I'm beginning my third year as Secretary of my lodge, and I'd have to admit, I'm just getting the hang of it. I've been a manager for nearly twenty-five years in my professional life, but believe me, the learning curve of a Lodge Secretary is pretty steep. It's not an easy job, but it's a very important job. Before you accept it, you better think about. Unlike any other chair in the lodge, a Lodge Secretary often sits behind that desk year after year after year. Masters serve limited terms, and part of the role of the Secretary is to maintain consistency in the lodge as the Masters come and go.
There's a lot of work involved, and a lot of rules to learn. Don't expect much credit, in fact, you'll need thick skin to survive behind that desk. I wrote a little job description for the Lodge Secretary recently which I shared with our current Master--he likes to repeat it often. It goes like this:
It's only funny because it's true. So I thought I'd put together a short list of tips for new Secretaries made by one that has made most of these mistakes already.
1.) The best thing you could begin doing from day one is to start reading and understanding the Constitution and By-laws of your Grand Lodge. It falls on you to know them. Your Master is going to be relying on you to make sure the lodge is doing things the right way. And at times, it will make you unpopular, because the Master or the Brethren are going to want to do something, and it will be you telling them it's either against the rules, or there is a process involved that is going to require more effort than they expected. My Grand Lodge's Constitution and By-laws is published in a 200-page book, and 174 pages are the Constitution and By-laws. I can't claim to know them all at this point, but I certainly know a lot more than I did two years ago, and I certainly know where to look when a question of procedure or policy comes up.
2.) Attend your Grand Lodge Meeting every year. It's your job to keep up with what's going on at the Grand Lodge, and to know when by-laws change, and when new programs are offered. And read all the information you receive from your Grand Secretary carefully, and be sure you pass on information that the Brethren need to know.
3.) Make the job your own. I was fortunate to follow one of the best Secretaries in my district. He'd been in that job about fifteen years, and helped me out a lot in the beginning--but we had very different styles of management and organization. I struggled in the beginning, and it wasn't until I made it my job, organized it my own way, and did the job my own way that I began to be comfortable in the role. And as the Brethren in my lodge will tell you, I'm a very different kind of Secretary than my predecessor was.
4.) Take care of the Master. Help him in the beginning to understand the more technical side of his new position. Let him know what you need for him to do, like sign the meeting minutes each month for instance, and find out what he expects of you (and that's going to change with every Master, so you better be flexible). And help him run his meeting without overstepping your role. Over time, too many Secretaries begin to think they run the lodge--you don't. Don't confuse experience with leadership. The Master runs his Lodge--and you need to view your role as his assistant, and his most trusted advisor.
5.) Don't guess. If you're not sure of something, pick up the phone and call your Grand Secretary's Office and find out for sure. You'll save yourself a lot of time, effort and frustration if you do that. My Grand Secretary's Office has been a huge resource for me. They have all kinds of materials and information that have helped me understand many of the aspects of my job, and they've been very patient in helpful in getting me to the point where I know what I'm doing finally. So when you get behind that desk, think of your Grand Secretary's Office as a resource.
It's not an easy job, but it can be very gratifying when you do it well. And you'll know you're doing well when the members start relying on you because they know you're organized, and good at what you do (although few will actually understand what it is you do). You'll know you're doing well when your Master feels comfortable asking you for guidance. You'll know you're doing well when a committee chair comes up to you and asks you for advice on how to organize a project they are working on. Those are the moments Secretaries live for.
Todd E. Creason, is the founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog and continues to be a regular contributor. He is the author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is member of Homer Lodge No. 199, and a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL). He is a member the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, the York Rite Bodies of Champaign/Urbana (IL), the Ansar Shrine (IL), Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, and Charter President of the Illini High Twelve in Champaign-Urbana (IL).