Intro: As Lodges around the Suffolk District are preparing for their own Lodge election of Officers and new Masters-elect will rise in the East in the coming weeks; I though it appropriate to share some good words of advice and consolation if necessary. Election by majority is one of the most sacred rights of a Master Mason in Freemasonry. Accounts of the first meeting of those four Lodges in London in 1717, and the results of their election of a new Grand Master to lead the newly resolved Grand Lodge of London and Westminster, clearly indicate that this was already and established practice among Masons. As it was they elected Mr. Anthony Sayer, Gentleman as Grand Master for the ensuing year, by virtue of he being the oldest Master Mason in the meeting that day. 

Electing a new Worshipful Master of a Lodge is no less and important and serious undertaking and should be contemplated. The importance of the Worshipful Master cannot be understated. From Our Stations and Places, by Henry Mecham, The incumbent of the Oriental Chair has powers peculiar to his station; powers far greater than those of the President of a society or the Chairman of a meeting of any kind.  President and Chairman are elected by the body over which they preside, and may be removed by that body.  A Master is elected by his lodge, but he cannot be removed by it; only by the Grand Master or Grand Lodge.  The presiding officer is bound by rules of order adopted by the body and by its by-laws.  A lodge cannot pass by-laws to alter, amend or curtail the powers of a Master.  Its by-laws are subject to approval by the proper Grand Lodge Committee or by the Grand Master; seldom are any approved which infringe upon his ancient prerogatives and powers; in those few instances in which improper by-laws have been approved, subsequent rulings have often declared the Master right in disregarding them.

” All preferment among Masons is grounded upon real worth and personal merit only.”-Constitutions, p. 6.

One of the most important franchises which the Masonic character offers is THE ELECTION OF MASTER FOR THE ENSUING TWELVE MONTHS. – “The qualifications necessary are, that the candidate should be true and trusty, of good repute, held in high estimation amongst the fraternity, skilled in Masonic knowledge, and moreover a lover of the Craft; he ought to be exemplary in his conduct, courteous in his manner, but, above all, steady and firm in principle.”

Unless the Brother who aspires to the Chair of a Freemason’s Lodge can conscientiously feel himself so qualified, he should pause ere he assumes or rather morally usurps it, and by tarrying somewhat, profit by the example of another, by whose conduct lie may improve his own unskilfulness, or amend in himself what his observations may have perceived to be defective in his Brother.

The fulfilment of the duties of a Mastership requires much personal inconvenience, and some sacrifice of time. The interests of a lodge, alike with its immediate welfare and ultimate prosperity, depend upon the skill and sagacity of the Master; while the general peace and harmony of its members take their tone from his conciliating courtesy, or suffer from his want of so vital an attribute.

The Master is called upon to attend (with the Past-Masters and Wardens of his Lodge) at the quarterly or yearly communications, and by his careful observation of the current questions to sanction or prevent what may support or injure the sacred and glorious institution he is bound to protect. It is to be remembered, that upon the ACTIVITY or SUPINENESS of the actual Masters that the order itself will be SUPPORTED or DEGRADED.

The Master is directed to attend the monthly boards of benevolence, that the wants of his deserving brethren may be generously and immediately relieved, or the application of the unworthy summarily rejected; there the cry of the widow and the orphan is heard, and there should the Master be to administer the funds which a confiding Lodge has entrusted to his vigilance; let him remember that he has bound himself to observe the ancient charges in which the foregoing obligations form some of the clauses; let him not hope to excuse his own neglect by that of others; rather let him be foremost in the ranks of emulation, and shame such who, while they assume the profession of a Master of a Lodge, withhold the practice it enjoins. Let his actions during the year be such, that when it terminates, the brethren will feel thankful for his services, and reward him by their approbation.

How different is the effect produced upon Freemasonry by those who merely falter through their official duties, who never show themselves where a personal service is demanded, and, in fact, who, if the charges have ever been read to them, disregard their importance by a coldness which is alike insulting to decency as to common sense.

