Sunday, January 4, 2009

Preventing Lodge Foreclosures



This is a story that could have happened but in reality is pure fiction. It’s really a sophisticated guess. It seems that there was this Lodge that had a once beautiful building that was falling into disrepair. With a dwindling membership and no other tenants it found it increasingly difficult to maintain and pay for the costs of this grand old piece of architecture. It was an albatross hanging around the Lodge’s neck. Try as they could by raising dues and holding fundraisers they just could not meet the operating costs of the building never mind keep ahead of its deterioration. Part of the problem was the hefty tax bill on the property. The solution that the Lodge came up with did not meet with the approval of the Grand Master. Let’s listen in on what might have been said.

GM = Grand Master M = Master of the Lodge

GM: I have come to meet with you to make it plain in no uncertain terms to you that your course of action in selling this Lodge building which belongs to Grand Lodge is a violation of the by-laws, rules and regulations of Grand Lodge and is cause for expulsion and loss of your Charter.

M: It is sad that it has come to this. Our building – or your building as you call it – was in a state of disrepair and we were not generating enough money to take proper care of it or really afford to own it unless we took drastic action to see that funds were available to save and restore it.

GM: But why did you sell it knowingly in violation of your Grand Lodge? Why did you not to seek to raise money through fundraisers and other legal means?

M: We never were able to obtain anywhere near the money we needed by raising dues and holding fundraisers. The amount we were able to raise fell far, far short of what was needed to save this grand old building. We put off the inevitable as long as we could but finally the day of reckoning came.

GM: Then you needed to give up the building and meet somewhere else, perhaps renting reasonable space or paying rent in another Lodge building

M: That was one course of action that had some following in our discussion and debate on the matter. Where it is a beautiful old building and your building as you say, why would you not provide the funds to save it? Why would you want one of your buildings to be condemned and face the wrecking ball?

GM: The Grand Lodge is not a bank or a charitable trust and I am not here to offer you money gathered from everybody else for your exclusive use to save your building. I am here to enforce the rules.

M: Now it is our building is it? It is ours when it comes time to pay for its upkeep, maintenance and operation. It’s yours when we decide to convert it into a moneymaker that will continue Freemasonry in a style that will attract new members and allow our Lodge to grow.

GM: If you don’t like Grand Lodge rules you have an opportunity to vote to change them at every Grand Lodge Session. Your action in selling Grand Lodge property is a direct violation of these rules and I must insist that you negate the sale or suffer the consequences. And if you cannot or refuse to do that then I command you to turn over to me and the Grand Lodge the proceeds of this illegal sale.

M: Here you are Grand Master. Here is what we got for the building.


M: Well Grand Master you refused to help us. You refused to provide any funds so we could get out from under. You have refused to allow us to rent to paying tenants you do not approve of. You have refused to allow alcohol to be served in the building so that we could use the building when it sits idle as a banquet hall for weddings and functions. You have refused to put all YOUR Masonic Buildings in a tax-exempt status or allow us to do so. You have refused to negotiate group insurance rates for our buildings, contents and property. You have refused to use the power of economies to scale to financially aid your chartered Lodges in a time of declining membership and a depressed economy. You have refused to be of any assistance in our time of need. Lord knows that we have asked for your help many times over and informed you of our dire circumstances. Yet you sat on your hands and did nothing. You fiddled while Rome burned.

Now we have sold for next to nothing the Masonic building to a community charitable organization in which the Lodge and Lodge members have significant control. They have registered the building and all its activities and expenses as a 501©3 tax exempt operation. The new owners have rented out parts of the building to four well-heeled tenants among them a citywide boxing club. The charitable organization has been able to attain the finances needed to repair and maintain this beautiful building while we as a Lodge can continue to meet here and now totally rent free. We gave the building to charity and charity pays for and runs the building and returns our favor by charging us nothing as a tenant.

You have left us alone to solve our problems without any help from you or the Grand Lodge. We have come up with the only means we could to save the building and to be able to stay here and meet here as we have done for over a hundred years. At the same time we have seen to it that our involvement as Freemasons with charitable pursuits for the entire community has markedly increased.

Grand Master you could try to come to some kind of compromise with us.

GM: There is no compromise. It’s all there in black and white. You have violated your Grand Lodge and thereby have violated your obligations.

M: Grand Master, could we not come to some sort of middle ground here? The new owners are prepared to offer the Grand Lodge the right of first refusal if the building is ever put up for sale again. You would have the right to meet any offer made for this building and buy it back for the Grand Lodge. In the meantime our membership will increase with the building restoration and the increased activity within. This will mean more per capita money the Lodge will be sending into Grand Lodge.

