Because of space constraints, it has been necessary to abridge commentary material somewhat.
The Master, in opening the discussion said: My hearty congratulations to Bro Busfield on the excellent presentation of his paper in lodge, a paper I have personally found to be pertinent and nost interesting. I say pertinent because it has been my experience of late that whenever Brethren get together for a chat, the condition of the Craft comes up for discussion. And interesting because of the varying opinions which Brethren advance as their reasons for the causes of the present decline. Over the years I think I have heard them all.
However I do not believe that the present condition of the Craft, in this country at least, is the result of someone not trying to do something about it. There have been many attempts to make improvements over the years and Freemasonry here in Auckland has changed greatly in consequence. For instance, when I joined in 1948 we had to wear white gloves to our Ladies Nights and alcohol was forbidden. The Installation ceremony has also undergone considerable change to make it easier and shorter, changes have been made to the Obligations and many other things have been altered or relaxed. But sadly no sooner are some changes made in one direction than they are overtaken in another by some new development in society.
In my view it is these changes in our socio-economic life style which are largely responsible for the decline which is almost impossible for Freemasonry to cope with. Somehow Masonry no longer seems to be compatible with a world where tax laws make de-facto relationships socially acceptable and sound economic sense; a world where the human rights and the feminist movements are demanding that men take a greater share in running the home and caring for the children; where equal pay and equal opportunities mean that household chores must be shared during what were formerly leisure hours; a world where increasing crime and violence mean that women of ages no longer wish to remain alone at night, where new inventions and gadgets keep the emphasis on worldly possessions and helping one's fellow man is the responsibility of the State. Bro. Busfield's finding regarding net movements seems to support this view, where 'out the door' numbers now exceed initiates coming in. Until this area can be rectified there is little hope of arresting the decline.
From the many comments made to me since publication it is obvious that this paper has created a great deal of interest among brethren of all ranks. This must not only be very gratifying to the author but ultimately for the good of the Craft also. Now while all may not agree with Bro. Busfield's prediction, I am sure that all must agree that he has shown a masterly skill in researching his material and has presented it with all the force of sound logic. The true value of this paper lies not so much in telling us something which we already knew, but rather in showing quite clearly just how serious the situation really is.
I admire Bro. Busfield's courage in tackling a subject most likely to arouse disagreement and indeed I feel he would be disappointed if this were not so and now, as I can contain myself no longer, I declare the paper open for discussion.
Bro F H Fraser said: Bro Busfield's professionally presented paper puts me in mind of a rattlesnake: it can be deadly, but it first devotes considerable time and effort to warning its potential victim by loudly rattling. This enables the victim to take evading action. This subject is quite patently too large to be given the serious analysis and discussion it certainly deserves, in the time available tonight. I believe that though this is the right forum, this is not the right occasion for doing anything more than cursorily canvass the subject. I wish to appeal to this Lodge to arrange for a properly organised seminar on the topic. For such an event I have drawn up a suggested ground-plan and invite further suggestions and contributions. I shall therefore confine myself merely to pinpointing and listing what I believe to be the issues arising from the paper.
Before doing so, and without going into the question of the various legitimate uses of statistical material, I wish to draw to the attention of brethren the necessity to bear in mind the vital distinctions to be made between statistics, trends and forecasts.
Avoiding what General Montgomery referred to as 'belly-aching'. I shall accentuate the positive and submit a series of points that need to be looked at in any examination-in-depth of this truly vital matter:
- Consideration of the statistical material.
- Is there a problem? If so, how do we define it'? (In case you think this merely a rhetorical or facetious question, I ask you to remember Dr. Schuhmacher's "Small is beautiful" and Oliver Cromwell's dictum "A few honest men are better than numbers."
- How do we see ourselves? As a moral force and leaven as a mass movement, or as a society for the enhancement of individual ethics, moral values and spiritual growth?
- Desirable goals. (Definition of alternatives).
- The path ahead: Actions we could take as individuals, lodges, Grand Lodges. Can we learn from other countries'?
