Sometimes I get to read those Masonic magazines that get posted my way.
There's only one thing that troubles me about Freemasonry. It's those statistics I read in those magazines. Many Freemasons seem to have a Masonic divorce not long after joining, and there's an alarming and ever-increasing average age amongst the membership.
It's time for the ancient and honourable fraternity of Freemasonry to embrace its Brethren in the ways the Fraternity should: mainly, focussing upon the individual.
Freemasonry is many things to many people. Sometimes it's a drinking club or a weekly get-together. It's often about the great charitable activities, which support thousands of worthwhile causes. For others it's the Masonic research - into the more esoteric and spiritual aspects of the Craft and what its symbolism means. For many, it's quite simply a feeling of having friends upon the same level. After all, Freemasonry teaches us that we are all on the same level.
One thing's for sure, Freemasonry is about people and perhaps this is where Grand Lodges need to focus if they are to reverse membership attrition and lower the average age of members.
Freemasonry is within the custody of Grand Lodges, within their respective jurisdictions, and they have the important duty of ensuring things are being done properly.
I can see that some Grand Lodges out there have changed tact. They've accepted that concentrating on things like charity alone, albeit a popular and honourable reason for affiliating, is not enough to retain the interest of members. They know Freemasonry isn't a one-trick pony.
After all, Freemasonry is a self-styled mystic art that was founded on three great principles: Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. That's friendship, charity and learning about yourself.
Granted. You'd need some good juggling hands to focus on all three when looking at Freemasonry from the perspective of a Grand Lodge. Thankfully there's some help.
For those Grand Lodges that spotted that the way to turn things around is to focus on the Brethren, OpenLodge is for them.
I created OpenLodge in 2011 for one principle reason: for Freemasonry to maintain that important link with the Brother. OpenLodge is a Brethren Engagement System.
Brethren Engagement is about kindling communication and keeping in touch. It's about contact when apart; teaching when necessary; asking questions when right. It's about Freemasonry in your own time and feeling part of it when you're not even physically with other Masons.
It shifts the focus onto the Brother and his or her part in Freemasonry. It recognizes his or her value and realizes the potential.
Freemasonry is open to Men and Women.
It's about conversations and making friends. Meeting new people and bringing good ideas home.
It's about groups of Brethren working together. It's about getting involved rather than governing. It's about sharing and educating.
It's two-way, and it's simple. It has to be.
But, most of all, Brethren Engagement is about fostering Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth - the tenets of the Craft. It has to be about this.
And it starts with the most basic organizational unit in Freemasonry: the Masonic Lodge.
Freemasonry teaches us that the Masonic Lodge - Blue or Private Lodge - is a group of self-governing Brethren - a sort of collective - which forms a focus and sets a context for Masonic education. We know it typically reports into a more senior Masonic Lodge, such as a District, Provincial or Metropolitan Grand Lodge. This is to ensure its regularity; in carrying out its Masonic business properly and within the constitutional rules established by a Grand Lodge. As we know, these regional Grand Lodges then report into their Grand Lodge, which is charged with governing Freemasonry within its jurisdiction, and maintaining its links with other Grand Lodges.
Sounds like the Masonic Lodge is the foundation of those three tiers, right?
So, the Masonic Lodge is our focus when we're thinking about Brethren Engagement. After all, it's the group of Brethren who form it and it's those people who ultimately matter in this context. The Brethren are the people who make-up Freemasonry and it's important for the Fraternity to allow the Brotherhood to prosper otherwise it will die.
I think OpenLodge arrived at the right point in time.
For an ancient society that is interested in tools, perhaps OpenLodge is its new digital tool: a Brethren Engagement platform for speaking Freemasonry.
A tool that maintains and manifests a member's interest in their Masonic Lodge, whether they're at home watching the TV or out walking the dogs.
A tool to help the Masonic Lodge educate its newest of members and talk Freemasonry.
A channel for Grand Lodges to share and embrace good Freemasonry.
Whilst the Masonic Lodge benefits from a new channel directly with its members, so the Grand Lodge benefits by opening up a direct channel with its Masonic Lodges and vice-versa. The communication is two-way, relaxed and productive.
It's a place to organize charity events. A place to plan lectures to educate Masons. A place to share news and events. A place to remember visitors and a place to find out where to go.
It's a tool to express and act upon the basic principles and tenets of the Craft outside of the Lodge room.
And Grand Lodges can really help Freemasonry by using it. By using digital tools like this they can talk Freemasonry in the ways people understand. It's relaxed. It's engaging. It's meaningful.
There are good signs ahead.
As OpenLodge is adopted as a modern means of interacting with members, it will act as part of a wider toolkit, of which some of its tools are already established.
The Fraternity has already adopted Twitter. There are thousands of Masonic Lodges who have taken to Twitter to promote the good of Freemasonry whilst reaching out to their local communities.
Twitter is effective external marketing. Its focus is the public face of Freemasonry and sparking interest. It's a necessary tool, with an important part to play in Freemasonry.
OpenLodge is the internal tool. Its focus is the Brother and his or her importance to his or her Masonic Lodge. It turns the spark of an interest from a person into a warm glow of a Masonic Lodge.
A smarter Freemasonry will use the digital toolkit. Twitter, OpenLodge and all.
Perhaps Brethren Engagement is the solution.