Vol. XLIV No. 5 — May 1966

Lodge Organization

Myron K. Lingle, GM

This Short Talk is a condensation of the keynote address at the Conference of Grand Masters in Washington, D.C., February 23, 1966, delivered by M.W. Brother Myron K. Lingle, grand master of Masons in Illinois, who has graciously given permission to The Masonic Service Association to reprint this practical message "for the good of the Order."

⁎  ⁎  ⁎

Have we any effective plan or program that will enlist and utilize leadership and set the Craft to work? Now, let this be our keynote: WE CAN FIND THE ANSWERS.

We can clear our trestleboard of conflicting designs by dismissing any notion that we plan to improve Freemasonry or to improve the public image of Freemasonry with publicity or public display. Every plan that we devise will always be within the framework of the landmarks of traditional Freemasonry.

We are urged to modernize our standard work and couch our ritual in modern English. We are told that Masonic rituals should probe the delicate balance between public policies that conflict. Masonic lodges would become forums for discussion of controversial public issues and these meetings would be open to families, friends and guests! If we would temper the landmarks of Freemasonry, we are assured, the lodges would again play an active role as they did in colonial days.

Men hear words without grasping their meaning, and changing the words will not assure comprehension. The vast majority of Masons in America have an aversion to contemplation. A Mason’s political and religious notions will depend upon his power of understanding, the environment in which he was raised, and his emotional makeup. Masonry cannot adapt the average man to think objectively on controversial issues of the day. As were our brethren of old, we “are resolved against all politics as what never yet conduced to the welfare of the lodge, nor ever will!” Ritual tinkering is not the answer.

Then there are the image-makers who want to draw designs on the trestleboard. Invariably, they want to impress the brethren and the public with activities outside of the Masonic lodge: Publicize the goodness of Masonry in the press and other media of communication — organize big public displays and parades and banquets — subsidize organizations that attach themselves to Masonic lodges for identity and support — provide scholarship funds, subsidize community projects, and raise money for civic facilities. The purpose of these extraneous activities is to create public goodwill toward Freemasonry, to bolster the loyalty of Masons to the Fraternity, and to induce good men to seek admission into the brotherhood. The motives are commendable, but the image-makers become so engrossed with the creation of the image that they seldom concern themselves with the day-by-day workings of the Masonic lodge.

An image is not what a thing really is but what a man thinks it is. What benefit is it to Freemasonry to create an image of a Masonic lodge that replaces reality, only to disillusion a candidate when he is brought to light? He finds that Masonry is not spectacular, is not a club, and is not a do-gooder’s society. On the contrary, he finds that a Masonic lodge is a sanctuary of individuals, a school of morality. Too often he finds that the lodge is an ineffective school without teachers — a shell of what it ought to be. Image-making is not the answer.

We have been looking for short cuts but there are no short cuts. Entertainments and advertising and stunts and big blowouts will not induce men to participate in the teachings and practical workings of the Masonic lodge. Even this observation has no substance when we have no activities in which they can participate. Merely appointing brethren to a multitude of inactive committees is meaningless: the average brother cannot remember the next week the committee to which he has been assigned. Many lodges have become little oligarchies of officers surrounded by a few brethren who have nothing else to do but attend lodge. Nothing short of a change in the organization and programs of the lodges is the answer to this problem of leadership and membership participation.

Before we draw designs on the trestleboard and analyze our plan of action, we shall strengthen our position by reviewing the observations of our brethren with which we all agree. Three familiar sayings will suffice:

  1. There is nothing wrong with Freemasonry that good leadership will not correct.
  2. A working Mason is an interested Mason.
  3. A well-informed Mason is a better Mason.

These aphorisms have not been fruitful because they have expressed little more than wistful thinking: IF good leadership were in command — IF the brethren were given something to do — IF Masons understood the principles and purposes of the Fraternity. . . .

We have been posing questions — we have been answering with hypothetical “ifs.” Now, the trestleboard must set forth the lodge organization and program that will elicit good leadership, teach the brethren, preserve loyalty, and set the Craft to work. The lodge Organization chart that follows is designed for this purpose.


(Minimum 20 men)

ELECTIVE OFFICERS: WM, SW, JW, treas., sec’y. (executive committee). Wardens served a year or more on standing committees. Two members of standing committees candidates for wardens.

Three STANDING COMMITTEES, including the appointive officers: As many as three past masters may be on a committee.

RITUAL COMMITTEE: stewards, marshal, deacons.

