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


Thursday, January 07, 2010

Pennsylvania Masons Push Back

Hot on the heels of the "21st Century Renaissance" rule changes announced by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania's Grand Master Thomas K. Sturgeon (see here for the whole text), a website has been launched that is pushing back.

The Pennsylvania Masonic Restoration website proclaims:

The Pennsylvania Masonic Restoration is a movement initiated and sustained by Pennsylvania Freemasons who believe in the oaths they took to preserve and maintain our Masonic customs, ritual, landmarks and usages. We believe that Pennsylvania Freemasonry is unique in the world and represents hundreds of years of tradition and the hard work of millions of Freemasons. It should be preserved and passed down to future generations of Freemasons as well preserved and maintained as it was for us.

To that end, we seek the restoration of our Masonic heritage. It is not our goal to challenge the authority of the Right Worshipful Grand Master nor to interfere with the administrative functioning of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. We hold our oaths inviolable, including our requirement to support the Constitution and all rules, edicts and/or resolutions that may be issued. It is our hope and our goal to see the recent detrimental changes made to our ritual and customs repealed. Until that is accomplished, we seek to find ways for our Pennsylvania Masonic Brethren to meet the conflicting challenge of obeying the directives of the Grand Lodge and honoring the specifics of the oaths we took as Freemasons which directly contradict some of those directives.

Be very careful, Brethren. Be respectful. And careful.


  1. The statement can essentially be reduced to a commonly heard Masonic refrain. "We've never done it that way before." Freemasonry doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's a living breathing organization that clings to certain customs and traditions at it's own peril.

  2. There are many changes in the Grand Master's program that are quite beneficial and are being broadly supported. This is far from a "we've never done it that way before" refrain. Pennsylvania has been making many changes in the past few years to strengthen the Craft, increase proficiency, increase retention, strengthen Masonic charity and streamline administrative tasks. All these changes have been supported broadly without the cried of "we've never done it that way before". Some of these new changes are different. They are changing the fundamental rights and obligations of Freemasons. Unanimity has been eliminated. The entire obligation of the 1st degree has been nullified. These and several others that are specifically mentioned and explained on that site are being challenged because they turn Pennsylvania Freemasonry into something else. They fundamentally change the rights and obligations of Pennsylvania Freemasons. Radical changes, if made, should come after "mature deliberation" and with respect to the Lodges and membership to express their views. Freemasons should have respect enough for one another for at least that much consideration. Right now, I know lodges who are conferring degrees this month using obligations and ritual that is now entirely contradicted by these changes, but the changes came with no notice beforehand and no time to learn new ritual for the conferral of degrees. The men who are being made Masons or moving through the degrees deserve better treatment than to be given an obligation to do one thing and then at the same time told to do the opposite.

  3. One of the problem with the changes that the Grand Lodge and RWGM are making and why you see such a big push back, particularly over the printed ritual and 3 black balls, is that it is a violation of our Oath and Obligation. In order to have the manual printed the RWGM and any other Masons involved in the doing so are complicit in violating their own O&O.

    Part of the problem is that there is a paradox being created in which we are to follow the RWGM and all of his decisions but are also instructed to make sure the ritual work doesn't get written down. What do we do?

    This is causing such a fractious uproar that there are brethren talking about handing in their dues cards and walking away from the fraternity rather than break their O&O. Others are thinking of demitting. I have also heard whispers of how to levy Masonic charges against the RWGM for violating his O&O. And though it sounds like it, these thoughts are not being taken lightly or as hyperbole.

    We all swore oaths and took obligations to become Freemasons. How can we be asked to follow a man who violates those same?

  4. As an English Freemason, I'm finding this a very interesting post and comments. Our rituals are all written down in cypher and we learn them through reading. None of the Sns, Ts, or Ws are written down in it, but all the rest of the ritual is freely available.

    Oaths once taken may be released by the competent authority. If you take the example of religious vows such as those taken by monks and nuns, the diocesan bishop or the Pope can dispense from those vows. In Masonry, I believe that the Grand Master of a Masonic province is equivalent to the Pope or the diocesan bishop and may dispense himself and the Brethren of his Grand Lodge from parts of oaths if necessary. Bro. Mike above has mentioned the dispensation from the penalties mentioned in the Entered Apprentice degree.