Another important duty of a Master is the selection of his Wardens – the members of a Lodge may exercise their franchise in the election of a Master with a view to please a friend or to self-gratification, but the Master in his selection of officers ought always to have in view the interests of the Lodge. He should avoid appointing to the office of Wardens any brethren who may not be enabled to qualify for the superior dignity of Master, in order that when the period of election for that office shall approach, the Wardens, by attending carefully to their duties in Lodge and at the public meetings of the Craft, may become so experienced, that the brethren will not feel themselves placed in the difficulty of either wounding the feelings of an otherwise respectable individual by passing him over, or by electing him to an office he is incompetent to sustain – either of these possible cases the Master may prevent by timely discretion.

Finally, let him as well as the brethren of the Lodge diligently read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the constitutions of the fraternity, remembering that.

Grand Lodges differ in their interpretation of some of the “ancient usages and customs” of the Fraternity; what applies in one Jurisdiction does not necessarily apply in another.  But certain powers of a Master are so well recognized that they may be considered universal.  The occasional exceptions, if any, but prove the rule.  The Master may congregate his lodge when he pleases, and for what purpose he wishes, “provided” it does not interfere with the laws of the Grand Lodge.  For instance, he may assemble his lodge as a Special Communication to confer degrees, at his pleasure; but he must not, in so doing, contravene that requirement of the grand Lodge which calls for proper notice to the brethren, nor may a Master confer a degree in less than the statutory time following a preceding degree without a dispensation from the Grand Master.

The Master has the right of presiding over and controlling his lodge. He may put any brother in the East to preside or to confer a degree; he may then resume the gavel at his pleasure – even in the middle of a sentence if he wants to!  But even when he has delegated authority temporarily, the Master is not relieved from responsibility for what occurs in his lodge.

A very important power of the Master is that of appointing committees.  No lodge may appoint a committee.  The lodge may pass a resolution that a committee be appointed, but the selection of that committee is an inherent right of the Master.  He is, “ex officio,” a member of all committees he appoints.  The reason is obvious; he is responsible for the conduct of his lodge to the Grand Master and the Grand Lodge.  If the lodge could appoint committees and act upon their recommendations, the Master would be in the anomalous position of having great responsibilities, and no power to carry out their performance. So why are committees so important? The Master can’t do it alone and nor should he try. It takes a team of dedicated Masons to make a Lodge run smoothly and the sooner a Master learns this the better.

It may now be interesting to look for a moment at some matters in which the Worshipful Master is not supreme, and catalog a few things he may “not” do.

The Master, and only the Master appoints the appointive officers in his lodge.  In most Jurisdictions he may remove such appointed officers at his pleasure.  But, he cannot suspend, or deprive of his station or place, any officer elected by the lodge.  The Grand Master or his Deputy, may do this; the Worshipful Master may not.

A Master may not spend lodge money without the consent of the lodge.  As a matter of convenience, a Master frequently does pay out money in sudden emergencies, looking to the lodge for reimbursement.  But he cannot spend any lodge funds without the permission of the lodge.  Some Jurisdictions do allow the lodge by-laws to permit the Master to spend emergency funds up to a specified amount without prior consent of the lodge.

A Master cannot accept a petition, or confer a degree without the consent of the lodge.  It is for the lodge, not the Master, to say from what men it will receive an application, or a petition; and upon what candidates degrees shall be conferred.  The Master has the same power to “reject” through the “black cube” as any member has, but no power whatever to “accept” any candidate against the will of the lodge.

The lodge, not the Master, must approve or disapprove the minutes of the preceding meeting.  The Master cannot approve them; had he that power he might, with the connivance of the secretary, “run wild” in his lodge, and still his minutes would show no trace of his improper conduct.  But the Master may refuse to put a motion to confirm or approve minutes which he believes to be inaccurate or incomplete; in this way he can prevent a careless, headstrong Secretary from doing what he wants with his minutes!  Should a Master refuse to permit minutes to be confirmed, the matter would naturally be brought before the Grand Lodge or the Grand Master or his Deputy for settlement.

