The Magpie Mason penned a very thought provoking essay that mentioned the possible regionalization of Grand Lodges:
“The Grand Lodge of Vermont is comprised of maybe approximately 4,000 Masons now. I really think the second quarter of the twenty-first century will see the sunsetting of the smaller grand lodges. There always will be Freemasonry, but I bet Vermont will see lodges regroup into smaller federations or perhaps receive warrants from New York or Massachusetts. Or maybe Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont will consolidate.”
Over the past two years, we’ve talked a lot here on Emeth about the regionalization of Lodges. Lodges consolidating with each other, and of a need to regionalize our Temples, so that more than one Lodge can be counted upon to help maintain the physical structure.
But his point is important to Freemasonry’s future as well.
What about Grand Lodges? Should we consider regionalizing them? What would be the benefits and drawbacks of doing so? Will the march of time, and demographics give us any choice?
He also mentions a possibility instead of Lodges forming smaller federations. What would replacing the Grand Lodge system look like if that were done instead?
Surely Freemasonry survived long prior to the founding of the first Grand Lodge in 1717, so strictly speaking, Grand Lodges aren’t necessary, but are they needed? If they are, what should they look like in the future?
Let’s chat about it…
Well, here in Brazil we have both State Grand Lodges and a National Grand Orient [and also State Grand Orients, ending up with 55 different Masonic governing bodies, but I would need 2,000 words just to explain the diagrams, let alone the history behind that]. My own Lodge is part of the National Grand Orient, which has subsidiary bodies in every state, autonomous, but not sovereign.
You can look towards France or even the UK! The UGLE was once the Grand Lodge of London, until it unwarrantedly expended towards the North [this is a great topic covered on Gould's The Four Old Lodges, I strongly recommend it]. Eventually, they had the Ancient and the Modern Grand Lodges that were finally united as the UGLE, which governs Freemasonry all over the country [and outside it, since they have chartered Lodges in several other countries, something that does not seem to match the "one territory, one governing body" principle].
Polemics aside, it could feel like a blow to lose your own State Grand Lodge in favor of a regional or a national one, but it is actually the model adopted in several countries. We are all very hopeful here of a revival in Freemasonry, but that is always an option. I would add that, perhaps, with digital possibilities and the acceptance that the Lodge is not its building, it would be possible to keep Grand Lodges even with a small number of Masons in a territory.
Thank you for reading The Magpie Mason!
This wasn’t relevant to the blog post in question here, so let me say I believe the best government is local government. The prospect of multiple states’ grand lodges consolidating doesn’t appeal to me, but I figure it’s one contingency to manage the shrinking of the fraternity.
I consider the smaller, regional structure far more appealing. With modern information and communication technologies (to say nothing of what’s in our future), the need for a single Chief Operating Officer to manage affairs within a state’s borders probably will be seen as archaic by young men in the near future. And I imagine the ceremonial aspects of grand lodge will seem a little silly when the size of the membership doesn’t sustain it.
Smaller Freemasonry is inevitable. Even the attendees of last month’s Conference of Grand Masters realize it. What they won’t admit are the obvious benefits of reorganizing Masonic governance. Leaner, more focused, less expensive, and more accountable management will live on. The current model, which persists from the nineteenth century, is at its end.
So, let's make a list of the tangible benefits of a Grand Lodge system:
😁 What does your Grand Lodge actually provide?
A potential list of benefits include:
1. Standardized work
2. Code or Constitution
3. Code enforcement
4. Core educational systems
5. Availability of generalized and specialized knowledge
6. Historic records
7. Focused and supported philanthropy
8. Leadership example
Some do provide these, does yours provide these or more?
I would also be leery of consolidations of GLs, as that might inevitably result in one GL for everything, and I don't like that idea at all. I enjoy the fact that there isn't a "mothership" for everything and that jurisdictions are mostly the same, but not completely the same.
Slightly off topic, but it still shocks me how much money it costs to run grand lodge here in washington.
I've been thinking about this quite a lot over the past couple of days.
Honestly, I don't have an answer. But I do have a number of things that I've been contemplating. Perhaps sharing them here will be of benefit.
I wouldn't be a fan of consolidating Grand Lodges. I think that by doing so we would reap no improvements for Masonry, and all the problems would remain. It would, in my view, be the exact same situation, with simply a new name.
Regional federations of Lodges, could I think be an effective model, given today's communications infrastructure. Long ago, for purposes of Regularity and other reasons, it was important that communications flow through Grand Lodges for travel arrangements and the like. Under currently accepted Masonic practices, communications are still properly done using that method. But it doesn't have to be that way. A new model could emerge. And certainly Brothers have information available to check things like Regularity themselves now that they didn't have in previous generations. Assuming of course that the travel doesn't get too exotic.
But, I would like to offer a third option...
Going back to 1717.
As I understand it, the first Grand Lodge was founded in 1717 with two very simple goals:
1. To elect a Grand Master. To serve I suppose as a figure head to those outside of the Craft, and a role model to those within it.
2. Organize two feasts per year on the Sts. Johns Days.
But within six or seven years, something completely different emerged. A Grand Lodge that was Masonic government, holding Executive, Legislative, and Judicial powers came about. That remains, of course, the situation today.
But what about it? What about moving Grand Lodges to more simple goals? As was the initial intent? That is, I think, an option.
But there are two huge caveats to that in my mind...
I look at the Scottish Rite. Doing great work here in Washington, and thriving. With paid professional staff backing it up. Then I look at the York Rite here in Washington. No professional staff. Damn near dead. I think that if we look at governance structures, we must at least look to these two groups as examples to see if there are lessons that can be learned.
I also look to what I know about the day to day operations of our Grand Lodge office, and wonder if our Brothers could tolerate a Grand Lodge that was reduced in scope.
I'm going to be really honest here and say that when I was Master of my Lodge, I never called the Grand Lodge Office. When I was Secretary of my Lodge I might have called once a year. I am a beg for forgiveness after the fact kind of guy, not an ask for permission first kind of guy. I could have functioned quite well as a Lodge leader without having someone answer the phone up in University Place.
But... I am aware that there are Lodge leaders who call the Grand Lodge office every single week with questions. I believe that there are some who call almost every day. I've got to be really frank here and say that if Brothers expect that kind of service, if they expect to be able to call the office every week to get questions answered, then they must realize that there are costs, very significant costs, to being able to provide the level of staffing that requires.
I've often said to our Assistant Grand Secretary that if we were smart we would move to a user fee system. Every Lodge gets one call per month to the Grand Lodge, no charge. Anything above that, they have got to pay for the time their inquiry requires. He thinks I'm teasing. I'm really not. If we want to save money at Grand Lodge, then we must lessen the demand we put on Grand Lodge. To not consider the demand side is a refusal to look at the complete issue.
These have been my sort of random and rambling thoughts about all of this over the past couple of days.
My first thought is that Grand Lodges began with far fewer Masons than any current numbers. In fact, many started with fewer Masons in their respective states than are on the rolls for individual larger Lodges.
Masonry is ultimately personal and local, and having sovereign jurisdictions in smaller regions means freedom and autonomy, not just regularity and recognition.