Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

08 May 2005

Grand Lodge of Maine - Annual Communication

Among my favorite Masonic events each year is the Annual Communication of our Grand Lodge. This is where the brethren of the several lodges gather together to fund the budget, manage the rules and regulations and discuss issues of importance.

Grand Master's Address

Each year the Grand Master delivers a speech at the start of Grand Lodge. In it he assesses the state of Freemasonry in Maine and makes necessary recommendations. This year M.W. Bro. Claire V. Tusch issued several challenges to the brethren, some of which I hope Deering Lodge will enact.
  • He challenged the brethren of the Portland area to revive the Frank S. Land chapter of DeMolay. There will be a Grand Master's class in the area to help bring young men into the order.
  • He noted that Order of the Eastern Star is beginning an oratory contest for Junior High students. The brethren of Saco Lodge are working with the OES. Since so much of Masonry is devoted to public speaking, it is an area of interest to our ritualists, which is most of our active officers, and since it involves kids it may bring in interested members who are not officers. He suggested that when the protocol is fully fleshed out, other lodges should try the same program. Community involvement is key to our success.
  • The Portland area CHIPs program is going gangbusters. Under the leadership of Wor. Bro. Wendell Graham it has processed 7,000 of the 15,000 children processed throughout the state. All lodges should seek to be involved in their district's CHIPs program.
  • He also remarked that a key to our future is not just bringing in new members, it is also revitalizing our lodges so they are ready to accept new members and put them to work. A committee in Grand Lodge is working on an a la carte Masonic Renewal system. This is a committee which existed previously during the term of M.W. Bro. Wayne Adams. The District Officers will be receiving information about the system and then offering it to each lodge. If the lodges are interested, the first step is a self-evaluation which will point out which elements of the program might be beneficial.

    [ed. I spoke with two of the members of this committee and their plans sound very well considered. The idea of an a la carte program is great because it recognizes the inherent differences in each lodge. I stressed the idea of setting accurate success metrics since, for instance, a program of membership growth which set a 5% net gain as its metric will fail for almost all lodges. A better program would be to look at the ten year trend line and attempt a 5% or 10% change in the trend itself. If the lodge is projected to have a net loss of 15 members next year, then set the goal at a net loss of 10 or 5 members. If the lodge is successful, even though success is a smaller net loss, it will inspire them to continue the program. At least that is my view on things.]
  • The Grand Master also revealed that the lodge is working hard on another Castine-like leadership program. Many years ago, when I was a Deacon, the Grand Lodge offered a weekend-long intensive leadership training program in Castine, ME at the Maine Maritime Academy. The Grand Lodge received several donations toward the program and more information will be forthcoming.

    [ed. I attended the last Castine program and found it was invaluable. It changed all my plans as an officer and helped make my years in the East successful. Though it is of little use to me now, I would certainly attend it again.]
The Grand Master also made a number of interesting recommendations:
  • The lodges should seriously consider a dues amnesty for members suspended for non-payment of dues. Forgive all current debts and send a letter to each suspended member offering them free re-entry into the Craft. The Grand Master made clear that this should be a one-time offer.

  • The Grand Lodge should consider switching from an annual communication to a semi-annual one. This would permit the passing of legislation much more rapidly. It is also not very expensive for the Grand Lodge to host such communications.

    [ed. I realize the cost to the Grand Lodge is low, but the cost to the 500-600 brethren is quite high with travel and food expenses considered into the planning.]

  • The brethren should quite seriously consider passing the permission for One Day Classes. Here is a quote from the Grand Master describing his position in detail:
    While I believe strongly in the "traditional" degree journey, I also understand that there are many good men who would like to join our Craft but honestly feel they simply don't have the time.  A One Day conferral would enable many of these men to join and provide a significant shot in the arm for many of our Lodges as well as providing significant positive spin from the "marketing" promoting the event.  I would haveseriously considered holding a class.
Simon Greenleaf Medal

Wor. Bro. Wendell Graham received the award for his service to the Craft as head of the 17th District CHIPs Program. His crew has processed almost half of the children through the CHIPs system in all of Maine. He does a great job as organizer. Wor. Bro. Graham has a good sense of humor and no shortage of things to say normally, but he was utterly speechless. The award never went to a more deserving man.
R.W. Bro. Randall Burleigh received the award for his service to the Craft in for starting a bus shelter program in far southern Maine. I saw R.W. Bro. Burleigh speak at the last Castine Leadership Seminar and he was "on fire with enthusiasm." :)

Josiah Hayden Drummond Medal

R.W. Bro. Richard L. Bowden received this award for his many years of extensive and varied service to Masonry in Maine.

