How To Run A Lodge Meeting
by Toby Hanson, PGM, PGP
October 17, 2021
We’ve all attended lodge meetings that were slow, boring, meandering, and pointless. Nothing kills the desire of members to participate in meetings faster than having to sit through terrible, formless meetings with seemingly no reason to be there. Having been through that very same experience too many times myself, I decided to gather some sources and put together a guide to how a lodge meeting should be run. For my sources, I used a few different resources. The first is the Lunch ‘n’ Learn lodge training program put together by PGM Joe Picanco here in my home jurisdiction of Washington. Second is the new book by Grand Master Michael Greenzeiger of California. Third is a series of notes I’ve jotted down over the years of visiting different lodges. There is a bounty of great information in this guide, some of which will hopefully be of use to you in your lodge meetings. Be aware that rules, customs, and traditions vary between different jurisdictions. If you find anything in this guide that contradicts your local experience, that’s an excellent opportunity to do some research and find out what your jurisdictional constitution and/or lodge by-laws say about it.
This guide was also used as the basis for Episode Six of Season Two of the Three Links Odd Cast for those of you who might prefer to listen to this presentation.
Prior to Opening
Before the lodge opens for business it’s a very good idea for a few of the officers to get some preliminary work done. This helps to ensure a swift and smooth lodge meeting that doesn’t waste any of the members’ time. The Secretary should collect all mail and other correspondence for the lodge and review it to decide what may need further action. He or she should also confer with the Noble Grand about any unfinished business carried over from previous meetings which may need to be dealt with. The Treasurer should be made aware of any bills presented to the Secretary that may need to be paid. The Warden should prepare the lodge room for the meeting by setting out regalia at the officers’ stations, placing gavels for the Noble Grand and Vice Grand, placing the Bible or other holy book at the Chaplain’s station, and ensuring that appropriate regalia is available for members to wear in the meeting. Any visitors to the lodge should let themselves be known to the Noble Grand who may appoint an Examining Committee to ensure they are members in good standing and entitled to visit the lodge.
The Opening Ceremony of a lodge should be conducted expeditiously but with no unnecessary omissions. The Opening Ceremony is an important part of the lodge experience and shouldn’t be short changed. Not only is it where we transition from our outside lives to our lodge lives, it’s where the duties of officers are publicly stated before the members of the lodge so we all know what to expect from everyone in the lodge. The duties of officers not present can be skipped but all officers present should read theirs. The flag of the country in which the lodge is meeting may be presented by the Color Guard or, if that officer is not present, the Warden, or the colors may be posted in the lodge room prior to opening. The Opening Ode may be sung, accompanied either by the Lodge Musician or by a recording, or it may be sung without accompaniment. Some lodges may omit the Odes, especially during the pandemic, but we recommend their inclusion when it is safe to do so.
Use of the Gavel
Our Ritual teaches us that one blow of the gavel calls the lodge to order or seats the members and three blows of the gavel calls the lodge up. As an emblem of the authority of the Noble Grand and Vice Grand, it may also be used at other times. It is helpful to give one blow of the gavel at the conclusion of any particular item of business so that the members are aware that the business is concluded and that no more discussion may occur. A member who is out of order may also be silenced with a blow of the gavel. A gavel blow may be given if the attention of the lodge has been lost by the Noble Grand and he or she wishes to bring the focus back to him or herself as chair of the meeting.
Order of Business
The Order of Business is suggested and can be adjusted to suit the needs of the lodge. It’s not unusual on nights when a candidate is to be initiated or other degrees conferred to move the degree work up to the early portion of the evening so that candidates do not have to wait too long for the lodge to conduct business prior to the conferring of degrees. Also, the Order of Business should never be used as a means to deny members the opportunity to participate in their lodge meeting. A Noble Grand many go back to New Business if the need arises after that section of the meeting has already been concluded. Sections of the Order of Business not germane to a particular meeting’s needs may be skipped but there are three sections that are always required to be used: Sickness and Distress, Bills Read and Referred, and Communications Read and Disposed Of. A handy mnemonic device to remember them is ABC: ailments, bills, and communications.
Roll Call of Officers
For the roll call, the Secretary reads the title of each office and the Warden, standing, reports to the Noble Grand whether that officer is present, absent, or excused. Customarily, when the officers’ names are called they stand and remain standing until the end of the roll call when they are seated by the Noble Grand, although not all jurisdictions follow that convention. The roll call lets all the lodge members know who is present for the meeting and ready to perform their duties.
