Vol. XLI No. 6 — June 1963

Grand Representatives

Conrad Hahn

Annually the Proceedings of most United States Grand Lodges[1] contain a description something like this: “The Grand Master requested the Grand Secretary to call the roll of the Grand Representatives of other Grand Jurisdictions, and as their names were called they assembled west of the altar. The Grand Master then addressed the group as follows. . . .”

While many of the worshipful masters and wardens who represent the constituent lodges at grand lodge have some comprehension of the meaning of this ceremony, others do not. Some, who want to streamline Freemasonry’s procedures, regard it as a boring, time-wasting activity. They consider it mere “busy work” to give a number of brethren some “recognition” in grand lodge.

One should not blame those Brethren for such a reaction, which results from a perfunctory and listless continuation of the Masonic system of grand lodge representatives, which was originally intended to promote one of the institutions greatest ideals — universality. Too few brethren have been informed of the purposes and values of this ancient custom, — especially the representatives themselves.

Mackey defines a representative of a grand lodge in these words: “A Brother appointed by one Grand Lodge to represent its interest in another. The Representative is generally, although not necessarily[2] a member of the Grand Lodge to whom he is accredited, and receives his appointment on its nomination, but he is permitted to wear the clothing of the grand lodge which he represents. (This last practice has almost disappeared in modern times.) He is required to attend the meetings of the grand lodge to which he is accredited, and to communicate to his constituents an abstract of the proceedings, and other matters of Masonic interest.”

The average grand representative will probably be surprised to learn that he is required to attend the communications of the grand lodge which he represents. Few grand masters instruct grand representatives about such a requirement. Some of them rarely attend. In 1963, however, the grand master of New Jersey recommended that his grand lodge adopt legislation which would automatically suspend the commission of any grand representative who failed to attend grand lodge for two consecutive years. In opposing the grand master’s recommendation, the jurisprudence committee remarked, “Such legislation is unnecessary. The Grand Master already has the power to revoke any or all such commissions whenever he believes it necessary.”

Mackey almost a century ago noted the weakness in the system of grand lodge representatives, for he also wrote, "It is doubtful whether those duties are generally performed. The office of representative appears to be rather one of honor than of service.”

Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia reaches the same conclusion: “The original idea seems to have been that these representatives were ambassadors, but in late years the positions have become purely honorary, the correspondence relating to actual business matters being carried on by the respective Grand Secretaries.”

Grand representatives are usually appointed by the grand master when recognition is extended to another grand lodge. Some grand lodges, however, do not appoint representatives to a recognized grand lodge if the latter exchanges representatives with other grand lodges which they decline to recognize, to avoid the possibility that their own representative’s presence at a grand lodge meeting with the representatives of unrecognized jurisdictions might be construed as de facto recognition.

The Constitutions of the United Grand Lodge of England provide that “the Grand Master may, by warrant, appoint any Brother to represent him in a recognized Grand Lodge, and may constitute him and also any Brother regularly deputed from a recognized Grand Lodge, a member of the Grand Lodge, with such rank as the Grand Master may deem appropriate.” (The last provision was included to insure a representative’s acceptance where specific Masonic rank was required.)

The custom of exchanging grand lodge representatives is an old one in speculative Freemasonry. In England it probably had its origins in the attitude of other grand lodges toward the rivalry between the “Moderns” and the “Ancients”, as well as in the visits of distinguished Masons from Europe and America to the Grand Lodge of England. John Hammerton, Provincial Grand Master of South Carolina, was received at a quarterly communication in London in April, 1738. In the United States it grew out of the large number of independent grand lodges which sprang into existence after the colonies had declared their independence, and from their need to exchange Masonic knowledge and opinion — just as their forebears had found it necessary to establish “committees of correspondence” between the pre-revolutionary colonial assemblies, to exchange political plans and ideas.

In modern practice a grand representative is said to be the representative of a particular grand lodge near his own grand lodge. The Grand Lodge of New York, for example, has forty-five of its members acting as representatives from other grand lodges in the United States and its territories near the Grand Lodge of New York. (California, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming extend recognition to other grand lodges, but do not exchange representatives.) New York also has fifty-six grand representatives who personify grand lodges in Canada, the British Isles, and the rest of the world.

