Food For Thought
When writing in the Masonic Jewels report about the Tarbolton Club, I looked at the photographs again and wondered at how small and cosy the room was where Burns was initiated. It was so small compared to today's dedicated Lodge building, such as Lodge Kilwinning which is of average size. I just started to wonder about the relevant health of Freemasonry in those days to our time now in the 21st century, and how we, with purpose built buildings, have progressed the Craft.

There is a belief that our Lodge buildings are necessary for a vibrant Freemasonry, but have we, in almost demanding them, cut off a method of bringing the Craft to smaller rural areas.

It is difficult to argue that the costs of buildings has resulted in lodges with fewer brethren becoming uneconomic. I think most of lodges who have closed in my time in the Craft (15 years) have closed for partly that reason. It is important that we should consider ideas outside the square to keep those lodges open and members in rural towns in the Craft.

A look back at the success of 18th century Freemasonry is a great starting point. An excellent description of those ancient times has been written by Brother Mike Lawrence on the website -

"The Masonic gatherings of old were nothing like we would enjoy today.  For example, lodge meetings would often be held on the night of a full moon and much to the dismay of our many researches who associate our rituals with cosmic science, this did not have the significance they hoped.  It was done purely to provide some light for inebriated brethren to find their way home.  Street lighting, as you know, had yet to fully adorn our thoroughfares.

The lodge room would generally be some small ill-lit upper room which may well have formed part of the Innkeepers living accommodation which he had reserved for club use.  Some measuring only twelve by twelve and seating about seven or eight people, while some larger rooms taking up to fifteen or sixteen.  There were as you may recall, only seven in attendance when Ashmole was Initiated along with Henry Mainwearing in 1646."

That reads much like a description of the Tarbolton club. Contemplating Lodges with a single figure membership is impossible in the present time. We know that 7 is the lowest number at a regular meeting, but could an active membership of 9 be able to sustain itself without the overheads of a building?

The centralisation of Masonic centres on large population towns does not make up for the closures throughout the country. They are an answer to some of the building issues by sharing the costs. However, I know of one Lodge who went from being very successful in their part of town, to being one which is much less so after a few years in a Masonic centre. The reason for this is that their old premises were just a short (walking) distance from their members' homes. Now they have a 15 minute drive. Were that the case for most of the rural Lodges there would not be a problem there.

In the south Waikato Freemasonry has ceased to exist in the form of Lodges. This means it remains for a few really dedicated masons to travel considerable distances. I am sure my readers will have their own examples of this. Could these sort of closures be prevented in some manner?

1. Could today's Freemasonry make it easier for the brethren who cannot afford the mounting expenses of a Lodge building? It would be better to encourage them to continue in the Craft in their locality without a building.
  a) To do this a kit could be produced for setting up a Lodge in a rented hall or room.
  b) What would the kit contain? A carpet, Working Tools etc. (Next issue I will look at a few ideas).
2. Could the Grand Lodge look more favourably at a joint Lodge that meets in different places.
  a) For instance two Lodges in towns A & B, could alternate their meetings between their towns. This would be easier in rented venues.
3. Could the Grand Lodge look more favourably on all travelling Lodges? We have that already in Lodges of Research, but their meetings tend to be quarterly, whereas a monthly dining Lodge in different towns could meet in Lodge buildings as do Research Lodges.

Another option is to look at how those ancient masonic masons worked their Lodge.

1. There were table Lodges. Freemasonry today take this to mean just refectory meetings where there was a set order of toasts and fires. However, in ancient times there were Lodges where the brethren sat around a table, and the candidates knocked on the shoulders of the JW, SW and WM asking permission to enter the Lodge to become a Freemason etc. This is said by some to be the forerunner of a part of today's ritual.
2. There were meetings in private homes. Today's houses may not prove suitable?
3. The public tavern, or club, could be a venue once again.

Venues along these lines could be more satisfactory to lodges with small numbers of brethren. Would such changes bring back a feeling of excitement to the Craft?