Finally, I would like to pay a tribute to Bro. Busfield by suggesting that I am sure his intention was to ask: "Whither Masonry?" rather than pronounce the verdict: "Wither, Masonry!"
Bro. R. Powell said: in my opinion Bro. Busfield's paper would rate as one of the most important and incisive to have been presented for many years. Without wishing tediously to repeat the many cogent points he raises, I would suggest that every concerned brother should read and reread closely the five words which conclude the portion headed 'Attitudes', i.e. what has been done?
In the section headed 'Appeals for Progress' the quotations from Past Grand Masters addresses make fine reading but appear to be rather 'airy-fairy' platitudes when what is really required is firm direction from our hierarchy, and Grand Lodge assistance in implementing programmes. In recent times I have heard at least one currently active Grand Lodge officer when, replying to the customary toast at installations, make suggestions which I consider well worthy of further exposition and subsequent possible adoption by at least some lodges.
In his final chapter. 'My Appeal to the Craft', I would suggest that Bro. Busfield has succinctly set out the requirements which attach to the question contained in the title of his paper, and then have every brother ask himself, 'Am I doing my share?'
If the thoughts expressed in this paper go unheeded then perhaps in the year 2026 or thereabouts the question might be 'What was Freemasonry?'.
Bro. R. H. Ellyett said: Bro Busfield is correct in his assessment of the Craft as it is in New Zcaland now. He will also be correct in his suggestion that we could be looking at our last forty years if the present decline is allowed to continue unchecked.
I trust that those who rule and govern the Craft in this country will first take notice and then take action to prove his suggestion wrong. We are fast approaching the 21st century and I would like to feel that a revitalised Craft with its wonderful precepts will he able to adapt and change, where change is possible, so that it will have a place in the future.
Thank you Bro Busfield for your effort, research and diligence in producing this paper. I, like you, hope we will have many more than 40 years as a useful organisation, with benefit to its members and the community of which it forms part.
Bro. P. J. Smith said: Bro. Busfield's paper makes interesting, if not startling reading. If one is to interpret the information from the graphs too literally, it would appear that the end is nigh and we are doomed!
I feel that we should take comfort from the fact that throughout its 270 year history Freemasonry has experienced many ups and downs. I accept that as far as New Zealand is concerned its future does not look all that good, however we should not overlook the fact that suburban lodges with a high local profile are continuing to prosper e.g. Browns Bay, Howick, Pakuranga, Wairoa, Waitakerei, etc.; other cities and towns throughout the country would have lodges experiencing similar growth. Whether this trend at local level is sufficient to counter the indicated decline remains to be seen. I believe that if we want to reverse the trend we must all make a positive commitment to our Craft and work harder so that it will survive and once again prosper.
It should be noted that various community service clubs and some of the local church groups are having membership problems, not too dissimilar to our own. and their solution like that of any other human endeavour, be it recreation or business, lies with its members or owners. Careful planning and hard work are the essential ingredients for recovery.
Bro. R. I. Goodall said: Bro. Busfield is to be warmly congratulated for the courageous and concerned paper depicting the sad, serious decline in membership. His application to sound research is clearly evident throughout his work.
The paper makes the current situation crystal clear and is one which could well be made available to every freemason in New Zealand.
Credible measures designed to effect improvement have been taken over the years to publicise, to teach, to educate, and so on: each has had its worth but an effective remedy still remains to he found to deal with a situation as serious as the paper reveals. Wholesale publicity of the Craft is not envisaged in this comment but regular, controlled, well reasoned, fully edited publicity is, bearing in mind always that the Craft may not have ready access to favourably disposed news outlets after many years of comparative silence. The secrecy often ascribed to members and felt by those outside the Craft can and does inhibit relations, one with the other.
The relaxation and other similar suggestions mooted from time to time cannot seriously be seen as a method for improvement. Surely the qualities needed are such as dedication and application to win excellence, to teach by precept and example the tried and proved qualities of etiquette and the social graces so inextricably a part of Masonic ceremonial procedure and method, to remind brethren and to teach initiates that Freemasonry is unique and not to he compared with other organisations.
