“We know the tail must wag the dog, for the horse is drawn by the cart;
But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: “It’s clever, but is it Art?”
From the Conundrum of the Workshops by Bro. Rudyard Kipling
Greetings Brethren. I am Bro. Josh B., and this is my first time contributing to The Millennial Freemason. Before I get into my purpose here, allow me to introduce myself. I am a 36 year old husband and father of two. I am an attorney in Columbus Ohio, and I currently serve as Worshipful Master of my local lodge. If you frequent the /r/freemasonry Reddit board, then you know me better as “poor_yoricks_skull”. I am honored to have been invited to blog today by Bro. Nick, who asked me to post a rebuttal to his recent blog post “The Elitist Inside,” and I thank him for the opportunity.
Let me begin by saying that I am thankful for all that Nick does on this blog, and all that he does for Freemasonry. I appreciate that he is asking hard questions about what the younger generation wants out of the fraternity, and what we can do to guide our fraternity to a successful and vibrant future.
If you remember the previous post (or if you just skip down to read it now) you will remember that Nick had advocated for some changes in the dues structure of a lodge, which he proposes as a way of controlling the quality of our membership. The specific proposal was to create a dues structure based on an individual brothers income, using a formula based on the “Income Based Repayment” option for student loan borrowers.
He also proposed some changes to the membership requirements, such as raising the age at which a man can first petition, and having an investigation committee make sure that a petitioner is “stable” and not “just starting out.”
While I respect the place Nick is coming from, I disagree with his approach in this instance. In my original /r/Freemasonry criticism I accused this idea of being the tail which wagged the dog. Asking “what should our dues be to make our lodge better?” is premature. Instead, we should be asking “how much does the lodge need?” It is approaching the issue form the wrong end to set a price before you have budgeted your costs.
The lodge is a business, in that it offers a value to people, and expects payment in return for that value. It is not, however, a for-profit business. Every lodge has expenses, and they need funds to cover those expenses, thus the need to charge membership fees. Beyond this, some lodges hold fund-raisers to cover necessary expenses. This shows their dues are too low. The membership dues should be enough to cover the yearly expenses. If there is extra, that is great, but creating extra “profit” should never be the goal of a lodge. If a lodge is operating a large surplus, then those dues are too high. They are unnecessary for that lodge. The answer to “what should the dues be?” is always “how much does the lodge need?”
My lodge is fortunate in that we own our building, our building has commercial space in it, and we have luckily kept tenants in those spaces regularly for over 30 years. This allows the lodge to keep our general overhead low, which allows us to have low dues. I think this is a good thing for our lodge, as it creates a diverse membership base, who are free to focus on actual Freemasonry, and not burden each meeting with financial struggles. By not wasting our energy on fundraisers for basic lodge functions, we are free to labor for the good of others. We use our modest surplus to create a rainy-day fund, and to supplement our charitable giving when our fundraisers do not meet expectations. We hold two charitable fundraisers a year, spring and fall, from which we take care of our community giving campaigns. By most measures, we do all this with membership dues which are far under the norm, and certainly below the amounts commonly discussed as the “worth” of Freemasonry.
There is another local lodge which help illustrate my point as well. This is a much younger (newer) lodge. They meet in a more established lodge building, paying a rent to that landlord lodge. This keeps their costs fixed. This lodge has decided that their dues will cover their rent expenses, but nothing more, as they need nothing more. At first, the dues were high, as membership was small, so the individual burden was higher. As more men joined, their individual dues were slowly lowered, spreading the costs over more people. The more successful this lodge became, the lower it cost to be a member. This lodge is now considered a model of a quality lodge experience in Ohio, and other lodges are moving to emulate them.
Now, I have not added charity work (the donation of monetary funds to people or organizations in need) to the costs of a lodge. I think it is appropriate for a lodge to hold fundraisers to benefit their charitable work, because those fundraisers create an opportunity for a number of things. It creates the opportunity for the men of the lodge to work together toward a common cause, thus strengthening their bonds among themselves. It creates the opportunity for the lodge to increase their visibility and profile in the community, thus tying the lodge closer to the community in the minds of others, and making the lodge a valuable community member. And, it creates the opportunity for the lodge to have a recruitment event, showing their community value to men who might not have known what we do, and how to join. These non-altruistic benefits of fundraising are invaluable to a lodge, and thus not all the lodge’s charity needs to come from a dues surplus.
There are challenges facing our fraternity now, and in the future. Unfortunately, there are no one-size-fits-all, magic bullet solutions to overcome those challenges. Each lodge is a unique entity, and not every lodge faces the same troubles, or is in need of the same solutions. It is natural to want to increase the quality of the product we are offering men, and I applaud those efforts, but we will not increase product quality by increasing what we charge for the product. We increase the quality of our lodges by offering a quality product, regardless of price. That product must add value to the lives of the men who join: the value of fraternal bonding, community works, and exploration of the mystic truths contained in our various lessons and rituals.
I will end with one of my favorite anecdotes of Freemasonry, taken from Bro. Christopher Hodapp’s book “Freemasons for Dummies:”
“While he was President, Teddy Roosevelt visited his home lodge, Matinecock #806 in New York, in September 1908. Afterward, he spoke of the experience of seeing his own gardener serving as Master of the Lodge that evening while he sat on the sidelines. ‘Clearly I could not cal upon him when I came home. It would have embarrassed him. Neither could he, without embarrassment, call on me. In the lodge it was different. He was over me, though I was president, and it was good for him, and good for me.”
Brother Roosevelt recognized the fraternal benefit of men of different stations and classes casting off those monetary distinctions to mix together, and I think we would be better doing the same.
I would like to thank Bro. Josh for writing this very thoughtful article.
What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below.