"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Friday, March 05, 2021

New Book: Almanac of American Freemasonry 1730-1774

by Christopher Hodapp

A fascinating new book has just been released that will be an invaluable tool for historians researching the pre-Revolutionary War days of Freemasonry in America. The Almanac of American Freemasonry 1730-1744 ($24.99 Lulu Press) was co-written by Mark Tabbert (Director of Collections at the George Washington National Masonic Memorial) and the late John 'Bo' Cline (Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Alaska, and Past President of the Masonic Society). The Foreword was penned by Shawn E. Eyer, editor of the Philalethes magazine.

The Almanac contains the listings and activities of every known Masonic Lodge in North America between 1730 and 1774:
  • Part One — Chronology of Masonic Events (1730 — 1774) 
  • Part Two — Chronology of Lodges by Colony and Location 
  • Part Three — Lodges in North America by Chartering Source 
  • Part Four — Lodges in North America by Colony 
  • Appendices: 
    • 1. British Military and Colonial Militia Lodges in North America 
    • 2. Lodges in Canada 
    • 3. Caribbean Lodges 
    • 4. Biographies of American Provincial Grand Masters 
    • 5. Famous American Freemasons 
  • Bibliography 
  • Alphabetical Listing of Lodges (1730-1774)
According to Mark, proceeds of the book will pay for new editions and the publication of Volume 2, covering 1775-1799, which is already 50% completed. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Mille Regretez

by Christopher Hodapp

Deepest apologies for no updated stories here for the last couple of weeks. Alice and I are in the final deadline week for our new book project. 

Folks have asked what we're working on, and since Wiley has now put up the pre-sale listing on Amazon, there's no point being coy about it anymore. RVs and Campers For Dummies is due to be officially released on June 24th, 2021.

The Wiley Publishing folks operate a well-oiled machine, and they have a definitive working methodology from which we cannot deviate. So we're burrowed in, wrapping up the manuscript and photo submissions. What that means in practical terms is wake up, type, forage for food, type, pass out, wake up, type, pass out, rinse, repeat. Phone calls and emails go unanswered, and if we could teach the poodle to use the can opener, we'd have her cook something. 

Once we've sent off the last of it, we get three weeks of 'author review,' which means the editors pore over the manuscript, make corrections, edits, and suggestions, rearrange paragraphs and whole chapters, put it back together again before the art and production teams do their stuff. And then we get to crawl outside, and if we see our shadows, we know there are six more weeks before publication.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

GL New York's Jurisprudence Committee Weighs In

by Christopher Hodapp

The Grand Lodge of New York's Jurisprudence Committee has weighed in on the permissibility of Grand Master William Sardone's rescheduling of their annual meeting for 2021 due to statewide pandemic restrictions on large group meetings. 

Click the image above to enlarge.

Because the state of New York is permitting only small groups to assemble at this time, GM Sardone's announcement over the weekend detailed a plan to open their Annual Communication on May 3rd and officially receive all committee reports without action. The GM will then call the meeting from labor to refreshment until the state permits larger group meetings, hopefully later in the year. Whenever that occurs, the meeting will then be called up from refreshment back to labor for votes to approve reports and elect officers. Jurisprudence approves of his decision.

This is not dissimilar to the way many jurisdictions permit lodges to open a Lodge of Sorrow at the beginning of each year for the purpose of conducting funeral services for fallen Masons. A Lodge of Sorrow is opened and called to refreshment, and remains in that suspended circumstance for the entire year, instead of requiring a lodge to meet, open, go to a funeral home, conduct a service, go back to the lodge, and close. Then the minutes of that Lodge of Sorrow at the end of the year list all of the deceased brethren who passed away while it remained open.

Their committee did address the constitutionality of electronic Zoom-style technology being used for a tyled grand lodge session:
"There is much interest in implementing teleconferencing technology for our Annual Communication. The Jurisprudence Committee supports the adoption of such technology recognizing that this kind of application is a particularly useful tool. However, there is no provision in the current Constitutions permitting its use in a Tiled Grand Lodge Annual Communication. The Grand Master has charged Right Worshipful Richard J. Kessler, Deputy grand Master, to come up with proposed changes to amend the Constitutions permitting its use in emergency situations."

For lots of Masons, this is all sort of like watching sausage being made. But it comes on the heels of the situation in South Carolina over virtual meetings, as well as being an example for other grand lodges as 2021 unfolds with continuing pandemic restrictions imposed by state and local governments.


Sunday, February 07, 2021

New York's GM Responds To Open Letter About Annual Meeting

by Christopher Hodapp

New York Grand Master William Sardone has issued a lengthy response to an open letter posted last week by Grand Treasurer, Steven Adam Rubin. It is posted in its entirety (click images to enlarge):

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Virtual Meetings: Open Letter To New York GM Circulated

by Christopher Hodapp

Grand lodges all across the country – and around the world – have struggled over the last 10 months with the problem of how to hold their constitutionally-required annual meetings and grand officer elections. Because of the COVID pandemic shutdowns and the fears of spreading the virus throughout Masonry's population of older at-risk members, the tradition of normally advancing officers at annual meetings has been short circuited. Some jurisdictions have held online Zoom annual meetings (and even elections), some have reduced their in-person annual meeting to a simple quorum to transact their basic business and elections. But the majority have agreed to keep their grand officers in their places for an additional year in the hope that 2021 will be back to normal.