Introduction of Visitors
Visiting a lodge is a privilege of membership and a great opportunity to meet members of other lodges and socialize. All visiting members should be able to prove themselves in the meeting by giving the term password of the jurisdiction. Any members from another jurisdiction should meet with an Investigating Committee prior to the meeting to review their dues card, give the Annual Traveling Password, and establish that they are members in good standing. All visitors should be introduced to the lodge and their office and name and number of their home lodge should be announced. Elected officers of recognized Grand Bodies such as Department Councils, Grand Encampments, Grand Lodges, Grand Ladies Encampment Auxiliaries, and Rebekah Assemblies should be announced and introduced separately from other guests and should be presented on the floor to the Noble Grand. Those officers entitled to the Honors of the Order should be given them according to the Code and Ritual, after which the visitors are seated. It’s customary for the Noble Grand to request honored visitors have a seat at their right.
Reading of the Records
This section of the Order of Business is where the Secretary reads the minutes of the previous meeting. If minutes of prior meetings were not read at subsequent meetings, multiple meetings’ minutes may be read. During the reading, some lodges will have their Wardens walk around the lodge room and collect monetary donations from members for various charitable projects. At the conclusion of the Reading of the Records, the Noble Grand will ask if there are any corrections or additions to the minutes. If none are offered by the members, the Noble Grand will declare the minutes approved as read and bang the gavel once. If the minutes are amended or corrected, then the Noble Grand will declare the minutes approved either as amended or corrected and bang the gavel once.
Members Reported Sick or In Distress
Our lodges should be places where members can share their challenges and/or needs with each other. The origin of Odd Fellowship is mutual aid and this is the section where members can let each other know when they may be in need.
Report of Visiting Committee
Many members misunderstand the purpose and intent of this section. It’s not to share when members have visited other lodges. That belongs under Good Of The Order. The Visiting Committee is a specific committee outlined in our Ritual. It’s made up of the Noble Grand and Chaplain and its duty is to visit members of the lodge who may be sick or in distress so that they may report to the lodge on the condition of those members and about any assistance the lodge may have given them. During this section of the Order of Business is when the Visiting Committee will report on such visitations. It’s also appropriate for lodge members who may have checked in on older members or those who do not attend regularly to report on the results of those visitations at this time.
Bills Read and Referred
All bills received by the lodge should be read by the Secretary and referred to the Committee on Finance. The Noble Grand and Vice Grand should appoint the lodge’s Committee on Finance at the first meeting of their new term, the Noble Grand appointing two members and the Vice Grand one. It’s the job of the Committee on Finance to review all of the bills presented to the lodge and ensure they are proper and should be paid by the lodge. They act as the eyes of the lodge to ensure that no financial improprieties can take place. While the Committee on Finance is reviewing the bills the Order of Business may proceed.
Communications Read and Disposed Of
All communications received by the lodge should be shared with the lodge. Advertisements and other non-specific mail can be announced by the Secretary without a full reading and left at the Secretary’s desk or other place in the lodge should the members choose to read any of it for themselves. Communications specifically for the lodge, including letters from tenants, correspondence from other lodges or the Grand Lodge, should be read in full. Any communications that require action by the lodge may be brought up again in New Business.
Reading of Applications for Membership
The beginning of anyone’s journey into Odd Fellowship starts in this section. The Secretary is to read any applications presented to their desk in full. At the conclusion of the reading the Noble Grand is to appoint two members of an Interviewing Committee and the Vice Grand is to appoint the third member. After the meeting the Secretary informs the applicant of when they can meet with the Interviewing Committee.
Reports of Interviewing Committees
Interviewing Committees that have already met with applicants will give their reports to the lodge under this item of business. The chair of the committee is generally the one who addresses the lodge, although any committee member may give the committee’s recommendation if the chair is not present. It’s a good idea for the committee to share background information about why they are recommending the applicant either be elected or rejected for membership.
Balloting on Applications for Membership
An Interviewing Committee having given their recommendation, this is where the lodge will vote on applicants. There is a specific ritual to follow for balloting which will not be covered in detail here. However, some important elements of that ritual are that the Noble Grand and Vice Grand inspect the ballot box prior to balloting to ensure it is empty and that there are enough balls and cubes for the election. They also vote from their stations before the ballot box is placed in the center of the floor for the members to vote. Once all members have voted, the Noble Grand will declare the ballot box closed. The Warden (and Conductor, if there be one present) will show the ballot box to both the Noble Grand and Vice Grand after which the Noble Grand will declare the member elected or not elected to which the Vice Grand will concur. At no time should either the Noble Grand or Vice Grand share with the lodge what the actual result of the vote was; only those two officers should know the margin by which any member is elected. All the members need to know is whether those members were elected or not. It’s possible to ballot on multiple applicants at the same time. If the ballot is positive then all are elected. If the ballot is negative then the applicants can be voted on individually.
