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Innovation in Freemasonry

Today in Masonic History we discuss Innovation in Freemasonry.

Innovation within Freemasonry can be something of a dirty word. It conjures up thoughts of changing how a lodge functions from the comfortable, and often ineffective, processes that the lodge has been using for generations. Quite often someone will point to the idea that "it is no man's power to make innovations in the system of Freemasonry."

The truth is that Freemasonry has been undergoing innovations for centuries and it is those innovations that have kept the fraternity alive and moving forward. Although no one is 100% sure how Speculative Freemasonry began, the most commonly held belief is that it came from the guilds of the middle ages. Making the assumption this is true, the fact that Speculative Freemasonry arose, is in itself an innovation. Looking back we begin to see the first signs of Speculative masons coming in to existence around the late 16th, early 17th century. At that same time there was a fundamental shift in the world. As the Enlightenment began education started to be more common. It was no longer just for the clergy or the elite, more people began to learn mathematics and reading. This put the guilds, who were a source of education for those lucky few, in a position where they could be losing their influence. What appears to happen is the lodges of the time innovated, they brought in non-operative masons into their lodges. Probably many were patrons who had ordered buildings constructed.

Now this is pure speculation on my part, I use it only to illustrate the idea that innovation, the change from the norm, can be healthy and effective for the fraternity and still not damage the "system of Freemasonry." Even the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717 was an innovation. Up to that point the idea of a Grand Lodge had not taken shape.

The key to any innovation in the fraternity is that any changes that are made are done within the Landmarks of the Fraternity. The Landmarks give us borders within which innovation is allowed and should even be encouraged. Innovations, creative new ways of thinking about how we conduct the business of the fraternity, is critical. Too often in Freemasonry we want to stick with how it was in the "good old days" or "just how it has always been done." There is a difference between changing the "system of Freemasonry", for example deciding to no longer obligate new masons would change the system of Freemasonry, and changing how we conduct our business, for example sending meeting minutes out to members ahead of the meeting so the secretary doesn't have to read the minutes.

Changes to how we do business can be uncomfortable to some. This is not a problem with the Masonic Fraternity only, it is human nature to dislike change. It becomes uncomfortable to think that things are no longer going to "be the same." Still if it were not for innovative individuals within the history of Freemasonry, we might not be here to object to Innovations.