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Saturday, January 20, 2024

Masons of Texas Turn Out in Force For Annual Meeting



Photo: Don Comedy


by Christopher Hodapp

Note: This story was updated Monday, January 22nd at 1:00 AM to reflect corrections passed along to me by Texas brethren. Corrections include: a revised list of grand officers who were reelected to the Grand Officer's lineup and retained from last year; addition of GM Chapman's photo; more detail added to summarize what led up to these events over the weekend. Errors in the previous version of this story were mine alone. My apologies to all, and my thanks for those who offered corrections. CH

Revolutions are normally noisy and bloody things, but the Masons of Texas managed to stage their revolt in a remarkably calm and measured manner. The Grand Lodge of Texas AF&AM held its annual communication in Waco over the last three days, culminating in their grand officer elections this afternoon. Attendees eligible to vote – collectively known in Texas as the "Grand West" – numbered more than 3,400 rumored to be their biggest assembly so far in this century. After all the controversies taking place in Texas over the past year, it’s not surprising that events unfolded the way they did. 


Voting members approved a resolution permitting the consumption of alcoholic beverages in a Masonic building after a lodge meeting. In a normal year that would be seen as an almost cataclysmic event, but it was a mere footnote to the drama of choosing whose vision will lead Texas Freemasonry into the future.

In a major upheaval and repudiation to "the Old Guard" of grand lodge officers, last year's Deputy Grand Master H. Bart Henderson was passed over for advancement by voters in favor of electing MW Tommy F. Chapman, Past Grand Master from 2018, whose name was placed into nomination from the floor. 


The new officers of the Grand Lodge of Texas for 2024 are:

Grand Master: Past Grand Master Tommy Frank Chapman
Deputy Grand Master: Raborn Reader
Grand Senior Warden: Jim Rumsey
Grand Junior Warden: Justin Duty
Grand Treasurer: Rick Townsend
Grand Secretary: Brad Billings

Officers remaining and advancing from last year's line were: Raborn Reader (last year’s GSW), James Rumsey (last year's GJW), and Grand Treasurer Townsend. 

[NOTE: A previous version of this story said there had been a major shakeup in the Grand Lodge Trustees, as well. I've since been informed that these six elected grand officers actually make up the Trustees in Texas, which is quite different from many U.S. jurisdictions in which the Trustees are a completely separate group of brethren, that sometimes may include the current grand master. Apologies for my misunderstanding.]

At the heart of this year's tensions were previous attempts by PGM G. Clay Smith's administration to isolate, suspend or otherwise blunt the popularity of 2023 Grand Master Brad Billings and other brethren who were seen to be his allies and supporters in order to prevent a major change in the leadership's direction of the Grand Lodge. Even before Billings left office last January, clashes arose between him and what Jim Tresner used to refer to as Masonry's "mossback turtles" who disapproved of his younger, brasher style. 

An attempt had been made last January to prevent James Rumsey from being installed as Grand Junior Warden after his election and immediately after the installation of the new Grand Master, but mere moments before Rumsey's installation as GJW. The installation was halted and charges were read out against him by the GM, but the assembled brethren made such an uproar over the obvious ploy to scuttle Rumsey that the charges were deferred to a later time. Rumsey was subsequently suspended by Grand Master Smith the week after the annual meeting. The Grand Secretary at that time, Justin Duty, was also seen to be allied with PGM Billings last year, and GM Smith suspended him last month after Grand Trustees had voted against his making such a move. The political machinations and the misuse of the Grand Lodge rules became repugnant to the rank and file Masons in the state (along with countless Masons outside of Texas who watched events unfold via social media posts), which is what led to this weekend's proceedings.


This year, the voting brethren had their say all weekend long. A resolution was adopted forbidding the grand officer elections from taking place until the completion of all other business in order to prevent last minute shenanigans once the bored crowd left town (something that is extremely commonplace during previous long sessions in years past).

In a brief moment of online embarrassment, the internal Grandview website of the Grand Lodge of Texas was updated Saturday morning with 'the new Grand Lodge officers for 2024' showing Bart Henderson as GM, along with the slate of officers who had been expected to advance normally through the line. But as the election began to unfold, it was hastily removed. (That page fortunately never went onto the public website.)


Similarly, the Grand Lodge booth in Waco selling "H.B. Henderson 2024 GM" commemorative coins, belt buckles, pins and more was immediately shuttered when elections concluded, making those items truly rare and unusual collectors' items.

In his acceptance message, GM Chapman addressed the subject of appointed District Deputy Grand Masters, committee members and others by inviting them to remain in those positions for his administration if they wished to continue serving the grand Lodge. Otherwise, they could turn in their officer aprons and a new appointment would be selected. 

