Pictou County District Meeting

November 7, 2008

Digital Chaos

Masonry and the Internet

Rt,W.Bro. Robert H. Meyer, D.D.G.M.


Most Worshipful Grand Master, Distinguished East,
Past & Present Grand Lodge Officers,
Brethren All

At my last official visit in the district, I gave a short address on the topic of how to answer that dreaded question �What do you Guys do?� or �What is Freemasonry?� The question had been asked by a nice lady in her sixties and she was obviously not impressed with my answer. She shrugged it off by telling us �I'll Google it when I get home.�

Whether we like it or not, in this twenty-first century, the Internet plays a crucial role in how people get information, how they conduct business, and how they interact with other people.

The demographics of our fraternity may not be conducive to blanket coverage over the Internet, but the number of 'connected' members is steadily growing. Regardless of the number of our own members that are 'connected,' however, as an organization we cannot afford to ignore the importance of a meaningful presence on the Internet.

I won't bore you with depressing statistics, but a quick look over our shoulders tells us that in the last 50 years membership in our jurisdiction has shrunk by two-thirds and our own District has 150 less members today then it had in 1996!

The picture is the same in other jurisdictions, and other fraternal and social organizations. Our loss of membership is a consequence of a general decline in social participation which has affected every aspect of civic life.

Since I received my Master Mason Degree in 1975, I have seen our Grand Lodge trying to project an image of a benevolent society to the public by focusing significant resources toward charitable activities, no doubt in the belief that Masonry should be perceived as a fraternal organization working for the public good. Our Lodges have opened their doors to family and friends and Grand Lodge has authorized the filming of a documentary in its Lodge rooms in the hope of removing the aura of 'secrecy' from the public mind.

Unfortunately there is little evidence that these efforts have stemmed the decline in membership.

What sets us apart from all other organizations is Masonry. Permit me to quote a line from the EA charge: �No institution was ever raised on a better principle, or more solid foundation, nor were ever more excellent rules and maxims laid down than are inculcated in the several Masonic lectures.� In other words: It is Masonry that makes us Masons.

Maybe it is time to stop bemoaning our losses in real numbers and focus on our loss of 'active' members. My estimate is that in our District 75% of the members have not sat in open Lodge for years! That's more than 300 Brothers we could welcome back to our Meetings, discounting those who are unable or live outside the District. But that's a topic which deserves its own consideration.

Masonry has always been based on community. For the operative workman it was the community of the construction site, for early speculative Masons it was the group that met in some Pub, and to this date there are Lodges who draw their members from a narrow circle of candidates � I'm thinking of the military oriented Lodges like Ad Astra No. 130 and Cornwallis Lodge No. 95.

In our mobile society, the sense of belonging to a community has diminished � probably more so in cities than in small towns � as fewer and fewer of us live in the town or village they grew up in.

But a new form of community has arisen to replace that which we lost. It is a community, however, that is not widely recognized as such, though it is in large measure the future of the Craft.

Maybe we should ask first WHO is the future of the Craft? And you will probably agree, that we are primarily looking for an honest, upright man between 25 and 55 and open to the experience only Masonry can offer � an elusive 'target' with all too few exceptions.

Could it be that we are not making ourselves known in the right place?

Our future candidate is a guy with a BlackBerry or Cell Phone, his PC has a high speed connection to the Internet � and he uses it often. He values his time and can't afford to waste it.

I dare say, that the answer to the question 'where will the new brothers come from?' is: They will come from the Internet.

The Internet is already the portal for most prospects and those interested in researching Masonry. In speaking to younger candidates, it is apparent that for many, the Internet was the primary means they employed in making their decision to join.

This may be a concept that is difficult to grasp � it is invisible and silent.

So let me give you some numbers. One of my projects as your DDGM, was to create a website for our District. In May I put it on line and kept an eye on the number of visitors I was getting � from 13/day in May it has grown to 40/day in November with the average visitor looking at four pages. In only six months, more than 4000 visitors have looked at 16000 pages!

There were 68,000 visits to the Grand Lodge Website in two years. (Scroll down to the bottom of the home-page to see the stats.)

What am I trying to say?

A well designed and up-to-date website is vital to the continued well being and functioning of any Lodge in the 21st century.

New Masons and those considering joining expect a lodge to have such a site. It is through websites that they select many of the companies with which they do business and they associate a quality website with a worthwhile organization. (Individual consumers purchased ~$24 billions worth of goods in 2007 and that's beside the $39 billion in business-to- business e-sales [StatsCan 2007])

It is not only business, though, that is using the Internet to reach a virtually unlimited number of people. To the South, President Elect Barak Obama's campaign success is, to a large extent, credited to his extensive use of Internet resources. Only a day after the election win, he opened a new website: change.gov which promises ongoing information about the transition process.

