Vol. XXIII No. 9 — September 1945

“Fraternal Correspondent”

"The Committee on Foreign Correspondence shall examine and report on all matters submitted to it by the grand master or this Grand Lodge; on all applications from grand jurisdictions to establish fraternal relations; on all charges against other grand jurisdictions for the violation of any Masonic principles and landmarks; and shall examine, review and report on all proceedings of other grand jurisdictions with which this grand lodge is in fraternal relations.”

So reads the law in Texas, and, substantially, either expressed or implied, in the grand lodges which publish a review by their fraternal correspondent.

A substantial majority of American grand lodges do publish Correspondence Reports or Fraternal Reviews. It is not possible to give the number exactly — some thirty-five, six, or seven, is as near accurate as war conditions permit. Some grand lodges which have rendered great service to the Masonic world in their correspondence reports have suspended them temporarily due to war conditions. Others never have issued such documents; a few once did and then desisted by action of grand lodge.

The fraternal correspondent goes by other names; sometimes he is the foreign correspondent; sometimes he is chairman of the committee on fraternal relations; but whatever his title, his duties are similar in most grand lodges and important in all in which he functions.

His reviews occupy anything from a few to several hundred pages at the back of volumes of Proceedings, and constitute a body of valuable information of what the Masonic world has done during the past one or two years.

Alas, that the labors of the chairman of the committee on foreign correspondence, or the fraternal correspondent, call him by what name you will, are so much neglected by the Craft. For no more devoted, self-sacrificing, learned and earnest brethren can be found anywhere than the brethren who write the reviews for their several grand lodges. Paid only small sums — a few hundreds dollars at best — the actual cost in time, labor stenographic hire, postage and other expenses is usually far greater than their stipends. Yet so in love with their hard work are they, that separating a miser from his gold is easier than to ease one of these from his job. Membership in the “Round Table” or “Correspondence Circle” is prized by all who hold it, and with reason. For no brother can attempt this task and carry it successfully to a conclusion who has not patience, wisdom, experience, toleration, kindness of heart, diplomacy and long Masonic experience.

In The Builder, June 1924, appeared an article on “The Nestors of the Craft” in which, among other matters, three of the really great Correspondents were quoted as to their work, as follows:

I have sometimes thought that this Organization (the Round Table) was composed of the most sincere workers and the least appreciated for their labors of any in the various endeavors of Freemasonry, but as for myself I never wish any other reward than that of the happy friendships I have formed among you for the past twenty years during which time not a single one of you have ever caused me an unpleasant moment, but on the contrary have brought much additional happiness into my life and inspired me with new ambitions to devote myself to renewed efforts in behalf of our beloved Fraternity.” (Lou B. Winsor, late great grand secretary, Michigan.)

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He is a sort of reporter and reviewer. It is his duty to tell his brethren of the work of Masonry in the world at large, to tell them what Masonry means, and what it stands for as interpreted in the expressions of thinking Masons the world over, and in the achievements of the Craft, not only in other states but in foreign lands and climes as well, in a word, to give them Masonry up to date.

As we conceive of it, the Report on Foreign Correspondence was designed to serve as a sort of post-graduate course in a school of Masonry of which the writers of the ‘Round Table’ form the faculty. Its purpose is to give the Mason of one locality and one state accurate information as to the achievements and accomplishments of Masonry in other states and localities, and to show him what the Masonic institution stands for in the world at large.

Does the local Mason need this information? Most assuredly. For the Mason who knows only his own Masonry is like the business man who knows nothing more than his own personal, private, and peculiar methods, who never studies the operations of his associates and competitors, and whose business for that reason sooner or later dies of stagnation and dry rot.” (The late Louis Block, great fraternal correspondent of Iowa for many years.)

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When I commenced the work, twenty-five years ago, there was a galaxy of brilliant writers gathered at the “Round Table.” We recall Greenleaf of Colorado, Robbins of Illinois, Parvin of Iowa, Drummond of Maine, Hedges of Montana, Cunningham of Ohio, Diehl of Utah and Upton of Washington, all of whom have passed to their reward. These writers constituted a ‘Big Eight’ that, by the consensus of their opinions, determined most of the great questions coming before the Craft. They have left the imprint of their services engraven deeply upon the annals of Freemasonry. For years they have shaped and, for many decades to come, will continue to shape and guide the traditions and practices of the Craft in the United States; because it is true that it is the dead, and not the living, that rule and guide us. (The late Aldro P. Jenks, P.G.M. and noted reviewer of Wisconsin.)