In his final section Bro. Busficid says the Craft has an abundance of ability to deal with the problem. I agree and suggest the formation of a group having proven records in their own particular fields, to he found by each Prov. GM nominating his brightest prospect. The brief, a full report and recommendation for urgent corrective action and future policy.
In his foreword to the first "Freemason" of Mareh 1973, MWBro Sir Edwin Bate, PGM. quoted Lord Cobham, saying, "Opinion is free, facts are sacred"; he himself said "and if there be criticism let us have it. I think that Bro. Busfield with rare constructive criticism has provided ample proof of the facts.
To arrest any sort of decline of Freemasonry is undoubtedly the responsibility of each brother. Just as we are arranged in order of rank and precedence and in accordance with custom, so are the necessary initiatives the bounden duty of our senior officers. Want of attention to our deep problem surely cannot he allowed to continue .
Bro J. P. Glenie said: The problems of modern Freemasonry which Bro. Busfield has shown up so starkly in this paper, are very real. Whether they do in fact portend the end of the Craft within the forty years of his title is perhaps another matter. I have a very positive conviction that the Craft will ultimately rise above its troubles and continue to serve the community as a useful social organisation. I believe Freemasonry is valuable and will so continue, even if like the phoenix, it must first arise from its own ashes, perhaps in a greatly modernised form. But much reorganisation and careful nurturing will first be essential.
There is a considerable parallel between the Church and the Craft in the incidence of the support received within the community at any time. A religious faith is essential to our spiritual well being and. over the centuries, support for the Church has waxed and waned as the impact of external influences has become apparent. Today the tide of church attendance seems to have ebbed but history will surely repeat itself and the tide will again turn as social conditions change.
So it will be with the Craft if the right steps are taken. In the history of the Craft progress has not always been strong and steady and we have had our ups and downs. At present we are in an ever lengthening down but if we reorganise to meet the challenge, the tide for us too will turn when social conditions are right. This is a materialistic age but, from his very nature man must ultimately look again to spiritual values.
The Craft experienced a substantial upsurge after the last war as returning servicemen reached out for the atmosphere of peace which had so long been denied them and which the lodges offered. They looked too for the male companionship to which they had become accustomed during the years of the War. So they flocked to the lodges and the Craft flourished. Today these influences have waned and other social forces have taken over.
Society is undergoing great change. Some of the churches are becoming jealous of influences which to them appear to be in competition with their own interests - and to some of them, Freemasonry is one such organisation. Until this is settled, a great social influence, probably a vital one, is working against us. How to obtain the goodwill of these Churches is something that the Craft may well have to consider in a very positive way.
Other social organisations too have become suspicious of us. There has been much ado in the Police Force in England, with the fear, quite wrong I am sure, that membership of the Craft rather than loyal and able service is the real key to promotion. Public Bodies have in some cases become jealous of Freemasonry and have set out to destroy its influence among their employees. Elsewhere stories have been spread that the Craft seeks to support political power and when such anti-state organisations as P2 in Italy pass themselves off as Masonic lodges, which they certainly are not, then favourable public opinion of our Order is seriously eroded. These of course, are only some of the influences we face and do battle with today.
Within our own ranks, the Craft may have been its own enemy in so long preserving the aura of secrecy which has surrounded it and which has probably engendered suspicion. Have we held too long to our penalties, supposedly known only to our members but in reality quite widely known, and I believe resented, in the community. Grand Lodges are now at last correcting this. What about the way we prepare our candidates? Is that also well outmoded?
In so many ways we must, I think, move with the times and tailor our institution more closely to the social consciousness of the period. If we fail to do this, time may well run out. The new century will be a period of violent change and Freemasonrv must move to keep abreast of these changes Our Craft is well loved by us and greatly valued. We must ensure that in forty years time, it is much more than a cherished memory .
I believe the problems we face are world wide and no solution pertinent only to New Zealand will be valid. The great question therefore is how to find common ground, on an international level, in searching for the answers which are so vital.