These are not easy decisions. Men who dedicate between five and ten years to slowly advance through their state's grand lodge officers' line set aside an enormous part of their personal lives and finances as they approach the Grand East. In a very large jurisdiction with hundreds of lodges, grand masters can spend the bulk of their year on the road visiting lodges, rededicating temples, presiding over numerous committee, foundation and trustee meetings, speaking at appendant body gatherings, along with out of state travel to national appendent body meetings, the Conference of Grand Masters, plus neighboring grand lodge meetings and events representing your state. It's common for a grand master to be on the road six and seven days a week. And very few jurisdictions pay their grand master any sort of stipend for giving up their family and business life for a year. Not every grand master is a retiree, and planning for that kind of deep commitment to the fraternity for a man who continues to work for a living is something few of us could be reasonably expected to do.

When 2020 – and now 2021 – ground our fraternity to a halt, it also yanked the foundation stones out from under the men in grand lodge lines who all had plans and hopes and goals to achieve in their year as grand master. Worse, it also threw a spanner in the works for the next men in line who were making their own future financial, domestic or retirement plans based on the serving their year in the Grand East. 

In my own jurisdiction, our sitting Grand Master was elected in May 2019 and slated to be succeeded by his Deputy Grand Master last May. When our annual communication was delayed and rescheduled twice, it was clear there could be no meeting or election for 2020. I was actually present when our GL officers calmly talked about the best way to address this once in a lifetime situation. The decision was arrived at by mutual agreement that our current GM would remain for another year until May 2021, and all officers and committees would stay in place until then. But it seems that other jurisdictions have not been as harmonious in coming to their own decisions about officer advancement.

New York Grand Master William Sardone

The Grand Lodge of New York has apparently had some internal struggles and disagreements about how to deal with this problem. New York is one of the largest jurisdictions in the country, and their grand masters are normally elected for two year terms. Last May's annual meeting was cancelled due to COVID. But a few weeks ago, Grand Master William M. Sardone announced that the May 2021 meeting (and its elections) would also be cancelled, and all officers would stay in place. Despite the fact that committees had been working on plans for a virtual, online annual meeting, GM Sardone apparently scuttled that idea.

New York Grand Treasurer Steven Adam Rubin

In response, the following open letter was briefly posted a week ago on the Grand Lodge Facebook page, written by their Grand Treasurer, Steven Adam Rubin. 

An Open Letter to our Grand Master
January 29, 2021

Dear Grand Master:

I know I speak for all of our brothers, that we are glad that you continue to recover from Covid and we pray for your continued good health. Yet, I listened with concern to your Thursday Night Zoom Meeting in which you announced that the Grand Lodge Session would not be held this May 2021 as is required by our Constitutions, foreshadowing the likelihood that we will not hold Grand Lodge for an extraordinary, two years. During the twelve years I served as one of our Grand Lodge’s two legal advisers, Proctor and Judge Advocate, I provided six (6) Grand Masters quiet counsel. Your pronouncement Thursday evening, without first seeking the input of any of your elected Officers, and seemingly disregarding the advice of your own Judge Advocate who has approved the Constitutionality of a Virtual Grand Lodge Session, has caused me to send you this Open Letter. I do so with respect for your Office and love for our Craft.

Grand Master, our Constitutions must be obeyed. Period. End of Discussion. It is a legal document that establishes guidelines that must be honored with the strictest of obedience. It is a mandate, not a suggestion. That is your duty as Grand Master. That is our duty as Master Masons. Indeed, that was your oath and obligation you swore to uphold when you placed your hands on the George Washington Bible and took your Oath of Office. The path you have started down is a dangerous one, for no one, not even a Grand Master is above the law.

Last year you unilaterally chose to “adjourn” Grand Lodge, arguing that you would employ a technique used in 1945 by a then Grand Master who was unable to hold a Grand Lodge Session because of war-time restrictions. Even though it was clear that you sought little, if any, exploration of technical options to conduct a remote, or Virtual Grand Lodge Session in May 2020, we never questioned your decision. Even when you chose not to “adjourn” Grand Lodge as you said you would, but ultimately canceled the 2020 Session, no one argued. For we recognized that these have been extraordinary times, and your brothers were not going to fault you for failing to ensure that a proper plan was implemented during the early days of the pandemic.

Yet, it was at that time, nearly one year ago that I, and others, urged you to marshal our forces, our Grand Lodge Committees and any brother with the requisite skill set who could provide clear guidance regarding the options and alternatives available to ensure that our Constitutional mandate--to hold a Grand Lodge Session-- would be met. What was done during these many months? What committees were charged with this mission? What were their findings? What were their conclusions? I certainly don’t know, and from what I have gathered, not many do. Instead, you have thrown around figures and conclusions and anecdotal evidence unsupported by documentary evidence, and ask us to disregard our Constitutions based upon hollow arguments.

Moreover, to give the impression to the Brethren that you are in constant communication with the Deputy Grand Master, for this and all matters, I seriously question, as a rumor has circulated that our Deputy Grand Master was not even informed that you were admitted to the hospital for four (4) days with Covid and pneumonia and that he only found out via the general email that was sent to all members following your release from the hospital. I don’t know if this is accurate, but if it is, it is certainly not the manner our brethren expect that our Grand Lodge operates when our Grand Master is hospitalized with such a serious condition.