Once in a while a correspondent dies; the new incumbent has a hard row to hoe and not always is he successful. Recently a newly appointed Reviewer wrote some criticisms of sister grand jurisdictions which were more pointed than kind. The resulting protests led his grand lodge to expunge the entire report — most of which was excellent — from the record! But in the vast majority of reports the reader will find only kindly and constructive criticism, if any, and not infrequently a humorous slant pointing the paragraphs with gentle laughter which removes any possible sting.

The mere reading of from sixty to eighty ponderous tomes of grand lodge reports is no slight task. True, a few grand jurisdictions issue rather scanty volumes as Proceedings, but most of them run to several hundred pages. To read them takes time — to read them intelligently, and from that reading to extract the meat which is interesting to all, and discard that of interest only to the jurisdiction publishing, is a task for a Solon.

Grand masters report to their grand lodges on their year’s work. Some cover a great activity in a few pages — others require many pages to tell what they have done. But to the fraternal correspondent both the long and short are grist to his mill, and must be read, lest some gem of thought, some decision, some expostulatory comment of general interest be overlooked.

Some grand lodge proceedings are models of arrangement and of indexing — especially is a fine and comprehensive index of use and value both to reviewer and general reader. Others are not indexed at all, Grand Secretaries of these contenting themselves with a table of contents. Some Proceedings note under any report of any committee the final disposition made of it — whether accepted, rejected, referred, postponed, etc. Others expect the patient reviewer to read the whole, and in that belief, evidently argue “why note here what was done, when it will be found on page 213?”

Some reports of fraternal correspondents are indexed, and these, indeed, are a joy. For such columns enable the reader to find at once the comment in which he is particularly interested.

There are two methods of preparing a correspondence report; the topical and the running. Running reports are by states and countries, alphabetically arranged; in these the reviewer picks out the highlights, sets forth the main accomplishments, perhaps quotes from grand master or grand orator, and comments thereon. In the topical review the correspondent groups his extracts from many Proceedings under subject heads.

And there are, indeed, many subjects. Forty-nine American grand lodges can and do have diverse problems, ideas, remedies for evils, suggestions, proposals and courses!

Picking at random, one topical review is thus indexed:

Annuities, apron, armed services, assessments, balloting, Baltimore Convention, Bible (traveling) blood bank, budget, centennials, charity funds, charters (arrested and surrendered) church, ciphers, clandestine, clubs, condition of the Craft, conferences, consolidations, cornerstones, correspondence reports, courtesy degrees, Declaration of Principles, dedications, degree teams, De Molay, dispensations, dispensing power, District Deputies, dress, dues card (uniform), dues (remission) Eastern Star, educational funds, employment bureaus, endowments, entertainment, examination (proficiency), fees, festivals, fifty-year awards, finances, fire losses, flag, flood relief, foreign grand lodges, funerals and funeral lodge, gambling, gavel, grand lecturer, Conference of Grand Masters, Grand Representatives, Grand Secretaries Conference, Grand Tiler, Grotto, healing, Homes, honorary membership and rank, hospitals, illegitimates, improper activities, indebtedness, initiation, investigations, jewels, Jobs Daughters, Jurisdiction, landmarks, lectures and lecturers, “Lewis,” libraries, life memberships, liquor, lodge officers, lodges reorganized, lodges (size of), Masonic education, Masonic identification, Masonic Service Association, Masonic Service Centers, Masons at sight, Master (deposed), medals (grand lodge), meeting (international), ministers, motion pictures, National Sojourners, Negro lodge, new lodges, new members obligation, officers suspended, patriotic activities, peculiar customs, penalty, pensions, per capita tax, petitioners, physical qualifications, poems, politics, publications (Masonic), public installations, public schools quorum, radio broadcasts, Rainbow for Girls, recognition of foreign grand lodges, reconsecration, Red Cross refreshments, refugees (Masonic) refunding of fees reinstatement, relief, reprimands, research lodges, ritual sanitariums, scholarships, Secretaries, Social Security speakers bureau, Sunday, sunrise services, suspension N.P.D., Temple projects, testimonials, toasts, trials, unemployment compensation, veteran Masons, victory garden, visitations, voting by mail, war bonds, war relief, Washington Memorial.

He will be an incurious Mason indeed who, with a book before him containing the thoughts and practices of the Masonic world in the last year, cannot find in such a fist much to interest him, something that will bear upon his personal Masonic problem, a topic or two which is novel to him and therefore educational.