    I was expecting that the PA rituals would be freely available for sale from reading the preliminary information. However, when I actually read the decree, the circumstances under which the printed ritual were available are so strict that it might as well be secret.

    I hope that my Brothers in PA will settle their differences amicable and then clothe and work in Lodge with that harmony which distinguishes Freemasons from the rest of the world.

    Bro. Chris Hansen, SW
    Goliath Lodge #5595 UGLE

  5. I'd agree with Chris...be careful...and respectful. Definitely.

  6. The change of writing down the ritual is not in conflict with the O&O. The ritual is in code and in all "secret" sections only the first letter of the word is printed. IF you've never heard the ritual then you would not be able to learn anything from the book.

  7. Except that PA's Constitution (Ahiman Rezon) along with the Digest of Decisions have stated that all of the ritual is considered secret:

    Digest of Decisions

    88.1 No part of the work of Freemasonry is permitted to be written, printed, or otherwise indicated, and no Masonic officer or Brother can use any book or writing which contains the work of Freemasonry, without subjecting himself to a formal charge of unmasonic conduct.

    So, yes someone did violate their oath and obligation. And know it's come out that they have changed the ritual and are e-mailing the changes to the Lodge Secretaries. The Secretaries are then being asked to print it out and include it in the new manuals. They are being asked to print the ritual which is in essence asking them to violate their Oath and Obligation.

  8. Having been made a mason in PA but living in several states and a standing member in some states that have cyphers I'm not even as upset with that part of the O&O as I am some of the other changes. He is talking about not only changing central practices (3 black balls?!?!?) just to maintain a membership drive. Everything he is doing stinks of making it easier to join, easier to learn, and harder to protect the ritual work. He has many great ideas, and I want to see a rebirth too...but of masonry...not this watered down crap. He can say his little "2010 not 1910" line all he wants but its not 1910 stuff he wants to change, but often 1710 stuff....!"

  9. With all due respect brother, I hardly think the change in voting procedures is a part of a "membership drive." And as I have documented elsewhere, the precedent for three negative votes instead of one goes back to Anderson's Constitutions revision of 1738.

  10. In UGLE, it takes two blackballs to reject a petitioner. In other jurisdictions it only takes one (I believe). And, of course, it's better that those who object to a petitioner make their feelings known to the Worshipful Master before a vote is even taken.

    That old joke "How many Masons does it take to change a lightbulb? None: we like the old one too much to change it." is apposite here...

    Br. Chris Hansen, SW and Master-Designate
    Goliath Lodge #5595, UGLE

  11. No Grand Lodge in PA has adhered to Anderson since the 1780's. Since 1785, PA has been entirely Ancient and worked under the Ahiman Rezon, which expressly stated that ballots will be unanimous.

    Also, the current movement working to convince the Right Worshipful Grand Master to reverse his decisions, are opposed to only 8 of the 30 initiatives. So it is not change we are opposed to. We are opposed to the violating and altering of several of traditions and "Landmarks" that make Pennsylvania Freemasonry the unique institution that it is. PA masons take pride in the fact we do things differently then the rest of the Jurisdictions in the US. I do not mean to say that PA Masonry is better, just different. There is nothing wrong with different, Freemasonry teaches us to look past the differences of others and accept them on the level.

  12. I was in attendance tonight to hear RWGM Thomas Sturgeon address his 21st Century Renaissance. He makes a great and valid point, as many have in the past few years... More Masons leave the fraternity (death and boredom) than join the Fraternity. For those who oppose his changes, remember this... If we, today, do not accept change, this great fraternity will not be hear for our children and grand-children.
    Don't sit this one out, you'll regret it.

  13. The Right Worshipful Grand Master Sturgeon also visited our Lodge (Jerusalem #506, Philadelphia) on the evening of the 21st. He was quite persuasive and made a good case in explaining that for the Fraternity to flourish...we had to have an increase in membership. I was also at a Masonic Breakfast two days later at the Lulu Shrine Building in Plymouth Meeting where he made much the same points again. I agree with the RWGM...(even though I've only been a Mason since last summer)...in order to grow, we must change and evolve with the times.