Sadly, it would not surprise me if true, as you chose to keep the elected Grand Line out of your decision making process concerning the 2021 Grand Lodge Session. Indeed, when rumors began to circulate that you had disbanded the Deputy Grand Master’s IT team working on implementing plans for our May 2021 Grand Lodge Session, I thereafter sent you an email on November 10, 2020, copying our elected Grand Line Officers. In the email I urged you to include your elected Grand Line in the decision making process, so that we could assist you in this most important undertaking. Yet, you chose to ignore my email, not even offering the courtesy of a reply. So when you now ask that brothers only email you, I am sure you can understand my bemusement, and the smile that crossed my face, for that certainly did not work with my entreaty. Moreover, your suggestion that our brothers shouldn’t use social media to communicate with each other and express their views concerning your momentous decision, is most curious, as the request is coming from a Grand Master who disseminates nearly all of his messages to the Brethren via Facetime movies. Indeed, attempting to limit brothers’ First Amendment Rights and inhibit open and honest dialogue is the formula for tyranny. I am not suggesting that is what you seek, but actions do have consequences.

But I digress, for it was over two months later, following my November email--two days ago-- when you called a virtual meeting of the elected Grand Line, the day before you made your January 28, 2021 virtual announcement to the Craft. It was not input, advice, discussion or counsel you sought from the elected Grand Line Officers, but acquiescence. Grand Master, I have had conversations with your own Judge Advocate who has indicated that there is no Constitutional impediment or prohibition to a Virtual Grand Lodge Session. As the immediate Past Judge Advocate, I agree. If you are asking for Legal Authority, there you go. While you have failed to provide the names of the Past Grand Masters who you purport support your plan, in many respects it is irrelevant. For I love and respect all of our Past Grand Masters, but to suggest that they, and they alone, have the authority to determine the Constitutionality of your conduct, or permit you to follow some outdated and outmoded scheme employed some seventy-six (76) years ago, is simply not accurate--Factually, Legally and Masonically. As such, by not holding a Grand Lodge Session, either Virtually, In-Person or a combination of the two, you are violating our Constitutions. It is that simple.

Moreover, claiming that you are doing so to protect the vote of all of our members sounds rather hollow when I never once heard anyone's concern for the numerous Lodges that are disenfranchised each year because they can’t afford the travel costs to New York City. You suggested in your Zoom meeting that another reason not to have a Virtual Grand Lodge Session is because not everyone has a computer. Should any brother with a right to attend our Virtual Grand Lodge Session indicate that they do not have a computer to login, I am certain suitable accommodations would be made. The cynical suggestion that brothers would not assist their brothers, is simply not the Masonry I know and love.

To further suggest that the cost is prohibitive to permit a Virtual Grand Lodge Session flies in the face of the countless Grand Lodges and Concordant Bodies that have held Virtual Grand Sessions. Moreover, what was the Grand Lodge budget for foreign travel during your first two years? How many tens of thousand of dollars were spent? I seem to recall one first-class plane ticket to Scotland for nearly $10,000.00. Nor have I heard that Grand Lodge has waived Lodges’ per capita requirements. To suggest that the Grand Lodge of the State of New York can’t afford a Virtual Grand Lodge Session, or some hybrid, is hogwash. Indeed, as Judge Advocate, the Masonic Legal Adviser, of the Grand Chapter, Royal Arch Masons of the State of New York, I am aware of their plans for a Virtual Grand Chapter Session. With many of the same Constitutional requirements as our Grand Lodge’s, the cost I am informed, will be well below $10,000.00.

To further argue that it is not feasible to hold a Virtual Grand Lodge Session, or some hybrid option, because of technical concerns, also proves specious. Indeed, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and its Commandery, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, the Grand Lodge of Maine, the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, the Grand Lodge of New Mexico and its York Rite Bodies, the Grand Lodge of South Dakota, the Grand Lodge of Michigan, the Grand Lodge of North Carolina, the Grand Lodge of Illinois and the Grand Lodge of Colorado, are just a small sampling of the many Grand Jurisdictions that have held either Virtual, In-Person, or hybrid Grand Sessions this past year. I am further aware that General Grand Chapter International Royal Arch Masons, General Grand Council International (Cryptic Masons), and other International Masonic Bodies have all held Virtual Sessions. In fact , I am informed that some of those bodies handled approximately 600-700 Virtual Participants, some even logging in worldwide! Were there hiccups? Probably, but those Bodies should be applauded for their efforts. Will there be technical issues at our Virtual Grand Lodge Session? Probably, but what a small price to pay to fulfill our Constitutional obligation--or at least to try!

The point is, so many Grand Lodges and Concordant Bodies from around the country, and the world, have seen fit to get it done. Found the will. Found the path forward to hold their Grand Jurisdiction’s Grand Session and fulfill their Constitutional obligations. Indeed, as I am sure you know, even the Conference of Grand Masters and Conference of Grand Secretaries are being conducted remotely this year. Yet, the Grand Lodge of the State of New York can’t? To not try, to simply cancel a Constitutionally mandated Grand Lodge Session because of some anecdotal evidence, exaggerated concern, or fear of the natural limitations in whatever option is chosen, is simply a dereliction of our duty. Indeed, how can our Grand Body operate for yet another year without passing a budget? How can you justify not attempting to find some solution that would ensure the thoughtful exercise of our membership’s rights to elect its Leadership, including the Trustees of the Masonic Hall and Home, the Masonic Medical Research Institute, the Chancellor Robert R Livingston Library and the Masonic War Veterans. Your decision, not only disenfranchises our membership, but has serious implications for the lawful governance of our Institution.
What is most troubling about your pronouncement Grand Master, is that it has been said by some, that long ago you were made aware that our Grand Lodge does have the ability to hold secure and credentialed elections for all voting members; that long ago you were made aware that our Grand Lodge does have the technology and tools to hold a 100% Virtual Grand Lodge Session using industry standard video conferencing services at a minimal cost; that long ago you were made aware that our Grand Lodge does have the ability to use Groupable to ensure that only those brothers legally permitted to attend this Virtual Session are in attendance.

