Vol. XXXII No. 9 — September 1954

Lodge Secretary

The name is from the Latin, secretarius, which in turn comes from the Latin, secretum, meaning secret — evidently there was early knowledge that what the secretary records should be inviolate unless made public by him for whom the secretary writes.

The Old Testament knows not the word, but the Scribe of the Bible was originally the recorder, the analyst, before the term was broadened to mean student and expounder of the law.

In this lodge officer’s title is the finest testimonial to the importance of the secretary of a lodge; what he records is to be secret; he is the analyst who tells the story; he must have a profound knowledge of Masonic law.

To the average member in a lodge the secretary is the brother who sits at the desk on the right side of the lodge, near the master, drones through tiresome minutes and asks for appropriations. It is the secretary who calls him up, writes him letters and even comes to his home to collect dues! Such a conception of the secretary is on a par with that many members have of the master — the brother, who wields the gavel, wears a hat and “runs the lodge.”

If the master is the soul of the lodge during his year, the secretary has often to be its mind, and only those who have either been secretaries, or had an intimate acquaintance with their work — master and trustees, past masters and other lodge officers — know from their own experience the wide range of duties and the great responsibilities that are the substance of a lodge secretary’s life.

It is not for these pages to determine the most important duty and responsibility of a secretary, but The Short Talk Bulletin of June 1943 “Minutes ARE Important” developed the vital necessity of accuracy on the one hand and completeness on the other. What would the Masonic world not give now, for lodge minutes that definitely proved that Jefferson and Madison were members of the fraternity? Collateral evidence seems so to show, but proof is lacking. If, indeed, they were members of some lodge or lodges in Virginia, either some secretary was lax, or the priceless record, if made, has been destroyed.

Some grand lodges publish a “Secretary’s Manual,” in which is set forth the whole duty of a secretary; all of these stress the need of names and dates and completeness of records. That lodge whose secretary counts no fact of lodge life that concerns any brother, and that is germane to the lodge, too small to record, has a jewel that maybe brilliant in the minds of brethren of the future.

Among the duties of a secretary of which few lodge members know is that of making returns to the grand lodge. In these returns are the vital statistics of the lodge; the initiations, passings, raisings, admissions; the deaths, the droppings, the dimits, the suspensions and expulsions. Here, too, names are vital, and full names especially. “Mr. J. J. Smith was initiated” may be sufficient now. But “J. J. Smith” may someday be a President of the United States, a great general, a noted scientist, a leader of his people. A hundred years from now who can prove that the James Jasperson Smith, famous some twenty, thirty, forty years beyond initiation, was “J. J. Smith”?

If, however, the grand lodge has a record properly reporting that James Jasperson Smith, born July 4th, 1933, residing at 41144 Elm Street, town of Jonesville, son of John Thomas Smith of the same town, was initiated, the historian of the future could hardly go wrong!

Infrequently realized by the lodge member, well known to all good lodge secretaries, is the necessity of doing any Masonic business with another grand lodge, or a lodge in another grand lodge, through his own grand secretary. Grand lodge laws regarding members are sometimes complicated. Grand lodges differ one from another, even as one star differeth from another star in glory! Constantly there arises the matter of jurisdiction; Mr. A. who lives on the border of the X State line wants to join a lodge in State Y. The lodge in State Y must secure a waiver of jurisdiction from the X State lodge before receiving the petition. All this is the business not only of the secretary but of two Grand Secretaries. The lodge secretary must assemble all the facts, write to his own grand secretary, who writes to the grand secretary in the other state, who communicates with the secretary of the lodge that must waive jurisdiction, all to satisfy Masonic law, see that no man’s Masonic rights are infringed and that no petitioner, in ignorance, petition where he cannot legally do so, that no lodge receive a petition not lawful to accept.

Meanwhile the lodge secretary is keeping copies of this correspondence and filing it so that no Grand Lodge officer find him derelict in record keeping of his lodge.

The secretary attends to notifying the committees appointed by the master on applicants, reinstatements or admission. The secretary sends out dues bills and summonses, notices of funerals, notices of lodge trials, frequently he mails the lodge notice or trestleboard, and — perhaps this should be whispered — gets up the copy therefore and sees that it is properly printed or mimeographed.

In many lodges are several classes of members, at least as to the payment of dues. First are the members who are the body of the lodge. Next are those who have this year asked the lodge to carry them, as they are unable to pay dues. Then there are those who were carried last year but who may pay this year. Life members are another group, if the lodge has such a classification, and then there are the “dues exempt” members of fifty years (in some lodges of twenty-five years) standing. There is a list of members previously and long dropped N.P.D. who are usually written to at least once a year; sometimes a master will either go to see them or ask the secretary to do so, in the hope of having more restorations to report at the end of the year.

Secretaries of lodges are treasurers, too, although no law so specifies. The secretary is the collecting officer of the lodge and as such must be a bookkeeper also. The treasurer keeps the bank books and finally handles the finances. But it is through the secretary’s hands that he receives dues. And it is the secretary who must keep account of them.

Many secretaries are satisfied to keep one record of every brother; (a loose leaf sheet in a spring binder is the modern and convenient way) in which the individual brother’s Masonic record appears, together with all monies paid by him, the dates paid, and all that he owes, is noted, all that he may have received from the lodge (refunds, relief, etc.) is set forth.

Such a record gives the brother’s name, address, home and business phone; born when and where; employed by whom, initiated, passed, raised, by dates; admitted on dimit, and when; the date, if any, he dimitted and to what lodge, if any; if he was ever suspended or expelled, reinstated, dropped N.P.D.; when he died.