Bro. D. J. Merryweather said: The realistic and somewhat depressing paper presented by Bro. Busfield certainly brings home the state of the Craft. There is no point in ignoring bad news however and hoping it will go away. As was pointed out, leadership is a basic requisite to continued growth and prosperity and it is an aspect of leadership I wish to highlight. To my mind the most serious graph was that showing the loss of members through resignations etc. which outstrips the initiations. As was outlined efforts have been made to arrest this outflow with to date little success. When a newly installed Master is elevated to the Chair he is full of enthusiasm to do the best he can for the lodge. This of course entails visiting.
We have all heard of the Master who manages to visit every lodge in the Auckland District during his year of office, which must have a detrimental effect on his private as well as public pursuits. A man can only do a given amount and in many cases the welfare of the lodge as a whole suffers with the Master devoting so much time to visiting. I would submit that if some of the effort put into visiting could be redirected to contacting lodge members and having their existence acknowledged this loss could at least be slowed. I am by no means advocating the abolition of visiting for after all it is one of the landmarks of the Craft, but I am advocating a redirection of enthusiastic endeavour. For too long Masters have followed the example of their predecessors with little thought to the consequences. It is time for a little visiting close to home.
Bro I .M Enting PGW wrote from Wellington. Bro. A. H. Busfield deserves thanks and congratulations for attempting to grasp the nettle of the numbers game. Similar papers have bean given elsewhere one by Bro. W. Ed Millett to Research Lodge of Wellington No. 194. Although it is some time since I looked at the original figures I am pretty familiar with them having been heavily involved in both the 1980 and 1982 Surveys and having drafted the ''21 Points'' report for the Condition of the Craft Committee it may be recalled that I was called upon to present summarised findings at the Communication Seminar of 1981 in Invercargill; and at the request of MWBro Knox then Grand Master to a 1982 Seminar of the Grand Lodge of Victoria. On other occasions I have delivered the same message to Research Lodge of Wellington and to other Lodges mostly in the Wellington District. This is simply to establish in part my qualification to comment.
Bro. Busfield's figures are incontrovertible. I haven't checked them in detail but they are clearly in line with predictions previously made. Events and non-events of the past four years would lead any trained observer to expect exactly this result. Nor does one have to be a statistician to predict what is going to happen next. NO MASTER WHAT STEPS BE TAKEN NOW THE NUMERICAL POSITION MUST BECOME WORSE, PROBABLY A LOT WORSE, BEFORE IT BECOMES BETTER. There will of course. always be those who say "Don't confuse me with the facts. I've made up my mind".
The quoted statements of Past Grand Masters were probably more an attempt to inject a positive element into a negative situation than a strong vote of confidence in the numerical future. Whether the strong growth of 1945-60 resulted in debased standards is a matter of opinion, I personally doubt it, and tend to the belief, nothing more, that today's candidates are neither better nor worse.
There may be something in the cyclical argument. All manner of things ... businesses, customs, morals, economics ... do experience these phenomena. As far as organisations are concerned it has been my observation, supported by those of many others, that trends, cyclical or otherwise arc seldom reversed unless the situation be taken in hand. It is a relief when things have "bottomed out'" but that point is defined only in retrospect. The Craft in New Zealand has not "bottomed out" yet. The matter of dual membership is I understand now easily dealt with. New computer facilities at Grand Lodge Office are said to have the answer.
Either there is a problem or there is not. Numbers are important or of academic interest only. While agreeing with our present Grand Master that Freemasonry is not and never was intended for all men I simply point out that a sustained flow of new business is essential to organisational health. That statement is so obvious as to border on the trite.
And whatever attitude we as individuals care to adopt history tells us that there is NO GUARANTEE OF SURVIVAL. There is no divine providence which says that because something is good or even great it will continue in perpetuity. There is a tendency to point to our long history but the plain fact of the matter is that it is not so long. Taking Freemasonry in its present form 1717 to 1986 is only 269 years. It took a lot longer than that to build Canterbury Cathedral. And an examination of the good things which have evolved and disappeared over that period would quickly disprove the 'myth' of organisational immortality.