Running Correspondence Reports provide a mental picture of the activities of forty-nine American and many foreign grand lodges geographically; the Topical Review gives a picture of the Masonic world as a whole and what is happening therein. Each school has its devotees among both writers and readers and none may say which is the better. The general opinion seems to be that all would be the poorer if there were but one school of thought, regardless of which it might be, in writing Correspondence Reports.

The work of the fraternal correspondent, or the committee on foreign correspondence, is not limited to the mere reading of the proceedings of other grand lodges and writing a review, either running or topical, on what is found. Perhaps the most important duty this officer or committee has to perform is the recommending to grand lodge that recognition be given to, or withdrawn from, another grand lodge.

Every Mason is interested in keeping his Masonry what it has always been — a society of men, practicing certain rites, possessed of certain secrets, living up to certain standards, governed by certain ancient landmarks, usages and customs.

The only way in which this can be assured is for legitimate, recognized Freemasonry to enter into fraternal relations only with other bodies which are themselves legitimate, living according to the same standards.

If all grand lodges worked in English; if all grand lodges printed their Proceedings in English; if all grand lodges were within easy visiting distance, the one to another, it would not take the Masonic world very long to determine just which grand lodges are, and which are not, entitled to recognition.

But grand lodges in Europe, and in Central and South America, work in languages other than English; their proceedings are not printed in English; it is not easy to visit them. Hence recognition has been and is a slow process. American grand lodges have wanted to be very sure of what they did before they entered into fraternal relations with foreign grand lodges. And here is where the importance of the committee on foreign correspondence climbs to its greatest height of responsibility. Grand lodge — meaning its constituent members — seldom knows anything about a foreign grand lodge which requests an exchange of representatives, and thus, recognition. Grand lodge depends on its committee. The committee must dig and delve and correspond and examine and translate and, from a mass of evidence thus assembled decide on a recommendation to, or not to, recognize.

Standards of recognition of grand lodges vary in minor details, but in the main, practically every American grand lodge requires that certain essentials be satisfied before it will consider fraternal relations with a foreign grand lodge. To qualify for recognition, a grand lodge must show:

That it was formed of at least three legitimate, just and duly constituted lodges;

That it is independent, self-governing, and supreme in its own jurisdiction;

That it makes Masons of men only;

That it adheres to the Ancient Landmarks;

That it practices secrecy;

That it acknowledges a Supreme Being, father of all men;

That it divides the Craft into three degrees which teach by symbols derived from an operative craft;

That it inculcates the legend of the third degree;

That it excludes politics, sectarianism or religious discussion;

That it demands the physical presence of the Volume of the Sacred Law in any Masonic lodge under its jurisdiction;

That it practices the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction.

There are other requirements in some grand lodges, and some relax some of these to some extent — thus, some grand lodges have recognized grand lodges the original lodges of which had not originated from grand lodges but from Grand Orients. But in the main, the list set forth above is subscribed to by all English speaking grand lodges the world over.

As an instance of the diversity of thought which some committees have had, prior to the war Maryland recognized but twenty-three grand lodges outside of the United States, while North Carolina recognized seventy-one.

It is a painstaking and a thankless task to get the necessary information as to whether or not some foreign grand lodge does conform to the requirements of any one particular grand lodge. It requires infinite patience with mails, with language, with brethren whose whole conception of Freemasonry may be so different from ours that even when their letters are translated they seem to be in a different tongue. And the fraternal correspondent must keep constantly before him the thought that while he must protect first his own grand lodge, nevertheless he owes the fraternal duty of brotherly care and honorable investigation to the grand lodge which has paid his grand lodge the compliment of asking for fraternal relations.

To be just to his own grand lodge and just to the grand lodge he strives to understand; to hold an even balance of thought and let no prejudice sway him; to be conscientious and leave no stone unturned, no letter unwritten, which may throw light on his problem this is no mean task.

The rewards are commensurate with its importance. For that fraternal correspondent who can look at the list of grand lodges recognized by his own, and, after many years, find no flaw in his work, is recognized the Masonic world over as an authority whose care is equaled by his honesty, whose ability is surpassed only by his judgment, whose good work is topped only by his knowledge of and veneration for Freemasonry.

They will read these words, the members of the “Round Table.” But they will never hear your comments nor see your satutes. Nevertheless, in honor of those to whom great honor is due, brethren, hats off to the fraternal correspondents of the Grand Lodges of the United States!

The Masonic Service Association of North America