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April 2017 DDGM Article for The Word

The functional unit of Freemasonry in this jurisdiction is the Lodge, each of which exists because of the Charter granted to it by Grand Lodge. The Grand Lodge exists, in large part, because each of its constituent Lodges sends (or ought to send) a representative to participate in the body of Grand Lodge. Stated another way, Grand Lodge allows each Lodge to exist and to perform the work of Freemasonry in exchange for its participation in Grand Lodge and its adherence to the Constitutions, Edicts, rules, and regulations of Grand Lodge. Each Lodge is semi-autonomous, free to do as it chooses, within the guidelines and restrictions established by Grand Lodge and agreed to as a condition of the issuance of its Charter.

Over the past few months, I’ve heard a lot of griping about the “new” changes being implemented by Grand Lodge. If we take a step back, however, we’re likely to find that these changes aren’t all that new. Take, for instance, background checks. We’ve never had to do those before, right? Wrong, it was and still is called the “Investigating Committee”. Unfortunately, we’ve often glossed over the vitally important work done by this committee and, as a result, numerous felons and predators of every nature have been admitted to our ranks. Grand Lodge is simply reiterating something that we’ve always been required to do and, in so doing, is also giving us a powerful new tool to help the Investigating Committee with its work.

How about the 990s? Surely this is new, right? Nope. We’ve always been required to obey the law and filing your taxes is the law. Don’t believe me? Ask Al Capone. Audits? Well, here is the first glimmer of newness, but given the number of felons we’ve admitted (see above), this is a common sense measure designed to protect ourselves and to ensure the financial viability of our Lodges. Before you object and claim that none of our Brothers would steal from us, let me assure you that there are a number of criminal and Masonic trials currently underway for just that. I’m a Cold War kid: trust, but verify!

Certifying our Work? Again, there’s nothing new here. Each Lodge applying for a Charter must have its skill and proficiency certified prior to the granting of a Charter. It follows, then, that each existing Lodge must also be proficient in order to meet with the terms of its Charter and of the Constitutions. We can just pick and choose which parts of the Ritual we like or which are convenient for us to confer, right? And, again, the answer is “No.” I’ve been asked numerous times when this changed. My answer has often been, “About 1781.” A complaint that “We’ve never done it this way…” is akin to telling the Trooper who pulled you over for going 65mph in a 55mph zone that he shouldn’t give you a ticket because you drive the same stretch of road nearly every day at 75!  Grand Lodge simply wants the Lodges to hold up their end of the bargain, and the bargain isn’t a new one. Our Brothers from generations past conferred all parts of each of the Degrees from memory. Further, they learned it without the aid of Ritual books. In fact, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania just published its first-ever Ritual book about 6 or 7 years ago! I’m not aware of many Lodges who would be able to meet such a standard today. That doesn’t mean that they won’t (or shouldn’t) be able to do so tomorrow, however.

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that the functional unit of Masonry is the Lodge. It isn’t the District, nor is it Grand Lodge. Neither the District, nor Grand Lodge, is a member of your community. Neither knows what your community needs, nor how best to serve it. Neither knows of the family down the street with bare cupboards during a holiday season and neither is in a position to help them. Neither the District, nor the Grand Lodge, has the personal friendships and connections that a thriving Lodge can transform into the bonds of Brotherhood.

Grand Lodge recognizes this, my Brothers, and this is precisely why it is taking so many steps to ensure that each of our Lodges is in the best possible shape for the future. Grand Lodge recognizes that, when you are producing a masterpiece, good enough simply isn’t good enough. Grand Lodge recognizes, and needs each of us to recognize, that the problems facing our Fraternity aren’t likely to be solved at the Grand Lodge level. If they are going to be solved, it will be at the local or Lodge level. Grand Lodge is doing all it can to give you, the Craftsmen, the necessary tools. It always has been, however, and always will be, up to you and your Lodges to pick up the tools and do the work. The work of Masonry is not merely symbolic (as any Lodge Secretary can attest). So, the next time we look at our little corner of Masonry, or perhaps even at Grand Lodge itself, and aren’t happy with what we see, rather than asking, “What has Grand Lodge done to fix this?” each of us should be asking, “What has MY Lodge done to fix this?”

As we approach the beginning of a new Masonic year, I look forward to working with our Lodges to ensure that each has a solid foundation for generations to come. While I can’t do the work for you, I’m happy to tie on an apron and help out.

Scott

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The Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library of the Grand Lodge of F. & A. M. of the State of New York