A view on how to attract younger men into the Craft is put forward by Henry R. Hopking
My first conscious contact with Freemasonry was in 1991 while at Wellington College. The Old Wellingtonian Lodge No. 3404, for old boys of the school, was hosting the annual Public Schools Lodges’ Council festival.
There was a buzz around College that day as the Duke of Kent, President of Wellington College, was visiting. The blinds were drawn where they were meeting and hundreds of men in dark suits with oversized briefcases had arrived.
All very mysterious in a 15-year-old schoolboy’s eyes, but that was that.
I continued on my way to the geography lesson and thought no more of it. A little over ten years later I was initiated into that very same Lodge, aged 27. I was now a Freemason and a young one at that.
So now what happens?
Freemasonry really came to life for me when I started visiting other Lodges.
Suddenly, I had an appreciation of the common bond between brethren. Each Lodge seems to have a unique aspect, be it their presentation of ritual or some small nuance at the festive board. Some are more liberal jovial places; others are serious dens of ritualistic perfection. None is better than the other – one man’s meat etc.
From my experience, I feel that Lodges should encourage both new and younger members to visit other Lodges as part of their mentoring.
There have been efforts to establish groups specifically for younger Freemasons to meet each other socially. However, sadly the few of these I have seen in my short time in Freemasonry have gone very quiet after just one meeting, although the Universities Scheme seems to be one notable success.
It does take work to build the momentum for such initiatives and we can’t expect the other person to be putting in all the hours of organisation. These sorts of ideas are something younger members should organise and support.
Freemasonry has felt the change of times with the development of the internet.
Communication by email and web forums is now commonplace. It has seen the UGLE move with the times and embrace this medium, albeit cautiously. This will only help with the aim of increased openness.
If Lodges are trying to be more open and appealing to younger candidates, a simple Lodge website could be useful. It doesn’t require a great expense and there are Grand Lodge guidelines for this to ensure clarity of communication. This is one project I undertook for my mother Lodge (www.owl3404.org). The website itself has been a source of providing the initial enquiries for many of our newer candidates.
In recent Grand Lodge correspondence, we have heard how the attraction and retention of 'quality young men' needs renewed effort, something the Pro Grand Master, Lord Northampton, has expressed in recent Quarterly Communications.
I mention 'attracting' members. This for me is the way forward. Personally, I do not agree with the term 'recruitment' of members, which is sometimes used. One of the founding tenets of Freemasonry is that the individual himself must knock on the door of the Lodge for admission. Our efforts should be on presenting Freemasonry in an open manner, so as to attract new and possibly younger members.
As younger freemasons, we should be open and proud about what we do, be that through Lodge websites, online forums, or informal events. Young Freemasons should be confident to chat to their non-Masonic friends on the topic, if it arises. Sometimes I wonder if it is our shy silence which adds fuel to the unfounded negative rumours.
There are times when discussions are heard about our rituals and whether they should be updated to reflect modern life.
But, it is the traditions and feeling of history within Freemasonry which needs to be carefully preserved. Yes, it requires discipline and explanation, but isn’t that part of the journey provided by Freemasonry?
It is from these facets we are learning to better ourselves. Any short-cuts should be strictly avoided, otherwise we risk diluting what we are becoming.
Furthermore, there is a feeling of awe and the mystical in the words of the ritual, in the knowledge that generations before us have communicated the same. It contains the discipline of learning to regulate your actions, extending courtesies and respect, which is sadly so lacking in society today.
There are many younger people in society searching for just such a traditional ethos. I was one of them.
It is true how like attracts like. Many of my closest friends are Freemasons. At my 30th birthday celebrations last year, a third of my guests were brothers in the Craft.
Not by design, but through genuine fraternal friendship. I have no doubt that all being well, they will be there in 2053 sharing in my celebrations of 50 fulfilling years in Freemasonry.
Henry R. Hopking was initiated into Old Wellingtonian Lodge No. 3404 in London in 2003. He is also a member of Laconic Lodge No. 9771 (Suffolk) and of Grand Master’s Chapter No.1.