Some have further suggested that you were provided multiple plans that would ensure a Constitutionally viable Virtual Grand Lodge Session while keeping Brothers socially distant and safe; and that you were further informed that a Virtual Grand Lodge Session could ensure that a proper and legal election could be held, even providing for brothers being nominated “from the floor”. In other words, conducting the business of Grand Lodge virtually and securely. Is this correct? Were you provided this information and refused to act? Did you disband the Deputy Grand Master’s IT Team? Why have we not heard from these brothers, or those you indicate “advised” you regarding the options that you now claim are not feasible? Why is it that after so many months, you have for the first time merely provided anecdotal evidence with nothing substantive or concrete to support your extraordinary position, disenfranchising an entire Grand Lodge in the process? No brother prefers a Virtual Lodge meeting or Virtual Grand Lodge Session, to in-person. That will come, God willing soon. Until then, if a Virtual Grand Lodge Session, or some hybrid, is the only realistic option available, then that is what we must do to ensure that the business of Masonry and the business of our Grand Lodge is conducted and that we are satisfying our Constitutional duty. When you suggest that our brothers would prefer to not hold our Constitutionally mandated Grand Lodge Session because of an intolerance to potential technical difficulties that may occur during a Virtual Session, you underestimate our brothers and do a disservice to their integrity.

Grand Master, some have suggested that this is nothing short of a power grab, a Grand Master unwilling to give up power. I do not suggest that this is your motivation. I would like to think that your ill conceived decision emanates from a lack of information, or proper advice, rather than some nefarious, self-indulgent, motivation. Should you wish to serve a fourth year, however, while repugnant to the Spirit of our Constitutions as we have relied upon the good will of brothers for nearly a century to voluntarily step down after two years of service, as there are no “official” term limits, you could in theory run. Not holding a Grand Lodge Session, thereby extending your term of Office beyond that which is permitted under our Constitutions and then holding a future Grand Lodge Session only when you deem acceptable, is simply not an option. I hope you will agree, we do not have Kings in Masonry, we have Brothers.

I urge you to reconsider this destructive path you have started down. I urge you to reconsider your decision, authorize a Virtual Grand Lodge Session, or some suitable and acceptable alternative, for history will be our judge.

Fraternally and Respectfully Submitted,
RW Steven Adam Rubin
Grand Treasurer
Grand Lodge of the State of New York

Friday, February 05, 2021

UPDATED: Irony At Its Most Ironic-est

by Christopher Hodapp

NOTE: This story has been updated.

Like so many other groups all over the world, the annual Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America has been forced to drop its in-person meeting this year because of the COVID pandemic. I'm sure the brethren in Seattle, Washington who had been preparing to host this event for several years are greatly disappointed. But the event will go on. 

This year's COGMMNA will be an online event. So is the concurrent Conference of Grand Secretaries.

A video conference.

Live streamed. 

Over the Internet.

I just looked at the list of officers for this year's Conference. When what to my wondering eyes did appear, but the name of the Vice-Chairman (the second in command). 

None other than South Carolina Grand Master Walter C. Disher II.

Would it be unnecessarily churlish to ask if he's not going to participate in the conference, since it violates his own edict against electronic Masonic gatherings for which a PGM was just expelled? Or might he consider expelling himself?

It's a conundrum.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

South Carolina PGM Mike Smith Expelled Over Zoom Meeting

South Carolina Past Grand Master Michael D. Smith

by Christopher Hodapp

UPDATE: This article was been updated on 2/5/2021 at 6:00PM to correct information about the number of Zoom gatherings held online by Mike Smith. The original post incorrectly stated that one meeting was held. 

A story from the Grand Lodge of South Carolina has been brewing for several months under the wire, but details are starting to come to light. According to several sources, South Carolina Past Grand Master Michael D. Smith has been expelled from the fraternity following a Grand Lodge trial commission on January 30th.

PGM Smith served as Grand Master in 2017-19 (South Carolina's GMs serve two year terms.) Prior to his expulsion, he was serving as Lieutenant Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction (second in command only to the Grand Commander), as well as SGIG for the Orient of South Carolina. Mike Smith is widely admired and well-liked, not only in his home state, but throughout the wider Masonic community, and his expulsion comes as a shock to many Masons. He has been a Freemason since 1980.

PGM Smith's bio page is still available for the time being on the GL of SC website HERE. His many accomplishments and offices held are impressive.

Mike Smith's expulsion is rooted in a violation of edicts issued last year during the COVID pandemic by current Grand Master Walter C.(Cal) Disher II. On May 29, 2020, GM Disher ordered that all Masonic meetings in South Carolina to be suspended "until further notice."

"As a reminder, no Lodge Hall is to be used during this time period," the notice read.  "I have stopped several Lodge functions that Lodge members organized either through ZOOM Media, phone, or other venues. Brethren, as a reminder, it is a grave Masonic Offense, to conduct any irregular meeting or business during this time."

A written notice was sent to lodges in June reiterating his edict forbidding all Masonic meetings, in person or via electronic means. While the Grand Lodge office may be communicating with lodges and members via their private Grandview system, neither their public web page nor their Facebook account have been updated since last summer. Lodges remained completely closed until December when new guidelines were finally issued for limited in-person lodge meetings, under heavy restrictions. But South Carolina brethren are still forbidden to engage in any sort of virtual meeting of any kind as Masons, even if ritual is not involved or no lodge business is conducted.