This Short Talk Bulletin, however, is not designed to trace the history of the system of grand lodge representatives. Assuming that it is, to a large extent, an unused tool of American Freemasonry, it attempts to suggest the purposes and values of that system and to suggest some ways in which it could be made more useful for the grand design of the Institution — to spread the cement of brotherly love and affection.

Consider for a moment the quantitative potential of this system. Grand lodges in the United States and its territories appoint grand representatives to other jurisdictions. That’s an army of almost 5,000 Masons who officially represent in their own grand lodges the Masons of other states and nations. In the vivid French name for grand representatives, they are the 5,000 American gages d'amitié, or “pledges of friendship!”

As symbols of friendship and brotherhood, grand representatives have tended to become just that — symbols, instead of a vital, useful tool. It is sometimes objected that they really have nothing to do, since the grand master and grand secretary handle all official business between their own and other grand lodges, since an informed and experienced committee on fraternal relations is generally responsible for matters of recognition, and since a fraternal correspondent generally reviews and comments on the proceedings of other grand lodges. Most grand secretaries annually send copies of the proceedings to the grand lodges recognized by their own.

Fears are sometime expressed that a hundred different communications from a hundred different correspondents might lead to expressions of private opinions which would compromise their grand lodge, or to misinterpretations of its policies and decisions. Such fears are never entertained, however, by a grand master who recognizes the value of grand representatives and who takes the trouble to give them good and wholesome instruction on how to fulfill their proper function. If he recognizes them as “pledges of friendship”, he sets them to work to spread the cement of mutual respect and fraternal understanding.

In addressing the grand representatives near the Grand Lodge of North Dakota at its 1961 Communication, Senior Grand Warden Edwin A. Haakenson made some specific suggestions:

I think these Brethren standing around the room have a great deal to do with Universality. They do try to contact the Grand Jurisdictions which they represent here. Every time a contact is made in some other part of the world, there is a mutual understanding created. Each time I come to Grand Lodge I make it a point to get extra copies of the several programs and other little items of interest I can collect, enclose them in an envelope and send it to the Grand Representative for North Dakota near the Grand Lodge of Chihuahua, Mexico. He is the opposite of me.

Every time I do that I know that I create a good feeling. My hope is that these Brethren, our Grand Representatives, are doing likewise. I firmly believe that if we want peace and understanding in the world, little acts like I have mentioned and a friendly letter of greetings will contribute more to establish peace and understanding than anything else, except personal contact.

The large number of grand representatives present, as well as Brother Haakenson’s practical advice, inspired Brother John D. Cunningham, Executive Secretary of The Masonic Service Association, to make extended remarks about grand representatives when he addressed the Grand Lodge of North Dakota the following day.

Our prestige is at a very low ebb everywhere in the world, including this hemisphere. Because we have been too busy enjoying the God-given prosperity that we fairly wallow in, too busy doing business “as usual” to develop friendships, we have exchanged friendship for envy, and envy breeds hatred — and if you think for one moment that the United States is not actually hated in some countries, you’re badly mistaken.

Politically, this situation is deplorable. Masonicaily, it is inexcusable, for if Freemasonry means anything at all, we have within our framework a perfect means to correct some of these ills. We have kindred spirits; we have Brothers of the same mind in almost every country of the world. If we are so disposed, we should experience absolutely no difficulty in reaching them, in having a harmonizing meeting of minds, a perfect understanding with them.

Nearly every Grand Lodge in the world has the system of Grand Representatives; and if this system functions properly, these representatives can spread the cement of brotherly love and truth so smoothly and effectively that it will withstand any strain, even the strains of Communist prevarication and distortion.

After describing the system of grand representatives, Brother Cunningham continued,

However, too many of these cabletows of Masonic communication fail because of two knots, one at either end of the cable — DO NOTS. Too many newly-appointed Grand Representatives frame their certificates or commissions, hang them on the wall with a great deal of pride because the appointment is an honor, and then forget why they were appointed in the first place. But the unusual number of Grand Representatives appearing here and Brother Haakenson’s message to them convinces me that in some Grand Lodges this very important appointment is taken seriously.

But it must be taken even more seriously. Grand Representatives can, in addition to performing a service to Freemasonry, perform a great service to our beloved country. We have a pipeline; we have a line of communication; we can do things that others cannot because we are always communicating with or talking to kindred spirits.