The plain fact of the matter is that all organisations, any organisation exists only as long as it meets a genuine and recognisable need. That there is a genuine need for Freemasonry in the world some of us never for a moment doubt, but whether that need is recognised widely enough is quite another matter. We are not back in 1717, nor 1817, nor even 1967. Everything about us including the society upon which we depend for our very existence is changing at a pace probably never before experienced in human history.
Therein lies the real challenge, the need to adapt to a new environment. In my opinion and that of many others, that challenge cannot be met solely on our terms. Those who are adamant that no changes be made are like somebody entering a free-for-all, not fighting according to Queensbury rules. The Craft just has to face up to the challenge as it is, not as we would like it to be.
This immense problem has exercised the minds of some top leaders of the Craft for a long time. Amorphous in nature, it called for definition. The surveys of 1980 and 1982 did just that, not wholly but to a very considerable extent. Despite the warnings clearly sounded, it is certain that the Craft as I whole does not realise the critical and deteriorating nature of the situation. It is also probable that many who do haven't the faintest idea of how to start putting it right.
It is idle to expect a panacea or sovereign remedy. Had there been one at least one of the Grand Lodges of the world would have found it and we would know about it. Individual Lodges, in a spirit of brotherly love, must work at it too in their own patch. What applies to the Craft as a whole mostly applies to the lodge.
But having said all that, for the present at least it is important that brethren like Bro. Busfield continue to speak up. If enough of us bang the drum long enough we may eventually he heard. Let us hope that that happens before it is too late.
Bro. R. Johnston said: Bro. Busfield is to be commended on his administering some medicine, not very palatable but hopefully it will commence the remedial process. Basically his paper calls for plans and specifications from the supervising architects, hopefully these will materialise. However dressed stones will he required for the building from individual lodges. To this end I have a small reminder contribution to make:
Firstly the role of the lodge Mentor must be maintained and developed. Brethren who are better informed will have a better appreciation of Freemasonry, locally, nationally and world-wide
Secondly some degree meetings could be sacrificed for discussion meetings and speakers provided, both masonic and non-masonic, for refectory meetings.
Thirdly our almost forgotten brethren should be catered for, those unable to attend and those whose interest has waned, by making better use of the lodge summons in providing a précis of minutes, news about members and past and future masonic activities. After all they loyally pay their dues so should be entitled to some return.
Bro. R. E. Pugh-Williams wrote: I am pleased Bro. Busfield put a Question Mark to the title of his paper.
I personally believe Freemasonry will survive in spite of remarks in it, being convinced there will always be a hard core of dedicated Freemasons, come what may. The passage over the next two decades will be grim, our losses will be as predicted, but from the hard core will come rejuvenation.
Statistically and graphically Bro. Busfield proves that Freemasonry is in dire straits over the membership problem. I hope his paper will make people sit up and take notice. Yet I wonder! We have had many papers on this theme and I am cynical enough to think little real notice will be taken of it.
My criticism of the paper is that it does not go far enough to solve our problems and offers very little in the way of positive recommendations. However its contents must be taken to heart in the first place by the rulers of the Craft. Over the years our leaders have told us that they are confident all will be well as far as membership is concerned in the future. At Board level the problem has been recognised with, in my opinion, only half hearted efforts to rectify problems. The trouble is that Freemasonry is a very slow ponderous machine whose moment of inertia progresses at the pace of a tortoise.
The answer to our problem is lack of education at lodge level. We lose members because of poor proposers and seconders together with lack of knowledge and interest by Masters and officers. If an initiate is blessed with a good proposer and seconder he invariably becomes a good freemason. The ideal ones take the trouble to guide and explain in the formative stages. In my experience such proposers and seconders are few and far between whilst the average Master and officer neglect the initiate on completion of his degrees.