Application and Balloting for Degrees
This section of the Order of Business is a vestige of the era when members only advanced to the next degree upon a vote of the lodge. At that time, members would apply to the lodge to receive the next degree until they had attained all three degrees. Now, most lodges include the three degrees when they vote applicants in as members. This section is almost always skipped by lodges.
Report of Committee on Finance
After having reviewed the bills presented to the lodge in a prior item of business, the Committee on Finance will report to the lodge whether the bills are in order and should be paid by the Treasurer. The usual report of the Chair of the Committee on Finance is, “Noble Grand, the Committee on Finance, having reviewed the bills, finds them to be in order and moves that they be paid.” Because the motion comes from a committee it does not require a second, however, since that’s a more recent change in Robert’s Rules of Order, many long-time members will instinctively give a second to ensure the motion can be voted on properly. If the lodge votes to pay the bills the Secretary will draw up the warrants to accompany the bills and present them to the Treasurer who will then issue the checks to pay the bills.
Initiation or Conferring of Degrees
Many members consider this item of business to be the most fun. This is the part of the evening where members get to put on robes and other regalia and perform the Initiation or confer the Three Degrees. Any discussion of this section would reveal unwritten work of our Order and will therefore be omitted. We commend each lodge to learn about the traditional versions of our Degree Work and be ready to perform it when necessary.
Reports of Committees
Any work of the lodge that doesn’t need the attention of the full body should be referred to committees for completion. Committees can be organized for any number of reasons: for rewriting the by-laws, for planning events, for getting bids for work on the hall, etc. Many lodges have elected Trustees whose job it is to oversee the long-term assets of the lodge like its building and/or investments. Those Trustees are sometimes part of a Building Committee and would make a report at this time. Any ad hoc committees such as event committees would also report at this time. The Noble Grand may choose to act on the reports of those committees at that time or may wait until the pertinent item of business comes up under either Unfinished or New Business.
Under this item of business any issues brought before the lodge at previous meetings which were not acted upon at the time. Any items tabled at previous meetings can come up under this item of business for discussion and action.
This is when the Noble Grand will entertain motions for the lodge to do something new. Any members who wish for the lodge to do something specific may make a motion to the body for that specific thing. For example, a member who wants to hold an Ice Cream Social and invite the town would make a motion to the lodge for that purpose. If the motion is seconded, the lodge discusses the motion and then votes on it. If the vote is affirmative then the lodge is committed to whatever action was proposed in the motion. New Business is generally when the lodge does its business and decisions are made.
Receipts and Disbursements
All lodge members who attend meetings should be regularly informed of the financial activity of the lodge. This is the part of the meeting where the Secretary shares how much money was taken in by the lodge, how much money was paid out by the lodge, and what the current cash holdings of the lodge are. This is an extremely critical part of the lodge meeting. If at any time these figures aren’t announced to the lodge, members should be suspicious. Sometimes that’s due to something benign like missing information, but it can signal serious problems in lodge record keeping.
Good Of The Order
Anything of general interest to the membership can be shared under Good Of The Order. It’s the time when lodge members may share accomplishments or anything else. It’s also when announcements of other Odd Fellows activities in the area would be made. If a dignitary is visiting the lodge it’s when they would address the members. Protocol dictates that visiting dignitaries speak in order of importance of their office from low to high, with the highest-ranking dignitary speaking last. After that dignitary has spoken no other members are permitted to speak.
Closing the Lodge
Just as with the Opening, the Closing is a special ceremony that should not be taken lightly or abridged in any way. It signifies the conclusion of business and the re-entry of members into the world outside the closed, protected walls of the lodge hall. During the closing, members should be attentive and participate to their fullest, especially when singing the Closing Ode or when reciting the Valediction. One note of interest is when the Right Supporter of the Noble Grand proclaims the lodge closed. When the time of the next lodge meeting is given, it is given with the appellation “o’clock,” which is clunky for lodges that don’t meet at the top of the hour. A clever way to deal with that is, for a lodge meeting that starts at 7:30, to say, “I proclaim this lodge closed until the next lodge meeting, at half-past seven o’clock…” That allows for the usage described in the Closing Ceremony but still communicates the correct time.
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