Discussion Document entitled 
"The Future of Coveham Lodge"
by W Bro N D Bennett PPGReg.

Let me state at the beginning that this discussion document is just that, a discussion document. It is not intended to be a definitive projection of the future. It is merely an attempt to highlight some of the factors which we should perhaps consider when planning the future development of Coveham Lodge. Following an initial assessment of the membership of the Lodge in 2001 it became clear that if something was not done and done quickly to remedy the situation the Lodge would go into terminal decline. As a result in January 2002 the Standing Committee of the Lodge decided to form an ad hoc Recruitment Committee and as you all know we have organised a number of promotional events which have met with a good deal of success. When I was appointed Secretary of the Lodge in March 2003 I was saddled, as all Secretaries are, with boxes of old Minute Books and other Lodge documents. Whilst this was somewhat inconvenient it did however provide a useful means of analysing the membership structure of the Lodge. I therefore embarked on a more detailed analysis in January this year. This discussion document is based on the results of that analysis

The Analysis
Let us start with some facts and figures. The first three analyses I have carried out run over a period of 25 years from 1981/82 to 2005/06. They include some 122 Brethren and cover Membership Data, Age of Members and Length of Service. The fourth analysis runs over a period of 64 years from 1942 to 2006 includes some 86 Initiates and 60 Joining members. It provides a more detailed look at Initiates and Joiners as separate groups. The results of these analyses can be summarised as follows:-

(a) Membership Data The numbers of members of the Lodge have varied over the period from 53 in 1981/82 to 37 last year. Within this period the highest membership was 58 in 1985/86 and the lowest was 32 in 2002/03. It was precisely because of this low figure in 2002/03 that action had to be taken and the Recruitment Committee formed. During the 25 years there have been 28 Initiates and 31 Joining members which is an average of just over one initiate and one joining member a year. At first sight this intake might appear satisfactory but on the down side we have lost an average of nearly 3 members a year. Clearly a net loss of one member a year is not good for the future development of the Lodge. Of the 74 members who left the Lodge 42 resigned and only 25 died 'in service'. Whilst a number of the resignations were due to a loss of interest in Masonry many were due to Brethren moving away from the area or due to increased Masonic/business commitments.

(b) Age of Members The annual average age of members of Coveham Lodge has remained relatively constant over the period at around 62/63 years. However, the lowest annual average age, 59, occurred when the Lodge had its highest number of members - 58, and at its highest, 76 when the Lodge had its lowest membership of 32. Clearly the average age is as much a product of the numbers of members in the Lodge as it is of the sum of their ages. There has been a very gradual increase in the annual average age over the years probably due in part to the increased longevity of the male population and part to the higher percentage of Joining members in the Lodge in recent years.

(c) Length of Service The annual average Length of Service in Coveham Lodge varies from 15.1 to19.3 years. It is difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions from this analysis save to say that 25 years ago when membership was higher the annual average Length of Service was generally lower and in recent years with a lower membership the annual average Length of Service has increased slightly. A low Length of Service figure is not necessarily a bad thing as it would appear that it is influenced in part by the high number of young Master Masons in the Lodge with very little Service to their names.

(d) Initiates / Joiners - In 1981 there were 18 Joining members (33%) in the Lodge. Today there are 16 (43%). Without the influx of this high percentage of Joining members it is quite possible that the Lodge would be facing erasure at this time. It is therefore pertinent to look separately at the comparative statistics for both Initiates and Joining members. I have analysed the data for both sets of members over the past 64 years from 1941.

There have been 86 Brethren Initiated into Coveham Lodge over the past 64 years. The average age at Initiation was 42. Of these Initiates 37 (43 %) took the Chair of King Solomon at age 50, after an average of 10 years in the Lodge. A high proportion (84%) of those Brethren who go through the Chair stay with Masonry until they die whereas only 37% of those who do not go through the Chair stick with it. A more detailed analysis reveals that comparing the period 1941 1970, when Lodge numbers were higher, with the period 1971 2006 it not only took longer to get to the Chair -10.2 years as opposed to 7.8 years nowadays. - but those Initiates who did not go through the Chair stayed in Masonry longer (21 years) than their modern counterparts (8.2 years). A lot of Masons now leave the Lodge within ten years whereas this was almost unheard of 50 years ago.

63 Brethren have become Joining members of Coveham Lodge since 1942. Their average age at joining was 55 years compared to 42 for Initiates. Needless to say many Joiners are already Past Masters and they have proved very helpful in plugging gaps in the ladder and giving younger Masons time to mature and gain experience before becoming Worshipful Master themselves. 17 (27%) of Joining members have taken the Coveham Chair since 1941 at an average age of 60. Because Joiners tend to be Past Masters themselves they often join the 'ladder' at a higher level and progress into the Chair after about 8.5 years. Whilst fewer Joiners have the opportunity or desire to proceed through the Chair of a second Lodge they are just as likely to stay with the Lodge for life, 49.2%, as are the Initiates 56.9%.