GM: The Grand Lodge is never going to pay for what it already owns. Reverse the sale or be expelled and lose your charter.

M: What worth is there in owning a building that no longer can meet building and fire codes and will be abandoned only to be razed? There will be no building your way and you refuse to supply any assistance to repair the problems and restore the building, nor allow us to rent to the tenants we want to. Your rules and regulations are strangling us leaving us no other course of action then the one we have taken.

GM: And you fail to see that this is not about you but about the sanctity of the institution. First and foremost we must protect Freemasonry in this jurisdiction by enforcing the Grand Lodge by-laws, rules and regulations which have been put there for the survival of the many, not the interests of a few.

I see that you are committed to your course of action. Therefore your charter is now officially pulled and you are all expelled. And we shall see you all in court where maybe a judge will honor the Grand Lodge’s claim to its building.

M: We shall see you in court, Grand Master. Maybe a judge will see that in reality you have abandoned the building by not supplying the means or allowing the necessary steps to be taken to keep it alive.

And herein lies a problem that will become more and more prevalent as our economy sinks deeper and deeper into depression. Many Lodges across our nation have been struggling in good times to meet the expenses of owning a Masonic building. Now with hard times upon us look for Lodge “foreclosures” to rapidly increase.

The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts is known to have in excess of $300 million in its coffers. It spends all kinds of money on its pet projects and charitable projects yet it rarely will bail out any of its chartered Lodges in financial trouble. In fact because Grand Lodge donations were down it launched a $10 million Grand Lodge fund raising program in order that it did not have to tap into its $300+ million principle.

The very well respected Masonic blogger Masonic Traveler wrote a column asking whether American Masonry had become institutionalized. Do we revere and worship the institution rather than the philosophy? For you see if we worship the institution first then all other forms of Masonry are bogus even if they say the exact same thing which is a point that the blog The Middle Chamber has so deftly made.

The result is that we create artificial laws like the Right of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction so we can create a Masonic monopoly, then we write rules of recognition, of irregular Masonry and clandestine Masonry. Now we are the one and only true Masonry. We have created an institution that has a life of its own. It is then that the institution and its preservation uncorrupted comes first and the well being of people and the practice of the dogma or philosophy take a back seat. Ask Ed King. He will tell you all about it.

This is the exact position that the Catholic Church has taken and since it’s my church I feel I have a right to sound off about it (which I would not do to your house of worship). When the pedophile Priest scandal was first exposed what was the course of action the Catholic Church chose? They elected to cover it up, deny it and hide it, transferring sick Priests to another parish or non-parish duties. They did so because for them the first priority before anything else was the preservation of the Church, that is the institution. People and their suffering unfortunately have to endure in silence, they will tell you, because without the Church all would be lost. And while they are at it the Church will also tell you all about bogus and clandestine Christianity (see heresies and Protestantism).

Rome, which has billions in its coffers, takes the same attitude towards its local church’s financial woes as some Grand Lodges take to their failing local Lodges.

Once in awhile I contemplate which came first the chicken or the egg. I haven’t answered that query satisfactorily yet but I can answer which came first local Lodges or Grand Lodges? We all know the answer to that question. The problem is that while Grand Lodges used to sit at the will and pleasure of local Lodges, today local Lodges sit at the will and pleasure of Grand Lodges. And more and more Grand Lodges are cracking the whip. As they do so they purge themselves of any recalcitrants who would seek to deinstitutionalize Masonry and make it a more open society. They must keep the Institution pure, they will tell you, that’s the only way it will survive. What they are really doing is causing more fissures, splits and breakaways.

Meanwhile local Lodges like the one in our fictional story are begging for a bailout. Maybe these Lodges, these foreclosures, should turn to President Obama. After all the federal government is bailing out anybody and everybody!

Are we ready as we go deeper and deeper into economic collapse in the United States, as everybody pulls back and spends little and suspends all luxuries, to watch Masonic building after Masonic building across the USA be abandoned, foreclosed or sold? Are we ready to sit back following the same failed policies and hang tied by rules and regulations we fail to modify? Or are we going to think outside the box, get creative and meet this economic depression head on in order to survive in buildings in many cases that have thousands and thousands of dollars or irreplaceable artwork, wood work and specialized building construction? Are we going to just walk away from these hand crafted works of art to go meet at someone’s house or a church or the back room of a tavern?

