Monday, June 2, 2014

Deserted Temples: Empty Lodges

It's been exactly two years to the day since I last posted an entry on deserted Lodge buildings. That entry was entitled The Ruined Temple. I began to collect my thoughts for this one a couple of days ago and only coincidentally looked up my old post on the same subject this morning, and noticed it was the second anniversary of that post today. That seemed an interesting if not terribly meaningful coincidence, but it surprised me to also think that I have been writing this blog since November of 2011.  All of that is irrelevant as I am not inclined to write much about myself here or elsewhere, and I doubt that such a revelation will be of much interest to anyone.

Alas, Masonic lodges continue to go idle and the buildings continue to be left to decay, or, as recently happened with the most historic Prince Hall Lodge, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, fall to the auction block. There is also a photograph of a Masonic Lodge that collapsed.

Admittedly, I love architecture of many varieties. I also am fond of the romance of ruins. As a child, one of the few risky behaviors I indulged in, which I can safely admit to now that my parents have left this plane of existence over 15 years ago, was to sneak into boarded up buildings in my neighborhood and explore. I did this a number of times with a pair of my friends. I suspect the real risk was relatively little, and the buildings in question are still standing - now renovated. No, none of them were lodge buildings, although one was only a few doors away from one of the oldest Theosophical Society buildings in the country. However, I have had the pleasure of exploring empty buildings in four countries in the course of my life, and the appeal remains.

The real issue here of course, is not the buildings. Empty Masonic Lodges are a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. The reality is that
Freemasonry can no longer support expensive and excessive buildings. Freemasonry probably can no longer afford modest buildings. Even where Lodges are not shutting down, they have to sell their buildings or put them to other uses. One lodge near me recently sold their building and in return, they rent their old lodge at a reasonable rate once a month. Another long ago converted the first floor of their building into retail space.

The transition will most likely continue to be painful and sloppy. There's no way to universally usher in a change of approach, nor will one solution work in all cases. Perhaps some lodges and
obediences will be able to maintain some of their properties, while jettisoning others. However it plays out, it seems likely that Freemasonry of all flavors needs to change its thinking about lodge buildings. The earliest operative lodges were temporary affairs, set up to serve while a larger building such as a church or cathedral was being constructed. In the early days of Speculative Freemasonry - the 1600s in Scotland, and later during the early 1700s in England, lodges met in pubs and taverns, which must have made for some very lively meetings.

So, as wonderful as some of the Masonic Lodges of the 19th and early 20th Century were and are, the days when they represented realistic options is over. Freemasonry, even if it is able to stem the tide of a receding membership, must come to grips with a new condition. Freemasonry must, at least in this regard, prepare to return to an older practice, one of lodges without real estate. Lodges can rent space in buildings, and smaller ones may meet in homes. This is not simply a matter of losing real estate. It also means that in the future, lodges will need more portable and lighter weight furniture and props. Such a lodge cannot deal with pillars and altars that require several people and hand trucks to move.

While such adaptations need not alter the form of ritual in any significant way, it will over time change the character of the experience in some subtle ways.  In truth, it may return to the craft more of the intimacy of the earlier days when Freemasonry was growing.

Doubtlessly, many will object to considering much less publicly discussing such matters, but it seems a logical consideration, and one which I suspect, no am certain, that many lodges are currently dealing with.

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