In his role as SGIG for South Carolina, sources say, Mike Smith held a series of seven informal Zoom gatherings for the state's six Scottish Rite Valleys and four SR clubs. These were described by several participants as  'How is everybody doing?' health checks and good cheer sessions. These were not tyled meetings, or even private ones – some sources say no Masonic business was conducted, although one observer indicated that, in at least one case, the names of some new Scottish Rite petitioners were read and accepted. At least one attendee claims that Smith informed the Grand Master ahead of time that he wanted to conduct these sessions, and was acting in good faith because the Grand Master raised no objection. Nevertheless, after the event, Grand Master Disher deemed it to be a violation of his 'no electronic Masonic meeting' edict and sought charges against Smith. 

Some say that GM Disher also discussed bringing charges against close to 150 South Carolina Scottish Rite Masons who participated in the Zoom call.

In South Carolina, the Grand Junior Warden is normally charged by their Constitution to bring charges against an accused Mason, who is to be tried in his own lodge. Mike Smith has been a longtime member of Landrum Lodge 278. But a trial by the lodge was denied by GM Disher, who declared that an appointed Grand Lodge commission would instead conduct the proceedings. 

And then about three weeks ago, the Grand Master appeared at Landrum Lodge and revoked their charter.

Longtime readers here may remember the name of South Carolina Past Grand Master Jay Adam Pearson. In 2013, when he was serving as Grand Master, he suspended South Carolina's relations with the Shrine. Then in 2016, he sent me a snide letter excoriating me for publicly reporting on expulsions in the Grand Lodge of Arkansas (where he is, as he informed me, an "honorary member of their Grand Lodge"). Instead of South Carolina’s Grand Junior Warden bringing charges against Smith as their Constitution directs, PGM Pearson was named as the head of the trial commission. Two sources have reported that the trial commission also included one or more members of PGM Pearson's own family, notably, his father.

According to attendees, Smith's trial session last week was quite long – over ten hours. Witnesses were called, but because of COVID meeting restrictions, they were forced to remain outside in their cars in bitter cold weather while waiting to testify one at a time.

PGM Jay Adam Pearson

Not that there could be any sort of connection, but both Jay Adam Pearson and Mike Smith were considered as possible successors for the Grand Secretary's position at the upcoming annual communication. Now, obviously, PGM Smith is no longer eligible, and his 40 year Masonic career has been scuttled. The current Grand Secretary, Gerald L Carver, PGM, is Pearson's ex-father-in-law.

And then, lurking in the background is the ghost of Prince Hall. South Carolina is one of just seven remaining state grand lodges that does not have amity with their Prince Hall grand lodge counterpart. There was a whisper campaign that PGM Smith was a proponent of Prince Hall recognition. Of course, PGM Pearson has made his opinion known to me in the past of what he thinks of so-called "liberal, forward-thinking Masons" who advocate for Price Hall recognition.

Before PGM Pearson dashes off another multi-page letter to me explaining all of the ways I am "in error" on these events, I want to clearly state that I have not spoken or corresponded with PGM Mike Smith about this story. In his prior correspondence with me, PGM Pearson made it clear that he is a strict by-the-book Mason. He took the position back in 2016 that a grand master need not explain or even report when a Mason is expelled, except to alert the fraternity not to converse Masonically with members under such a sentence. Further, he quite rightly stated that an expulsion isn't authoritative until the assembled Grand Lodge votes to accept the GM's actions or strike them down, which is quite true. South Carolina's Grand lodge members still need to affirm or reject this. 

With that in mind, the GL of South Carolina's annual communication is scheduled for this April. But because the COVID pandemic is still continuing apace, one can't help but wonder whether that meeting will even take place. And unless the GM changes his mind about virtual meetings, there's no chance it will be conducted by video. At best, they may simply attempt to assemble no more than a quorum to conduct their business, as some other jurisdictions have done.. 

The GL of South Carolina has a reputation of attempting to hide from technology. Any Masonic lodge's website must receive written approval from the Grand Lodge, which is why there are so few of them. Lodges may not have a Facebook page or any other social media page. And all digital interaction about Freemasonry is forbidden. Perhaps that worked well for them until 2020. But with the COVID pandemic shutdowns and the ongoing shuttering of all lodges since last spring, forbidding any and all in-person AND online interaction among their brethren has made for a pretty barren fraternal experience.  I have been told that several SC lodges that have relied on fund raising events in past years have gone broke and been forced to close permanently. One idly wonders how many South Carolina Masons will reconsider their membership in the face of a jurisdiction that leaves them no avenue for fraternal socializing of any kind.

South Carolina has a past history of cuffing around appendant bodies, such as when PGM Pearson cut off the Shrine (and then advised Arkansas as to how to do the same thing). Mike Smith's informal Scottish Rite gathering was not the only appendant group to fall under the stern gaze of their Grand Master this season. Last month, the Grand Council of the Allied Masonic Degrees announced the registration for an online Zoom meeting for AMD members. South Carolina's current Grand Secretary, Gerald L Carver, PGM fired off a demand that the AMD issue letters reiterating that South Carolina Masons were forbidden from engaging in any such online meetings of any kind, and to report their compliance and delivery of said letters to him.

About six years ago, I spoke at the Conference of Grand Masters, and I implored that august assembly of grand line officers to consider that suspension or expulsion should not be the first arrow out of their quivers, but the last. The obligations Masonic officers take as they progress over time do not ever eradicate the ones we take in our very first three degrees. We are not merely asked to "whisper good counsel in the ear of a brother, and in the most tender manner remind him of his faults, and aid in his reformation." It is one of our most fundamental duties. We are all Brothers before we are lawyers. It is noteworthy to point out that neither renowned book on Masonic jurisprudence by Albert Mackey and Roscoe Pound contains the phrase from the most commonly used Fellow Craft ritual, "In the decision of every trespass against our rules, you are to judge with candor, admonish with friendship, and reprehend with justice."