A Master cannot suspend the by-laws.  He must not permit the lodge to suspend the by-laws.  If the lodge wishes to change them, the means are available, not in suspension; but, in amendment.

A Worshipful Master has no more right to invade the privacy which shrouds the use of the “Black Cube” (or Ball), or which conceals the reason for an objection to an elected candidate receiving the degrees, than the humblest member of the lodge.  He cannot demand disclosure of action or motive from any brother, and should he do so, he would be subject to the severest discipline from the Grand Lodge.

Grand Lodges usually argue that a dereliction of duty by a brother who possesses the ability and character to attain the East, is worse than that of some less informed brother.  The Worshipful Master receives great honor, has great privileges, enjoys great prerogatives and powers.  Therefore, he must measure up to great responsibilities.  A Worshipful Master cannot resign.  Vacancies occur in the East through death, suspension by a Grand Master, expulsion from the Fraternity.  No power can make a Master attend to his duties if he desires to neglect them.  If he will not, or does not attend to them, the Senior Warden presides.  He is, however, still Senior Warden; he does not become Master until elected and installed.

So after discussing what a Master can and cannot do by constitution and tradition, maybe someone should talk about what a Master SHOULD do. I find it interesting after my first year in the east and watching other Masters struggle through theit first year. One common comment that comes up is that by the time you figure out what your doing, the year in the east is all but over. Some Lodge have a tradition of Masters serving two years consecutively, as they settle into the job after the first year and can fly solo so to speak.

Whether or not a new Master serves one or two years is of course a matter for he and his Lodge. But in this light there are a few things that an immediate Past Master and the Master elect should share. Since this typically happens that the current Master has a 2nd or vice aka Sr. Warden, it is somewhat critical that they work together through the year in turn. So the master elect should have 2 Brothers he can heavily rely on for advice and assistance when needed. The Immediate Past Masters in some Lodges is appointed as a the Chaplin of the Lodge after his term in the east. Logically this make sense as he is seated next to the Master in the East and can assist the newly installed Master with his arduous duties and whisper wise counsel. The newly installed Master should be wise enough to seek that assistance often. These Brothers should closely coordinate their “years” in the east and the new Master should endeavor to carry on what the pervious Master had started and not yet completed.

The Sr. Warden should be engaged also to, as much as possible, prepare him for his time in the East. I have seen instances where the Sr. and Jr. Wardens will keep ideas for the betterment of the Lodge to themselves so they can look the hero or whatever. if you have a good idea to improve your Lodge as  a Warden, you should bring this to the Master and see if it can be effected immediately, not one or two years down the road. Discuss these things in Lodge or propose a committee to the Master to explore. Either way share with the other officers of the Lodge. In the absence of the Master the Sr. Warden assumes the Masters Chair in the east and in the absence of the Master and Sr. Warden the Jr. Warden can assume the East. If none of these three are present, the Lodge can not legally open or do business.

The main point here is that the principal officers must be in close coordination and communicate often. There is also the vast expertise of the Past Masters of a Lodge who are or should be always ready to lend a hand or offer advice when solicited.

Well the hour of Investiture is almost upon us just as the warmer weather seems hear to stay. Some may ask “How do Masons take good men and make them better men?” Well there are many answers to this age old question. One of them is teaching leadership skills that translate to every aspect of a Masons life and chosen vocation. As a Master we can add public speaking, organization skills and people and event management. It is said that a Master’s powers are what they are but one must remember that in his Lodge if all goes right he will get the congratulations, accolades and recognition, but if it goes wrong he also bears the burden and takes all the blame. Its a great honor for a Lodge to elect a Master to the East, it should be accepted that way and a Brother should always be humbled by it. It should not be “Just his turn”, as nobody is entitled to the Chair, it must be earned and worked for.

I am sure the Brothers reading this, can add a host of items to the list of can, cannot and should and I would invite those that wish to add to the conversation, to please do.