On Friday, a resolution (Resolution 10/24) was passed that had a huge effect on the activities and elections that followed. It immediately moved that all charges against anyone making themselves available for a grand office be openly tried under jurisdiction of Grand Lodge, and not behind closed doors in a subordinate lodge. It specified that all charges had to be handled by the Grand Lodge prior to the upcoming elections. This was why the order of business was such an important issue this year. Despite the Grand East's attempts to force the elections to take place earlier in the session, the Grand West insisted on the completion of all business (including the disposition of this resolution) before the elections were to be held. Passing the resolution made it effective immediately, which led to an immediate trial for RW Brad Billings on Saturday morning where they would have to explain everything to the Grand West. In a major development, negotiations went on between Billings and the Grand Lodge in which he dropped his defamation lawsuit against the GL in return for the dropping of all charges brought against him. By Saturday morning all parties had settled all charges, and Billings was permitted to run for grand Secretary - a position he subsequently won.

In other action, the Grand West also shot down a resolution to permit "one day classes" and the power to create a "Mason at sight" by grand masters. Other resolutions that passed:
  • Approved the printing and display of lodge minutes an hour before opening a meeting for inspection by members for correction, and dropping requirement of the actual reading of the minutes;
  • A special session of the Grand Lodge may be called by 50 or more lodges (this is a constitutional change that must hold over until 2025 meeting for final vote);
  • Lodges may sponsor and permit the Boy Scouts to meet in their buildings;
  • Restoration of the charter of Austin Lodge 12.
Ben Franklin was famously asked by a lady outside of the committee meeting in which the U.S. Constituution was drafted, "Well Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?" His classic response was, "A Republic, if you can keep it." Texas Masons seem to have taken that job of keeping their republic over a monarchy quite seriously this week.

Photos: My apologies for some missing photo credits. These were grabbed from various Facebook posts and text messages I was following all weekend, and I was unable to notate the sources at the time. Tough to do while driving. If I've used one of your images, let me know and I'll either credit you or take it down.

24 comments:

  1. As a Mason in NC, it has been sad to see such gross unMasonic conduct happening with our Texas brethren's leadership over the past year. In glad to see that Brotherhood has prevailed and a strong rebuke has been sent to those who would so wantonly abuse their authority. I hope this helps them move forward and serve as a clear warning to other would-be tyrants that our great Fraternity is about more than one man's ego.

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    1. Well said Brother Burroughs. Over fifty years as a member of our great fraternity, I've witnessed evolutionary changes in the Craft that have brought us closer to the true goal of strengthening the character of the individual man by providing opportunities for fellowship, charity, and education. So mote it be.

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    2. As a South Carolina Mason, I know that such actions aren't limited to Texas. It is up to the Craft in each jurisdiction to ensure that leaders are are held responsible when they go too far, and to remember that a Grand Master is NOT the ultimate Masonic authority; that authority is reserved to the Craft assembled in Grand Lodge.

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  2. I am not certain what is meant by the term "holdover" in this article, but if I may offer this information:
    RW Raborn Reader continued through the Grand Line from Grand Senior Warden to Deputy Grand Master.
    RW Jim Rumsey continued through the Grand Line from Grand Junior Warden to Grand Senior Warden.
    RW Rick Townsend was reelected as Grand Treasurer.

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  3. Jerry Piepiora / PGM of Maryland.

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  4. Please note that the update was to the Grandview members only site and not to the GLOT website. I was at GL and heard about this and verified that it was only the members GLOT members only section of a password protected site, NOT the GL website.

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  5. Great article, Brother Hodapp. "Freemasonry For Dummies" is in part why I became a Mason, and you were the person who put me in touch with a mutual friend in College Station who introduced me to the Craft. I hope that we get to meet in person one day. Thanks for writing this article.

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  6. A good example for other grand lodges, where not only are there problems but Tammany Hall politics. The automatic succession through the chairs has cost us.

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  7. Let me second Brother Olivier about the value of Brother Hodapp's comments. Far and away, his is the best source for what is going on.

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  8. If you consider it, this rebuke is a continuation of a long string of userpations by would-be despots for several years. The root of this lies in the fact that our forms of Masonic governance, are based on the parliamentary forms before our revolution. As such these forms of governance are known as elective dictatorships and are incompatible forms for free people, particularly those who have enjoyed democratically elected, republican governance for going on two and a half centuries. Until they are remolded in republican forms with checks and balances, this will continue.