That's enough of the facts and figures. What conclusions can be drawn from this data?

1. On average, a Lodge with between 30 and 40 members loses 3 members a year for whatever reason. Such a Lodge requires at least 3 new members a year just to stand still.

2. In the 20 years between 1981 and 2001 of 42 new (Initiates and Joining) members some 28 (66%) had resigned, died or were excluded most within 10 years and without going through the Chair.

3. Brethren who go through the Chair are more likely to stay in Masonry till they die. Therefore we must encourage younger Brethren to go through the Chair.

4. If you wish to increase the long term membership by say 2 members a year you need 6 extra new members a year because you are likely to lose 2/3 of them within 10 years.

5. With low numbers in the Lodge the path to the Chair has taken only 7 years in a number of cases in recent years. When numbers were above 50 the average time taken was nearer 11 years.

6. Whilst there is some negative correlation between the annual average age of the members and the number of members in the Lodge it is difficult to assess the viability of a Lodge on this basis.

The Problem
Following the Second World War there was a huge increase in the numbers of Masons and Masonic Lodges. In recent years, in common with most other voluntary organisations such as the Buffalos, the Round Table, Rotary International, there has been a decline in membership as we try to compete with a society increasingly geared to home entertainment and the material trappings of life and less to the aesthetic and charitable aspects.
The UGLE and the Province of Surrey have recognised this problem and are recommending that weak, poorly attended Lodges amalgamate or hand in their Warrants so that larger, stronger Lodges can survive. In Surrey this year the number of APGM's will be reduced from 8 to 7. In the short term this will result in an increased workload for the remaining APGM's but if, as is expected, the number of Lodges in Surrey reduces from 333 to around 300, a balance will be restored again. In Surrey the average size of a Lodge will increase from 28.5 members to 31.7, always assuming that all the Brethren in the participating Lodges accept the amalgamation and continue their Masonry in their new Lodge.

How does this affect Coveham?
Coveham has had a chequered history so far as membership of the Lodge is concerned. Like most Lodges we have had our good times and our bad times. In our early days we had a membership approaching 60 and even when I was Initiated some 26 years ago the membership was in the mid 50's but as little as 20 years later apathy had set in and numbers had dropped to a low of 32. We had no candidates. We had to have rehearsals or demonstrations and lectures by guest speakers, our three Grand Officers had died and moral was at a low point. Clearly something had to be done and fast if we were to prevent the Lodge disappearing within ten years as so many other Lodges have already done or are about to do. We now appear to have returned to the good times again and the efforts of the Recruitment Committee are bearing fruit. We must guard against falling into the bad times again. So how do we do that? We have to decide whether we want our Lodge to remain at around the mid thirty level or whether we wish to increase the numbers to 50+. Do we want the Lodge to stagnate or do we want it to be vibrant and invigorated. Your choice, Brethren. Clearly there are pros and cons on both sides and I hope that when we have a discussion later you will express your views. If you wish to remain at the mid thirties level then there is little else to do but continue as we are and the remainder of this paper is irrelevant. For the purpose of this paper however I shall assume that the consensus should be to expand the numbers to 50+ and I shall proceed to examine ways in which this might be done.

Critical Mass
What is critical mass? In physics critical mass is defined as the amount of fissile material required to maintain a nuclear chain reaction. In the context of the survival of a Masonic Lodge you need a minimum number of members (what I call the critical mass) to keep the Lodge viable. We have all visited Lodges where numbers are so low that visitors are pressed to take an office, where Past Masters have been persuaded to take the Chair for the second or even third time, where Past Masters are holding offices on the ladder because of a lack of Master Masons, where there are few, if any, young Master Masons in the pipeline, where the Past Masters are all getting old together and unable to attend meetings or take office and where there may be only one or two visitors present. Unfortunately, these Lodges will eventually implode as the older members die off. In my view critical mass occurs at around the time when the number of members falls below 20. It is very difficult, but not impossible, to recover from this point as you need the membership to increase suddenly and at a rate faster than the rate of attrition. If this were easily achievable one is bound to ask why such Lodges have not embarked on this policy much sooner. If you compare the current state of Coveham Lodge where we have a surfeit of Master Masons, where we can have ten or more Grand Officers at our meetings, where the number of visitors often exceeds the number of members, where visitors ask to be put on the dining list without an invitation, where Past Masters are keen to assist in the ceremonies because the Officers have too much work to do, where social events are encouraged and where there is a high proportion of Joining members. What sort of Lodge do you want to be a member of?

