“The saying ‘Tradition goes on’ or ‘change is bad’, is anti-dynamic and ruins the progress and development of every institution that adheres to it”
I have been racking my brain trying to figure out what my final message to the lodge will be this year, in fact, as I write this, I believe I’m on about my 5th or 6th different topic. In all of this deliberation, I keep coming back to, what I believe, is one of the achilles heels of our fraternity - its resistance to change. Whether we are talking about the way we conduct meetings, the way we dress at lodge or even the way that we prepare the green beans, it seems that Masons are almost more likely than most to get locked into traditions. Further, it seems that change has become one of the scariest propositions in our brotherhood, however, I am here to tell everyone - CHANGE HAPPENS!
I would like you to consider the fact that Masonry has survived in North America for 290 years (records show that the first lodge permanently established in North America was St. John's Lodge of Boston on July 30th, 1733). Since then, our fraternity has survived wars, scandals, pandemics and all manner of societal upheaval and we have endured because the brothers that came before us have been brave enough to not only recognize the changes necessary for this survival but also to lead that change. Consider also the fact that after our membership boom in the early to mid 20th Century we seem to have adopted a policy of sitting on our laurels. Lodge meetings have become more about reading the minutes and buying lawn mowers than about the real work of the fraternity. When changes are introduced, we see lodges hindered by those Masons who refuse to see the necessity of embracing and leading the changes that are needed. These members are part of the “I hate change” crowd where they completely avoid it or they have to be dragged kicking and screaming into accepting it.
Change is something that, likely, induces a great deal of anxiety in many of us. It is something that people are not naturally comfortable with, therefore, it is something that a great number of us avoid. In our lives we have the ability to react to change in a number of different manners.
The first of which I have alluded to already, fear. When we react in this manner we allow the prospect of change to control us, to guide our actions in a manner that avoids the fact that this change is happening and to steer clear of it for as long as possible. The second reaction is for us to accept it. We may not initially like the change but we can learn to live with it. We move along with what we are doing, begrudgingly accepting the idea that we have to make due with the new ways that things are done and, perhaps, we feel nostalgic for those times when things were “easier” which we naturally associate with being better. Reacting in either of these manners, I would argue, is not healthy. In both cases we do not take the opportunity to put ourselves in the driver's seat - we allow changes to happen to us and we simply deal with it.
The flip side of this is learning to lead the change. This is where we not only accept that the change is going to happen but we take charge by learning how to utilize the change in the manner that best suits us. We also may help other people to embrace the change so that they can feel the benefits of whatever that change brings. It may not always be the most comfortable ride to be on, but we enjoy the journey nonetheless. This is, arguably, the most difficult of the reactions as it requires us to become familiar with the changes which takes time and time is increasingly more valuable as we seem to always have less and less of it.
Here are some ways that we can work to lead change:
1. Create a sense of Urgency: Work within yourself and others to focus on the importance of the coming change.
2. Build a coalition: Find other people that you can trust to work with you to help guide the change.
3. Form a Vision: Make sure that your group has a vision of what things will look like once the change is in place.
4. Remove Barriers: Some changes require us to adjust previous practices - don’t be afraid to make those adjustments - occasionally this may mean that people need to be moved into different roles in the group because they present the barrier.
5. Short-term wins: When implementing a change, set short term goals that are achievable and celebrate when they are accomplished.
6. Institutionalize the Change: Make the change part of the culture of the group.
Now, I would challenge us to understand that, as a fraternity, we cannot become what we need to be by remaining where we are. It is the work of any true educator, researcher, and historian to continually investigate and never give into the idea that the entire story of any topic has been told and that any social organization is perfect. We, as leaders in our lodges, have the responsibility to both lead and help guide future leaders to reinvent the role that our lodges have in our communities and greater society. Further, we need to realize and embrace the idea that some changes will not work and revision and reflection is going to be necessary for us to be able to find the right path. Do not get discouraged as the place that we have been is not viable as we move into the future.
Remember, also, that ritual changes are not necessary for this to happen. Our fraternal principles are solid and should be both respected and embraced. However, respect for ritual does not mean that we should not ditch other traditions that do not serve to advance the fraternity or the brotherhood. The brotherhood deserves leaders that are willing to embrace and lead change, not just do the same things over and over expecting different results.
With this, I want to end off by thanking all the members of Silas Shepherd Lodge for the honor of being Master. As someone who dabbles in historical research I have found it as, truly, one of the best experiences in my time as a Mason and I look forward to continuing with my involvement in our lodge as long as my schedule allows. Please take care of yourselves and families and I look forward to seeing you at Lake Country Freemasons Lodge #42 in Oconomowoc on November 18th.
Yours in Brotherhood,
Silas Shepherd Lodge #1843
 Crawford, George Williamson, and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 1914. Prince Hall and His Followers; Being a Monograph on the Legitimacy of Negro Masonry. Internet Archive. New York, The Crisis. https://archive.org/details/princehallhisfol00craw/mode/2up, 22.