Education is the very foundation on which the future of the Craft rests and unless that base is provided the structure will be unsound. We have the means to provide that foundation yet few seem keen to avail themselves of that offered. It has been proved beyond a shadow of doubt that if the Mentor Schcme is adopted with true enthusiasm and motivation the membership problem will be solved.
However for it to be a success it must have the genuine, sincere interest and backing of the Provincial Grand Masters and his Officers. Such does not necessarily mean they run the scheme, but delegate suitable brethren for that task and see that it is implemented at lodge level. Bro. Busfield mentions in his paper that an eminent Brother stated, 'we have expertise within the Craft', then for goodness sake let us use it to the full.
However, efforts to get Provincial Grand Masters interested in the Mentor Scheme and its operation have not been a great success and I know our present Grand Master has had his problems in this area. Until our rulers come to real terms with masonic education in a truly positive, meaningful way the 40 years of Bro. Busfield will shrink to 10 years.
There are other avenues of masonic education. It is a source of disappointment that members of the original Central Masonic Education Committee did not more actively promote the Mentor Scheme in their own areas. Some did, but when rebuffs and frustrations appeared, instead of coming into the scene with all guns blazing, they gave up and did nothing. That Central Committee no longer exists, but surely it could he resurrected with a new and younger element to promote masonic education.
Instead the situation has developed where Provincial Grand Masters are requested to invite a knowledgeable brother into their Province to explain and promote the scheme. Until he is invited nothing can be done. To date only one Provincial Grand Master has availed himself of this offer. It might be added that the visit to his district has borne fruit. Brethren interested in masonic education have produced an "Elementary Masonic Handbook For New Zealand Freemasons". At present it is in draft form, but they are anxious to interest Grand Lodge to publish the handbook which is designed as information to complement the work of lodge mentors. It will be of interest to observe how far this positive project will progress. Here again we have "expertise within the Craft".
All that is needed for the Mentor Scheme is a sound basic knowledge, a pleasant disposition to encourage discussion and then listen, plus a willingness to prepare for a mentor session. It is at this point that Research Lodges could provide these basics to instill confidence. The mentors will realise their commitments are not all that demanding. The secret of success of the scheme is to keep it at the fireside chat level. From Bro. Busfields remarks it would appear Auckland has tried instruction nights for EAs and FCs with no success. It is gathered such nights were open to all the EAs and FCs in the Auckland area. If so (and in this I may stand corrected) there was a captive audience in an environment which stifled discussion. Few will stand up and ask questions in a large group, instead most will keep quiet for fear of making a fool of themselves by an elementary question.
For years freemasons have held themselves up as figures hoping men will rush to them seeking membership. Fifty or sixty years ago such was the case. Today it is an entirely different ball game. Instead of men coming to the Craft, Freemasonry must go to men. There is no point of placing oneself on a pedestal and saying: "We are the greatest by precept and example - our organisation is the greatest in moral values" and then hope men queue up to join.
Freemasonry must go out to the public. Not to solicit, but to let them know Freemasonry's place in the community. It can be done by placing a public notice in community papers inviting those interested to have explained in plain English our aims anal objectives. The more conservative of our organisation will frown upon such an approach. By such efforts a Canterbury lodge gained six initiates in three months. Of great interest, all six in their ignorance, had been waiting for Freemasonry to approach them and invite them to join. There was no soliciting, merely an honest explanation of Freemasonry for the man in the street. Those six are now dedicated Mentor Scheme attenders. In that lodge all Officers from Director of Ceremonies via IPM, Master to Inner Guard are products of a lively Mentor Scheme.
Freemasons and in particular senior ones hope for Deus ex machina to appear, then wave a magic wand with and Hey Presto to solve our membership problems. Such is a pipe dream. Masonic education is the answer and that backed by genuine, meaningful, sincere encouragement by rulers of Freemasonry. Then our membership problems will be solved. Then Bro. Busfield will have to deliver a paper on "The Next Forty Years - Plans For the Same" and that title with no Question Mark.
