© 2024 Masons of California. All right reserved
2022 FRATERNITY REPORT
Looking Out, Looking In
In 2022, the Masons of California set out to show the public what the fraternity is all about.
By Ian A. Stewart
Those who know Chay Wright best know him to be a creative, curious, and spiritual man. Friendly, even-tempered, and artistic. What many didn’t know was that he’s also a Freemason— until he came right out and said it, that is.
This summer, Wright, a musician and member of three lodges in Los Angeles including Beverly Hills No. 528, was among the scores of California Masons who took to social media to declare their membership using the hashtag #ImAMason and to explain what they get from Masonry—something that for generations had been a source of immense confusion and misinformation among both members and the general public. For Wright’s post, he filmed a short video from his audio-recording studio. “When people find out I’m a Mason, it’s usually followed by the question, ‘What’s a Mason?’” Wright began. He went on. “A Mason is a man who constructs his life’s journey on a foundation of principles and morals.”
Soon, the replies came pouring in. “People were like, ‘I’ve never heard Freemasonry articulated in that way,’” Wright says. “Most people said, basically, what I described Masonry doing for my character is who they know me to be.”
That kind of frank, open exchange was increasingly common among California Masons and the wider public in 2022, a year in which the fraternity went to great lengths to increase positive awareness of Freemasonry. Whether online, in person, or through the media, the idea was to show how many people have Masons in their networks, and to encourage current members to become comfortable talking about their experiences with others. That was perhaps most in evidence during the two-week #ImaMason campaign, which reached more than 2.8 million people over Facebook and Instagram.
Those efforts have reverberated in ways big and small—from helping usher a new generation of initiates into the fraternity, all the way down to something as simple as seeing a “like” on a Masonic-themed Facebook post.
Talking About Freemasonry
The need for members to feel comfortable talking openly about Freemasonry has emerged as a significant priority over the past two years, during which the organization has set out to fulfill its 2025 Fraternity Plan. In the context of a significant drop in membership during the pandemic—many through suspensions, moves out of state, or death—simply maintaining similar levels of members in future years will require a significant increase in new initiates. Research has consistently shown that prospects first learn about the fraternity from the people closest to them—family members, friends, and colleagues. And yet a majority of members say they don’t feel comfortable talking about Freemasonry with those close to them, often under the incorrect belief that they’re prohibited from doing so.
By helping members discuss the fraternity with their friends and family— and giving them the tools to do so confidently and accurately—the hope is that they’ll inspire the next wave of Masons to take the first step toward lodge.
That’s why, in May 2022, the Grand Lodge produced a new guide to frequently asked questions about the fraternity, its membership requirements, and other basics. To date, more than 13,000 copies have been printed and distributed to Masons, lodges, and prospects, with more than 1,000 more digital downloads made over the web.
In addition to creating resources for current members to better serve as fraternal ambassadors, the Grand Lodge also developed new online content geared toward non-members who are interested in learning more about Freemasonry. A series of dynamic new webpages for prospects (respectively titled What Is Freemasonry, Becoming a Mason, and History of Freemasonry) were rolled out over the summer, alongside several articles on frequently searched topics related to Freemasonry. During the Annual Communication in the fall, visitors and passers-by to the California Masonic Memorial Temple in San Francisco—which hosts nearly a quarter- million people each year—encountered QR codes linking to new content about the history of the building and its importance to Freemasonry in California. Overall, traffic to the Grand Lodge’s homepage (freemason. org) increased by nearly 260 percent from the spring to the summer. As a result of those efforts, organic search traffic—that is, people naturally guided to the site through a web search, rather than a paid ad—increased by more than 400 percent over the same time period.
People outside the fraternity have always had questions about Freemasonry. More than ever, in 2022, the Masons of California were better positioned to provide them with those answers.
Reaching New Members
Perhaps the most impactful of these efforts was the fraternity’s first-ever online awareness push. The multi-pronged program involved, first, the #ImaMason campaign to activate current members to post messages on their social media accounts explaining what Freemasonry has meant to them. In addition, a subsequent campaign was launched to connect interested prospects to more information about Masonry and to lodges near them.
That 10-week campaign was delivered to more than 1.16 million people throughout the Bay Area, Central Valley, Los Angeles, and San Diego, primarily over Instagram and Facebook. Those who responded to the message were routed to their local lodge or connected with representatives from the Grand Lodge Member Services department who could answer questions and refer to them to a lodge. Meanwhile, the Grand Lodge beefed up its membership development team, bringing on a new a new advisor to serve as a liason between prospects and lodge officers and to help interested candidates begin their Masonic journey.
Ultimately, that effort led to roughly 1,600 new prospects being connected to lodges throughout the state. And those new prospects were spread evenly, with nearly 85 percent of all the lodges in the state having at least one prospect referred to them—and nearly all those lodges seeing multiple prospects.
