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Friday, April 10, 2020

GL of Ohio Officially Authorizes Virtual Stated Meetings

by Christopher Hodapp



As the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown enters its second month in many states, grand lodges everywhere are scrambling to find ways to permit basic lodge business to go on without holding in-person group meetings. Some are permitting executive meetings of lodge officers by phone or teleconference in order to authorize bill payments and other basic housekeeping business. But others have the sticky problem that their state constitutions have few or no options to skip or postpone their regular monthly business meetings. Extraordinary times sometimes demand unusual solutions.

MW Keith Newton, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ohio has issued a Dispensation to all Ohio Masonic Lodges to hold Virtual Stated Meetings using alternative methods available on the internet or conference calling. Such virtual meetings are not required by his dispensation, but it gives Worshipful Masters the permission to hold them. The GL of Ohio is currently recommending the Zoom conferencing platform.

This is not a minor problem. Ohio has one of the largest Masonic memberships of any state in the country, with more than 70,000 Masons and 450 lodges. Moreover, the state of Ohio enacted some of the earliest and most far-reaching restrictions on meetings in the nation.


The basic requirements of Ohio's Virtual Meetings are:
  • A password protected secure tool for members to utilize for accessing a virtual Lodge Stated meeting (e.g. Zoom, GoToMeeting, WebEx, etc).
  • An email to the lodge members sent from our Grand View membership program and posted on the lodges Grand View dashboard.
  • The Worshipful Master or Warden in charge will proclaim the meeting open: “This Stated Meeting is symbolically opened in the Entered Apprentice Degree.”
  • Conduct business of the lodge.
  • Fellowship with our brethren.
  • Education programs.
  • The Worshipful Master or Warden in charge will proclaim the meeting closed: “This Stated Meeting is symbolically closed in the Entered Apprentice Degree."
  • Ritual work of any type or nature, candidate examinations, and candidate balloting are not permitted.
Note that the GL is essentially permitting Worshipful Masters to open and close in an extremely truncated version of what is called in some jurisdictions 'ample form.' Reduced verbiage for openings and closings is usually only reserved for Grand Masters and Past Grand Masters under normal circumstances, but this dispensation is designed to prevent the use of actual Masonic ritual online by having the Master simply declare the meeting open and closed. 

The Grand Lodge accompanied the dispensation with detailed instructions on using Zoom, paying close attention to its password settings and its 'virtual waiting room' feature that can be used as the online equivalent of the Tyler's door before letting in a participant. 

(To enlarge the images of the dispensation, click the photos below.)



A note of caution: If you are new to the use of Zoom or similar platforms and have no experience as an online host, be sure you try a trial run or two with some friends to be certain you fully understand the password and waiting room controls and functions. Recent overblown articles in the media have made wild claims about hacking and 'zoombombing' meetings by online miscreants who drop in and invade meetings. In truth, these are not really the result of 'hacking' or some failure of encryption, but actually simple failure by the online host or moderator to adequately understand and use the password features.

The same goes for other grand lodges considering issuing similar guidelines. Contact your resident geek squad and get a Mason who is conversant with Zoom or other platforms to write a lodge-specific set of instructions to send out with your missives. Zoom is especially simple and free for less than 100 participants and meetings under 40 minutes (frankly EVERY Masonic business meeting should end in 40 minutes or less, inside of a lodge room or not), so it makes sense to recommend this widely-adopted platform at this time. 

4 comments:

  1. I am a MM from Ohio , and glad to see your further explanation of Keith's directive, and your somewhat defusing the "zoom is malware" story that was sensationalized by some of the always "news" ... hungry press.

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  2. Hello Bro. Hodapp,

    Thanks for sharing this article, this is something my Lodge has been contemplating putting forward to our GL of Kentucky. Something else you said really stood out to me. You said "EVERY Masonic business meeting should end in 40 minutes or less...", as Master of my Lodge this year, I find that incredibly challenging. What are things you can do to shorten this process?

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    Replies
    1. The business portion of a Masonic stated meeting in most cases can easily be accomplished in 40 minutes. When we started a new lodge back in 2001, this was a cornerstone of our structure. Print and circulate the minutes, treasurer's and trustee reports. Unless your GL specifically demands that the 'minutes must be read aloud,' you aren't breaking any rules. Those who care can read them, those who don't won't. Give everybody a few minutes to look them over and suggest corrections, adopt them, sign them, and you're done. IN the best of all possible worlds, authorize your executive officers (WM, Wardens, Sec, Treas, Trustees) to meet as an executive committee and give them pre-authorization to spend up to X amount of $$ without seeking lodge pre-approval. Then include the executive committee actions in the minutes.

      That dispenses with the junk that takes up 80% of the average Started Meeting in most lodges, none of which has anything to do with the aims, goals and mission of Freemasonry itself. THEN you spend the rest of the meeting actually engaging in Freemasonry - formal presentations or informal discussions, reacquainting yourselves with the symbolism of the degrees, checking on how everyone's life is going, seeking ways to reach out to missing members or widows, voting on charity, debating philosophical or religious concepts, asking how the local plant closing has affected everybody and how can the lodge help... etc, etc, etc. Fraternalism is about caring for each other, sharing knowledge, sharing responsibilities for our brethren, improving ourselves. It isn't about the dull administrivia of who didn't fix the toilet this week or why the property insurance premium went up again. And too many lodges have fallen into the habit of doing nothing but business.

      Years ago we were debating rule changes at our annual session and legislation came up about permitting lodges to print and circulate minutes instead of reading them aloud. A grizzled old Past Master rose to his feet, his face gripped with terror, and he actually yelled out, "If we don't read the minutes and the bills, WHAT WILL WE DO?!"

      Our lodge opens, does business and closes in under an hour, usually. And we follow every meeting with a Festive Board at a local restaurant. The meeting is something we must do constitutionally. The Festive Board is where the fellowship and the education happens. We ALWAYS have a speaker or presentation at dinner. And if our actual stated meeting lasts longer than an hour, we're doing something wrong.

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  3. Bro. Hodapp,

    Thanks for your reply, it is very helpful and gives me some great ideas. Meetings in my Lodge can sometimes be very lengthy due to the amount of "discussion" we have without ever having anything educational.

    We read the minutes, the financial reports, discuss petitions, degree work, have reports on standing and special committees, any correspondence, unfinished business, new business, bills, sick and distressed, then lastly, good of the order. I feel like all of that falls under 'business' except good of the order where we share any educational bits. The Lodge has always operated this way since I've been a member, and while I see and understand the necessity of it, I feel like that consumes the bulk of our meetings to where, by the time we get to the 'good of the order', everyone is getting tired and wants to go home, not listen to any speakers.

    I'm only sorta complaining, as again I understand the need, but feel like this is why its hard to get more members coming to Lodge. I feel like Brothers don't want to come just to discuss 'business' and I'm struggling finding ways to change that. Plus, I don't want to appear as the Master who wants to come in and change everything, although I would like to change a few things.

    In any case, I learn a lot from your blog and appreciate all that you do! I just got a copy of Heritage Endures and am looking forward to digging in to that.

    Bro. John

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