What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry means different things to each of those who join. For some, it’s about making new friends and acquaintances. For others it’s about being able to help deserving causes – making a contribution to family and society. But for most, it is an enjoyable hobby.
Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest and largest non-religious, non-political, fraternal and charitable organisations. It teaches self-knowledge through participation in a progression of ceremonies. Members are expected to be of high moral standing and are encouraged to speak openly about Freemasonry. The following information is intended to explain Freemasonry as it is practised under the United Grand Lodge of England, which administers Lodges of Freemasons in England and Wales and in many places overseas.
Freemasonry is a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values. Its members are taught its principles (moral lessons and self-knowledge) by a series of ritual dramas – a progression of allegorical two-part plays which are learnt by heart and performed within each Lodge – which follow ancient forms, and use stonemasons’ customs and tools as allegorical guides.
Freemasonry instils in its members a moral and ethical approach to life: its values are based on integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness. Members are urged to regard the interests of the family as paramount but, importantly, Freemasonry also teaches concern for people, care for the less fortunate and help for those in need.
In common with all membership organisations, the future of Freemasonry depends upon it being able to introduce and retain members who will be committed, who will contribute to their Lodges and who will enjoy a lasting membership.
Masonic ritual defines very clearly the qualifications for membership and Lodges throughout the constitution seek to find and introduce suitable men who will enhance their Lodge.
Similarly, the Book of Constitutions defines the administrative and regulatory procedures for introducing new members. What we have not had is a set of practical guidelines, tools and techniques to help Lodges plan how to do this in an effective manner. Some Lodges are very successful at finding and keeping suitable new members while others clearly struggle to do so.
Now, in the “Members’ Pathway”, (the Pathway) the Membership Focus Group (MFG) has collated existing good practice from many different Masonic and other sources and compiled a set of tools for Lodges to use to help them to:
- Attract suitable men to Freemasonry
- Satisfy themselves that those who are attracted to Freemasonry are suited to their Lodge
- Introduce new members in a planned and considered manner
- Support and encourage new members in their early years
- Educate new members so that they grow to become committed and lasting members
- Address issues that underpin early resignations
The MFG is a group of experienced Freemasons from different backgrounds and with different skills, brought together under the authority of the Grand Lodge’s Board of General Purposes to look at the future of the Craft. The MFG has studied patterns of membership, identified good practice and developed responses to membership trends to ensure the Craft is fit for the future. The approaches and tools offered in the Pathway have all been used, tried and tested. Now, for the first time they have been brought together in one package for Lodges to use.
Like all toolkits we do not expect you to use every idea or technique. But we do know that, if you follow the process outlined in the Pathway, you are more likely to introduce men who will be suited to Freemasonry and who will remain as members.
Throughout the set of Pathway materials we have adopted the premise that the quality of the candidate is supreme. By quality we mean men who meet our membership requirements, who are well suited to the Craft and who we strongly believe will develop to become committed members who contribute to their Lodge. Our objective is to help Lodges to find and introduce such men. We wish to be selective in our search for men of integrity, even if the price is that we recruit fewer men than we otherwise might hope.
Equally, we ask Lodges to look at themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, their likely sources of potential candidates and their future viability. Lodges will not find in these resources a panacea that will guarantee their future survival. We fully expect there may be fewer Lodges in the future and recognise that, as with all evolutionary processes, the Lodges that survive and thrive will be those that continue to offer a good and enjoyable Masonic experience while adapting to the world around them. It is worth highlighting that some of the oldest Lodges, including three of the four that formed the first Grand Lodge in 1717, are still with us precisely because, over the years, they have balanced tradition with the need for change and adapted their practices accordingly.
Recent research into wider patterns of membership in clubs, societies and organisations (see Appendix A) shows that:
- Approximately 2.7 million men in England regularly give their time to clubs, societies and organisations related to hobbies, social activities and recreation.
- Levels of participation have returned to the high point reached before the 2008 economic crisis.
- Age, location and economic activity need not be barriers to joining.
- Freemasonry can satisfy the hopes and expectations expressed by those who do join organisations.
Therefore, there is good reason to be optimistic about the future.
Finally, in the Pathway we are introducing some ideas, approaches, language and roles that may be quite new to many of us, at least in a Masonic context. We ask you to keep an open mind, to be willing to put these ideas into practice and to work together with others to achieve our goal of introducing good men into Freemasonry so that Freemasonry can continue to make good men better.
If you have any questions to ask or are interested in joining Freemasonry, phone the Provincial Office or email the Membership Team who will guide you through the process.
Provincial Office Tel: 020 8462 9249
Message the Membership Team
The journey of a Freemason