More often than not, the mere existence, as well as the condition of a lodge website, will of itself influence the potential Mason in deciding to submit a petition and will determine to which lodge he will submit it.

Unfortunately, neither our Grand Lodge nor its subordinate Lodges give the Internet much priority.

Let me just make one comment with regard to the Grand Lodge Website. On the 25th of October we had the rare celebration of the cornerstone laying and consecration of our new Grand Lodge building. A 'publicity' committee was formed and it put together an interesting four page insert for the Halifax Herald which was distributed a week before the event. On the Grand Lodge website this event never happened! Our M.W.G.M. wrote a well researched history of the tradition and milestones for the GLNS � but if you did not look up the Grand Masters Calendar you would not have known when it was happening.

An impressive parade was held with all concordant bodies represented in their colorful costumes and regalia, speeches were made and pictures taken � and I am still waiting to see all this even mentioned on the official Grand Lodge Website!

When it comes to the Lodges in the jurisdiction, much work lays ahead. Of the 104 active Lodges in Nova Scotia, 27 list a website � I visited them all � 5 proved current and up-to-date, 3 are minimal giving only a list of officers, 6 were out of date anywhere from 1 to 5 years, 4 were dead links, and 9 are part of the Pictou County Website.

My Brethren, counting our own, that makes less than 14% of Nova Scotia Lodges having a valid presence on the Web!

I mention all this, because there is also a dark side to the Internet as it relates to Freemasonry: it allows irregular or clandestine masons a wide audience. In fact, such masonry has latched onto the Internet with a vengeance. Google the word �Freemasonry� and at least half of the initial hits will be websites condemning Masonry or featuring irregular masonry.

In this confusing digital world it can be very difficult for a non-Mason or a prospective Mason to differentiate between clandestine and regular Masonic websites. Even regular Masons can be easily misled. Popular Masonic forums often feature routine postings from regular Masons, and from irregular ones, as well as from co-masons and feminine masons. All are mixed together and mingled in a way that gives each equal credibility. Many blogging Masons, especially on the most prominent sites, seem to be angry men with an ax to grind.

It is sad to say, that the state of today�s Internet Masonic message is largely unrepresentative of regular Masonry. Clandestine masons and disgruntled regular Masons engage in unMasonic conduct primarily driving a destructive digital discourse. It is essential to our future that regular Masonry take control of the digital Masonic message. If we don�t, these forces will.

The reality is that if the negative or misleading Internet Freemason message remains unchanged it will become dominant. It will not only influence how non-Masons think of us, new members will be influenced by it and will form an initial false belief in the actual nature of regular Masonry.

Brethren, we have light to diffuse. To set the record straight with an eye on the garbage so freely dumped on the digital highway. AND to re-connect with as many of our 'absentee' Brothers as possible.

How Grand Lodge will tackle this challenge is probably best left to the Public Relations, Editorial and Masonic Education Committees of the Board of General Purposes and I beg the M.W.G.M. to give this issue some consideration.

In our District, we have a head-start. The framework is in place. Lets flesh is out. Let's post your summons as early as possible. Announce any and all special projects and events as soon as they are decided. Tell the brethren of your Lodge if there is an ill or ailing brother. Bug your historian for a Lodge History if it has not already been written. List all brethren who have received long service or meritorious service recognition. Let's be proud of our achievements � between the 8 District Lodges we have 1100 years of Masonry in Pictou County.

We have a calendar where all Masonic events of the Craft Lodges and the Concordant and Appendant bodies can be listed including details. If we all contribute, it should prevent the scheduling of conflicting events.

There is not enough time for your Webmaster to gather all this information by himself. So, put a sticky-note on your computer (or telephone) saying: �Inform the Webmaster.�

Many of us are not quite sure what can and cannot be made public about Masonry and a Lodge. The Grand Secretary, in his 'Internet Protocol' letter, in summary, prohibits three topics:

  1. The procedures, processes and results of ballots and votes taken.

  2. Canvassing support for any Grand Lodge office; and endeavouring to obtain support for propositions that might come before Grand Lodge or a Lodge of this Jurisdiction

  3. Specific or detailed discussion of any signs and tokens, or their significance

That leaves a lot of screen-space to fill with the things we can say.

And finally, my brethren, being a 'googler' myself, I looked for a definition of 'Community' and found that:

A community is a group of people who form relationships over time by interacting regularly around shared experiences, which are of interest to all of them for varying individual reasons.

A better description of the aims of our noble Craft I could not think of and I can only hope that we find a way of using the vast potential of the Internet in helping us to bring OUR community together and strengthen the ties that already bind us.


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