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The other day I went to the Freemasons’ Hall to say hello to a few colleagues (five years of research in their archives and counting) and to attend a Quatuor Coronati meeting. I was truly impressed with the new Café: spacious, bright, drinks and coffee in separated stands and crews, comfortable seats. I sat with a pint and thought about how easier my Ph.D. research would have been if I had a pub to gather my thoughts inside Freemasons’ Hall. However, I decided to do what we do nowadays: to text my excitement to a friend.
Me: We need to schedule a trip to the Freemason’s Hall in London. They even have a café now.
Friend: My God!!! A secret society with a cafe?!?!! What’s next a crèche?
Me: Well, a shop? Hahaha. (Trying to cover my shame after having my excitement bashed by my friend’s view of how Freemasonry should present itself)
My friend is not alone. A number of masons and non-masons have been treating the recent efforts to make Freemasonry more accessible with derision. One can only ask why since the public always demanded transparency from Freemasonry, even though not understanding why they are demanding it, most of the time. At the same time, Freemasons often claim to be treated with prejudice or suspicion if they reveal their membership. So, what is potentially ludicrous about the whole PR strategy of the UGLE? Maybe the ontological awkwardness of something traditional trying to acquire new clothes and present itself to the “youngsters”, or absorbing new interpretations of old doctrines. One example, to use the Catholic Church again, is the Charismatic Renewal, a movement that started in 1967 and that was highly impacted by American Protestantism. The charismatic renewal became the main bridge between young people and the catholic faith.
From the enigmatic “to be one, ask one” to the more traditional marketing strategy of “apply here”.
Such strategy has proven effective, for instance, in 2007, 54% of the Latino Catholics were charismatic,1 however, one may argue that, still, the selling point of Catholicism is tradition. A non-stop apostolic chain from Peter to Jorge, a headquarters that runs in their own version of temporal time, an Estate where the official language is Latin, a place where decisions take more time and are often taken behind closed doors. Although the charismatic renovation is being responsible to keep the catholic trenches within steady numbers, their fair representation cannot be seen in the college of cardinals, the top priests who, among other things, elect the new Pope.
And what does this have to do with Freemasonry? A similar trade-off between tradition and renovation. According to the numbers of UGLE’s National Digital Marketing Campaign, in almost a year of an increased digital presence, they received 2.516 enquires, and had a result of 989 membership leads. However, it is impossible to qualify what these new potential members are seeking within Freemasonry. Even though the UGLE has been championing progressive positions, there is a backlog that makes the sole act of joining Freemasonry a potential political statement. This is true, especially for people who used to not see much difference between the Apostolic Palace and the number 60 at Great Queen Street.
According to public opinion (this amorphous and ideological entity), the backlog that I mention would be in two aspects of the matter: secrecy and aspects of its sociability. These two topics can be quite hazy; however, we need to address them in order to understand the ways sought for promoting this aggiornamento.