I make no secret of the fact I am a Freemason. Although I resigned from both my Lodge and Royal Arch Chapter a few years before leaving England to live in Spain, I am still eligible to attend meetings if I so wish. Once you have undergone the various rituals, that is it. Unless you do something awful, you remain a Mason for life. I still have my Masonic Bible that was presented to me, the certificates I received, the programmes from the important ceremonies and the citations that promoted me to the Provincial ranks. However, I gave my regalia to a senior officer who then sold it for the benefit of Masonic Charity.
For those who might be interested, I held the rank of Past Provincial Junior Deacon in the lodge and Past Provincial Principal Sojourner in the Chapter because I was Treasurer in my Lodge and Scribe E (secretary) in my Chapter - both of those being considered senior positions.
Sadly, a few years after I left, the Chapter (Standard Goodacre 2495) had to close and hand in its warrant due to dwindling numbers. As far as I know the Lodge (Ceres 3501) has survived.
Numbers in Masonry were at their highest just after the second world war when men came home and wanted to continue their comradeship Since then, there has been a steady decline. In 2006 there were 8,389 lodges on the register of the United Grand Lodge of England, today there are only 7,401. In 2007 there were 270,000 members. That number has fallen to 204,775 which is less than half of the post war peak of 500,000.
The good news for Freemasonry is that the number of members in the 21-30 year old category has risen by 7.65 % in the past two years. They still only represent 2% of Freemasons though and that is the problem. Lodges are largely filled with older men and they can be cantankerous old sods who tut at you when your ritual is not 100% perfect.
I was lucky in that the older members of my Lodge and Chapter were supportive if you showed that you had made an effort. Learning the ritual was an arduous task but very rewarding when you got it right. In my Lodge, you were not allowed to read the words, instead they had to be committed to memory. Hopefully though, there was someone nearby to you who could give a prompt if need be. I was lucky I guess in that I seldom required a prompt.
Without disclosing any secrets, I can tell you that the rituals contain some of the finest pieces of prose that set a pattern for building character in young men. The traditional penalties for disclosure have been modified and are now perfectly acceptable. The threats of a terrible death for those who betray their trust have long gone. If I was a young man again, I would certainly join Masonry and enjoy the companionship of my bretheren.