The MFG is investigating why initiates can feel they are coming under too much pressure from senior lodge members
Wherever people come together as a group or society, differences of personal expectation, importance and influence will from time to time introduce tensions and potential for disharmony.
Evidence of tensions occurring in Freemasonry is apparent in the results of the Membership Focus Group (MFG) member surveys. These tensions are acknowledged by Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to be a significant factor in the retention of members, as well as in the ongoing viability of a lodge or chapter.
With the first survey revealing a particular need to support initiates, the MFG is developing a follow-on study of all new masons to track them through their early journey in Freemasonry. The study will identify what expectations men have before joining, how these change or are satisfied and how the movement could respond more sensitively to those expectations.
Survey comments, as well as the results of exit interviews conducted by Provincial Grand Lodges and the Metropolitan Grand Lodge, highlight that behaviour that was perceived to be running counter to the spirit of Freemasonry often led to a breakdown in relationships and men resigning from the Craft. The disappointment with this un-masonic behaviour is illustrated by these quotes from the second MFG survey:
· ‘Younger masons are frightened off by well-meaning but overbearing senior masons.’
· ‘The problem of the lodge bully can be tricky to handle as over-dominant members usually hold important offices within the lodge and perform a disproportionately large amount of the work in and around it, but as we all know, it only takes one bad apple to turn the entire barrel sour.’
· ‘I now intend to resign. This is due to the in-fighting, hypocrisy and dominant behaviour of senior masons, who just do not behave in a masonic way.’
While the successful lodge needs to be well led by experienced, often senior masons, sometimes one or two individuals emerge who tend to dictate how a lodge is run. Their underlying intentions are often positive in that they see themselves as upholding the traditions of Freemasonry; however, their enthusiasm may be experienced rather more negatively as dictatorial or controlling of others.
Valuing the individual
The result can be that overzealous demands are placed upon junior members toward performing ritual, achieving perfection, time commitment or progression toward the Master’s Chair. The problem is one of focus, with more being placed on the needs of the lodge rather than those of the member.
Perhaps the very values we espouse are an additional factor – our harmony and brotherly love may lead us not to confront behaviour that seems un-masonic. Many of us dislike confrontation and this too may mean that rather than address difficult issues, we let them pass. The unfortunate result is the victim ceases to attend or is allowed to quietly resign.
At the Pro Grand Master’s recent meeting with Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters, the topic was the subject of some discussion and those attending suggested a number of actions that might usefully be considered.
Suggestions included the need to recognise such behaviour early and finding ways of supporting individuals, perhaps through the mentoring process and promoting the spirit of mutual respect using the existing training and development programmes.
It is important to stress two facts. First, that this behaviour is not widespread but does have a disproportionately big impact. Second, that Freemasonry is just like any other organisation; this behaviour is not peculiar to us and indeed may be less prevalent in Freemasonry, but our values may make it more visible to our members. The MFG is developing thoughts and guidelines for Provinces and lodges to consider in order to address this subject. The view from members may very well be that this is a topic for discussion in lodge.