Life is hectic. Between work, Lodge, Masonic dinners, and other activities, T and I are forced to schedule time together- and we don’t even have kids yet! A major component of our activities revolves around supporting the Masonic youth organization DeMolay; as I have said before, T and I are both adult advisors. We had our first advisory panel meeting since I joined recently, and even though I was exhausted from work, I came to realize just how much goes into running these groups, and more than that, how often they can be overlooked by the rest of the Masonic family.
What is Masonic Youth?
I go into greater detail on each organization here, but this is the quick recap. There are three Masonic youth organizations, DeMolay for boys, Job’s Daughters for girls with Masonic relations, and Rainbow for Girls, who accepts members with and without a Masonic relationship. The ages for each group varies, but they all age out at 21; old enough to be a member of a Lodge or Chapter for 3 years, which allows them to theoretically transition from one group to the next.
The groups do a lot of different things together, but most activities fall into one of a few categories: regular business meetings, initiation/ritual practice, fun nights, service activities, and fundraising. Each group is set up so that the youth are the ones in charge; they run the meetings, vote on activities, give the obligation to new members, etc. In addition to this, each group has one or two state wide conferences each year, which usually includes ritual competition as well as group activities between Chapters. Some states may have mixed conferences every so often, such as MYLC.
In short, Masonic Youth groups provide excellent opportunities for kids that might not receive them otherwise. The minimal cost (I pay $20 a year for my dues), intermingling of groups (i.e. DeMolay sweetheart, dances), lack of religious affiliation, and Masonic connection and values makes them more appealing for many families over other youth groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America.
What are some issues these groups are facing?
Like all of the Masonic organizations, the biggest issue the youth groups are facing is membership numbers. Following in the footsteps of Blue Lodge, none of the organizations openly advertise, and instead rely solely on word of mouth. As many members of Masonic organizations know, membership numbers have been dwindling in the last decade. It can be very hard to interest people, especially teenagers, to come out and do extra “work” (you would be amazed at the difference of guys that come to fun nights vs nights we volunteer to wash dishes), in addition to school, and for some, jobs. The membership issue, in turn, leads to a lack of public interest and knowledge, and the cycle is fueled again.
While I cannot speak for all chapters of these organizations, I can tell you a bit about what is going on in my own. One cannot say that there is a lack of leadership within our Chapter, in fact, we have a few guys that make excellent and natural leaders, that help the Chapter flow the way that it should. These guys volunteer first, are always there on service days, and encourage others to do the same. The issue is it tends to be the same handful of guys that are in this position. Ideally, everyone should be taking turns filling the leadership roles. This I feel, however, is more due to the nature of the beast that is teenagers. Often, youth feel insecure in themselves, are wary about what their peers think of them, and therefore would rather follow than lead.
Another issue that most, if not all, of the Masonic youth organizations face, is that of money. Each Chapter, Bethel or Assembly must be sponsored by an adult Masonic body. Our DeMolay Chapter is sponsored by our local Shrine, for instance. Usually this simply means that the Lodge, Shrine, or Chapter allows the youth to use their facilities for their meetings. We are lucky enough at our Chapter that our sponsor also allows us to be active in supporting events that they put on, mostly through service. Sponsorship does not, however, usually entail much funding, if any. The majority of the funds required by a Masonic youth organization, come from the public, either fund-raising done by the youth, or from the adult advisors.
What are they doing to remedy these issues?
As I said above, Masonic youth organizations are not really advertised the way that other youth groups are. Often, the only way someone even knows they exist is if their child is a member. At one time, DeMolay used to be a household name (I suppose the same could be said for Masonry), but all you will get is funny looks if you ask around. To my knowledge, no real changes have been made on this front (at least for DeMolay). Unlike Freemasonry, Masonic Youth organizations do have an International Council. Statewide, the youth are encouraged to bring in new members, but that is more or less where that ends. Although all of the groups have moved onto social media, this tends to serve more for communication between members more than anything else. Personally, I am not so sure what I would do to bring in more members, but I do know that something needs to be done if these organizations want to continue in the States. Oddly enough, Brazil and Australia have a booming Masonic youth population. Let’s hope that the US takes a page from our Masonic families overseas.
How a group handles the issue of youth leadership really depends on the needs of the specific Chapter, Bethel, or Assembly. Masonic youth groups encourage youth leadership because they are all lead by the youth, instead of by an adult leader, like Boy/Girl Scouts of America. Just like Blue Lodge and other branches of Masonry, these offices exist on a state level, and unlike Masonry, exist on an international level as well. As far as encouraging the youth to take up these positions is concerned, our Chapter is trying a few different methods. We’ve gotten a bit lax over the years with dress, and we want to encourage our members to dress in business casual, instead of shorts and a t-shirt. Many of them will be joining Blue Lodge soon, and this helps ease that transition, and also helps create feeling of specialness when the Chapter is open.
As far as the issue of money is concerned, there always seems to be only one answer: fund-raising. Our Chapter sells baked goods, and I am sure that Job’s and Rainbow does something similar. Of course, all of the members do pay dues, however the dues cost is low enough that it does not put a lot into our coffers. We rely a good deal on donations from the public, both Masons and not. Many of our activities are paid by the guys themselves, for instance if we go out for ice cream, our comes out of the advisors pockets, like gas money when we go to state events.
What can I do to help?
As always, the number one answer is get involved. I cannot tell you what an awesome time I have had in just the few months that I have been an advisor. If you have the time, and meet the requirements I highly recommend it. You can find your local group through Google, or click the name of the organization, which will take you to the main page. By the way, here are the requirements to become a Masonic youth advisor:
*Any adult 21 and older
*No Masonic affiliation is required
*At least 20 years of age and:
Majority Job’s Daughter
Person of Masonic heritage
Parent, grandparent, stepparent, or guardian of an active or majority member of the bethel
Rainbow for Girls
*At least 24 years old and :
Majority Rainbow Girl
Member of Eastern Star, White Shrine, or Amaranth
Parent, grandparent, or guardian of an active or majority Rainbow Girl
If circumstances do not allow you to become an advisor, there are many other ways to get involved. Encourage your children to become members. If you do not have kids of your own, recommend the organization to friends who are looking for activities for theirs. Suggest to your WM that your Lodge support a Masonic youth group that may be looking for a new home. Contact the head of the group in your area, and see if you can sit in on a meeting, to see what it is all about. Attend public events put on by the groups, and encourage others to do the same. Welcome and greet a Masonic youth just as you would any other Mason or affiliated member, encourage them to also attend your events. This will also help your Lodge or Chapter’s membership when the time comes. If nothing else, donate. Time, money, your backyard pool; it may not seem like much to you, but it can make a world of difference to them.