|Photo Credit: Kenton Lodge #145 AF&AM|
How to Run a Stated Meeting
by Midnight Freemason Contributor
RWB. Michael H. Shirley
Todd Creason’s post, Where Did All Our Freemasons Go?, has struck a nerve. With over 3000 hits in the first twenty-four hours, countless sharings on Facebook (many of which were prefaced with “You have to read this!”), and a fair amount of buzz elsewhere, it’s clear that there are a lot of Masons who want something more at their stated meetings than paying bills and reading minutes. Actually, it’s been clear for a while now. Laudable Pursuit (the book by the Knights of the North) addressed the very points Todd does (and more), and you should immediately go read it, if you haven’t already.
There’s one thing Todd didn’t mention, though, and it’s essential to his call for reform: the Worshipful Master has to know how to run a meeting. Too many Brothers elected to the Oriental Chair are inexperienced in such matters, and are so concerned with getting the ritual right that they ignore other fundamentals. So let me offer a few suggestions:
1. Have a printed agenda, with enough copies for everyone. Make it as detailed as you can, and be sure you’ve asked your brethren for additions to it. It should not be solely your creation. If your Grand Lodge has a suggested agenda sequence (mine does), by all means follow it, but add details to it, and print it up. “It’s already on the back cover of the Book of Constitutions” is not a good reason to be lazy. It’s your lodge’s agenda, and it’s essential to running a good meeting.
2. Take input before the meeting. This is not just for finding agenda items, but to involve everyone in the lodge’s business, and to give younger officers and members a sense of ownership. If you call or email every lodge member and ask if they have anything they want in the agenda, they may have nothing, but they’re more likely to take it seriously and more likely to show up. You’ll get more done over the course of your year, too.
3. Make sure the secretary has the minutes printed up, with enough copies for everybody. Better yet, have him email them to the members ahead of time. Post them on the wall in the dining room. We don’t need to hear them read. Really. We don’t. There’s no good reason to do it. So let the Brethren read them before the meeting, and devote your time to more important things.
4. Be decisive, but respectful. We all know the Brother who needs to comment on everything. Extensively. To no apparent purpose. (There’s a reason my Grand Lodge limits comments on legislation.) As Worshipful Master, it’s your job to give the Brethren the opportunity to speak, and to listen carefully and respectfully. They’re your Brethren, and they deserve your serious attention. It’s also your job to decide when there’s been enough talk about a particular subject, make a decision, call for a vote if necessary, and move on. Of course, if the 90-year-old Past Master who shows up for everything decides to spend five minutes in the middle of new business talking about the good old days, let him. He’s earned the right, and you could learn something. When he’s done, thank him.
5. Keep an eye on the clock. As a teacher, I’ve presided over classes in which spirited and intelligent discussion was an everyday occurrence, where no one wanted to leave when the class ended. The class still ended, and it was my job to make sure the discussion stayed on point and to end it when the time came. The time always came. A stated meeting has no set period, but keeping an eye on the clock will help you move things along. That said,
6. Curb your impatience. The pie can wait. If there’s good discussion or education going on, let it. Don’t be in a hurry to move on to the next thing. (Of course, you shouldn’t let things just meander, either.)
7. Have Masonic education at every meeting, but keep it relatively short, usually no more than 15-20 minutes at the most, and that only when you have a guest speaker or floor work instruction. Keep a few items of Masonic interest in your back pocket, so that if your speaker doesn’t show, or you just forgot to arrange something in advance, you’re not forced to skip it.
8. Embrace serendipity. Allow your lodge to take the discussion in new directions. You’ll be amazed at what you discover. Together, we can come up with amazing ideas, but only if the Worshipful Master allows the conversation to evolve.
9. Make sure everyone knows what to do after the meeting is over. If you have a Past Masters’ Dinner to schedule, roadside cleanup to arrange, a pancake breakfast to organize, assign tasks to people (better yet, take volunteers), and make sure those people know what they’re supposed to do and when they’re supposed to do it. Make sure the Secretary writes them in the minutes. Your job after the meeting is to follow up with everyone. Yes, you should delegate, but you can’t delegate following up.
These suggestions are mine, based on my experience. Others have offered their own, and there are surely more that I haven’t found. The point is, running a meeting requires planning, communication, and determination; the whole of your lodge’s year may depend on how seriously your take your job as Worshipful Master in this most mundane of things.
As always, these are my suggestions based on my experience. You may have different ideas. If you have suggestions for additions to this list, please feel free to put them in the comments.
R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois, A.F. & A.M, as Leadership Development Chairman and Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master of the Eastern Area. A Certified Lodge Instructor, he is a Past Master and Life Member of Tuscola Lodge No. 332 and a plural member of Island City Lodge No. 330, F & AM, in Minocqua, Wisconsin. He currently serves the Valley of Danville, AASR, as Most Wise Master of the George E. Burow Chapter of Rose Croix; he is also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the York Rite, Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, Eastern Star, Illini High Twelve, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. The author of several articles on British history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org