The Grand Lodge of Ohio F&AM bestowed the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason degrees on 780 candidates on March 26th as part of a statewide One Day Class at numerous venues. Naturally, the Masonic Intertube discussion boards, Twitbook, and Facetwit sites went little insane in response to the news. As impressive as 780 Masons may appear to be, they represent just approximately 10% of the record 7,700 Masons raised by the Grand Lodge of Ohio at a similar statewide one-day event in 2002.
Even though these types of mass enrollment celebrations were first held thirty years ago, they remain contentious within the fraternity. Indeed, many online debates on the matter over the previous several weeks sounded every bit as vitriolic as they did twenty years ago.
The Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia hosted the first ‘Grand Master’s Class’ in 1992 as a two-day festival. In that single event, their small jurisdiction raised 113 candidates, accounting for an astounding 55% of all DC candidates for the full year of 1992.
Despite the fact that there was no internet at the time, word spread quickly. By the following February, DC’s event—the first mass raising of Master Masons of its kind—had been the subject of heated debate at the Conference of Grand Masters. The technique gained traction across the country in an astonishingly short period of time, especially for an institution as resistant to change as Freemasonry. By 1998, the Grand Lodge of New Jersey had announced that 96 lodges had participated in their first one-day degree ceremony, which had resulted in the elevation of 434 new Master Masons.
At the time, the bulk of Freemasons worldwide were aghast, and more than a few foreign grand bodies grumbled about perhaps withdrawing recognition of their U.S. counterparts that had held such mass raisings. While similarly massive events were overwhelmingly typical of degrees conferred on large classes of Scottish Rite members, the vast majority of Masons agreed that they were wholly inappropriate for new initiates into the fraternity. The three Symbolic Lodge degrees—especially for the Entered Apprentice and the Master Mason—were particularly considered to be individual and deeply personal experiences. At best, critics alleged, men made Masons in a day or two would undoubtedly be the fastest ones to leave. They would fail to become proficient in the required memory work. If they remained members at all, they certainly would cease to participate, much less take on the requirements to become officers. Lodges that relied on such classes to do all of their degree work for them would quickly lose any ability to confer their own degrees forever. In short, the naysayers claimed, the entire fraternity would be both cheapened and robbed—from the candidates themselves, right down to the lodges and their own members.
Ohio’s Record-Setting Class of 2002
By 2001, at least thirty-one grand lodges in the United States had held one or more of these events in various combinations. Then, in April 2002, Ohio blew everyone else out of the water by initiating, passing, and raising 7,700 Master Masons in numerous locations around the state in a single day. The state of Ohio had raised a total of 10,341 Master Masons in the traditional, individual fashion in the seven years preceding their first massive Grand Master’s Class. In just a few hours, their 2002 Grand Master’s one-day event virtually doubled their entire preceding seven-year membership gain. The rest of the Masonic world’s nose-counters jolted upright in their seats and took notice.
Ohio’s massive one-day growth was never matched anyplace else. They organized two more such events in 2003 and 2005, and by the end of 2006, they had analyzed the aftereffects. In just over five years, one-day Masons raised at their three events accounted for more than 10% of Ohio’s entire Masonic membership. While their two succeeding classes never came close to matching their massive premiere event, other jurisdictions looked enviously at Ohio and pronounced them a success. In every case, numerically speaking.
One of the early complaints was that one-day Masons would not progress to become active lodge members, adept ritualists, or officers. “Easy in, easy out,” was the often-repeated, depressing warning. However, several jurisdictions that accumulated adequate data over time were able to refute that assumption.
A study was conducted in 2001 by Paul M. Bessel for the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, which was the first of its kind to analyze the long-term results of such conferrals. Their grand lodge was unique, since they had conducted two-day degree events annually for eight years and had the data to analyze. Bessel found that the retention and participation rate of members initiated, passed, and raised in the slower, traditional manner, versus the Grand Master’s Class candidates, were statistically identical. Subsequent years demonstrated the same results, clearly disproving objections based only upon fears that dejected Master Masons who were disappointed or unimpressed by their one day experience would vanish faster than their traditionally raised brethren.
Other jurisdictions that bothered to investigate their own circumstances and results came to the same conclusions. Ohio did its own study in 2007, five years after their record setting class. In the three Grand Master’s Classes held between 2002 and 2005, they found that 8% of one-day class members were serving or had already served as lodge officers. That worked out to more than 1,000 officers in their 534 lodges, or almost two officers per lodge. The actual numbers among lodges varied—several reported as many as five of their current officers were one-day members.
In addition, lodges reported an average of 15% of one-day members attended meetings regularly, which was virtually identical to (and often greater than) the participation rate of traditionally made Masons. Numerous lodge secretaries expressed the belief that one-day classes had actually “saved” their lodges.
More recently, a 2015 study of current lodge officers in Washington State revealed that one out of six officers are one-day class members.
As of 2017, my own Grand Lodge of Indiana has raised a total of 6,976 Master Masons via one-day events since its first in 1997. Of those, 3,958 still remain Masons across those twenty years. Many have been officers and Worshipful Masters, and all have simply been as active or inactive as their traditionally-made brethren. To date, there have been several grand masters all across the U.S. who received their degrees at one-day events.
Tens of thousands of U.S. Masons have been initiated, passed, and raised in one-day classes, and the loss of them due to inactivity and demits is no better or worse than traditionally made members. In Indiana’s case, figures clearly show that one-day Masons have actually remained members in a substantially greater percentage than those traditionally made.
That which was lost
What cannot be quantified is the philosophical question of the candidate’s loss of a more personalized, transforming, initiatic experience. Men who earned the accelerated degrees have frequently stated that they returned to their home lodges and discouraged their executives and other members from sending future candidates to them. So, in their own way, one-day workshops encourage lodges to improve their expertise in doing degree work rather of abandoning it, as some had feared.
Retention and engagement are totally determined by how members are treated and mentored after they begin attending their lodges, and it is dependent on each individual Mason’s interest and dedication. A one-day class conferral of the three lodge degrees does not absolve the lodge and its members of their obligation to provide a trusted, knowledgeable mentor to those brethren who require more coaching and education, not less.
Perhaps more importantly, there are no two types of Master Masons in this fraternity. If they are referred to by ostensible brethren as ‘McMasons,’ ‘Blue Lightenings,’ or ‘One Day Wonders’ at their next meeting after their raising, receive no mentoring follow up, and suffer through dull stated meetings with no Masonic education and un-Masonic infighting, they are unlikely to send in their dues renewal in December.
One-day workshops were devised in great part in reaction to lodges’ cries over membership losses and their inability to bestow their own degree work. As a result, those early massive classes did exactly what the lodges wished for: they drew in new members by the bucketload. One-day classes will only be discontinued if lodges no longer require them. If you have a visceral reaction to the practice, blame the lodge that sent him to the class, not the candidate who is now your Brother, as I have frequently stated.
The lodges that failed to keep them coming back managed to do so entirely on their own.
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