Paths to Professionalism: Options for Freemasonry
On January 28th, 2021, I was honoured to be a guest on the Masonic Roundtable podcast! On the Jan 28th episode, we discussed the possibility of a professional component to Freemasonry.
This discussion considered the ethics of a professional component, the benefits/drawbacks a professional component, and the possible pathways to a professional component.
In this story, I focus on the third consideration and ask the question: “what are the possible pathways to a professional component in Freemasonry?”
Of course, the ethics and the benefits/drawbacks of a professional component are worthy of focus, and I will later publish stories focusing on these considerations (based on the “online chat” which occurred during the podcast, these stories will be “controversial”).
However, in order to fully consider and discuss the ethics and benefits/drawbacks of an idea, it is important to also consider how that idea could be effectively implemented: what are the possible pathways?
This author believes there are three possible pathways, which are discussed below. There may be other pathways not considered here-readers are encouraged to leave such pathways in the comments (also, feel free to comment on the relative merits of each pathway considered hereafter).
In some ways, this is the most “traditional” pathway; though also (likely) the most controversial.
Pathway one: a Lodge (or District/Temple) increases dues to a sufficient level to cover professional (living) wages for certain Freemasons. The manner in which a Lodge selects these Freemasons could be based on any number of criteria; (in my opinion) best practices would mean criteria includes officer positions (W. Master, Wardens, Secretary, Treasurer) dedication to the Craft, and proficiency in memory work.
Criteria is debatable; questions (what does “dedication to the Craft” encompass?) would need to be answered by a Lodge and codified within its by-laws. However a Lodge answers those questions, pathway one ends with a Lodge increasing dues and then, from those dues, paying certain Masons a living wage.
This pathway is traditional as much of the necessary infrastructure already exists: Lodges already collect dues; many already provide (token) honorariums to certain officers or members; and Lodges also already have officer positions which could easily transition from “voluntary” to “professional” (Secretary and Treasurer spring immediately to mind).
This pathway is also (likely) the most controversial because, in order to achieve “living wages,” most (if not all) Lodges would require a significant dues increase. Any Mason who has attended a Lodge discussion on a dues increase knows exactly how these discussions go-this author has personally witnessed a $5.00 dues’ increase proposal devolve into an hour debate (with no resolution) — and this pathway requires significantly more than a $5.00 increase.
Based upon my Lodge memberships and experience, most Lodges would require a 15x dues increase (at least) to cover the cost of even two living wages (while covering pre-existing expenses).
This requirement is due in large part to the fact that Masonic dues have in no way kept-up with inflation or other similar clubs. Per a Google Search, the average cost of a golf-club membership per year (2021) is $1,000–$5,000. My dues for two lodges, per year, equals $230.00.
Putting aside the question of a professional component, this author has no doubt dues need to be across-the-board increased.
Returning to the question of a professional component, the author considers this pathway worthy of consideration-but worries the necessary dues increase would be too controversial for most Lodges to consider. This brings us to pathway two.
Pathway two (or what this author calls the “Pequod” pathway) is based a shared-investment/dividend process.
This author calls it the “Pequod” pathway as it is based on 18th century whaling ships, which were in effect floating corporations.
On these ships, every crew-member was guaranteed a share of any profits made from its voyage. The captain received the lions-share, and the newest crew-member received the smallest share. Of course, ship-owner expenses were also considered.
While a Masonic Lodge doesn’t “float,” the basic premise is transferable; a Lodge invests in the market and/or in a business and dividends or profits are shared amongst the members (with the W. Master receiving the lions-share, while the newest EA receives a token amount).
The drawback of pathway two is obvious: if profits are shared, so too are losses. As this story is written, the game-stop/reddit story continues to develop. This is not brought-up to comment on the merits of that actual story, but to illustrate market volatility. Investing in the market or a business in no way guarantees a significant (or even successful) return: the danger of a Lodge losing significant savings is high.
Even with the drawback, if a Lodge has financial security and financial maneuverability, pathway two is worth exploring.
Pathway three requires the creation of a third-party business or enterprise that (while not under Masonic auspices) provides Masonic services. As with pathway one, this pathway already has precedent. Masonic regalia shops are businesses providing masonic products and services, Many authors have earned a living by producing masonic books.
The challenge within this pathway is sufficiently scaling the above-precedent, so more than a “miniscule” (as described by W. Bro. Jason Richards) number of Freemasons have this pathway available to them.
Third-party enterprises have significant freedom, as they are not be regulated under any lodge by-laws or Grand Lodge constitutions.
Social media allowed for a massive increase in “content creation,” and Freemasonry is no exception. Masonic podcasts, scholarly articles, social media posts, blogs, and more have expanded greatly over the decade.
This expansion is already being monetized but (again) on such a miniscule level that the average Mason and Lodge will not view it as an viable professional pathway…& that is where Square & Compass comes in.
The goal of Square & Compass is to leverage digital monetization opportunities, thereby creating a viable pathway for Masons who wish to pursue Freemasonry on a professional level.
Such a pursuit requires sacrifice, dedication, and hard-work (something often in short-supply within Masonic circles). Such a pursuit also requires a sufficient market, which will consume Masonic related content at a sufficient volume to produce a profit.
This consumption is not guaranteed; outside of Freemasons and their families, it is not clear where the market for Masonic content exists. This author’s suspicion is that if such a market exists, it is those digital spaces dedicated to a model best described as: “passionate people discussing what they love.”
This is the model that has allowed podcasters such as Joe Rogan and Lex Fridman to become successful. The content and product they produce is based not so much on a particular niche interests, but rather on the personality and passion with which the hosts tackle different areas of interest.
If Freemasonry is to become successful in the content-creation market, and therefore find a successful way to navigate pathway three, the focus will have to be on the passion of its adherents; because passion will always translate to an audience!