One cannot help but ask if anyone whispered in Mike Smith's ear or admonished him with friendship before seeking the ultimate penalty against him, especially in one of the most heartbreaking and challenging years in history.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

GM of New Jersey Posthumously Names Capitol Police Officer an "Honorary Mason"

by Christopher Hodapp

MW Robert V. Monacelli, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge F&AM of New Jersey, has just issued an edict posthumously proclaiming the late Brian David Sicknick as an "Honorary Mason."

Click to enlarge.

Brian David Sicknick (42) was the District of Columbia Capitol Police officer who died after sustaining injuries during last week's rampage through the US Capitol building. He was bludgeoned in the head with a fire extinguisher as the mob moved through the building, and a criminal investigation is ongoing to find the person responsible. 

According to the edict, Brian was the son of Charles Sicknick and the brother of Craig Sicknick, who are b oth members of Philo Lodge 243 in South River, New Jersey. Posthumously naming a man as an Honorary Mason is extremely rare in the Masonic world, and jurisdictions have different practices, powers and prerogatives that their grand masters may exercise. 

Officer Sicknick was a veteran.  He joined the New Jersey National Guard in 1997 fresh out of high school. He was deployed to Saudi Arabia and Kyrgyzstan during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was honorably discharged in 2003. He joined the Capitol Police Department in 2008.

Brian Sicknick was laid to rest on Monday, and his family has asked that his death not be politicized.

DAR Magazine Features Masonic Building Pictorial

by Christopher Hodapp

The January/February 2021 issue of American Spirit Magazine features a pictorial article about noteworthy Masonic buildings around the U.S. The magazine is a publication of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and has 45,000 subscribers.

Visions of America: Masonic Temples is written by Annelise Jolley. 

From the description:

The influence of the Freemasons predates the formation of the United States. Evidence of their presence persists in the form of Masonic lodges and temples, designed in a wide variety of architectural styles.

How familiar are you with the Masons? Typically portrayed as a secret society full of mystery AND history, the Masons are one of the oldest fraternal societies, and can trace its roots to the medieval ages. Scholars believe that as many as 8 out the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were members, as were George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Mozart and even Mark Twain. 
In the Visions of America department in the January/February 2021 issue of American Spirit, we travel through the United States to find historic and notable Mason Temples and Lodges, including King Solomon’s Lodge No. 7 in Woodbury, Conn., The House of the Temple in Washington, D.C., Masons’ Hall in Richmond, Va., and Scottish Rite Cathedral in Indianapolis, Indiana...
The DAR's magazine American Spirit is devoted to the organization's love of American history, preservation and genealogy. Each issue celebrates the uniquely American story through a selection of historical subjects from the Colonial period through the early decades of the new republic. American Spirit regularly features articles about Revolutionary patriots, historic homes, heritage travel, the DAR Museum collection and more.

H/T: Mary Pat Mahan McElhiney

Revived Masonic Book Club Reached Pre-Publication Goal In Just Two Days

by Christopher Hodapp

As reported here last September, the venerable but long defunct Masonic Book Club has recently been re-launched under the auspices of the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction, helmed by S. Brent Morris and Arturo De Hoyos. On December 21st, the MBC announced the pre-publication sale of their first title, The Perfect Ceremonies 
of Craft Masonry & The Holy Royal Arch.

The Club has no dues and does not offer a subscription. Central to the new business model of the MBC is that books will be announced prior to publication in order to gauge the level of interest among Masonic readers. If an insufficient number of pre-orders are not received within 30 days, the book will be withdrawn and money refunded.

It looks like there's plenty of interested Masons in this endeavor. 

The Perfect Ceremonies of Craft Masonry & The Holy Royal Arch was announced on December 21, and just two days later, they already had enough pre-publication sales to publish. The pre-order window will remain open until 11:59 pm, January 21, 2021. Once the final tally of sales is known, the books will be printed and are expected to ship about March 29, 2021.

The MBC pre-publication price is $25 if ordered before January 21st, 2021 – the book will retail for $35 after that date, all plus shipping and handling. To learn more about the book and to view/download sample pages, visit the MBC web page HERE.

Pre-orders are NOT available through the Scottish Rite online store.
To make a pre-publication purchase for $25 + S&H, follow this link.

Only after all orders are fulfilled, a limited number of additional copies will become available for $35 + S&H via the Scottish Rite online store, https://www.scottishritestore.org/.

A message from the MBC also provided some insight as to what their next selections may be, along with addressing the troubles and costs regarding international sales:
What’s Next?
The response to the MBC has been exceptional. Before we have even delivered our first volume, some are asking, “What’s next?” The plan is to continue the MBC tradition of reprinting classic Masonic books with a scholarly introduction preceding the facsimile and an index following—the “MBC Sandwich.” In the pipeline is a reprint of the 1977 MBC volume, Samuel Prichard’s 1730 Masonry Dissected with an update to Harry Carr’s introduction and commentary. Also in the works is a collection of “burlesque degrees,” silly initiation ceremonies intended to mock the seriousness of fraternal initiations and to amuse the audience.

International Sales
One of the frustrations in relaunching the MBC is handling non-US customers. The US Postal Service has a very favorable “media mail” rate for shipping books within the US. Postage to mail a 2-lb. book to Buffalo, NY, is about $3.20; to mail the book another 150 miles to Toronto is $20+. We have tried to price international postage fairly, neither overcharging our international customers nor subsidizing them.