EDUCATION COMMITTEE: Chaplain and four brethren. Chaplain not necessarily the chairman. Personnel: Clergy, public relations men, educators, journalists, etc. Study and appraise programs for Masonic knowledge.

  1. Masonic information — books and information
    • For wardens and committeemen
    • Masonic talks in stated meetings
  2. Intender program (similar to mentor system)
    • Suggest intenders and train them
    • Act as intenders when necessary
  3. Table lodge (periodic) Six 6-minute talks.
    • Festive Board with “Capsules of Knowledge”
  4. Social-education events (occasional)
    • Educate while entertaining

MEMBERSHIP COMMITTEE: Tiler and four brethren. Tiler not necessarily the chairman. Personnel: Community leaders, personnel men, etc.

  1. Member development and assignment
    • Urge community leaders to take active part
    • Suggest appointments to committees
  2. Candidate investigating committees
    • Suggest appointments, instruct committeemen
    • Serve when advisable
  3. Membership conservation
    • Oversee collection of back dues
    • Revive interest of applicants for demits
    • Restore suspended members (N.P.D.)
    • Reactivate bogged-down Entered Apprentices.
  4. Hospitality
    • At lodge meetings
    • Invite affiliation of sojourning Masons
    • Visit the sick

The outline is self-explanatory to Grand Lodge officers who have a grasp of the whole problem. The lodge organization is based on the premise that lodge by-laws will provide for three standing committees: Ritual, Education, and Membership. The ritual committeemen are the stewards, the deacons, and the marshal; the education and membership committees may consist of 5, 9; 13; 17; or 21 brethren, depending on the number serving on the subcommittees.

Who shall serve on the Education committee and the Membership committee? Consider first that if the master and wardens are going to lift a Masonic lodge out of the doldrums, they must reach up for the services of men who are better administrators than they, men who have the reputation for getting things done. We have depended on ritualists for “lodge housekeeping,” and as a consequence, the functions that prosper a lodge are being neglected.

These committees can produce the leadership that a lodge must have to hold its own in this competitive world. Busy men will serve on productive committees, even though they have neither the time nor inclination to recite ritual. Many leaders of the community are Masons who would be glad to do something for Freemasonry, but no one has asked them. When the master and wardens and secretary go to such a Mason and say, “Masonry needs you and your leadership in this community,” and outline the well-designed organization and program of the lodge for him to see and appreciate, he will believe that his contribution of time and talent can be productive.

After a man has accepted the chairmanship of a committee that is expected to work and produce results, he usually appreciates the privilege of suggesting other members for his committee. This is an advantage to the master and wardens for the satisfying reason that they now have a brother who will use his persuasive powers to encourage other responsible men to join him in the task at hand. The worshipful master has set the Craft to work.

Having enfolded men with executive ability into their leadership, the masters and wardens have demonstrated their effectiveness as lodge officers. Successful administrators in any organization utilize the peculiar skills of other men that they themselves do not possess. The lodge officers (sometimes district masters or inspectors) must go out into the community and sell the chairmanships of these committees to men who are known in the community, to men who command the respect of responsible citizens.

The Ritual committee is composed of five floor officers: deacons, stewards, and the marshal or chaplain. The worshipful master should appoint for these offices and this committee, brethren who are best qualified as teachers of the standard work and ceremonies. Three of them may be past masters and preferably certified proficiency men — two of them should be under intensive training. These five committeemen should maintain a perpetual list of workers, with a brother and an alternate slated for each part in each degree. I counted 52 parts in the three degrees and it follows that the plan would elicit 104 workers. The committee, with the help of the member development and assignment subcommittee, should go out into the Masonic community and persuade busy men to learn one part in a single degree, spoken or unspoken. The committee would teach the work to the brethren, notify them in ample time when they will perform, and see that the two brethren are rotated in each part. Even at stated meetings, the chairs of all the floor officers should be occupied by brethren who are not officers. The object is to find as many places as possible in which the brethren can participate. When the committee finds it necessary for a member of the committee to take an officer’s part, then it is evident that brethren have not been recruited and trained for each part.

The candidate is the most important person in the degree and the ritual committee should not permit anyone on the slate who cannot do a creditable piece of work. But a brother can perform impressively in a single part without the knowledge of any other part. And he can say to himself and others, “Yes, I work in our Masonic lodge." Surely, the Scottish Rite has demonstrated the effectiveness of recruiting and nurturing degree workers without any contemplation of official capacity.

The floor officers who compose the ritual committee may be rotated each year from office to office, ascending or descending, but they do not become candidates for stations on the daises by right of seniority.

