Pro. Seth Anthony, Charter Monarch of Ubar Grotto, was asked to address the 122nd Supreme Council Session on the topic of membership. His oration was well received and many asked for copies of it. In an effort to distribute his speech, we are presenting it here for all to read.
Good day Prophets.
It was a little over three months ago that I was asked by Prophet Bernie Mitchell, Past Grand Monarch, to address this convention on the topic of membership. What could a relative new comer like myself tell the most senior and veteran Prophets in the Realm? What could I tell them that would inspire them or challenge them think differently about membership?
At first, I concluded that I had no idea what the secret to voluminous membership recruitment was. But, as a veteran of the service industry, I was reminded that saying “I don’t know” is never a good answer for a customer. Rather, you should say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you.” That’s exactly what I did with these remarks. I put down the pen and tried to find the answer. I reviewed what we have done at Ubar Grotto over the last year and tried to find the key to our success.
The answer to this question isn’t simple. In fact, its one of the most complicated answers I’ve ever tried to explain. Leadership, vision, passion, time, energy, and a million other factors contribute to the success of every Masonic organization. Instead of trying to explain how all of those things combine to make for a successful Grotto, I decided to look at the Grotto Program and see what tools it has to offer its members so that they can succeed.
As inspiration, I looked at one of the greatest success stories of all time – theUnited States of America. I bet not one person in this room isn’t proud of their country and the accomplishments of our forefathers. They came together and took a patchwork of culturally different colonies and founded a nation, born of blood, forged in the fires of war, and honed in the halls of legislation. The feat of bringing together a nation of individualists remains one of the stunning achievements of the modern age.
In much the same way, the Masonic Fraternity has managed to patch together independent jurisdictions into a functioning system of membership. While every state has a different set of rules, cultures, and norms, we are all Masons and accord each other respect as such. However, just a quick survey of the crowd would show that each of us comes from a different Masonic heritage. As a Pennsylvania Mason I know this all too well. Too many times I have answered puzzled queries from Brothers who don’t understand why don’t have middle chamber lectures, catechisms, or stewards. There are Masonic differences in every jurisdiction in this country – but isn’t that what makes us great? The fact that we can have our own heritage, customs, and systems, but still come together in Brotherly love – just as our Nation did 250 years ago – is the real value of Freemasonry.
As part and parcel of Freemasonry, Grotto is no different. While we each come from completely different Masonic backgrounds, we meet here as Prophets. We are brought together by the commonality of the Mystic Order and our love of the Realm. But, therein lies the real challenge. When you take men from so many backgrounds and try to shoe-horn them into one system, you’re bound to have challenges. What is Masonic and regular in one state, might be completely anathema in another. It’s how the Grotto approaches this problem that makes us different from the Shrine, the Tall Cedars, and others.
We need to be honest with ourselves, my Brothers. The Grotto is at a cross roads and we must fundamentally understand who we are to be able to survive in an overpopulated Masonic market. Why should a man join the Grotto when he could join Shrine, Tall Cedars, Sciots, or Hi-Twelve? Why should the Grotto even exist? How many times are we going to allow people to call us the “Poor Man’s Shrine?” We are NOT the poor man’s Shrine. We are NOT just another social organization. We are the Prophets of the Enchanted Realm and we offer something no other national Masonic body can offer – something that our forefathers, both Masonic and secular valued above all else – we offer freedom.
Grotto offers one of the most versatile Masonic experiences that can be had today and therein lies the secret to membership. The freedom to operate your Grotto the way it needs to be run, without mind bending rules or complex organizational requirements. Your Grotto has the ability and authority to innovate. In the proceedings of the 2010 Supreme Council Session, Pro. Mitch Weinsting reported on behalf of the Membership Retention Committee as follows – “Remember that it is up to each individual Grotto to talk to their membership who are leaving and find out why and see what we can do to get them to stay.” One of my favorite sayings that relates to this is “Membership isn’t a we thing, it’s a me thing.” No one is going to innovate for you and the Supreme Council isn’t in a position to do so – your Grotto must use the freedom it has been granted to attract and retain members.
Ubar Grotto succeeds because we are able to tailor our organization to the needs of our Masonic community. The Prophets of Ubar thought outside of the box when they formed our Grotto. They said their wives didn’t want to be involved, so we consciously made the decision to have very little involvement with women. We said that we never want to own property and have taken steps to ensure that we have meeting places that require no rent be paid. We pledged that the moment we started taking the organization too serious, was the moment we would lay down our fezzes. A fun and irreverent attitude towards conventional programs has fed our members need to break free of the formal conformity expected in our Blue Lodges. That’s what works for Ubar and that’s how we attracted large membership growth – we built a program that reflects our Masonic community and didn’t change our vision.
However, that’s not the answer for your Grotto and its membership problems. The answer for your Grotto lies with you. You need to take stock in your local Masonic community and understand its needs. If you can’t honestly explain why a man should join your Grotto over any other organization, then you’re missing the boat. What does your Grotto offer that no other fraternal group does? The answer, as I’ve already said, is freedom.
Give your members the freedom to plan activities and events that interest them. If you can’t get them interested in planning, then take the bull by the horns and ask non-members what activities would get them to join. Do Masons really need another dinner to go to? Probably not, but they might be looking for a place to try cigars, taste some scotch, or go camping. While clown units are a tried and true tradition, we must expand our idea of what a unit is. It’s this kind of freedom that lets us excel as an organization.
When I was installed as Monarch of Ubar Grotto, I challenged the Supreme Council to trust me and my Prophets. I challenged them to grant us the freedom to do what was needed to grow our part of the Realm. Some of what we wanted to do was beyond the norm. Some of it seemed like change only for the sake of change. While we didn’t succeed at everything we tried, we did manage to grow our program at an astonishing rate. Freedom was the key to that. Freedom is the key to our continued growth as we change and adapt our program to the needs of our members.
As members of Grotto, we are called Prophets. That moniker is only appropriate as I ask you to join me in becoming a Prophet with a vision of the future. A Prophet who is willing to be different; a Prophet who won’t accept the status quo; a Prophet who won’t conform just for conformity’s sake, but one who will question authority and advocate for what is right for his Grotto. Join me in using our freedom to grow the Realm and ensuring that future generations can enjoy that same freedom!
We are the Prophets of the future! We are the Prophets of Freedom!