In February, 1961, Brother Cunningham accompanied Grand Master Joseph Hopper of Montana, Grand Secretary Harry W. Bundy of Colorado, and Past Grand Master Richard A. Kern of Pennsylvania to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to attend the Fifth Inter-American Conference of Central and South American Grand Lodges. There he became convinced of the value of Grand Representatives in breaking down barriers of misunderstanding. Referring to that experience, he continued:

I was privileged to sit with many of the committees. At first I was shocked to discover that I was a stranger among Masons. I wondered; “Why do these people regard me with suspicion?" Remember, there were present representatives of countries which are political enemies. They have border warfare; they have political intrigue; but between the Masons of those countries there was splendid rapport. The American delegates were not heartily accepted at first. I discovered that our trouble is our chain of communications. Part of the fault is ours. We speak only English — some of us not so well — but we speak only English.

Most of our Latin-American Brothers are bilingual. They know what we’re saying about them. They know what we are thinking about them — if we take the trouble to communicate with them. But we don’t understand them. As more and more criticism was heaped — not directly, but by innuendo — upon this country of mine, I was disturbed. I just can’t bear to hear my country blamed for everything. So, in my final speech to that assembly, I decided to do what I’m doing here among friends: take my hair down and speak my piece, from my heart.

I admitted our fault, but I pointed out that they must share the blame. I mentioned our Grand Representative system. There was cackling all over the hall; nobody agreed with me. Many of them said that they had never heard from their counterpart in the United States. Then I asked them if they had replied to the correspondence they did receive. I told them that my experience with Central and South American Masons proved to me that they were definitely mañana boys, that one is fortunate to get an answer to a communication in the same year. I challenged them to tell us more about themselves.

The more I talked to them the better acquainted we became, and the more convinced I became in my heart that we four from the United States were doing more at that Conference to break down barriers between our countries than our State Department has been able to do in the last five or six years.

In conclusion Brother Cunningham challenged his listeners, particularly the Grand Representatives:

If every one of our Grand Lodges in the United States and Canada had a Grand Representative for each of the 102 Grand Lodges on The M.S.A. Recognition Chart, and if each one of them would write two letters of greetings a year — multiply 102 by 49, then multiply that by the number of letters written by each Representative — you will have some idea of the tremendous opportunity we have to win friends and influence people and to disseminate information, not only about our Fraternity, but about our customs and ideals. We would definitely prove to other Grand Lodges in this hemisphere, in countries so vitally important to this nation, that we Americans are really interested in them, that we’re not just a group of people who come down and exploit, then leave. If we open the doors of our fraternal hearts, they will come in.

In the April 1918 The Builder there appeared a symposium of suggestions for improving relationships between United States grand lodges and those in Central and South America. A number of American Masonic leaders contributed answers to the question: “Shall each American Grand Lodge establish representatives at each Central and South American Grand Lodge as a means of promoting Pan-American harmony?”

Oliver Day Street of Alabama recommended wider recognition of and exchange of grand representatives with more Spanish-speaking grand lodges; but the significant revelation of the symposium is the comparatively greater ignorance and lack of understanding about our brethren to the south on the part of United States grand lodges forty-five years ago.

One of the outstanding achievements of American Freemasonry in the intervening years has been the creation by the Conference of Grand Masters of North America of a Commission on Information for Recognition. Since 1952 it has been helping all United States grand lodges to secure more accurate and more complete information about Central and South American grand lodges. It has undoubtedly increased knowledge about Masonic affairs in other countries and removed many barriers of misunderstanding which kept grand jurisdictions on this continent “at a perpetual distance”.

But even forty-five years ago one wise Freemason from Manitoba, Brother P. E. Kellett, lifted his eyes and saw the possibilities for universality in a system of active grand representatives. In the April 1918 The Builder he wrote:

More friendly relations should be established if possible, not only with South America but with Masonic Jurisdictions of the whole world. If we talk about universal Brotherhood, we should act it as well.

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  1. In 1963 except — in the United States — California, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.
  2. In 1879 the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia declared that a Grand Representative must be a member of the Grand Lodge to which he is accredited.

The Masonic Service Association of North America