Sales and shipping to the European Union/European Economic Area (EU/EEA) requires personal data to be protected according to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The service we use to process credit card sales does not comply with GDPR, and our number of EU/EEA sales is not enough to warrant changing services. We are trying to find an EU/EEA agent to facilitate sales. Until then, our best suggestion is that EU/EEA customers have their books shipped to an American friend who can reship.
The mission statement of the resurrected Masonic Book Club is to publish classic Masonic works with the goals to increase Masonic knowledge and to become a profit center for the House of the Temple Foundation. If you have any questions or suggestions, please address them to mbc@scottishrite.org.

Monday, January 11, 2021

GM of Wisconsin Statement on Civil Disobedience

MW Kenneth C. Gorgen,
Grand Master of the Grand Lodge F&AM of Wisconsin

by Christopher Hodapp

In the wake of last week's protests in Washington, DC and the deadly rampage through the U.S. Capitol building, the Grand Master of North Carolina issued a statement denouncing the violence and exhorting his members to reject ignorance and intolerance.

Yesterday, MW Kenneth C. Gorgen, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge F&AM of Wisconsin issued his own statement on the events (see the message below). Like the North Carolina message, this one has also caused its share of heated online remarks and arguments.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

My Brothers,
January 6, 2021 was a time for the wheels of our government to begin turning for the four-year ritual acknowledging the will of the people and validating the selection of a leader for our beloved country. This ritual has been a legacy and part of our heritage for over 200 years. Unfortunately, on this day, a group of thugs decided to force themselves into this sacred process and stop these wheels from turning. They attacked the sanctuary which houses a place for our elected leaders to carry on the business of the Country. Regardless of our political persuasion or beliefs, as Citizens of the United States and as just and upright Masons, we should be sickened by the ruthless actions of these criminals.

Our Country is founded on a humble principle that “we the people” are entitled to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. As Masons, we are charged to promote these principles to all people and as the ritual teaches, “…give every man his just due without distinction.” There is much work to do to make sure all people of this Country have an equal share of that dream, but the work of equality under the law and in this case, the peaceful transfer of power must never stop or be interrupted by force.

These criminals have in the past and on January 6th exposed everyone to the rhetoric and actions which promote mistrust, suspicion, discrimination, separation and hatred, which in the end resulted on an assault on the cradle of our government.

Masons who believe in the principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth cannot in clear conscience belong to any organization that teaches hate and supremacy of one person over another because of color, nationality, and religious beliefs. These organizations are in direct conflict with what we as Masons hold dear. It cannot be possible to hold membership in one of these subversive organizations and still be a Mason.

You were first prepared to be a Mason in your heart. I cannot condone one of our Masonic Brothers maintaining a membership in one of these organizations. If you hold a membership in one of these organizations, I encourage you to hold fast to your Masonic teachings and resign from that group. Otherwise, I will gladly accept your resignation from the Masonic Fraternity.

Sincerely and Fraternally,

Kenneth Gorgen
Grand Master of Masons in Wisconsin


Has He The Pass?

by Christopher Hodapp

I'm not sure if this is a cool doorknob for a lodge room, or just disturbing. Whichever, it's $34.95 from the Friendyness.com website.

Description claims it's handmade, which goes without saying.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

North Carolina GM Issues Statement Over Capitol Riot

Getty images
by Christopher Hodapp

The miserable year of 2020 has now officially slipped into history, but it wasn't going to just go quietly without putting up a desperate struggle. On January 6th, tens (and perhaps hundreds) of thousands of supporters of Present Donald Trump assembled on the Ellipse in Washington DC in protest over the results of the November 2020 election. At the other end of the Mall inside the U.S.Capitol, the House of Representatives and the Senate were in the process of debating and formally certifying the Electoral College results of the presidential race.

Before the president's speech to his supporters ended, a large mob of people broke off, made their way to the Capitol, and stormed into the building. The unprecedented rampage that ensued (and covered in real time on television and the Internet) left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer who was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher, and one of the protesters, a 35-year old female Air Force veteran who was shot by an officer. Three others died from apparent medical emergencies. Members of Congress were hustled to an undisclosed 'secure location' as tear gas was used against the mob.

As with most riots and mass rampages, an adolescent glee for breaking things and invading symbolic seats of authority figures for the sake of selfies and high-fives from fellow mob members fanned the flames of frenzy. Knocking down symbols of power for the sheer fun of it is a common hallmark of massive mob protests, and this one was no exception. As more details became available, some of the participants posing for the cameras and egging on the crowd turned out to be known anarchic provocateurs seen at other riots and violent protests from earlier in the year. But the majority of the crowd that slowly moved into the rotunda and then on to the House and Senate chambers seemed more like several hundred dogs who had suddenly caught the UPS truck they had been chasing without a clue of what to do with it now.

It was not America's finest hour, and it's almost impossible to know how history will regard this event and the last year after all the dust clears and time softens the heated passions of the moment.

In the wake of this shocking (but probably inevitable) event, social media erupted as millions took sides over what was unfolding. The toxic political atmosphere of the last four years had finally taken its toll, as 50% of the country declared that the other 50% were their mortal enemy, and vice versa. And since the Internet, Twitter and Facebook have become the 21st century battlefields, there were Masons to be found on both sides of the political divide acting less than Masonically to each other. 

R. David Walker, Jr., Grand Master
Grand Lodge AF&AM of North Carolina

On Friday, January 8th, MW R. David Walker, Jr., Grand Master of the Grand Lodge AF&AM of North Carolina, issued a statement to the Brethren in his jurisdiction concerning Wednesday's events. The statement was circulated on the North Carolina grand lodge website and Facebook pages (click image to enlarge).