Are we men enough and secure enough in our ability to keep our private affairs private to hire professionals to help us manage our finances and our assets? Can we run our Lodges like a business and make a profit? Are we willing to procure the most advantageous tax structure for our Lodges? Are we willing to modify overly strict rules and regulations to enable us to maximize the use of our buildings? Can we make our Lodge property pay for itself? Are we as a Lodge willing to put ourselves into the hands of an outside professional business manager who can run the financial/business side of our Lodges so that we can stay afloat? Or are we going to continue to muddle through until we are left with no choice but to walk away from it all?

Are not many Lodges now spending every penny they can raise on just keeping their building open? Doesn’t that severely limit what a Lodge can do in the way of providing good Masonic programs? And isn’t the lack of good Masonic programs hurting our ability to attract new members? Aren’t most Lodge mergers the result of one Lodge’s economic collapse?

Isn’t this really a vicious cycle? We are so crippled by the expense of our buildings that we have no money for anything else. We can’t go anywhere as a Lodge, have grand dinners, put on a family BBQ or a Ladies night of dinner and dancing or pay for an outside featured speaker for our Lodge because we have no money. Every cent we raise goes into keeping our buildings open. Doesn’t then what we can do as a Lodge become very limited? Doesn’t that limitation severely hamper our ability to attract new members? Because we get no new members doesn’t that limit the amount of money coming into our bank account? No money means no programs which means no new members which means less and less money. We are going around and around in a vicious circle.

What would you do about it? Was the fictional Lodge in this story justified in its actions?


Robert G. Davis said...

This is a thoughtful post, Brother. Let us hope most Grand Masters are not quite as egg-headed as your fictional story suggests. The larger reality is that Grand Lodges can do very little in the way of direct grants to help lodges. There are few that have the financial resources to actually save broken down lodge buildings. In fact, most of the wealth held corporately by the fraternity was given it for charitable purposes and cannot legally be spent for fraternal reasons.

But your larger point is that all Masonry should be local. Grand Lodges should rarely enforce rules which threaten the closure of a local lodge; nor should they impede creative ideas which are otherwise legal under civil law and aimed at solving local problems. Every lodge should be sovereign enough to endow its membership and its phsyical plant, and otherwise employ all legal means to secure its financial future.

Perhaps we should let our state Masonic foundations or Grand Lodge charitable funds handle the charitable needs of our fraternity during these recessionary times, while we re-focus all our efforts locally at raising awareness (and funds) to save our local lodge buildings.

I should think there would be nothing more fraternal than securing the future of Masonry in one's own community.

Nice post.
Robert Davis

Anonymous said...

I asked Masonic Line this question but he fails to post anything he doesn't agree with.

he stated:"The Beehive also contemplated on the “chicken and the egg – which came first” question. Unless this imaginary lodge is so old that it predates its Grand Lodge, that question can be answered pretty easily. The Grand Lodge came first."

Okay it takes THREE Lodges to constitute a Grand Lodge.

The first question is:
Who chartered the first Grand Lodge?

The second question is:
Why do you care what goes on outside your (as you like to put it)
"Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction" ??

Frederic L. Milliken said...

1) The Premier Grand Lodge was chartered in 1717 by a group of Lodges. I don't have their names off the top of my head. The Grand Lodges West of the Appalachians were chartered by a group of Lodges within each state who had been previously charted by a Grand Lodge from an Eastern or neighboring state.

But all of that means little if you missed the point.
The first repository of Masonic power rests in the local Lodge.

2) The same reason I care civilly what happens outside of Texas because I care about the whole United States.
What happens in one jurisdiction has a direct bearing and is a reflection on all jurisdictions.

So you will find many of the general public judging Freemasonry as a whole by the actions of the Grand Lodge of West Virginia.

2 BOWL CAIN said...

The Lodge securing their future should be it's main priority.

Yes they could meet somewhere else, or merge their profits from the sale in with another Lodge, or use their god given minds to creatively find a way for survival.

The Lodge came first, 7 master masons can meet at anytime anywhere they like, with or without a Grand Lodge charter. As all fellows and brothers have done before.

1717 was a revival, not of a Grand Lodge, but of a "spirit" or "movement" that was effecting social change through Revolutionary tactics of Knowledge and Philosophy, strictly to break the spell of the Monarchy and Church.

Nothing to do with Individual Titles, positions or territory, those are man made innovations for control and power.

Excellent post brother.
Why do our Grand Lodges take a hands off approach to the upkeep and survival of old buildings, but are immediately present when sales and destruction take place?