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November 2016 DDGM Article for The Word

Greetings, my Brothers,

The fall season is upon us, our Lodges have returned to their labors, and our Official Visits are in full swing.   As Bart, Clint, Charlie and I have begun the process of visiting our Lodges, perhaps no question has raised as much consternation as Question #58: “Is this Lodge a candidate for merger?”

The answer to this question is, or ought to be, “Yes”! Even the so-called “strong” Lodges need to see themselves as candidates for merger due to this simple, if inconvenient, truth: we don’t have enough active members in the District to fully support our eight Lodges. A number of Lodges struggle to open on a regular basis because they don’t have enough qualified Officers to fill the chairs (despite some plural members holding offices in multiple Lodges).

Facing the option of merger, some of our Lodges have had limited success in repopulating the chairs with Past Masters and other Brothers who have drifted away from the Lodge for whatever reason. This can be, at best, a temporary solution. In the absence of a comprehensive plan to both recruit new and retain existing members, this stop-gap measure will serve only to postpone the inevitable.

Some Lodges are actively considering merger with one or more other Lodges. While Grand Lodge is working to make this process easier for the Lodges, it is not without its potential pitfalls. The biggest of these is that a Lodge merger is not guaranteed to succeed.

It has been my observation that Lodge mergers fail for one of two basic reasons. The first of these is that no one brings anything to the table. If you merge two Lodges that each have no active members, no qualified and willing Officers, no candidates in the pipeline, no community connection, no Masonic education, and no activities, then the resultant Lodge is also likely to have no active members, no qualified and willing Officers, no candidates in the pipeline, no community connection, no Masonic education, and no activities. Worse yet, you are likely to see participation drop even further, as many of the remaining members will not see any benefit from their investment of additional time and fuel traveling to their new Lodge building. In short, if you merge two dying Lodges and don’t make significant changes, you’re going to eventually end up with a single dying Lodge.

The other basic reason why Lodge mergers fail is that the participating Lodges aren’t willing to put everything on the table.   In order for the consolidation process to be successful, its participants must see it for what it is – two groups of Brothers working together to form a NEW Lodge. If the new Lodge is to be successful, the groups involved must consider what will work best for the Lodge that they are creating, and not the ones they are currently in.

The probability of long-term success diminishes significantly with the addition of each item that is not up for discussion. . It doesn’t matter if you are the “stronger” or the “weaker” of the two Lodges, if you aren’t willing to change your Lodge name and number, your meeting night, where you meet, who your Officers will be, your By-Laws, and how you run the Lodge, then you aren’t ready for a merger.   Some members of the so-called “stronger” Lodges may think that they have nothing to gain by working toward consolidation with one or more of the “weaker” Lodges. I have heard comments made along the lines of, “Why should I give up anything? They came to us, right?”

If this is truly how you feel, then I would suggest you re-read your various obligations and lectures, with particular attention being paid to those portions concerning the good of the Fraternity and rendering aid to your Brothers.   Additionally, I would suggest that the so-called “weaker” Lodges, even if they seemingly have nothing else to offer, bring to the table increased fellowship, manpower, and significant Masonic knowledge and experience. These benefits to the resultant Lodge will only be realized, however, if the Brothers who bring them are made to feel that their new Lodge is truly their Lodge.   If they feel as though they are second-class citizens within the Lodge, then they won’t continue to participate, they will drift away, the merger will be a failure, and the entire Fraternity will suffer.

No one likes to consider that his Lodge may be in trouble. No one likes change, especially when it appears that it may affect (or even close) the Lodge that he has spent years building. As the leaves fall from the trees this autumn, they return precious building blocks to the soil. In the coming spring, many things will use those building blocks to grow bigger and stronger. So it is with our Lodges, and our Fraternity.

My Brothers, our Ritual teaches us that every Mason is a Builder. If we are to strengthen our Lodges and our Fraternity, we will need every skilled craftsman to put aside his own personal desires and to work toward that singular goal. I speak for all of our District Officers when I say that if we can help in any way, please do not hesitate to ask.