(To answer a question posed by many over the last few days, North Carolina also weighed in last summer with a joint statement with the MW Prince Hall GL of NC concerning the riots following the death of George Floyd. See it HERE.)

The condemnation of a mob attack on the very center of American democracy should scarcely be a controversial message. But almost as soon as the statement was publicly posted, an avalanche of positive and negative online reactions ensued. The message was greeted in several Masonic Facebook groups with appalling accusations, insults and reactions between Brethren, so much so that moderators shut down many of the discussions completely or removed entire conversations. The political vitriol that has become so commonplace in the profane world was on full display throughout the virtual Masonic community as well. 

The result is that I have now seen scores of Masons announce their intention to leave the fraternity, or at least reconsider their membership over it. Worse, the public can easily find these toxic exchanges, which only serves to smear Freemasonry as an institution that doesn't practice what it preaches.

It has been a cornerstone of Freemasonry since its official beginnings to prohibit the discussion of religion and politics within the confines of our tiled meetings because of the potential for heated divisions among our members. The online battles that have raged over the North Carolina statement are a clear demonstration of why that rule is necessary. Since the various riots and demonstrations around the country that began in summer of 2020, there have been no instances of Freemasons actually engaging in or organizing them AS MASONS. It's arguable that grand lodges issuing messages of support, solidarity or condemnation of political demonstrations and social uprisings have as much effect as Starbucks Coffee, Macy's, or the My Pillow company weighing in on political positions: regardless of the stance taken, the practical result is to needlessly conflict with a substantial proportion of existing customers (or members, in our case).

Grand lodges all over the country have been wrestling with adopting online social media rules of conduct over the last few years. Some have been minimal, common sense recommendations, but others have been needlessly detailed, draconian and picayune. The breakdown of social norms and the loss of what used to be called the 'civic virtues' that the Founders recognized as being the only way a democratic republic could endure have helped bring us to this gloomy moment in time. Historically, Freemasonry was deliberately encouraged to expand across America after our Revolution specifically to teach a rough, disparate and illiterate public how to get along with each other - to disagree without being disagreeable, and to unite men for the common good "among whom no contention should ever exist but that noble contention, or rather emulation, of who best can work, and best agree." Religion, politics, social and economic status, level of education - none of these were supposed to matter in the sanctuary of the lodge room or between Brethren in daily life, and those frontier Masons learned to sit side by side with men diametrically opposed to their own opinions.
It's probably irrational to believe that Freemasonry as a philosophy can successfully calm and subdue the passions of all of her members during this time of upheaval and 24-hour rage-making stoked by opportunistic activists, basement revolutionaries, keyboard warriors, politicians and media figures. Enforced isolation from the COVID shutdowns has prevented us from meeting face to face, Brother to Brother, for nine months now. But it certainly has no possible hope of succeeding with Masons who would rather quit than learn to coexist with their Brethren over politics. The COVID aftermath will certainly exact a dramatic toll on the fraternity from Masons who decide to drop their membership out of ennui caused by the shutdowns. Let's all hope that political strife and disagreements between Masons over transitory elections don't do even worse.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Greetings From the Road: the Sequel

Stopped in Arizona

by Christopher Hodapp

Deepest apologies for the dearth of Masonic postings since Christmas. After the mishaps that forced us to return home before the holiday, we set out again for California and actually made it this time. 

We're currently parked in Orange County in a campground planted thick with orange trees that are burgeoning with swollen fruit. The poodle is mesmerized by them - she stares up and thinks they are actually filled with ripened tennis balls desperately in need of being chased.

Friday, December 25, 2020

UPDATED: Christmas Fire Burns Prince Hall GL of Rhode Island Masonic Temple

Photo: WLNE

by Christopher Hodapp

(This story has been updated on January 2, 2021.)

Fire broke out early Christmas morning at the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Rhode Island's headquarters in Providence. According to news reports, the fire started in the basement of the building and spread quickly throughout the structure, whipped by strong winds. The three-alarm fire was described by the local public safety commissioner as "stubborn," and some 59 firefighters were eventually called to the scene to battle the blaze.

No one is known to have been in the building, and there are no reported injuries. Preliminary judgement by local fire officials is that the building will likely be a total loss. 


The Masonic hall at 883 Eddy Street in Providence is also the home of Celestial Lodge No. 2 PHA. It had been crowded with people on Thursday for the lodge's annual Christmas toy drive. 

The MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge F&AM of Rhode Island has been located on Eddy Street since its very beginnings in 1858.


WB Richard Lynch, the Curator and Librarian for the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island F&AM passed along additional photographs of the damage to the building after the fire. 

His message read, in part:
"Our Grand Master M:.W:.Gary Kaufman has been in contact with M:.W:.Clarence Snead of Prince Hall and the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island has offered our building and our Scottish Rite Temple to the use of the brothers of Prince Hall. We will also be supporting them financially in their time of need."

On Thursday, December 31st, a story on the WJAR TV-10 website announced that the Prince Hall Masons are accepting donations to rebuild:

"The fires in our community continue to burn, and without Prince Hall Masonry here in the south side of Providence, we may not be able to address some of those issues that we've been addressing over the years," Bennett said.

The lodge was used for charity purposes like toy, clothing and food drives, community events and special meetings.

"It's not just about the 120 Masons we have here today. It's about the thousands of members that we had over the last hundred years," Bennett said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, and officials with the Prince Hall Masons say they're hopeful the fire was an accident.

Donations can be sent to the Prince Hall Capital Campaign Fund, P.O. Box 27900, Providence, RI 02907 or made through GoFundMe.