Last week I became the Worshipful Master-elect of Doric Lodge No. 316 in Toronto (Thornhill to be precise). Our lodge, like many Freemasonry lodges all over the world, is being threatened with the prospect of "going dark".
What does to "go dark" means? Most of the time this simply means that the lodge will take a break from regular monthly meetings. This temporary "dark" period traditionally happens during the summer months to allow the members to harvest their crops.
Enlightenment (aka regular meetings) resume once more at the beginning of fall. In other words, Masonic lodges "going dark" is a transient occasion for the most part. But in some cases it is permanent. Dwindling membership, lack of interest and active participation, financial issues, etc., etc., contribute to the death of a Masonic lodge.
There are ways to prevent this permanent lodge closure from happening. One of them is to amalgamate with another lodge that is also experiencing similar issues. This marriage between two Masonic lodges can become complicated and at times downright frustrating because each lodge have their own culture and traditions and not to mention their own line of officers waiting for their turn to sit on that venerated chair in the East.
We were in talks with amalgamating with Huron-Bruce Lodge No. 611 (Toronto Don Valley district) but unfortunately, that lodge went permanently dark last year. I attended the Extinguishing of Lights Ceremony last December and it was a solemnly sad experience that I will never forget. If things don't turn out well in my term, we will be next to go dark forever.
Besides amalgamation which doesn't always work, how do we prevent Masonic lodges from going dark? Here is a summary of some of the ideas that our learned Brethren from Reddit /r/Freemasonry, Instagram, and Facebook shared with me.
1. Festive Board BEFORE Meeting: A Masonic regular meeting lasts at least a couple of hours or even more special when there's a degree work. Making sure that everyone is well fed before labour is a good way to ensure enjoyment. One lodge swears that doing so doubled the number of people showing up to their meetings!
2. Lodge Website and Social Media: Whether you like it or not social media is here to stay. If you want lodge longevity, the power of social media must be harnessed accordingly. Having an active online presence can attract new members and those looking to affiliate within their area.
3. Social Nights: As the saying goes, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Make sure to make time for social events such as ladies night, beer tasting event, axe throwing competition, jam sessions, etc. A happy lodge will live long and prosper.
4. Get Involved in the Community: Donate blood, plant trees, pick up trash, help the elderly with moving heavy stuff, the list goes on. Not only that activities such as these can help attract the right prospects, but it's also good for bolstering the image of Freemasonry.
5. Know the Ritual Work by Heart: This is a no-brainer but many lodges fall short when it comes to this. A lousy ritual work is boring and will not inspire the candidate nor anyone in the room. Improve your ritual delivery and word will travel about how good your lodge is.