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Creating a Lodge for Our Time

Fraternal lodges once filled a national need—that has returned.

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Important Meeting by Casey Roberts

Last year the ManKind Project (MKP) celebrated 30 years of initiating men into healthy masculinity. We’ve had 75,000 men from all around the world do this intensive weekend “New Warrior” training adventure. Most of the men then joined follow-up support groups, and currently about 10,000 men sit every week in about 1,000 groups in 100 communities around the world. (mankindproject.org) This work has always seemed important, but it has taken on a new urgency—and is transforming into something more critical. Let me explain.

When we began in 1984, most MKP men found that satisfying their survival needs was fairly easy and we had the luxury to consider our psychospiritual issues. Our initiation for men focused on creating “safe space” for emotional healing and openhearted trusting of other men. Now, MKP is beginning to transform not just personal space but physical spaces to serve more fundamental needs. For the first time in 100 years, a new fraternal lodge is beginning to take form.

People don’t realize that the fraternal lodges of our great, great, great granddads were literally lifesavers. Men leaving farms for work in factories and mines were often injured or killed and there were no pensions or welfare system to care for their families. What these men carried from rural areas was the habit of watching out for one another, and they created what we now call social safety nets, but they called brotherhoods or simply the “lodge.” At the turn of the century nearly half of American men and many women belonged to fraternal lodges with great names like Moose, Elks, Odd-Fellows, Grange, and Knights of Pythias.

The lodges served a huge segment of society until unions, pensions, Social Security, and the overall wealth of the nation relieved them of their necessity. Lodges morphed into philanthropic social clubs, and membership declined. Many of the grand old buildings have been torn down, converted to other uses, or left empty.

Today, some of us see a new time of great dangers, not just coming again but already here for too many of us. Climate change aside, we feel the constriction of a shaky economy, increasing wealth inequity, a shrinking middle class, and rampant underemployment. On top of that we hear politicians threaten Social Security and food stamps. It seems we need each other more than we have in decades, yet the isolation and despair feels greater than it has ever been. What to do?

Remembering the experience of our ancestors, we’ve borrowed their lodge model and reworked it to fit our times. Each new man comes in through a sponsor who will vouch for him. He serves a three-month provisional period, after which he’s invited into the initiation ceremony, where he pledges to honor our MKP values and makes commitments of time (one year) and money to pay our rent at the local Grange building. It’s a very old model, tested with millions of men, but some things are very different now.

Because we embrace what’s called shadow work, the men of MKP are well positioned to consciously build new lodges without racism, homophobia, or misogyny. So even though we’re not yet fully organized, this new lodge movement holds the potential to help us stand strong for ourselves, our families, and our communities. And because so many of the old lodges have lost membership, buildings stand ready to be used by the new generation.

As one of the founders of MKP, I see new lodges in every community as the next step. Imagine 20 to 80 members in each lodge. The early adopters make the basic decisions. Will the lodge be all men or mixed gender? Will it meet every week, two weeks, or monthly? These new lodges will grow organically with each initiation. Our lodge decided to use a rotating leadership of three men. We call it the “troika” and it changes every quarter. It has been great fun.

“I’m going to lodge tonight.” The words open my heart and being. I eagerly look forward to a deep sharing with fellow men, who are my support, my growth partners, and my friends.

Bill Kauth’s latest books are We Need Each Other and Toolbox for Tribe: How to Build Your Own Community. giftcommunity.net


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