Vol. XXX No. 9 — September 1952

Deacons and Stewards

Much has been written of the worshipful master of a lodge; his powers, duties, history, importance. A reasonable amount of information has been made available about the wardens.

But of deacons and stewards Masonic literature has little to say. Apparently it is taken for granted that everything necessary to know about them is set forth in their duties in lodge and in conferring degrees.

The following paragraphs maybe considered the sum and substance of most brethren’s knowledge of deacons:

Every symbolic lodge has a senior and a junior deacon. The former may be appointed by the master and the latter by the senior warden, or both may be elected according to the respective codes of the jurisdictions. In England both are appointed by the master. Their duties comprehend a general surveillance over the security of the lodge, and they are usually the proxies of the officers by whom they are appointed. Hence their jewel, alluding to the necessity of circumspection and justice, is a square and compasses, inclosing a sun for the senior deacon and a moon for the junior deacon. In the English system, the jewel of the deacons is a dove, in allusion to the dove sent forth by Noah.

The senior deacon is the first lieutenant of the worshipful master, carrying out his orders in the management of the affairs of the lodge. The junior deacon acts in the same capacity to the senior warden. The senior deacon is the immediate connecting link between the master and all candidates and visitors. The junior deacon assists the senior warden in guarding against the intrusion of those not qualified. The two deacons jointly carry out the respective orders of the presiding officer in the proper preparation of the lodge and its adaptation to the several ceremonies.

The handling of the ballot box, the reception of visitors and their introduction and accommodation, the care of the altar and lights, all are duties of the senior deacon.

None enter or leave, no one opens the lodge door, no one instructs the tiler, but with the cooperation of the junior deacon.

There is much of interest in the origin of these offices in Masonry.

Both deacons and stewards (like so much in Freemasonry) have a priestly ancestry.

The deacon is a minister or officer of the Christian Church whose status and functions have varied in different ages. The office is almost as old as Christianity. Tradition connects its origin with the appointment of “the Seven” recorded in Acts 6:1-6. The officers of the Church are described in Philippians 1:1 as “bishops and deacons”; and in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, the office of deacon has evidently become a permanent institution of the Church.

In the apostolic age the duties of deacons were vague. With growth, however, they became the immediate ministers of the bishop. Their duties included the management of Church property and finances, distribution of alms and care of the sick and widows and orphans. With the growth of charitable institutions the social work of the Church was transferred to others, and the deaconate came by degrees to be regarded (as in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches today) merely as a step towards the priesthood. The deacon’s duties were practically restricted to ritual acts, much as they are today in a Masonic lodge.

The office of archdeacon is of great antiquity. Originally, as the name implies, he was chief of the deacons attached to the cathedral. Close relation to the bishop gave him great importance. In the East, in the fifth century, the archdeacons judged the qualifications of candidates, attended bishops at synods, and sometimes acted as their representatives; they shared in the administration of fees during a vacancy. In the West, in the sixth and seventh centuries, archdeacons were responsible for the good order of the upkeep of buildings and the safe guarding of Church furniture.

Early in the eighteenth century two grand lodges flourished side by side in Ireland, one of them, with its headquarters at Cork, being the Grand Lodge of Munster; little is known about the beginnings of either one of them, but a record shows that the Munster body was in action at least as early as 1726, and that it had at that time at least one subordinate body, of which minutes are extant of date Feb. 2, 1726. One interesting feature of these minutes is that they mention the appointment of deacons, the first such mention in the history of the Craft. Scotland employed deacons in the century preceding but of a different kind.

Brother W. J. Chetwode Crawley has some comments upon the subject:

We must carefully distinguish between the deacon of the early Scottish Minute Books, and the deacon of Irish ritual. The former occupied almost, if not altogether, the highest post among his brethren, having precedence over the warden and presiding over the meeting when occasion required. The latter corresponded to the dean - that is deacon - of faculty. The similarity does not go beyond the name. The appointing of deacons served in latter days as a distinction between Irish and English work, for the lodges under the Constitution of the Antients naturally followed the Irish use.

The office of Deacon was confined to supporting lodges. During the first one hundred and twenty years of its existence, the Grand lodge of Ireland never elected grand deacons: when their services were required they were selected for the occasion from the masters then present. Their first appearance as prominent grand officers is in the addition of the Irish Constitutions, promulgating in 1850, though thirty-seven years previously the United Grand Lodge of England had adopted the office, in deference to the usage of the Antients.

Mackey thought that the badge of office of a deacon was a blue rod surmounted by a pine cone, in imitation of the caduceus, or rod of Mercury, messenger of the gods as is the deacon of the superior officers of the lodge.

Columns were once prescribed as the proper deacon’s badges of these officers (See Webb’s Monitor published in 1797 and Preston’s Illustrations published at Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1804.) Later the columns were transferred to the wardens and the deacons were given rods. Dalcho’s Ahiman Rezon, first printed in 1807, speaks of “those staves the badges of your office.” In the Masons Manual, 1822, Easton, Pennsylvania, the badges are said to be wands, and in Cole’s Library they are said to carry rods. All subsequent Monitors assign rods to deacons as insignia of their office.