That surge of interest bodes well for future membership in the fraternity. (Since 1988, the Grand Lodge of California has only had more than 2,000 new initiates in a year once.) That’s a particularly good thing, as the toll of the pandemic on the fraternity has more clearly come into view in 2022.
Consider: At the outset of the pandemic, in March 2020, the fraternity was on track for a net gain in membership for the first time in nearly 60 years. With lodges closed for much of that year, however, membership remained virtually flat. As the shutdown stretched on and applications for degrees were put on hold for much of 2021, the fraternity was unable to make new members. Meanwhile, suspensions for non-payment of dues— combined with normal membership turnover (deaths, demits, expulsions)—created a net loss of between 3,000 and 4,000 members, a bit less than 10 percent of the entire fraternity.
The good news is that things are picking up. Thanks in part to the awareness campaign, plus the backlog of candidates delayed by the pandemic starting to progress through the degrees, 2022 saw a significant jump in Entered Apprentice degrees. That should continue: In December 2022, a survey of lodge leadership found that nearly 75 percent of all lodges had at least one online prospect progressing toward an application.
That may well make 2023 the year of the Entered Apprentice degree. However, an equally important aspect of the fraternity’s membership equation is retaining current members. Suspensions, which spiked during the pandemic, remain stubbornly high (more than 1,400 in 2022). Moreover, those being suspended have an average tenure of 32 years of membership in the fraternity—in other words, they’re longtime, highly committed Masons. In many cases, suspensions are the result of clerical issues like a changed address, and the members aren’t even aware they’ve been suspended. Nearly three-quarters of suspended members say they hope to be brought back into good standing.
To that end, the Membership Restoration program, first launched in 2020, is making it easier to bring those members back for a simple, flat fee. In 2022, more than 400 members were restored through the program. And a new, centralized, online dues-payment system has shown promising results. Lodges using the online system saw 12 percent more members pay their dues on time compared to those still writing paper checks directly to the lodge secretary.
The pandemic was a significant setback for overall membership in the fraternity. But with programs to strengthen the membership pipeline at every stage of the funnel— and with Masons themselves leading the effort—the future does finally look bright.
As it was for so many lodges, the past year was a busy one at Claude H. Morrison No. 747 in San Diego’s Imperial Beach neighborhood. The lodge initiated an incredible 18 new Entered Apprentices in 2022, the most in the state. Combined with a glut of secondand third-degree conferrals that had been postponed during the pandemic, the result was a packed lodge schedule. “We were doing degrees almost every week,” says Michael Peralta, who served as lodge master in 2022.
As the calendar turns to 2023, there isn’t any letup for the lodge, either. As of early January, the lodge had 10 more petitioners awaiting degrees, plus another 10 prospects lined up behind them.
“I can’t compare us to other lodges, but in my term as master, we really focused on [paying attention to] our applicants,” Peralta says. “We try to entertain people who come into our lodge. If a random person comes, we talk to them, answer their questions.”
But Peralta says the main driver of membership continues to be word of mouth. Members at the lodge are open about Freemasonry, he says. They talk with friends, cousins, and coworkers about what the lodge means to them. As a result, those curious acquaintances become visitors to the lodge. And visitors become petitioners. And petitioners become members. And members become ambassadors, starting the cycle all over again.
In that way, he says, Freemasonry in California continues to move forward, changing and evolving as a living testament to its timeless traditions.
Faces of the Fraternity: Blake Green
Membership development advisor, Master of Sacramento No. 40
Can you tell us more about your role as a membership development advisor, connecting prospects to lodges? My role as membership advisor is to provide people interested in Masonry with the information they need and, if they wish to proceed, to connect them with a local lodge to start their journey. I’m the proverbial Virgil, guiding prospects along on their journey from initial interest to meeting their new lodge.
What do you find most rewarding about the job? Masonry has made a tremendous impact in my life, and I enjoy being able to talk to people about the amazing possibilities that “knocking on the door” can provide. Being able to follow up later and find out that someone I referred is now a happy member of a lodge is the real reward of the position. I’m able to make an impact on someone else’s life, as well as bring lodges new and engaged—and possibly long-term—members. I do believe successful prospecting is the lifeblood of the fraternity.
What makes you well-suited to this kind of work? I have experience in this role at my own lodge, Sacramento No. 40, where I reach out to all the prospects and answer their questions. Now, I get to perform the same job on a more statewide basis.
What’s your favorite memory in Freemasonry? It would have to be my first time as master for a third-degree ceremony, when I was able to raise my good friend as a Master Mason after guiding him through his initiation.
Every lodge can benefit by truly thinking about the impression they leave on someone. Just by being diligent and welcoming, they’re already providing the brotherly experience that Masonry promises.