You will all be acutely aware that over the past 18 months or so we have had an influx of new members, both Initiates and Joiners and I do not have to remind you that we have a very busy two or three years ahead of us. With this in mind, and with a presumption that we still need to increase the size of the Lodge, we have to consider how we can best accommodate the situation. As I see it we have four possible solutions to the problem.

(a) Continue as we are at present with double ceremonies. This inevitably puts a lot of pressure on all members of the Lodge, particularly the Master, Deacons and the DC and of course the Secretary! Even with the Past Masters, Joining Members and even the Honorary Members helping out there is a lot of pressure which in the short term may be good for moral and keeping all members involved but in the long term it can have a debilitating effect. Once a target of 50+ members has been achieved there will still be pressure to maintain numbers as the rate of attrition will of course be correspondingly higher.

(b) We are just about to experiment with 'Farming Out' one of our ceremonies to Esher Lodge No.5491. Esher Lodge have had their problems in recent years and were considering handing in their warrant last year even though they had 27/28 members on their books. Despite being above critical mass levels on paper, Esher appear to have an ageing population of members and were experiencing difficulties in getting enough members to attend and take office. Only by virtue of installing a vigorous new Master who has brought with him a number of Joining members has the situation been turned around. It is to our mutual benefit that Esher is able to perform a 'live' ceremony on our behalf. We could of course assist with the provision of Officers but Esher Lodge appears to be able to cope on this occasion.

When the Committee of Coveham first considered the option of 'Farming out' work it laid down guidelines that the receiving Lodge must meet at Surbiton and perform strict Emulation Ritual and that Coveham would only 'farm out' second degree ceremonies or exceptionally a third degree ceremony if the receiving Lodge had a high standard of ritual.

It is not difficult to scan the pages of the Provincial Year Book to identify Lodges with a potential to receive ceremonies from Coveham. Indeed, I have already approached two Secretaries whose Lodges meet not only the criteria laid down by our Committee but are also below critical mass and appear to have problems. One such Lodge has 19 members, Past Masters have occupied the Chair for the past four years and although they have nine Master Masons none appear to be occupying the progressive offices of JW, SD or JD. The Secretary of this Lodge advised me that they already had one candidate and a ceremony for each meeting this year and did not require additional work. Clearly the penny has not dropped here. Another Lodge has 17 members only two of whom are Master Masons. All the progressive offices are filled by Past Masters and many of the Past Masters have been through the Chair several times. This Lodge is in trouble. Surprisingly, our requirement for a Lodge to take on some of our work has provoked interest in unlikely quarters and I have received unsolicited approaches from members of two local Lodges, which I would in no way classify as being below critical mass, to ask if they could carry out a ceremony for us as they have no candidate in the pipeline at present. Whilst 'farming out' work in this way is helpful to other Lodges in giving them work it has the drawback of restricting Coveham not only to the meeting dates of the receiving Lodge but also to only one ceremony per meeting and a second degree ceremony at that.

(c) To overcome these inherent problems it is possible to apply to Provincial Grand Lodge for a dispensation for an extra meeting. Providing that Surbiton Centre have a suitable date available this will ensure that Coveham Lodge can arrange an additional meeting on a date which is convenient to the Lodge and the Lodge can carry out all ceremonies, including Initiations and Third degree as well as carrying out two ceremonies at the meeting to make best use of the opportunity. A dispensation only costs 10 + VAT. The logical extension of this option is to increase the number of meetings held each year by the Lodge on a permanent basis. Whilst this would add a little cost to the members it would provide time to carry out two extra ceremonies a year for each extra meeting. There are already a number of Lodges in Surrey which hold more than the regulation four meetings a year. A number of the older Lodges with a membership in the mid forties hold five meetings while Albert Edward Lodge No. 1714 which has 67 members holds eight meetings a year. It is clear that in order to maintain a Lodge of this size where the rate of attrition is around four or five members a year then they are going to need their eight meetings a year to complete their 15 ceremonies.