In Pennsylvania, as far back as 1778, “the proper pillars” were carried in procession by wardens, and “wands tipped with gold” were borne by the deacons. A rod or wand is now universally recognized in the United States of America and in England as the deacon’s badge of office.

In the Old Testament, steward is not the rendering of a simple Hebrew term. In Genesis, steward means “one who is over the house”; “son of the possession of my house”; “possessor of my house.” Later it was probably the title of the officer who had charge of Daniel. In the New Testament “steward” is a general term for a caretaker. Such stewardship is plainly a reference to the management of a large property by an overseer.

The British Government has an officer called “the lord steward,” an important official of the King’s household, a member of the government, a peer, a privy councilor. Up to 1782 the office was one of considerable political importance and carried cabinet rank. The lord steward receives his appointment from the Sovereign in person, and bears a white staff. He is the first dignitary of the court. In the Statutes of Eltham he is called “the lord great master,” but in the Household Book of Queen Elizabeth “the lord steward.” He presides at the Board of Green Cloth, a committee of the King’s household, charged with the audit of its accounts. The Board also had power to punish all offenders within the jurisdiction of the palace. The name is derived from the green-covered table at which the transactions of the board were originally conducted. Under the lord steward are the treasurer and comptroller of the household, usually peers or the sons of peers and privy councilors, who sit at the Board of Green Cloth, carry white staves, and belong to the Ministry. But the duties which in theory belong to the lord steward, treasurer and comptroller of the household are in practice performed by the master of the household, who is a permanent officer and resides in the palace. He is a white-staff officer and a member of the Board of Green Cloth but not of the Ministry, and among other things he presides at the daily dinners in the suite in waiting on the Sovereign.

In the early days of Speculative Masonry lodges made much of their “feasts” and other gala events. Such affairs were carried on by the lodge as a part of its regular duties and stewards were chosen for the purpose of superintending them. Nowadays it is the custom to leave the planning of social events to special committees or Fellowcraft teams, as if the social hour were something apart from the proper work of a lodge.

In Records of the Lodge of Antiquity is found:

In the early days of Grand Lodge the Feast was provided by the voluntary efforts of one or more stewards. It was not till eleven years after the erection of the Grand Lodge that they were constituted into a Board of 12 members, and in March 1731/2, a law was made ‘giving a privilege to every Acting Steward of nominating his successor in that office for the year ensuing.’ During the years when the grand stewards chose the appointive grand officers, and also chose their own successors, it is evident that Grand Lodge was ruled by an oligarchy - it is one of the many facts of a like kind which aroused resentment among lodges and led to the formation of a new and more democratic Grand Lodge in 1751. In 1771 it was proposed in Grand Lodge: (1) That the Law of 1731/2 be abrogated. (2) That there be 15 stewards instead of 12. (3) That the stewards be nominated by the lodges within the Bills of Mortality in rotation beginning with the senior lodge, each of such lodges having power to nominate one person at the annual Grand Feast to serve that office for the year ensuing.

In 1719 Grand Master Desaguliers “forthwith revived the old regular and peculiar Toasts or Healths of the Free Masons.” In 1728 he proposed that a certain number of stewards be chosen who should have the entire care and direction of the Annual Festival. It was thus that the rank of grand stewards was instituted in the mother grand lodge (1717), in England.

In American grand lodges grand stewards have few set duties; in the mother grand lodge they had almost the whole care of preparing for the quarterly grand communications, and divided with the committee on charity much of the administrative work of the infant grand lodge.

In 1731 they were given red aprons to wear (lodges which regularly sent grand stewards were called red apron lodges.) Thistle blue, adopted by grand lodge as the color for grand lodge Aprons, was borrowed from the Order of the Garter. The red of the grand stewards was adopted from the Order of the Bath.

A grand stewards’ lodge was constituted in 1735. From Minutes of early lodges it appears that an appointment to wear the red apron was costly, either to the wearer or to his lodge; it also appears from the same minutes that the office of lodge steward did not come into vogue until later, perhaps by following the lead of the grand lodge. In Oxford’s history of Lodge No. 4 he states that it was in 1774 that the by-laws provided for two stewards, one to act as master of ceremonies, one to order supper and liquors.

Stewards once assisted the secretary in the collection of dues and subscriptions, kept track of lodge table expenses, saw that the tables are properly furnished at refreshment, seated every brother at banquets, and generally assisted the deacons and other officers. Such were the labors of stewards in the days of Preston and Webb. In some old Constitutions it is noted that “The Steward shall provide good cheer against the hour of refreshment, and each Fellow shall punctually defray his share of the reckoning, The Steward rendering a true and correct account.”

The badge of the stewards of a lodge and the grand stewards of a grand lodge, is a white rod. In the first formal account of a procession in the Book of Constitutions on June 24, 1724, the stewards are described as walking “two and two abreast with white rods.” This use of a white rod comes from the political customs of England, where the steward of the King’s household was appointed by the delivery of a staff, the breaking of which dissolved the office. Thus an old book quoted by Thynne says that in the reign of Edward IV, the creation of the steward of the household “only consisteth by the King’s delivering to him the household staffe, with these words, ‘Steward, hold the staff of mine house.’” When the lord high steward presides over the House of Lords in London at the trial of a Peer, at the conclusion of the trial he breaks the white staff which thus terminates his office.

The Masonic Service Association of North America