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

BE A FREEMASON

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

'The Plot Thickens' in the GL of South Carolina as Annual Meeting Looms


by Christopher Hodapp

Over the last week, several emails have been making the rounds out of the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina concerning the January trial and expulsion of Past Grand Master Michael D. Smith. As reported here in February, Smith was expelled from the fraternity by current South Carolina Grand Master Walter C. "Cal" Disher II for violating his edict forbidding Masonic meetings conducted by Internet teleconferencing software, like Zoom. The charges brought against Smith were for authorizing Zoom meetings for the Scottish Rite Valleys throughout the state in his role as their SGIG for the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction. 

Now, the plot, as they say in cheap potboilers, thickens. The Grand Lodge of South Carolina will be holding its annual communication this week on April 22nd and 23rd. In the run-up to that session, South Carolina's Jurisprudence and Appeals & Grievances committees both convened last week to accomplish the usual preliminary business that commonly takes place just before Masonic grand sessions nearly everywhere.

It is the Jurisprudence Committee's job to look over the actions of the sitting Grand Master taken during his term of office to determine if he was correct in his decisions and activities, or if he violated any of the rules of their constitution (the South Carolina Ahimon Rezon). Typically, a grand master provides a lengthy report that outlines all of his activities since taking office in the written form of a formal address (or oration). And then the various committees weigh in on the GM's actions and report whether or not he violated any of their constitution. 

Because of the COVID pandemic shut downs last year, GM Disher was compelled by state health laws and an abundance of caution for his more elderly and at-risk members to cancel their annual session in 2020, and all previously elected Grand Lodge officers would stay in their positions for another year. So GM Disher's address was quite lengthy after two years.

(South Carolina grand masters traditionally serve for two one-year terms. Disher was elected GM in 2019, so April 2020 through April 2021 was to have been his second term anyway, if tradition had been followed. With the annual meeting canceled, his second year in the job was a foregone conclusion, as in so many other U.S. jurisdictions this past year. Like it or not, grand lodges must adhere to the rules set down by federal, state and local governments. So I can't really work up support for those alleging anywhere that their grand masters usurped power last year by canceling annual meetings.)

2019-2021 Grand Master Walter C. 'Cal' Disher II

GM Disher presented his whopping 42-page official address to the Jurisprudence Committee last week for review. On Thursday in a 6-3 decision, six Past Grand Masters on the Jurisprudence Committee ruled that the trial of PGM Mike Smith had been unfair, and rejected the portion of Disher's address dealing with Smith's guilty verdict and expulsion. In an anonymous email account of the vote sent to me that was attempting to support and justify the GM's actions, by failing to agree with his decision and actions, those six members of the Committee are themselves now guilty of a Masonic offense and may themselves face charges.

Then, in what was a second repudiation of GM Disher, on Friday, the Appeals & Grievances Committee reportedly ruled in an initial 4-2 decision that misconduct had taken place during the trial of PGM Smith, that the verdict should be nullified, and that Smith should be reinstated. According to multiple sources, Disher angrily retorted that, if Smith was reinstated by this decision, the Grand Lodge would be "liable for a lawsuit," and demanded the Committee re-vote. The result of that second vote was to uphold Disher's actions and the results of the trial. And because of the furore caused in the state by the initial online reporting of Smith's trial and expulsion, the result of the Committee's vote was not to be leaked ahead of time until it is presented on the floor of the annual meeting.

Obviously, that didn't work out so well. Gag rules rarely do.

There are still as-yet unanswered allegations that the arresting of Landrum Lodge charter (PGM Smith's mother lodge in which his son was Junior Warden) by GM Disher was also improper. It's probable that it too will be addressed in the Jurisprudence Committee's official report.

I've been sent conflicting information about these meetings and decisions, and there's a Rashomon-like feel to the widely differing descriptions of trials, conversations, votes, and (naturally) personalities involved. The unsettling image that emerges is an enormous Jenga tower falling to pieces, as charges, counter charges,  longtime friendships, personal allegiances, and a seemingly endless string of more threats of suspensions and expulsions all unfold. In one stack of material, there are numerous statements, angrily tarring numerous longtime Masons with more allegations of 'un-Masonic conduct' for failing to rubber stamp the GM's decisions. 'They voted the wrong way too, and THAT'S un-Masonic! We'll have THEM up on charges next!' is the theme that runs throughout. 

There's an unfortunate aura of the Caine Mutiny trial scene in much of this. And that's the material that is supposed to be making the case FOR the Grand Master. 

The annual session will take place this coming Thursday and Friday, and the GM has placed limits on how many may attend – again due to COVID restrictions. Next in line for election as the new Grand Master is current Deputy Grand Master, O.B. Smith, but there are rumors that one or more other candidates for GM may be nominated from the floor. And the assembled members of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina must also vote to affirm or deny the Jurisprudence and Appeals & Grievances committee reports. If the result of those votes reverse the actions of GM Disher, it's entirely possible that PGM Mike Smith may be reinstated by their action. 