Bro K J Towers wrote from Wellington: It will be interesting to note when comment is made if a majority share your thinking It is my personal view that you have taken too much of a pessimistic view and have allowed your statistics to outweigh the positive signs of new life and thinking
You more than suggest that there is a blame on Grand Lodge as if it were an entity for a failure to remedy the loss of members and ignore the fact that Grand Lodge is the total of us all as members and that it is as individual masons that we must carry and promulgate our message and truths to the World. To me (personally) your paper fails to make a claim upon the individual mason to accept his responsibilities to the Craft and if he fails to do this then society and those outside our membership will continue to see little to attract them to us and for those who have joined to feel that there is nothing to stimulate and retain their interest
I trust that others will speak concerning present day sociological factors which have an unprecedented import upon us. You reference to the time of depression 1931-36 was to me not relevant to the causes of today's falling membership.
In spite of these comments I enjoyed reading your paper and appreciate your preparation of it. Hopefully it will awaken those who sleep at this time
Bro B C Major said: This paper provides the evidence of a trend which has been obvious to any who has been in the Craft for several decades and I for one need no further convincing. I accept the clear evidence of the decline but not necessarily the conclusion supplied by the paper's title.
Bro Busfield has refrained from offering any solutions in his desire to have the paper stand alone in its impact. One hopes that those in authority in the Craft will digest its information and consider well before making decisions.
I do not agree with any suggestion that candidates who entered the Craft in great numbers in the post-war period were of any lower quality than those entering now. They were no worse and no better
But the whole social climate was different. We had come through a war with all its trauma, hardships, disorder; men were only too ready to put all that behind them, settle down into an ordered existence and seek the ideals they had as visions during the war. The steady institutions of marriage, family, the church and community were what they sought and Freemasonry was part of this order.
Today much has changed. Toflers Future Shock spelled out the bewildering and increasing speed of change that was to beset us, and is now doing so. The technological revolution that we are in the midst of is pressuring us, especially the young, to abandon the anchor of moral values and place our trust instead in the technocrats. Aberrations abound, we are bombarded with extremes of behaviour and, not surprisingly, the susceptible are often caught up in these extremes. Freemasonry receives its share in fallacious and nonsensical publicity from the ignorant or the mercenary, even those professing high moral principles.
Transient and temporal endeavours have been made, are still being considered, to make changes in our institution in a panicky response to our declining membership. But it is no good pasting over the surface with gimmicky ideas which are here today and gone tomorrow. The education exercise was a waste of time; you can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink. Those members who want masonic education will seek it out for themselves, as they have always done; those who don't will ignore it, as they have always done,
The decline will not be reversed until society reverses it.
We must stick firmly to the basic principles of our institution and eschew any ideas of quick answers. We will have to weather out the decline, possibly to the perilous point of near extinction, until society itself changes to provide a harmonious climate for regrowth, For we cannot provide that climate on our own. There is evidence of the beginnings of change now, of a swing back to the steady influences that have been eroded, and I for one believe that somewhere between the extremes will be found fertile ground for society to flourish again in the pattern in which Masonry can recover .
Bro I J Nathan said: There have been many words written and spoken on the subject of declining membership. One Grand Master wanted every lodge to initiate five candidates each year while another stressed the importance of quality rather than quantity, and so on. Bro. Busfield's paper goes beyond the mere talk with some hard hitting facts backed up by excellent visual displays, both of which give a clear message .
I have spent some time this year reading 19th-century newspapers and what has surprised me is the vast quantity of masonic events that have been reported compared with a dearth of such news in 20th-century papers. There has been a slight increase of such events in recent years. It would seem that this repression of reporting any masonic news in the press dates hack to the early days of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand. At the Communications of 1901 a Provincial Grand Master sought a decision as to Rule 117, substantially the same as our present Rule 292, whether the approval of the Grand Master was required before any masonic news could be printed, to which the Cirand Master replied, "I should think so." In 1911 the then Grand Master called attention to the fact that he alone could approve the printing of any masonic events.
In the 19th century the names of all active freemasons were frequently in the papers. Installation meetings were fully reported: the new officers named, who gave the charges, who the installing officer was and sometimes the speeches were reported in full. Social activities of the lodges received good coverage also.
