wasn't raised to the 3rd degree, but simply had it conferred upon me. Those who decided to authorize the One Day Classes didn't experience it themselves. I did and if they ever asked what I and all the other 'One Day Wonders' I've ever met thought about it, they'd have sense enough never to do it again." - Bro. Michael H. Duminiak

One Day Classes make second class Masons. They may have all the rights and privileges of Master Masons, but they failed to be given the full experience. They cannot ever honestly say that they traveled that same road as the others who came before them. Cheapening the experience of Freemasonry is not the answer. Treating the petitioning, balloting and initiation of members like some kind of inconvenience that must be dispatched as quickly as possible is missing the point of Freemasonry entirely.

Freemasonry is about elevating and ennobling the character of man. In short it is about making good men better. It is not about numbers or money, but that is all these changes in membership rules are about. If we care about improving the character of man, then we would not rush through Masonic teachings and make Masons who don't have time for Freemasonry. What benefit have we done for a man who joins our fraternity but gains nothing by it? What benefit have we done for the Craft by speeding men through it?

Some make the argument that these things must be done to appeal to younger men. Have they ever asked any of the younger men who joined the Fraternity what they think? We have spoken to many younger Freemasons in their 20s and 30s who not only joined a Lodge but became active in it and recommended others. They clearly did not want watered down ritual, rushed entry or reduced proficiency. Those who went through one day classes like the younger Brother who was cited above were critical of the process and wished they had not been a part of it. These younger Freemasons are the ones pushing for more Masonic knowledge, not less. They are the ones who want better and more meaningful programs during Lodge meetings rather than rushing through the meeting to get to the snack table.

Many older men in our Fraternity seem to think they know what younger men are looking for, but they have failed to ask them. Younger men want the Freemasonry of history that they've read about. That is what attracted almost all the many we have spoken with. They don't want to just pay dues and call themselves Freemasons. They want to belong. Cheapening the experience makes it meaningless to them and while it may temporarily speed their entry, it will also hasten their departure. Don't take our word for it - ask younger Masons yourself.

In the 1960s, Past Grand Master Dwight Smith of Indiana tackled all these same questions long before the membership bubble had burst. His words were ignored by many then, but have been proven correct in the decades that have passed. His simple answer to all the problems we face as a fraternity was, "Try Freemasonry." The problems we face are not because the Freemasons need to change themselves into something else. They problems we face are because too many Freemasons and Lodges have failed to practice and maintain the principles and teachings of the Craft. The answer to our problems is not to change the principles and teachings, but to return to them. His works were reviewed again in our time and the result was the publication Laudable Pursuit: A 21st Century Response to Dwight Smith. In that short document, every change being rammed through by our current Grand Master were already addressed and their fallacy exposed. We recommend reading that document as well as the writings of Dwight Smith (Whither Are We Traveling? and Why This Confusion in the Temple?) for more information on these topics.

Freemasonry exists to elevate and ennoble the character of man. The changes some seek to make to the Craft should be weighed by that measure. Do these changes do anything to elevate and ennoble the character of man? The simple answer is no. On the contrary, they lower the bar. They cheapen the Craft. The sacrifice quality for quantity. The experience of other Grand Lodges and other fraternal organizations is clear that such actions not only fail to increase membership, but actually do serious harm the organization. Freemasonry is not a 'degree mill'. It is up to you to make sure it never becomes one.