Toby Hanson, PGM GL of WA
“You know why I love going to lodge? It’s the business meetings.
They’re long, drawn-out, aimless, and disorganized. I never know what’s
going on. I’m never sure what we’re voting on or why because the Noble
Grand just lets anyone talk at any time and eventually people are
yelling over each other. It’s a chaotic mess and I have no idea why we
even have meetings since nothing ever seems to happen in the lodge.
Still, I can’t wait for the next one!”
—said no one, ever.
Lodge meetings, at their best, are excellent opportunities for fraternal
camaraderie. Brothers and sisters gather together to get the latest
news about their lodge, deal with the lodge’s business, and have some
fun. During my term as Grand Master of my jurisdiction I had the
opportunity to visit many effective meetings where the members enjoyed
participating. Officers were brief and kept discussion on topic.
Members sitting on the sidelines were well-informed and were able to
keep track of any debate that came up on the floor. Financial reports
and communications were read in a clear, audible manner. Rituals for
opening and closing were well done and brought a sense of togetherness
to the members.
Unfortunately, during my term as Grand Master, I also had the
opportunity to see some very tedious and difficult meetings. Officers
were mostly unaware of the duties of their offices and didn’t perform
well. Noble Grands didn’t direct the meetings and let the conversation
wander all over the place. Side conversations amongst other members
presented a distraction to the business being done at the time.
Financial reports were missing, incomplete, or incomprehensible. Ritual
was discarded, rushed, done carelessly, or just generally mangled.
Disorganized, unfocused meetings like these are a serious impediment to
All of us who have had any level of professional experience have sat
through meetings. At best, they can be productive and informative. At
worst, they can be mind-numbing. Since we all have to endure meetings
of various effectiveness in our professional lives, why would we ever
allow our lodges to hold sloppy, disorganized meetings? Such meetings
represent a disregard for members’ time and a disincentive for their
continued participation in the lodge.
My first suggestion for holding effective meetings is for the Noble
Grand, Secretary, and Treasurer to get together before the meeting to
review the business expected to come up at that meeting. They should
open the mail, review and prepare the bills for review by the Finance
Committee (I’ll talk about the importance of a Finance Committee in
another article), go over any unfinished business held over from
previous meetings, look at any new business expected to come up, and
check with any committee chairs expected to give a report at the
meeting. By having those officers review everything and get up to speed
on what’s expected they can run a smooth, controlled meeting without any
additional surprises. The Noble Grand can make notes about what is
expected to come up during the meeting and take that to the podium where
he or she can direct the meeting accordingly. The Secretary and
Treasurer can have their parts of the meeting ready to go and not have
to shuffle papers on their respective desks at the last minute trying to
find pertinent information.
My second suggestion for an effective meeting is to delegate jobs as
described in our ritual. In many lodges, it’s assumed the Noble Grand
is in charge of everything from cleaning bathrooms to sweeping floors to
writing checks to handing out regalia. NO! While the Noble Grand can
certainly help clean up, he or she should be using time before the
meetings to prepare to run the meetings, not necessarily cleaning up or
setting up the lodge hall. Preparing the lodge hall is a job that’s
delineated in our ritual and the ritual should be followed. The Warden
is responsible for caring for the regalia and seeing that it gets to the
correct officers. Guardians should be preparing the anteroom. If an
initiation is happening, the Scene Supporters should be preparing all
necessary materials for it. By delegating to the appropriate officers,
the Noble Grand can concentrate on preparing to run an effective meeting.
Another thing that makes for a good meeting is good ritual. Our
traditions have been passed down to us from previous generations of Odd
Fellows who had a lot of experience with ritualistic work. One example
is Brother Albert Pike, an Odd Fellow who went on to lend his expertise
in poetry and ritual to the Freemasons where he made significant
contributions to their craft. When rituals like our opening and closing
ceremonies are done well, they ennoble us and our work and give us a
sense of purpose. They also have a practical element where they remind
us of the duties of our lodge officers and give us a chance to recommit
ourselves to our obligations as Odd Fellows. When those rituals are
hurried, rushed, or done carelessly they make us look shabby and
haphazard. Doing rituals in a way that tells people that we don’t care
demonstrates that involvement in a lodge isn’t worth their time.
Conversely, good ritual sets our lodges up for successful meetings and
reminds our members that what we do is important.
Once the gavel drops and the meeting begins, it’s time to be serious and
attend to business. Jokes, side comments, and other distracting remarks
should only be made with the utmost discretion. Every side comment is
another opening for the lodge to get distracted and start wasting time.
As presiding officer, the Noble Grand should be prepared to use the
gavel to stop chatter and other talk that is not germane to lodge
business. Nothing makes meetings spiral out of control faster than
sharing anecdotes about whatever business is being debated. Next thing
the lodge knows, they’re hearing a lecture from a senior members about
the dangers of donating a black walnut tree to the city park. The gavel
is a tool that should be used regularly to stop useless and unproductive
commentary. In the event that the Noble Grand isn’t keeping
non-productive chatter in check, the Vice Grand is advised to use his or
her gavel for the same purpose. Meetings that stay focused on the
business at hand are effective meetings.
This is a good place to mention that the Noble Grand should be the
“traffic cop” of the lodge. He or she should not have a strong opinion
about the business being transacted. He or she should only be the
facilitator for doing that business. The Noble Grand should only vote
to break a tie or on the application of a candidate for membership.
Otherwise, the Noble Grand should remain impartial and allow the lodge
to conduct its business. Should the Noble Grand need to speak on an
item of business before the lodge, he or she MUST cede his or her
station as leader of the meeting to the Right Supporter or, in the
absence of that officer, of someone else willing and qualified to take
the position. One of the worst things that can happen is to have the
Noble Grand start offering opinions on lodge business from the chair.
At that point, his or her impartiality has been irretrievably lost.
Right and Left Supporters of the Noble Grand and Vice Grand have an
important role to play in keeping business moving. If the Noble Grand
is unable to see everyone who wishes to speak on an issue, the
Supporters can point out members who would like to be heard. Right
Supporters can take the chair of the Noble Grand or Vice Grand during a
temporary absence. They can also gently remind the Noble Grand or Vice
Grand to get back on topic and/or gavel down a member who is not
following the order of business.
Some members think that following rigid guidelines for lodge meetings
takes away the fun atmosphere and makes them tedious. I believe the
opposite: by keeping meetings brief, focused, and on track, they become
much more enjoyable. No one enjoys sitting through several hours of
pointless discussion. Using the tools outlined in this article should
hopefully allow all of you to have effective, efficient meetings that
every member can enjoy. Besides, the faster the meetings are concluded,
the faster it’s time for pie!
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