(d) Finally, we come to the quick, sledge-hammer solution to the problem Amalgamations. The Province of Surrey, like Grand Lodge, recognise that there are too many Lodges and that the membership is suffering low moral caused by weak and dying Lodges full of old Masons. I use the term 'weak' and 'strong' here merely as a means of distinguishing between the two types of Lodges. There is no disrespect intended to either type. It is no good amalgamating two weak Lodges of older Masons no matter how experienced they are. All you are left with is one larger Lodge of older Masons with a high rate of attrition and no future. I think that it would prove more difficult for two Lodges of equal 'strength' to amalgamate as there are bound to be issues of loyalty, history, status, friendships etc which need to be addressed and, without being overbearing, there needs to be a dominant partner. We need to invigorate the movement not just maintain the status quo. What needs to happen is for a weak Lodge to amalgamate with a strong Lodge. The strong Lodge can afford some protection for the older Masons in the weak Lodge and take the pressure off them and at the same time provide more opportunity and enthusiasm for any younger Masons in the weak Lodge. The strong Lodge in return gets an instant increase in membership thereby avoiding the long hard road of increasing membership over 10 - 15 years with lots of double ceremonies. Perhaps, more importantly, the stronger Lodge can take over the meeting dates of the weak Lodge. These can be used or not, as necessary, to carry out the additional ceremonies which would be required to service the new Lodge. Clearly, there are many issues to discuss with any potential amalgamation not least of which should be the compatibility and harmony between the members of the two Lodges. Whilst there are bound to be lifelong friendships in the weak Lodge which need to be maintained it is essential for all the members of the new Lodge to pull together and not fragment. Such unification does not happen overnight.

Summary You have seen the figures, heard the arguments, been given the options. Where do we go from here? I do not intend to give you the answers tonight. All I have tried to do is to raise your awareness of the issues involved. It is up to you and your Committee to decide what course of action you wish to take. We have had a close shave in the past ten years and have managed to pull the situation around. You can see just how quickly complacency can set in and the situation become critical. Please don't let it happen again. You now know the warning signs. Coveham Lodge is on a roll at present. Our name is spreading round the Province as a Lodge to be reckoned with. It must have been a real wake up call to other Lodges to learn that Coveham has had eight initiates in the past two years and was farming out work.

Joining members form a valuable addition to the Lodge. Not only do they plug holes in the progressive offices but they bring a wealth of experience, contact with other Lodges and enthusiasm but as a group they are not the long-term solution to the problem of survival. What is required is a constant supply of high quality young Initiates who will progress through the Chair and stay with the Lodge for many years. With a Lodge the size of Coveham (37members) there is an annual attrition rate in the order of 3 members per year. You therefore require at least 3 Initiates a year to stand still let alone expand. With 9 ceremonies to complete this influx can barely be accommodated in a Lodge which meets only four times a year even with double ceremonies. Accounting for losses of 66% in the first ten years you need 6 extra initiates per year to achieve a real increase of 2 per year long term. It is the number of meetings per year which then becomes the limiting factor in determining the survival of a Lodge. If you can't get the initiates in quick enough they will lose interest before they are initiated so the number of meetings held per year must relate to the size of the Lodge and the number of candidates to be initiated. Whatever, size of Lodge is agreed upon it is clearly necessary to maintain numbers well above the critical mass.

Whither Directing your Course?
Should you require the official Grand Lodge view I would direct your enquiries to the website of the Cornerstone Society ( ) where an address by the Pro Grand Master, the Marquis of Northampton is reproduced in full. I do not intend to read it to you as it is several pages long. I will however give you a couple of quotes.

"It is interesting to note that while our membership numbers have shrunk so dramatically, the number of our Lodges has actually increased. The result is that we now have a very large number of Lodges that are struggling to survive with very few members. The situation is made even worse when you factor in low attendance figures. It is not easy to see how we can correct this situation except by encouraging Lodges to consider closing or amalgamating when their numbers drop below a viable level."

"The danger of having too few members in a Lodge is that in their desperation to survive brethren may accept candidates regardless of whether or not they fulfill the conditions for initiation laid down in the ritual. Worse still, because at best they only manage to attract one new member each year, they rush the poor candidate through the three degrees without giving him any time to pause and contemplate what it all means. Candidates are often stewards before they are Master Masons and on the officer's ladder as soon as they are raised. Six years later they are either in the Master's Chair or have made some excuse to drop out, never to return".
"So until we can find ways of increasing the size of our Lodges, thereby giving more time for progression to the chair and more time to learn and understand the rituals, we must make do with encouraging Lodges to share out much of the work among the Master Masons and Past Masters. In fact it often makes for more variety and therefore more enjoyment, and involves many more of the Lodge members at every meeting".

"It does not take a rocket scientist to work out that within the next twenty five years English Freemasonry could well have shrunk to as little as half its present size. This means one in every two Lodges will have disappeared and even then we will not have increased the low numbers we may have in the remaining ones".

" It is clear, therefore, that doing nothing now is not an option, but knowing what to do and how to do it is something on which we should all concentrate our minds".

Well, there it is Brethren. Even the Pro Grand Master has no better solution to the problem than I. The floor is yours.

Top of page