These officers are teachers and not necessarily administrators. Ritualistic ability is a special qualification and the reward for proficiency should come from the grand lodge with a program of certifications.

Executive ability is a special qualification and does not necessarily include ritualistic talents. The Scottish Rite has differentiated its members successfully as administrators and ritualists, and we have every reason to believe that such a division is the basic solution to the lodge problem.

Many Masonic lodges are "withering on the line.” Automatic ladder promotion has declined into a system of mediocrity. Incoming masters usually appoint brethren to minor offices who have cultural and vocational backgrounds comparable to their own. Many of these appointees do just as little as they can and finally become masters whether or not they can contribute education, influence or leadership. And the members of the lodges are discouraged from electing the officers by choice because advancement is foreordained. "Passing through the chairs” should be abandoned.

The worshipful master and the wardens (with the treasurer and secretary) are the executive officers of the lodge. They will oversee the overall program and will be concerned with the physical facilities, the financial problems, and Masonic charity. These officers do not need to learn any ritual other than to open and close lodge. In Illinois, we have an officer’s manual in which this ritual is written in full. It can be memorized by an intelligent man in a few hours. A good administrator will exact effective work, and he will acquire proficient workers even if he has to import them.

Men of ability will be willing to serve their lodge if the tenure is limited to a couple or three years. Junior chambers of commerce, service clubs, churches, and community services are able to acquire leadership for the very reason that busy men appreciate the diversity of service in these activities and can move on to something else after a reasonable time. Now there must be some means of indoctrinating potential administrators of the lodge and this is accomplished through service on one of the three standing committees. The procedure for the selection of candidates for warden is the crux of this lodge organization plan.

Assume that the incumbent junior warden is a product of the Membership committee. Then the ritual committee and the education committee, respectively, will suggest a candidate from its own committee. Suppose that the candidate suggested by the Ritual committee is elected; the next year the education committee and the Membership committee, respectively, will suggest candidates. With this procedure, either of the three standing committees can produce a warden every two years — or none at all. But it would be possible for each of the three committees to have its candidates chosen each three years. So a ritualist may become worshipful master and a non-ritualist has the same potential. This is the merit of the system.

For the office of worshipful master, the senior warden and the junior warden may be considered. Such a plan would give the wardens a chance to demonstrate their abilities and the members of the lodge can choose a master who has shown the desirable qualities of leadership. This is a proper time to consider the possibility of the master serving the lodge for two years while the wardens serve for one year. Under this plan, the wardens and all past wardens (not past masters) would be candidates for worshipful master and would be elected in a process of elimination and run-off.

This is neither the time nor the place to outline in detail the workings of this proposed lodge organization; we have designed the framework on which the working program can be activated. But without action the design is worthless and we have accomplished nothing. Brother Walter H. Schroeder, a past master of Oregon, brings us up short with this admonition:

If you don’t have leadership, you can appoint committees and draw organization charts and make speeches about cooperation until you’re blue in the face, but nothing happens. Leadership is a personal thing inevitably focused in one man.

Action must come from the top. When a grand master has surrounded himself with committeemen and area representatives who can operate under their own power, and has convinced them of the workability of such a lodge organization, they can set the program in motion.

We are not contending here that every lodge should change its organizational structure and program. The lodge is prospering? Let no man disturb it. So let the grand master’s Deputies analyze each lodge under their surveillance.

What will be the most obvious indication that a lodge needs to improve its organization and leadership? First, past masters serving as dais officers is ample proof that the “ladder of promotion” has collapsed, and that the time has come to reach out into the Masonic community for a man of stature to serve as warden. Second, unqualified floor officers are another indication of weakness and they should be replaced with skilled ritualists and the ladder of promotion discarded. Third, no plan to throttle the suspensions and demits that are draining the membership is a sign of weakness in management. Fourth, searching for projects and activities outside of the lodge is often an indication of neglect of the internal affairs of the lodge.

In a community where the Masonic lodge is suffering from lack of leadership, the deputy can find the most influential man in the community who is a Mason. The community leader has probably never been active in the lodge. The deputy can present the problem to him, convince him of the workability of the lodge organization plan and program, and solicit his leadership for Freemasonry in the community. Such a leader can organize a group of Masons who will get things done, and in cooperation with the past masters of the lodge, revive the lodge with the organization and plan of procedure we have outlined.

The lodge will then draw forth good leadership, the candidates and brethren will be taught, the ratio of drop-outs and bogged-down candidates will be abated, loyalty will be preserved, Masonic charity will be practiced, and the Craft will be set to work.

The Masonic Service Association of North America