Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lodge Secretary (For Life): A Thankless Job

Contemplating my life sentence at our installation
I'm about six months into a life term as Secretary of my lodge.  Masons think that's funny, and there's a reason for it.  Truth is, there aren't many members that really want to be the Secretary of the lodge.  It's a big job.  Those that will take it, usually wind up in the chair year after year, decade after decade, until one day, they are found, face down on their desk blotter clutching a copy of the Constitution and Bylaws in one hand, and a Notice of Petition Received in the other.
 
The Secretary job is an important one without question.  Master's come and go, but the Secretary remains year after year.  He's responsible for managing the lodge, and he becomes what's called "institutional knowledge" after a few years behind the desk.  He is responsible for everything from keeping the meeting minutes, to keeping the member records current.  That includes all the addresses of the members, phone numbers, emails, and knowing that Charlie goes to Florida every winter, so for three months, he wants his lodge newsletter sent there.  The official duties are rather extensive.  Secretaries keep track of all the degree work going on, are responsible for knowing the rules of the Grand Lodge, and they quickly become the person the members look to for information.  And the Secretary is usually the one that receives the call from the family when a member passes away (often late at night), and makes sure those records are updated, and works with the family to arrange the Masonic funeral rites.  Secretaries also make sure the widows are taken care of long after their husbands have passed, and we keep track of what their needs may be.  That's what we do.

It's a big job, even in a small lodge.  There are about a million forms.  Every time a petition is received--there's a Grand Lodge form.  Every time an address changes--there's a form.  Every time a degree is done--there is a form.  Then there is collecting the annual dues--lots of forms and stamps required there.  It is a lot of work, but the salary package is excellent!  It's basically the base salary times the number of years you've been a Mason.  The base salary is $0.  So in my case, the calculation is $0 x 6 years.  Okay, so basically I get reimbursed for stamps.  Oh, and Secretaries get a lot of credit too--they get credit for everything that goes wrong, and the Master gets credit for all that goes right.  I loved that rule last year, but not so much this year.  I miss my old job--I had that nice fedora, and that oak gavel, and a lovely perch on top of the dais in the East with the big chair under the "G".  And my Secretary made all those brilliant things I thought up actually happen.  You know, that same guy that talked me into being Secretary in the first place.

Now I knew I was going somewhere with this, and I just remembered what it was.  I couldn't have picked a better time to become a Secretary.  After six months of doing things the old way, I went to a meeting last week and got training on "the new way."  That was a relief to me since I've found forms that were sent to our Grand Lodge in 1920 that look exactly like the same forms I've been filling out since I was installed in June. Our Grand Lodge of Illinois is going hi-tech.  Most of the forms are going away, and I'll be able to do most of my work online now.  I'll be able to maintain member records myself instead of sending in all these forms.  Our new system will even keep track of dues payments.  I'm too embarrassed to admit how I'm doing it now--it doesn't involve stone tablets, but it's not much more sophisticated than that. 

My job is about to become much easier.  I can even print off member rosters, address labels, and reports out of this new system.  I'm very impressed.  Got to give a lot of credit to our Grand Secretary, Frank Cline!  I even overheard Frank say at that meeting he was able to update a record right from his smart phone when he ran into a Brother at a gas station with a new address.  He updated that address right into the Grand Lodge database from the cashier counter at the gas station.  I gotta get one of those smart phone thingies.  My wife has one, but it seems to make her mad--something about Angry Birds.

It's a great honor to be a lodge Secretary.  Much of the information I've gotten for my Famous American Freemasons books has come from the lodge Secretary where my famous Freemasons belonged.  I've sent hundreds of letters and emails in search of this information.  These Secretaries serve in lodges all over the United States--some are old, and some are very young.  But they are never shy about being willing to dig through the dusty musty files in search of information for me.  And they've come up with some very unique stories written  in lodge minutes. They've even scanned and sent me pages from their minutes, or scanned copies of the signature of the famous Freemason in their roster books.  Thanks to those efforts, some of the details in my books about these famous men you probably won't find anywhere else.

It's an important job.  If you're asked to be the Lodge Secretary, don't do it unless you're willing to do it right, because part of your job is writing history for your community.  And one day, those words you write might just mean the world to somebody that isn't even born yet. 

Todd E. Creason
Secretary (for life)

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