Vol. XXII No. 9 — September 1944

Membership Contrasts

Much of the following is abstracted from "Grand Lodge Facts and Figures" published first in the Proceedings of the Grand Secretaries’ Conference, 1944, republished by The Masonic Service Association: a document which is the result of patient and comprehensive work by R.W. Bro. T. E. Doss, grand secretary in Tennessee.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, variety” might have been written of Freemasonry in the United States, provided “non-essentials” be understood to be those rules, laws, customs and ritual which vary between jurisdictions without alteration in the principles and teachings of the Fraternity.

To the newly-made Master Mason, who travels in a strange jurisdiction for the first time, the differences in ritual come often as a shock. Those familiar with the history of Freemasonry in the United States; the spread of lodges from east to west prior to the formation of grand lodges; the formation of grand lodges by existing lodges working different rituals, well understand that the marvel would have been had ritual been uniform. But differences in ritual, great as they are in some instances, are never fundamental; the teachings of Masonry remain the same whether A comes before B or B before A in the several rituals.

In addition to ritual many differences exist between the laws governing internal practices of Freemasonry in the forty-nine grand lodges. Rules governing the Fraternity vary between east and west, north and south. What is legal in one grand lodge is unknown in another, and vice versa. The Freemason who is familiar with the laws and rules of his own grand lodges is often surprised and sometimes perturbed to find that what is good law to him is poor law or no law elsewhere.

Perhaps in no other fields than membership, fees, dues, elections, proficiency, time between degrees, jurisdiction over rejected material, courtesy work, identification of courtesy candidates, demits, affiliations, etc., is wider variation to be found.

Examination of some of these is not without interest.

Dual and plural membership rules in the forty-nine grand lodges differ widely. “Dual” membership is universally construed to mean membership in two lodges; “plural” membership to be membership in more than two lodges.

Dual membership is permitted within the state in seventeen grand lodges. Twelve permit plural membership within the state. Twenty-three grand lodges provide for dual membership outside the state — the home or Mother lodge, and one lodge in another state. Seventeen grand lodges permit plural membership outside the state — the home or Mother lodge and as many in another state as desired, of course, if the laws of that state or those states permit.

Curiously enough, a grand lodge may permit plural membership and dual membership outside the state and neither within; may permit dual without and not within; may permit dual within and not without!

All forty-nine grand lodges fix a minimum fee which must be charged for the degrees. This varies from the smallest — $20.00 in five grand lodges — to the largest, $80.00, in Pennsylvania. The average minimum fee for the forty-nine grand lodges is $34.11. The average fee charged is $51.30. All grand lodges but six put a tax on the degrees; this varies from a maximum of $25.00 (Virginia) down to $1.00 (Michigan). The average tax for the forty-three grand lodges assessing it is $7.94.

This tax is devoted either to charity or grand lodge expenses or pro-rated between these. Some give it all to charity; three, all to expense. The average of the pro rata of those grand lodges giving the tax or part of the tax to charity is $7.75; the average in those grand lodges applying anything from the tax towards grand lodge expenses is $3.50. The largest tax is in Connecticut, $20.00, all given to the Masonic charity foundation; the least tax, $1.00, Michigan, also goes all to charity.

Thirteen grand lodges fix the minimum dues a lodge may charge its members; the greatest minimum is in California, $9.00; the least minimum, $2.00, is found in Kansas and New York. The average of the minimum dues set is $4.31.

The average of dues paid in the United States is $6.31. The highest average dues, $10.79 in California and $10.00 in New York; the lowest average dues, $3.00, is in Alabama.

Grand lodge tax per member varies from a minimum of $1.00 in four grand lodges to the highest, $4.50, in Connecticut. Four dollars of this goes to charity. The average grand lodge tax is $1.89; the average prorated to charity from the tax is $1.12.

Seven grand lodges charge a fee for affiliation; four grand lodges charge a fee for restoration. The largest fee for affiliation is $10.00, charged by four grand lodges, all being covered into the charity funds of grand lodge.

In eight grand lodges election is not for all three degrees; in three, where election is for all three degrees, a separate ballot is required for proficiency prior to advancement.

All grand lodges require proficiency in the first degree before advancement to the second; proficiency in the second before advancement in the third. Twenty-six grand lodges require proficiency in the third degree, but at times this requirement is more in the law than in effect!

Minimum and maximum times between degrees is a study in curiosities.