Of course, the next question on the minds of many South Carolina Masons is, will the next elected GM (whoever it may be) allow the waters to calm and the Craft in his state to heal? Or will he follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and keep pursuing the example of more suspensions, expulsions and charter yanking in an attempt to enforce the 'authority and dignity' of the office by wrecking the Masonic careers of brethren who have devoted so much to the fraternity for so long? "Because I said so" is a lousy motivator for a voluntary organization that depends on the work and good will of its devoted members.

Would that there was a respected, gray-headed sage in South Carolina who could stand up on the floor of the annual meeting next week and make some calming and uniting statement or entreaty to cool the anger on all sides, set aside the trial decisions and expulsions, and convince the room to do what it takes to restore harmony without destroying Masonic careers. But I doubt that will happen, and more’s the pity. I fear this entire melodrama may result in the loss of far too many members resigning in disgust. And that’s the ultimate tragedy of this mess.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Dedication of Masonic Marker April 24th: Author Dwight L. Smith



by Christopher Hodapp

Next Saturday, April 24th, 2021, Grand Master Kenneth Roy, Jr. and the officers of the Grand Lodge F&AM of Indiana will dedicate a new Masonic historical marker in memory of Indiana Past Grand Master and Past Grand Secretary, Dwight L. Smith.

The dedication of the new marker will be held on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. at Salem Lodge No. 21, located at 506 West Poplar Street in Salem, Indiana.


Dwight Smith was born in Pennville, Indiana in 1909, and he was a member of Salem Lodge No. 21 for 59 years. For many years, he also served as the local editor for Salem’s hometown newspaper, the Salem Leader.

Dwight Smith passed away in 1993 and was internationally honored as an author and leader whose influence was felt throughout the Masonic fraternity. Dwight served as the Grand Secretary for 32 years, and editor of the Indiana Freemason Magazine officially or unofficially from 1945 until 1991. He was an author of books, hundreds of articles, and Masonic plays. Throughout his career, he was honored with countless awards all over the world. Indiana Masons today largely know him for writing 'Goodly Heritage,' a history of Indiana Freemasonry, in 1968. His booklets, 'Why This Confusion in the Temple?' and 'Whither Are We Traveling?' were published in the early 1960s, and continue to inspire and influence Masons all over the world.

The marker erected to Dwight Smith will be the second such Masonic marker placed by the Grand Lodge in historic Salem, Indiana. Several hundred feet away in Salem’s Crown Hill Cemetery, the Grand Lodge dedicated a plaque to the memory of John Hay Farnham. He served as one of our earliest Grand Lecturers in 1820-21, and as Junior grand Warden in 1821-22.

Farnham was a passionate campaigner for the new State of Indiana to open public schools at a time when just one out of every eight Hoosier children were able to read. Beginning in 1826, he battled for the cause of public education for the rest of his life. Farnham was also the foundering secretary of the Indiana Historical Society in 1830. Salem’s historic Pioneer Village museum is named after him - the John Hay Farnham Historical Center.

The Farnham marker was first erected in 1972 and was recently restored by local Masons in Salem.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Suspected Vancouver Arsonist Faces More Charges in Masonic Hall Fires

Charred remains of the Masonic Temple in Lynn Valley in 
North Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, March 30, 2021. 
(Photo: Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)


by Christopher Hodapp


British Columbia prosecutors have filed additional charges in connection with the burning of three metropolitan Vancouver Masonic halls last week. The principal suspect, 42-year-old Benjamin Orion Carlson Kohlman, was charged the day after his arrest with three offenses connected with a fire set at the Park Masonic Hall in northeastern Vancouver. He was charged with arson, assault of a peace officer, and failing to stop for a peace officer. 

The new, additional charges filed today against Kohlman are connected with the two earlier fires set that same morning. According to Global News Service, he was charged with two more counts of arson and three additional counts of breaking and entering and committing arson.

The Park Masonic Hall was the last of three Masonic lodges that were set ablaze last Tuesday morning over a 45-minute period in the northern suburbs of Vancouver. Kohlman was spotted carrying a gasoline can and leaving the scene of the Park temple just as a fire was spotted burning near its entrance. An off-duty police officer attempted to take him into custody, but Kohlman knocked the officer down and sped away. He was arrested shortly after that incident.

The three targeted lodges were Lynn Valley Lodge Hall, Lonsdale Masonic Temple (also known as the North Vancouver Masonic centre), and Park Masonic Hall. The 110-year-old Lonsdale building was a total loss and had to be demolished after fire crews extinguished the flames.


See also: 

• March 30 - Three Vancouver Masonic Halls Torched By Arsonist

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Philadelphia Masonic Temple Modeled at Legoland


by Christopher Hodapp

The master builders at Legoland Discovery Center in Plymouth Meeting, PA have made a scale model of the beautiful and historic Philadelphia Masonic Temple. In the video, builder Mike Nieves says the Temple has some 16,000 pieces and took 150 hours to construct. Watch the video above, or click HERE.

Lodge Presents Charges Against South Carolina Grand Master and Officers


by Christopher Hodapp

It was almost 160 years ago to the day, on April 12, 1861, when the South Carolina militia opened fire on Fort Sumter in South Carolina and kicked off the Civil War, the bloodiest war in U.S. history. I was thinking of that today as I went through all this material.

