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.
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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.