Following this will be the dates and amount of payments for dues and a note indicating that a good standing card was sent to him.

Some secretaries, especially in the larger lodges, keep all this information in one file and a second record on a card file, for quicker reference. Even in a moderate sized lodge such records mean work and plenty of it.

Every lodge has deaths. Many deaths require Masonic funerals. But whether or not the family wishes a Masonic funeral (in such cases it is taken for granted that the deceased has expressed a desire for a Masonic funeral) a good master will call on the family and take his secretary with him. Often the family is more or less dazed; the widow looks upon the master and secretary as heaven sent angels in a time of distress. Hence, not infrequently, it is the lodge secretary who telephones the absent members of the family, makes the arrangements with the undertaker, sees the caretaker of the cemetery to have an owned lot opened or buy one for the family, calls on the minister and makes arrangements with him, sees that a proper notice is put in the paper and generally becomes guide, helper and friend to the family.

It is also the secretary who sends out summons to the funeral, if the lodge follows that system, or notifies all the members if such is the way of that lodge. He attends all funerals and writes separate minutes for the special communication, here complicated with the pall bearers, actual and honorary, if some come from other Masonic bodies or lodges than the deceased’s own lodge.

In addition to reports to grand lodge throughout the year, the secretary prepares the annual returns, giving a resume of all the year’s work, which must be sent to the grand secretary, together with the proper check for grand lodge dues. The secretary also makes an annual report to his own lodge, and in this, of course, the figures must agree to the penny with those of the treasurer. Often the secretary of the lodge will be ex officio, the secretary of the board of trustees and helps them with their report of resources and stocks, bonds and reserve bank accounts, interest received and credited, etc. If, as is sometimes the case, the lodge has several different bank accounts; perhaps an education loan fund, a special charity fund, a fund left by some brother to be applied in a particular way, the secretary as well as the treasurer will be concerned in the records of these matters.

A good lodge secretary is a trained, experienced and tactful diplomat. Members get strange “peeves” about various things. Often a tactful approach by a secretary can discover such a sore spot and remove it. Sometimes a brother insists he has paid his dues when he has not; human memories are faulty. The secretary may be able to convince the brother who says he has paid when he hasn’t by exhibiting the record. But regardless of the end of such a small controversy, the good secretary ends with a pleased brother and the lodge with a satisfied member. All of which takes time, thought and a ready smile!

Many lodges send a card to the home lodge of each visiting brother, a pretty courtesy that usually pleases both the visitor and his home lodge. But if a lodge has a dozen out of town visitors at any meeting that means as many letters, addressings, mailings — all of which take time.

The fraternity in the United States is composed of forty-nine grand lodges, nearly sixteen thousand lodges, approximately three and one half million members.

The business of the fraternity is in the hands of grand masters and masters, grand secretaries and secretaries, grand treasurers and treasurers, boards of trustees.

Water rises not above its source. Grand officers can do their duties as they wish to only if lodge officers perform their duties as they should be done.

To the grand secretary the lodge secretary is all important. If the lodge secretary does his work well, makes his returns promptly, keeps up to date in the requirements grand lodge makes of him, keeps minutes properly, is a good balance wheel for his lodge, the grand secretary rejoices. Improper returns, poor statistics, careless financial reporting, distort the picture the grand lodge presents to the Masonic world.

Hence the importance of a lodge secretary who is a good member of a Masonic team and plays his part according to the rules. Hence, too, the trouble caused by the inefficient, the careless and the neglectful secretary — luckily for the Craft, he is seldom found and when discovered, soon eradicated.

The Craft in the United States is well organized, conducted on high principles, according to merciful fraternal methods in fraternal matters.

In both of these the lodge secretary is the keystone. As he is “worthy and well qualified” so is his labor done. As he accomplishes “good work, true work, square work” so is his lodge evaluated. As he draws a true picture of his lodge and his office for the grand secretary, so does his grand lodge appear to its members and to the rest of the fraternity.

But in the last and final score, it is what a secretary is to his own lodge, his own brethren that counts the most in limning the fraternal picture, and it is on this note that these pages end.

Masters come and go. Of lodge secretaries it has been written that “few die and none resign.” Lucky the lodge that has an old and experienced secretary. And one of the reasons for that “luck” is that the secretary, continuing in his office from year to year, in a short time comes to represent the lodge to the individual member as few masters ever can. It is to the secretary that the member goes with his troubles. It is the secretary of whom he asks advice. It is the secretary to whom he takes his Masonic joys and sorrows. And he is of the class of the best secretaries who becomes all things to all the brethren of his lodge; who knows the individual circumstances of each brother (hardly possible in a large city lodge but frequent in the smaller lodges in small centers.) It is the secretary who tells the master that Brother Joe is in hard luck and should have his dues remitted and whispers that Brother Smith, who asks the same charity of his lodge, is temporarily broke because he lost a wad on the races! It is the secretary who knows when a brother is ill, when a brother has a birth or death in his family, who is guide, philosopher, friend, first aid, good companion and really a brother to every member of his lodge.

These pages make no pretense of being complete in setting forth all a secretary does, all his duties, all his responsibilities, nor any of his joys. There must be some of these, or so many devoted brethren would not labor for years in the secretary’s chair, often at such small stipends as would be a joke for similar responsibilities in commercial life.

What is here attempted is a tribute to a brave group of brethren whose selfless attitude, hard work, and devotion to the fraternity, their grand lodges and their lodges, paint a bright picture before which any brother with less responsibilities may gladly bow in respectful tribute!

The Masonic Service Association of North America