In 1948, almost 40 years ago, Grand Lodge, under the leadership of M.W. Bro. J.P. Maher, issued a pamphlet entitled "For the Use of the Master of the Lodge." At that time Grand Lodge was seriously concerned about attendance at the regular monthly meetings of most Lodges. War veterans had joined Masonic Lodges in unprecedented numbers, but evidently without any appreciable increase in regular Lodge attendance. You would think the regular attendance of members would have increased with such a large influx of members. Not so. Note that the issue is not the number of Brethren in Lodge, but the regular attendance of the members of Lodge.
Grand Lodge studied the situation and concluded two things may have happened. First, the initial enthusiasm of newly-admitted members may have waned. Second, the drop in regular attendance may have been a reaction to the dullness and monotony of so many badly planned meetings.
Further, Grand Lodge identified the failure of the Lodge to plan its program sufficiently in advance as the foremost reason for poor Lodge meetings. Also, the W.M. and Officers of the Lodge could be faulted for lack of proper organization in the conduct of the social hour. They cited unnecessary delays and too many speeches which are too often inappropriate and poorly prepared.
Also blamed for poor attendance were unnecessarily long Lodge meetings, which dragged on unnecessarily, resulting in Brethren not getting home at a reasonable hour. Time is often lost in prolonged and unnecessary discussion of items of business, items often of little or no interest to members or items dealing with details better ironed out by the Master and his Officers before the meeting.
Another turn-off identified in this study is the failure to give as many members as possible, especially new ones, an opportunity to do some floor work or to serve on committees. An involved member is more likely to be an interested member. Hopefully, the Mentors Programme properly understood and effectively executed can assist in resolving some of these problems.
The report further suggests that no evening meeting last beyond 10:30. The W.M. is urged to: open Lodge promptly; organize meetings well in advance so as not to lose time in discussing business; avoid taking too much time reading the minutes; limit the reading of applications for membership to giving the name and two sponsors of the applicant; curb unnecessary discussion of details of business; move and second motions promptly; put the motion to the vote if no one rises within a short interval after calling for discussion (a few words of explanation by the W.M. may occasionally be required, but avoid long explanations on every item of business); prepare for balloting before the meeting begins; conduct degree work with a lively pace, but the degree should not be hurried lest the candidate fail to appreciate and understand what he is receiving. While some Brethren may be critical about ritual that is delivered less than word perfect, remember it is the sincerity and meaning behind the delivery that will impress the candidate.
Time can be saved by knowing your floor work. Work should be alloted well in advance. The Deacons should know what to do and do it. Rehearsals should be held as frequently as necessary. Avoid conferring more than one degree at each regular meeting if it is going to unnecessarily prolong the evening. Time is often lost in calling on many visitors and members for contributions to "the good of the Craft". Do not let the meeting drag and be spoiled with unnecessary speeches. "Call off" the Lodge only when absolutely necessary. Use the period immediately following the meeting to socialize. Organize the social hour well without unnecessarily prolonging it by many speeches, but give the speaker enough time to develop his message. Strictly limit the time spent giving toasts.
In the conduct of the social hour in the banquet room, for example, two minutes should enough to propose a toast, certainly no longer than three minutes, with five minutes for the reply to the toast. The introduction of a speaker should be similarly limited, the main speaker taking no more than fifteen, at most twenty, minutes to deliver his message. Call on speaker as soon as possible in the program, preferably not late in the evening. Let the words of appreciation be few and give advance notice to the one thanking the speaker so he can be prepared. Close the evening soon after the main speaker has finished. As a general rule, if you close your social hour as soon as the main speaker has finished you will make no mistake. Let simplicity and consideration for others be the chief characteristic of the social hour.
To summarize, attendance seems to depend upon careful and efficient organization of meetings well in advance and knowing how much time will be involved. The point is simply that the brethren will turn up if the meetings are interesting, instructive and enjoyable.
These were the recommendations of the Board of General Purpose of Grand Lodge almost forty years ago. They impress me as relevant today. They bear the mark of wisdom.
1. An article published in The Newsletter, a publication of The Committee on Masonic Education of Grand Lodge A.F.& A.M. of Canada in the Province of Ontario, Spring, 1986, Vol. 7, No. 1.