Fourteen grand lodges provide no minimum time; a candidate may be advanced as soon as he is proficient. Six grand lodges require candidates to wait at least two weeks between degrees. Twenty specify either “28 days” or “four weeks” or “one lunar month” (all meaning the same). Four specify that “from one stated meeting to the next” is the waiting interval. Two will permit advancement within twenty-four hours. One requires twenty-eight days between the first and the third degrees. One fixes twenty and one thirty days. It is generally recognized that grand masters by inherent power may shorten the time between the degrees by dispensation whenever in their judgment it is expedient to do so.

Different ideas obtain in the grand lodges of the United States as to the length of time a lodge should hold jurisdiction over a rejected candidate.

To the question “do you proceed according to the length of time you claim jurisdiction, or respect the law of the rejecting jurisdiction,” twenty-five answered “respect the law of others.” Four claim jurisdiction over all residents of the state. Four proceed only according to their own laws. Eleven either did not reply or have no law covering the matter.

Some courtesy work for other grand lodges is done by all grand lodges except Pennsylvania, which does none. Four grand lodges will not confer first degrees by courtesy. Thus forty-four grand lodges will confer all three degrees by courtesy. Of the grand lodges which do not confer the first degree by courtesy, two — California and Indiana — will give courtesy first degrees to men in the service of their country.

In four jurisdictions it is legal for a lodge to charge a fee for courtesy work. It is seldom done, however, even where permitted. In conferring courtesy degrees, the lodge doing the work must proceed either according to the rules of its own grand lodge, or according to the rules of the grand lodge making the request. Nine grand lodges prefer to go by their own rules as to proficiency, lapse of time between degrees, etc. The rest follow the rules of the grand lodge making the request.

There is much variation in the identification requirements of the several grand lodges in doing courtesy work. Thirty grand lodges require no special identification; some of these specify that the lodge must be satisfied, others have no rules. For the rest, identification consists of a letter with the signature of the candidate; a letter giving the maiden name of candidate’s mother or wife, which of course the candidate is asked to repeat; a description, with color of eyes and hair; a photograph with a letter from the applicant’s lodge; a “split letter”; a letter with “split lodge seal.” In these two, the candidate has one half and the lodge conferring the degrees receives the other half from the applicant’s lodge.

Transferring membership from one lodge to another may be accomplished either by asking for and obtaining a demit; (spelled dimit in some jurisdictions) or, in twenty-nine grand lodges, by a “certificate of transfer” whether called by that name or not.

In older days transfer of membership from one lodge to another was very informal; during the last hundred years more restrictions have been thrown around the process. When the demit became universal, a brother occasionally found himself in evil case; having taken a demit from his own lodge he might be rejected by the lodge of his choice, thus becoming an involuntary non-affiliate.

The “certificate of transfer” is a document good for a short period of time. The brother obtaining it remains a member of his lodge until that certificate is deposited in the new lodge of his choice. Upon election, he automatically ceases to be a member of his Mother lodge. If rejected in the new lodge he remains a member of his Mother lodge.

Twenty-nine grand lodges issue these certificates, although a number of these require a demit from the home lodge to be deposited with the electing lodge after the election.

Thirty-four grand lodges require that the application for demit or certificate be in writing. The rest permit the request to be made orally in open lodge.

All grand lodges provide that their lodges issue demits only to members in good standing, against whom are no charges preferred or pending. One grand lodge requires that a brother asking for a demit satisfy his lodge that he is proficient in the Master Mason’s degree before the demit is granted.

Some grand lodges have two forms of demits; one for transfer of membership, and one for voluntary non-affiliation. Demits for transfer of membership are good indefinitely in thirty-four grand lodges.

Unaffiliated Masons may visit lodges as often as they will, or are permitted by the Master, in eleven grand lodges; in the others a non-affiliate may visit for “six months,” or “one year,” or “three times” or “once in every lodge in the jurisdiction” (District of Columbia).

An unaffiliated Mason may or may not have till right of Masonic burial, according to where he dies. In some states he must have been trying to affiliate to have that right. In others he may be buried with Masonic honors if he dies within six months of taking his demit. Some grand lodges require dispensation from the grand master before a lodge may bury an unaffiliated brother. Eighteen grand jurisdictions do not permit burial of the non-affiliate, and another eighteen do not grant the unaffiliated the right of Masonic burial but permit it if the Master of a lodge so decides.

Relief for the unaffiliated Mason is refused in three fourths of the grand lodges; others give relief “within one year” or “within six months” of demit, or permit it as a courtesy if a lodge desires to grant it.

A document much longer than this would still be too small to relate all the differences in membership practices, but enough perhaps has been outlined to show that unity of result is obtained by variety in procedure.

The Masonic Service Association of North America