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  9. Jeff Holder P.M. GLTXSun Jan 21, 10:02:00 PM 2024

    I’m proud of the brethren of this jurisdiction for persevering and taking a stand. No one wins when masons fight one another or act in a vengeful or vindictive manner. Further, our nomination/election process and our installation ceremonies make it clear that the elected brother is to serve the craft. I lost count this past year of the number of times I’ve said “We (the voting members) are the grand lodge.” This is the first time in my memory the grand west repeatedly and decisively worked together to show that. I look forward to this and the following Masonic years, hoping that from here we can learn to work as craftsmen, that is to say, together, and with guided in our actions by the question, “What is best for the craft?”

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  10. This is indeed wonderful news, provides hope to the hopeful that our institutions may be redeemed across the global. Thank you for keeping us informed

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  11. As a South Carolina Mason, I am all too familiar with corrupt leadership. Freemasonry obviously has its leaders, but those men are not to be dictators. Our voting members have proven that they can properly handle our past internal issues, and it's good to see other states making the effort to not only root out corruption, but correct it.

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  12. Grady Smart WM Hillcrest 1318Mon Jan 22, 02:22:00 PM 2024

    And let us not forget, the passage of Resolution 9 which allows individual lodges to choose whether to allow alcohol on premises or not, thus finally accepting Texas masons as the grown adults they are. In a very tangible way this was a continuation of this year’s theme of Grand West reminding the GL it is there to SERVE, not to OPPRESS.

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  13. This is some bad stuff to try and pull as a master mason in Ohio I lived in Texas for a year and met lots of brothers in Houston iimglad

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  14. The real test now is the healing process and I pray that my brethren of Texas will be the exemplars of such a noble pursuit. Congratulations to all these Texas brethren; Billings, Duty, Townsend, Rumsey, Sanchez and for all those who put in their effort for the sake of this, our gentle Craft.

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  15. More solid reporting by Chris Hodapp. It is a good thing that the Grand West prevailed in countering unfortunate sentiments and preventing shady “trials.” Politics aside, from a broader perspective it’s is noteworthy that the West voted in favor of alcohol on premises yet against One Day classes. The former is a sign of the times and goes a long way to delivering convivial programming. The latter has been a useful tool in many Grand Jurisdictions. I am interested to know how close those votes were and why the One Days failed this year to get traction.

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  16. I am a Past Master and a voting member of the Grand Lodge of Texas and am disgusted that we are going to permit alcohol in our lodge buildings. This is a recipe for disaster, if a Brother Mason drives drunk and kills someone the Lodge is liable.

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    1. This is not accurate and was addressed, several times, during the introduction of the resolution and again during discussion. Dram shop laws and liability does not apply to the lodge if a member leaves the lodge drunks. Besides, brethren shouldn't be drinking to excess anyway. Further, this is being FORCED on the brethren. The resolution simply removes the wholesale ban on alcohol consumption in lodges, but still requires the rules and regulations be updated for each lodge which requires a majority vote by the lodge.

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    2. We started in Alehouses. Wouldn't we also trust our brothers to consume appropriately. I would urge you to subdue your own passions my Brother.

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  17. My lodge under the GLoNY has allowed beer to be served during the fellowcraft hour following regularly scheduled meetings. During the fellowcraft hour, cold cuts for sandwiches, chips, and other snacks are available, along with beer and soft drinks, in the lodge's dining room. This is a time for brothers to socialize, play cards, and enjoy a simple meal. Our lodge does not have a bar, nor do we maintain a supply of alcohol in the building. The Jr Warden supplies the food and drinks for that evening's fellowcraft hour. It would be considered unmasonic conduct for a brother to overindulge during the fellowcraft hour. Brothers wishing to extend the evening's socializing would adjourn to a local pub.

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  18. Roberto Sanchez’s “teas” make him awfully well positioned for GJW next year. Hollow words from someone who repeatedly said he had nothing to gain while accepting a nomination for DGM.

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  19. Ben Franklin wrote in Poor Richard's Almanac: “Quarrels never could last long, If on one side only lay the wrong.”
    I have been a Texas Master Mason for 45+ years, and personally know and like individuals on each of the multiple sides of these grand fracases.
    Coming out of a multi-year Covid-19 Quarantine shutdown; strict old school cash ledger style accounting systems had been completely replaced with modern computer debit-credit card accounting, clerical office personnel replaced with automated AI, and an extensive sales marketing promotional campaigns launched with apparently loose credit accounting.
    (Young Spendthrift Marketing Accounting vs. Old Penny Pinching Miser Cash Accounting. --- My personal penny pinching thought.)
    So, here are three additional Poor Richard's Almanac quotes to close my comments:
    1. "Glass, China and Reputation are easily cracked and never well mended."
    2. “He that spills the Rum, loses that only; He that drinks it, often loses both that and himself.”
    3. “Avoid dishonest Gain: No price Can recompense the Pangs of Vice.”

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