Union-Kilwinning Lodge No. 4 is the oldest continuously operating Masonic lodge in South Carolina. Yesterday, Past Master William 'Billy' Wall, who serves as Secretary of Union-Kilwinning Lodge, sent a 10-page packet of material detailing charges his lodge is making alleging un-Masonic conduct against current Grand Master Cal M. Disher, Deputy Grand Master O. Bruce Smith, and District Deputy Grand Master Steve Hiott.

Click image to enlarge

To get the fullest possible understanding of the situation, you need to start with the Union-Kilwinning webpage and a blog entry titled, "The First Encounter." (CLICK HERE) That long entry details events in November and December last year when the lodge attempted to hold its meetings and officer elections.

In October, GM Disher issued new guidelines detailing what lodges needed to do in order to restart stated meetings under COVID restrictions: as few members as constitutionally allowed; masks and social distancing; no electronic communication... all the standard stuff.  Apparently, all hell broke out at the December meeting of Union Kilwinning and their elections when "three ruffians" showed up in succession in the course of the evening: Steve Hiott, District Deputy Grand Master, O. Bruce Smith, Deputy Grand Master, and the Grand Master himself, Cal M. Disher. Disher revoked their charter and reportedly ordered an arrest warrant issued by the sheriff's office, accusing the lodge of stealing its own property.

(Interestingly, one curious aspect of the story is that neither the DGM nor the GM identified themselves, and were wearing their COVID masks when they angrily demanded entry and ordered all activity to cease. Face it - with these masks all of us have to wear, we all look like we're dressed for a liquor store holdup, and muffled conversations sound like a hostage phone call.)

The material is much too detailed and complex for me to properly encapsulate it here, so I encourage you to read "The First Encounter" for yourself. Part of this fight turns on the minimum number of members required to open a MM lodge. South Carolina's rules and adopted 'Landmarks' are among the oldest in the United States, and they are sometimes quite different from the way the majority of grand lodges operate. According to Secretary Walls' account, South Carolina requires only six attending, whereas the majority of the U.S. requires seven. According to the allegations, GM Disher improperly issued an edict late in the year declaring the minimum must be seven. 

The lodge is also alleging that the Grand Master did not have the authority to cancel the annual meeting and remain in office beyond his term, and that he has issued multiple edicts that violate their Ahimon Rezon book of constitutions.

And then there are the assault and battery charges...

The information packet sent to all of the lodges in South Carolina was posted online HERE. The lodge has taken their case to the voting members before their scheduled communication in April. That is also when they are expecting their Masonic trial to be held. 

Not to be easily thwarted, the Grand Secretary for South Carolina pronounced that the letter and its contents may NOT be read in open lodge, and has further demanded that every single lodge pack up their letter and mail it directly to him. Right.

Because, you know, cell phones, Xeroxes, computer copies, scanners, printers, and other forms of duplicating and sharing documents don't exist in South Carolina. One could just faintly hear the collective laughter of SC secretaries here, from five states away.

I wish the brethren of Union-Killwinning lots of luck going forward, but suspect this won't end well. Their blog post "Why Cal Disher is the Past Grand Master, and the GL is irregular" is a curious logic thread to attempt to follow. Their reasoning is that, because Cal Disher cancelled 2020's annual meeting, he violated their constitution. At the close of the meeting, the GM and all GL officers must renew their oath of office (SC GMs generally serve two years). That wasn't done, because no meeting. According to the post:

Ahiman Rezon, Article 38. (~Pg. 308) reads "In the absence of the Grand Master from the Grand Lodge, the Chair SHALL (there is that word again) be taken by the Deputy Grand Master; in his absence by the Grand Wardens, in order of priority of rank; and in the absence of all these officers, by the Master of the oldest Lodge on the registry of the Jurisdiction." There is also a rule in the Ahiman Rezon, Chapter IV Rule 4. (~Pg.196), which reads "When the Grand Master is absent from the Grand Lodge, the chair SHALL be taken by the Deputy. If both are absent, the Senior Grand Warden, or if he be likewise absent, the Junior Grand Warden MUST take the chair. If all these offices are absent, the duties of the Grand Lodge WILL (another word meaning required) devolve upon the Master of the OLDEST LODGE present. Vacancies in the other chairs are to be supplied by the Masters of Lodges, according to seniority."
And without just coming out and saying it, since their lodge is the oldest established, continuously operating lodge in the state, the post is essentially stating their own Worshipful Master is the de facto Grand Master for South Carolina because of this rule, which makes all of Cal Disher's actions since last April null and void. I don't enjoy being a soggy blanket in their time of tribulation, but this can't possibly go well. Especially since their charter's been revoked.

It's entirely possible that the 2021 annual meeting of South Carolina turns out like a Scottish mud wrestling match by the time it's all over, with everybody covered in filth but still yukking it up and hugging each other at the pub afterwards. Or it could turn out to be the equivalent of first shots fired on Fort Sumter, setting off a bloody, bitter war. 

Let's all hope it's the former instead of the latter.