Report of the Finance Committee

There were, in my view, two key items to come from the report of this committee. First, they have requested a formal inventory and appraisal of the library and museum at Grand Lodge. The Bangor lodge fire reminded all of us just how easily our history can be erased. The cost may well be quite high, but it is worthwhile.

Second, the annual budget for this year does not require an adjustment to the per capita tax. This second item seems terribly strange to me. We went for many years without a per capita change and then there was a sudden demand to lift the 6% cap. The debate surrounding lifting the cap included much denigration of the Craft who complained, "Is this how little Masonry is worth to you?" The cap was lifted followed by a 25% hike in the per capita. Now, rather than making regular small hikes, the Finance Committee is leaving the per capita alone, inevitably building toward another large hike. Stranger still, they must be aware that at least two issues are on the table which will impact either the budget or their ability to raise the per capita (the plural member assessment change

Report on the Condition of the Fraternity

This report was a sea change. We all know how dire the membership situation is, but the condition of the fraternity is traditionally reported as "all quiet on the Western front." This says nothing at all negative about the previous committee members, two of whom are members of my Mother Lodge and I hold them in high esteem, rather it had been the style of the committee to accentuate the positive. The report, read by Wor. Bro. Charlie Plummer, was extremely long and very much in depth. The report enumerated the successful programs at different lodges and what the statistical markers were which singled those lodges out: frequent use of District Ritual Instructors, for instance. The report then went through a list of problematic conditions at the concomitant hallmarks for failing lodges. The report ended with thirteen recommendations (of which eleven are recorded here):
  • Membership gains has become an unhealthy obsession for the lodges and the Grand Lodge. Without a successful, vibrant lodge to receive them, no number of members will address Masonry's problems.
  • All District Deputy Grand Masters must begin using the correct forms and filling them in completely for the committee to do a proper assessment.
  • The significant leadership disparity, a mark which often makes the difference between a successful and failing lodge, must be addressed by intensive leadership training programs.
  • The lodge status report must be reviewed and revised to help the study of lodge conditions.
  • The inspections must conclude by mid-December to allow the District Representatives to submit their reports to the Grand Master for inclusion in the report to Grand Lodge.
  • A program of education for lodge by-laws and the Grand Lodge constitution should become part of the Masonic education package. We cannot expect members to obey what they do not know.
  • The District Deputy Grand Masters should always justify their rating with text explaining their decision [ed. I wonder if the committee is beginning to notice the grade inflation problem with inspections?].
  • The scheduling of rehearsals must be viewed as a key part of managing the lodge. To few lodges are practicing the ritual before they have degrees and as the degree system is key to our fraternity, this, more than anything, compromises our future.
  • The Grand Lodge and district officers must do something to get lodge officers to the schools of instruction, perhaps the pratices of R.W. Bro. Stephen Nichols could be a technique. His non-ritual school explores the meaning of the degrees and is generally well attended.
  • The lodges should cease their practice of driving new members up through the chairs so rapidly. A new brother should take five or more years to reach the East, not two or three.
  • All members need access to leadership training and the Grand Lodge should consider a program where leadership training is so central to the fraternity that we start teaching it to other people.
Report of the Jurisprudence Committee

There are three elements which the committee rules on: edicts, dispensations and decisions. The only item of interest to me personally was the edict outlining the regulations for lodges to rent to groups which are serving alcohol. The committee felt it was well within the Grand Master's right to issue the edict.

Raymond Rideout Award

This award is given to lodges with an excellent education program. The eight winners were: Tyrian, Delta, Asylum, Mt. Kineo, Amity, Jonesport, Euclid and Cornerstone. With the top two being Asylum Lodge and Wor. Bro. Carl Trynor's Cornerstone Lodge.

Report of the Committee on Memorials

This report largely focused on the death of M.W. Bro. Peter C. Schmidt, Past Grand Master of Masons in Maine. [ed. I sat with M.W. Bro. Schmidt in lodge many times and I can say he is among the funniest Masons I have ever met.] The report included a reading of a poem by Wor. Bro. Leslie Newton. He is a Past Master of Triangle Lodge, where I was Master in 2004. The poem was just wonderful.