The 20th-century mason dresses curiously, carries a quaint little bag, disappears into strange almost windowless buildings and nothing of his activities is made known to the public. Is it surprising then that our motives, our aims and objectives, and our conduct is viewed, if not suspiciously, with some reservations? Were we to be more open about our meetings and publicise our activities then we would receive a more positive support from the community These are days of open government and freedom of information With our cloistered existence we are an anachronism.
Bro Busfield, in reply said: Thanks firstly for all the good counsel, and particularly for the patient and understanding support of our editor Bro. Major. and to all those who have made such thoughtful contributions tonight. I doubt I have the ability to respond adequately to the many excellent comments. It is gratifying that the facts presented have not been challenged, but it had been my hope that the senior Grand Lodge members, who had declined to contribute information for the paper, would now have responded to make more complete the record of action taken. Perhaps this is another aspect of the inertia we must endeavour to overcome. By the way, the President of the Board of General Purposes does have a sense of humour. Although he did not reply to my enquiries, he posted back, unused, my self-addressed stamped envelope. Bro. Adams' suggestion of prompt and earnest study of possible actions is imperative, but there are already many steps that can be taken if we have the will to do so. This view was further emphasised in the able contributions by Bro. Powell, Bro. Ellyett and Bro. Goodall. Bro. Fraser's comments remind me of the epigram "if all statisticians in the world were laid head to toe, it would be a very good thing!" I'm sure all trust that in the gathering storm we will weather and not wither. Bro. Glenie and Bro. Major both provided thoughtful summations of the rapidly changing social factors now and in the future. But love and understanding is still sought by all, requiring us to adapt the Craft's contribution if it is to be worthwhile. We cannot sit on our hands; we must offer whatever we can to foster and hasten the looked-for changes in society.
Bro. Enting emphasises that there is no guarantee of survival, we must face up to the challenge, but do we have enough time to 'eventually be heard?'
Bro. Pugh-Williams advances the need for education and the Mentor scheme. It is sad so much of this enthusiastic brother's endeavours, without much support, 'have died in the hole.'
In reply to Bro. Towers, every endeavour was made not to blame anyone, we are all in it together, but merely to report the facts. The members resigning in the depression were unable to retain membership even if they wanted to - not so today.
Bro. Johnstone and Bro. Merryweather both echoed the widespread appeal for leadership, support and education. I have difficulty in agreeing with some of Bro. Smith's comments. Not many organisations have successfully withstood such a fall. Not many lodges are doing well. Even Lodge Homewood, featured in the last 'Freemason', while obviously bringing profit and pleasure to those involved has still suffered losses far greater than the average in the Wellington area.
Bro. Nathan makes a plea for more authoritative and informative publicity for the Crafts aims and activities.
It is surprising to hear suggestions that our area is weathering the storm better than most. The national drop in membership since 1981 has been under 10% (9.76), to be compared with Northland l0.3%, South Auckland 10.43% and Auckland 10.9%. The differing views on education expressed tonight illustrate the need to gain general acceptance of the crisis before considering actions to be initiated. We are in a 'life boat' situation. There is no point in debating the restaurant menus or even designing a safer ship - we must concentrate all our energies into making for safer surroundings.
One final comment - so many grassroots members are looking for a lead - where will that lead come from? One final question for each one of us to ask ourselves - 'If my response reflects the attitude of the Craft in general. what will the future of Freemasonry be?'
Copyright 1986 United Masters Lodge No 167, Auckland, New Zealand. Readers may redistribute this article to other individuals for non commercial use, provided that text, all html codes, and this notice remain intact and unaltered in any way. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission of the author. If you have any questions about permissions, please contact the author or United Masters Lodge.
Preferred citation: Alan Busfield, "The Final Forty Years of Freemasonry?" published in the transactions of the United Masters Lodge #167 Vol 26, No. 12, pp243-251, 1986 and the Discussion in Vol 26, No. 13, pp271-282, 1986