Address by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, Past Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales & the Australian Capital Territory, at the 42 District Meeting, Sydney Masonic Centre, 25 June 1990.
The problem with attempts to delineate the future is that events may prove you horribly wrong. No wonder the rabbinic tradition said that since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, prophecy had ceased in Israel and the only ones who purport to be prophets are infants and idiots. I certainly am not an infant and I would not like to be thought an idiot, so I shall not pretend to prophesy but simply to indicate some of the trends of today that might well be decisive in fashioning the future.
Once upon a time, a very solid segment of Australian society belonged to the Craft, something like one in every nine males. In modern terms that would give us almost a million members. The reality, however, is more sobering: in NSW alone, we are losing over three thousand Masons every year. We are not a dying breed, because the faithful, active, enthusiastic nucleus is so solid and stable. But if we are to attract new members and fully mobilise the potential of the members we have, we need to think carefully, plan wisely, and work energetically.
Freemasonry has suffered in recent years from two sets of circumstances; the one internal, and the other external.
Within the Craft, we have tended to become frozen in the mind-set and ways of two generations ago. Many of our meeting places, like Rip Van Winkle, have slumbered for decades and are today hopelessly outmoded and unattractive. Our schedule of meetings presumes that our members have all the time in the world and nothing else to do with it. Our ritual, its language in itself archaic, has tended to go on and on without drama or finesse. Our fellowship has become a closed shop, our social gatherings unsophisticated, our suppers primitive in content and poor in presentation. As a result, a proportion of our members are bored with the Lodge and find in it neither excitement nor challenge.
Externally, the world has moved away from the set of circumstances in which Freemasonry used to be so relatively comfortable. The changes in society have been massive. The rapidation of change has left nothing as it once was. In the June 1989 transactions of the Research Lodge of NSW, Wor Bro E J Buckman did a remarkable job in expounding them, and without following his analysis slavishly or agreeing with him on every point, his paper is the stimulus for the following brief survey which shares his conclusion that “an unchanging organisation has little chance of long-term survival in the modern world”.
1. Leisure Activities: In an exciting, expanding leisure market, the array of relatively inexpensive options is dazzling. Freemasonry cannot compete.
2. Work Patterns: Getting a job is harder and job success is more nerve-wrecking and demanding. Going to Lodge regularly is asking too much.
3. Education: More people are better educated and qualified and many have to work to keep up with new developments in their field. Freemasonry does not appear to be intellectually challenging.
4. Women’s Liberation: Husband-and-wife shared activities are the norm. Male-only bastions that relegate women to the kitchen have no appeal.
5. Family Pressures: Increased divorce and one-parent families bring new pressures on one’s time and nerves. It is harder to go to Lodge and rely on everything being in order on the home front.
6. The Generation Gap: The young and the old live in the same world but are attracted by different ideas and activities. Tensions will increase with greater life expectation. The old may see Freemasonry as a comfortable retreat; the young may at best be amused by it but keep away.
7. Australian Society: Multiculturalism has changed the nature of our population, and organisations that are still largely Anglo-Celtic or European are no longer normative. At the same time, Australianism is growing and organisations such as ours are perceived as having no specific Australian flavour.
8. The Communications Explosion: The world becomes more and more of a global village. We are involved in all that happens anywhere, sometimes even before it occurs. By comparison, Freemasonry seems to remain in a dream world of its own.
9. Secularism: Society has less time and patience for conventional religion or for quasi-religious movements such as ours. Paradoxically, people feel the need for a spiritual basis for existence but tend to turn to fundamentalist, revivalist religion, compared to which Freemasonry is too vague and genteel and lacking in commitment.
To the changes in society, add the constant criticism that is directed at Freemasonry. We are accused of being a secret society, exclusivist and elitist, withdrawn from the environment, and a rival religion. All these and other accusations – whether based on knowledge of the facts or not – discredit us in the eyes of the public and make it harder for a Mason to explain and defend himself to family and friends who simply cannot understand how he can take the Craft seriously.
So, what do we do? Taking it for granted that the philosophy of Freemasonry is as great, as noble, as inspiring as it ever was, we need to work much more intensively on packaging and presentation. The future is in our own hands; society is indifferent to whether we succeed or fail, yet at the same time almost every one of the changes in society offers its own special opportunity for us to regroup our forces, strengthen our ranks, and move dynamically into the future.
How do I see Freemasonry in the years ahead? As I emphasised at the outset, I am not a prophet nor have I any prophetic gifts but, if our movement is to be alive and well, I believe this is the picture we need to construct:
• Our meeting-places will be fewer, smaller, and more pleasant.
• The days and times of our meetings will be more flexible.
• Masonic dress will be tidy without the stuffy formality of today.
• Our programmes will have more variety and a greater range with the emphasis taken off degree work. We will alternate private and open meetings. We will run regular sporting, social and cultural events for the whole family.
• Our ritual will be recast and more varied, for instance with an alternation of dialogue and drama; and not everything will need to be done by heart.
• Every Lodge will become fully involved in the local community with projects shared with other groups and organisations.
• Our educational activity will be intensified, not just by more dull lectures. Notice papers will become newsletters, Masonic videos will portray the Craft for either private or open exhibition, there will be a College of Masonic Studies and no-one will assume the chair of a Lodge or any higher rank without an appropriate course of study.
• Our membership will change. There will be a role of women. Certain activities will be for older members and others for the younger Mason. Membership will reflect the multi-ethnic character of modern Australia. We will do more pastoral work and show members that we care about them.
• Public relations will assume much greater importance on every level. News of Masonic projects and personalities will figure in the media. Effective material will explain what the Craft is about and counter the ignorance and prejudice that came about largely because of our over-secrecy. Any public display of Masonic ritual, such as a funeral, will be carried out with style and become a Masonic shop-window.
Above all, Freemasonry will not only preach its message of ethics, but every Mason will live such an upright, socially responsible life that he will be a walking advertisement for the Craft. Masons who daily advance in Masonic commitment and who live lives appropriate for members of the Craft will thus do the Craft the greatest possible service. They will also do what Masonry always believed was possible – lay the building bricks for a qualify society in which every man is a brother and the principles that rule are justice, peace and truth.
For more articles on Freemasonic issues by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, visit his Freemasonry webpage.
Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple’s book on the history, symbolism and teachings of Freemasonry, enlivened with personal reminiscences and humour.