Report of the Committee on Amendments to the Constitution

This is the most contentious time during the entire Grand Lodge session every year. The issues discussed here go to the very heart of the government of the Grand Lodge. This year was no exception, the following issues were discussed:
  • Changing section 90.1 of the Constitution to eliminate the dual per capita assessment. The primary matter for discussion was actually the manner of the committee's proposal. Traditionally the committee receives motions from the Grand Lodge, ruminates on them for a year and then makes a recommendation regarding them. The issue is that a motion goes in and a recommendation comes out and the brethren vote on the recommendation, not the motion. So, in this case, the motion was to insert language eliminating the dual per-capita assessment. The recommendation of the committee was against the motion. This meant that a "yes" vote refused the amendment and left the Constitution untouched, and a "no" vote changed the Constitution inserting the new language. In parliamentary terms, this is called a "negative motion", since yes means no and no means yes. It is a dangerous way to govern a body since it can be used to pass motions without the voters really understanding.
    The confusion lead way to a significant debate, in which I participated, which wound up forcing the committee to restructure the motion so a 'yes' passed the amendment and a 'no' rejected it, but with the committee telling the brethren they ought to vote no. Unfortunately, the committee failed to make a meaningful case for voting against the motion, believing that their recommendation alone was sufficient to predetermine the outcome, and the motion passed easily. It is was a classic case of the dangers associated with ignoring parliamentary process, since the vote wound up being more a response of the brethren to the committee's motion rather than its content.
    [ed. Each member of the grand jurisdiction is assessed a "per capita" fee by the Grand Lodge. This fee is paid by the lodge to which they are a member and since plural members belong to more than one lodge, the extra lodges are really "double billed" for the member. This amendment would take this money back from the Grand Lodge and vest it in the lodges who carry the affiliate member. This, in my view, is a totally fair way of taking money back from the Grand Lodge, which has been busily taking from the lodges for years, particularly of late. I hope the added workload on the Grand Lodge Secretary's staff will not be too much, I appreciate all they do up there!]
    Proposal Passed (amendment added)
  • A minor change to section 36.10a which eliminates a requirement that the MEALS [Maine Education and Lodge Services] Committee submit recommendations for District Education Representatives to the Grand Master.
    Proposal Passed
  • Another minor change moving the date of submission for the Grand Lodge budget from 31 January to 28 February.
    [ed. I believe the issue here is the lack of information about each budget line item, and the small committee which crafts this budget each year. If the committee posted its minutes during the entire year on the Grand Lodge website and welcomed input, I think many brethren would feel better about the process. I know I would and I do read the budget carefully each year, but I know too little about each line item, making it impossible to comment.]
    Proposal Passed
  • The next proposal permits the Grand Master to remove a member of the Finance Committee who has failed to attend two meetings without providing an excuse in advance.
    Proposal Passed