  14. I don't understand this desire on the RWGM's part to push for growth. Pennsylvania is one of the largest Masonic Jurisdictions in the World. We bring in as many members as we lose to death. Where we go into the negative is demits/suspensions. So obviously, we are not providing something, we are not giving the experience men expected when they joined. I don't see how any of the RWGM's initiatives address this issue. It seems he hopes to bring in enough new members each year to offset the demits/suspensions. But this doesn't address the issue. All this will do is lead to more demits/suspensions in the future as these new members are left wanting. We need to provide more and better education and a more enriching experience.

  15. We need to provide more and better education and a more enriching experience.

    And the RWGM and GL prevents that, how?

  16. I didn't say they prevented that. I said that the current initiatives do not address this issue. The new initiatives are aimed at increasing the size of the membership. The RWGM has said this at the visitations. He is encouraging one day classes, invitations, and district degree teams, all of which are designed and for the purpose of making more members. None of the initiatives are aimed at solving the root problem. Pennsylvania's problem is not a lack of membership, we have the largest in the United States, the problems are retention rate and lack of active members. These are the areas we need to focus on.

  17. Grand Lodge can't retain members, they never could. That's always been up to the local lodge, its officers and active members. Grand Lodges don't make masons, the lodge does that.

    Pennsylvania has had thousands more members in the past than it does now. We all have. More members were active then. More can be active now. The responsibility for keeping them lies with us. Again, the current initiatives don't affect any lodge, as regards retention. But they do give you greater numbers to make Masons, officers and better men out of. How is that bad?

  18. I would argue that the current initiatives do effect the Lodges in regards to retention. All the Lodges I know that have positive growth and more active members having been doing the exact opposite of the current initiatives. They have had longer initiation periods (meaning not just passing them after a month, but actually ensuring they have learned and understand the ritual), have required more of the new Brothers, asking them to come out two to three nights between degrees not just to learn ritual but to interact with the Brethren.The new initiatives seem to fly in the face of that, making the whole initiative process less personal and more detached. The man I asked my petition from is the most important man in my life, my father. The men who conferred my degrees on me and who I learned the degrees from are now some of my dearest and closest friends. The new initiatives would deny me all those memories. I think the new initiatives make it too easy to become a member and does nothing to make you a Mason, in my opinion it actually works against you becoming a Mason. In operative Masonry you had to work and prove yourself before you were passed and then raised. It used to be the same in PA Freemasonry, but now that has been taken away. To quote Thomas Paine, "That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly." Where is the work in being invited, and then sitting in a large auditorium for a few hours. I will agree no matter how you learn the ritual, it is work, but I believe mouth to ear is a better method just because of the connections and bonds made during the learning process.

  19. How do the new initiatives take any of that away, if your lodge and its mentors are capable of doing the work properly? As I read it, almost everything on the list except the three-cube rule is optional. Your lodge doesn't have to participate in limited, discrete solicitation. The candidates aren't supposed to see the printed rituals. You don't have to send anyone to a one day class. The relaxed dress code is optional. The proficiency pin plan encourages better ritual work...

    Forgive me, brother. I'm not trying to be an out of state buttinsky, I'm really not. But the GL is devolving the power of choice to the local lodges, and I just cannot see how that is a bad thing. What IS a bad thing is that several of you are risking your dues cards by going ballistic over these issues, and I DO know you sure as hell can't change anything today, tomorrow or next year if you've been booted to the curb.

  20. Aren't your GM's edicts required to be voted up or down by GL at the end of his year? Or do edicts have the power to change GL laws permanently with no subsequent vote?

  21. True, a lot of this will depend on the Lodge...and mine has already seen a resurgence. Since we have implemented more stringent requirements attendance is up, activity is up. We only have one PM in the line and that was due to the SW's wife giving birth and his need to be at home more often, otherwise there would not be a single PM in the 8 chair line, and all of the Brethren in the line have been in Lodge less than 10 years. My Lodge is motivated and I am very proud of the Brethren, that is one of the good things to come out of the RWGM's initiative.

    And to answer your question, No, there is no review process in PA Freemasonry. The RWGM is the supreme authority...there is no appeal, no review, his edicts are law until reversed by a subsequent Grand Master.

  22. Wow. If you were going to change anything over the last 280+ years, it should have been that.


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