  • The next amendment had been pending for two years. It was proposed in 2003 in Portland, then was not included in the pending matters last year. This year it came to the floor and was rejected for a defect of form caused not by the proposer, but by the manner in which it was printed in the coming items of business. The proposal itself is, "amend section 90.1 Powers and Duties of Lodges by imposing a cap of 10% per year on any per capita tax increase." The committee then added the text "If amended this section would read:" and inserted the version of the text from 2003. The issue is that the text of 90.1 was changed in 2004, but the committee did not update their presentation of the material. Again the brethren were to vote not on the words of the proposal, but on the words of the committee. The Grand Master promised me as a brother that this proposal will be brought to the floor and given a fair vote next year.
    [ed. Though it is not even my proposal, I remain deeply disappointed at the way in which it has been handled by the Grand Lodge. It originated as a counter proposal from Wor. Bro. Robert Haines of Corner Stone Lodge to the Grand Lodge's request to remove the previous 6% cap. The Grand Lodge kept it off the floor last year, leaving no measure to compete with the proposal to remove the cap. The cap removal passed the floor after much debate. Having blocked 10% cap amendment again this year it makes the cap removal a fait accompli.]
The following new proposals were then entertained:
  • A new version of section 90.1 was submitted by R.W. Brad Blake, then Senior Grand Warden. This new version increases the new member fee from $2.00 to $15.00 and it removes the per capita as a fixed cost. Instead the approved annual budget is divided by the number of members and sets the per capita for that year. His view is that it is similar to a mil rate and if towns manage their budgets that way, so should we. There was a significant amount of discussion regarding this matter particularly because the committee, which is the group who offered the amendment at the first, noted only the minor change of the new member fee and neglected to mention the major change to the per capita structure. This latter point was outlined in greater detail by R.W. Bro. Blake.
    Eventually, an amendment to this motion was inserted by Wor. Bro. Hamlin who suggested the new member fee and the per capita tax be set to the same value each year. After the amendment had been inserted I tried to call for division of the question, splitting the amendment into a degree fee vote and a separate per capita change vote. The Grand Master rejected, fairly, the call for division, but I suspect that will prevent any action on the degree fee issue next year. The amendment was tabled until next year when it will be debated anew.
    [ed. There are two issues with this proposal in my view. First, is the incorrect assessment that this is not another fee increase to the lodges. The new member fees are generally set down in the by-laws of the lodge, Deering Lodge charges $35.00: $10.00 petition deposit, $25.00 first degree fee. This currently is $33.00 for the lodge and $2.00 for the Grand Lodge. Should this item pass, then without a by-laws change it would be $20.00 for the lodge and $15.00 for the Grand Lodge, a loss of $13.00 per candidate from the lodge's books. The only alternatives for the lodges would be to either eat the loss or change their by-laws to float their degree fees based on the Grand Lodge fee: $10.00 petition deposit, $25.00 plus Grand Lodge fee for the first degree. This would make the degree journey jump from $75.00 to $90.00. The second element is far more concerning. I understand what R.W. Bro. Blake is suggestion, but it will lead to two problems in my view. First, it will make debates over the budget extremely drawn out and divisive. Since the content of the budget sets the per capita rather than the per capita, this subjects each line item to intensive scrutiny. In my view, the committee and the Grand Treasurer are probably not prepared for the level of angst which will surely be attendant on this change. Second, the budget process itself is too closed when compared with a city budget. The public may attend the budgeting meetings and debate for weeks each element. The Grand Lodge budget system, on the other hand, is created by the committee, published at the end of February and voted on in May. This is simply no way to manage a budget with a city-style funding procedure. It is a good way to manage the budget, NOW, with a fixed per capita system, but under the weight of a direct funding system I fear it will become destablized.]
    Motion Tabled (to be voted on next year)
  • The next item would remove the mandatory one day waiting period between the Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees at the discretion of the Grand Master, effectively permitting one day degree ceremonies in Maine. The debate was sure to be fierce, and the committee itself was divided on the issue. M.W. Bro. Wayne Adams, Past Grand Master, spoke against the motion and M.W. Bro. George Pulkkinen, Past Grand Master, spoke in favor of the motion. Their positions were delineated on the classic one day class arguments. During the floor debate, I spoke in favor of the motion and my comments will follow in the next blog posting.
    Motion Failed (190 yes, 213 no)
  • An amendment was proposed which would require two black cubes, rather than one, to reject the candidate. There was some debate over its necessity, but I understand from Bro. Anthony Pereira, Senior Warden of Deering Lodge, that this procedure is normal for the Order of the Easter Star.
    Motion Failed
  • A motion was introduced by M.W. Bro. Charles Ridlon, immediate Past Grand Master, to publish the Mackey and Pound Landmarks. The motion was amended by M.W. Bro. Walter Macdougall, Past Grand Master, to include the report of the Committee on Landmarks with the listings.
    [ed. Having read the report, it is well researched and every brother should read it. The great zinger of the day was when Wor. Bro. James Dufresne, Grand Librarian and Past Master of Deering Lodge rose to speak on the issue. M.W. Bro. Ridlon, the Grand Master who established his position until the vote of the Grand Lodge, asked "Who gave you your title and collar, Jim?" to which he replied, "The Brethren, Grand Master." It was a moment not to be missed. M.W. Bro. Ridlon has an incredible sense of humor and he took it well.]
    Motion Tabled (to be voted on next year)
  • Finally, a motion was introduced to move the Grand Lodge from annual to semi-annual meetings.
    Motion Tabled (to be voted on next year)
Grand Lodge: where all the fun happens.


At 15 May, 2006 00:24 , Anonymous David Birnbaum said...

I have some old flyers of electors for President/Vice President which contain name of Thaddeus R. Simonton among others. If there are any descendents in that area, would be glad to send them this flyer I see by the records that Mr. Simonton held offices in your Lodge from 1866 -70. Believe the election was that of Cleveland in 1885


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