Suspended NPD — for Twenty-Five Years!
by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR
Over the years I've seen my Lodge and other Masonic bodies deal with members who don't pay their dues in a variety of ways. It seems there has been a progression of sorts requiring less and less of a financial effort for a Brother to return. Years ago I recall the NPD Brother had to pay the dues for each year missed, plus the current year's dues, to become a member in good standing once again. Then there was a period when the member in arrears had to pay just last year's and current year's dues. Now, for one of the bodies where I am a member, a Brother can re-join just by paying the current year's dues. If things keep going this way I guess we'll have to pay them to come back.
Of course, these men are our Brothers and we do, in fact, want them back; and there are good reasons why some don't pay — hardship and illness being at the top of the list. Every Masonic body I belong to always takes that into consideration and I have seen many meetings where understanding members remit the dues of a Brother who simply cannot pay.
Still, I think we're pretty lenient with NPD. My personal opinion is we probably should be. I mean, how many times have we heard it... "It's easier to keep the members you have than to go out and get new ones."
With all that in mind, I ran across something that really made me do a double-take — make that a triple-take.
I was going through records kept by a 19th century Grand Secretary in Missouri when I came across a list of suspensions for Missouri Lodge No. 1. The first half dozen entries were for a group of Brothers suspended July 2, 1868, for non-payment of dues. The first line made note that Brother William Stewart was suspended NPD for a period of five years.
"Wow," I thought, "five years — that's pretty stiff."
No, it turns out Brother Stewart got off easy. The next four entries were for members suspended for periods of 20 or 25 years. Twenty-five years for NPD! Now, that sends a message.
The sixth entry was for Brother Maximilian Eller, suspended for a period of 10 years. This line also contained a note that Brother Eller came back after the 10-year suspension ended and paid his dues.
In those records there were other Brothers suspended for 25 years, which seemed to be more or less the standard; but beginning in 1872, with only two exceptions, NPD suspension penalties were: "until paid."
So apparently, "until paid" became the new standard. One of those original six Brothers, Charles Eager, may have heard about this. Originally suspended for 20 years, the records indicate he returned in 1876 and made restitution. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine he went back to Missouri No. 1 and said, "Hey, look, I got a pretty harsh suspension for NPD but today you're letting guys off the hook if they just pay up. How about cutting me a little slack, too?"
I doubt he used that exact phraseology but they did, in fact, let him back in.
I have to conclude somewhere along the way Missouri No. 1 decided its penalties for NPD were excessive, and backed off. It's also possible the Grand Lodge somehow stepped in with different standards. Whatever the case, at that point those standards became more closely aligned with those we have today. We may never know why they made that change but it's possible they, too, discovered "it's easier to keep the members you have than to go out and get new ones."
Bro. Steve Harrison, 33°, is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is the editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine, author of the book Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research and also its Worshipful Master. He is a dual member of Kearney Lodge #311, St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite, Moila Shrine and a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. His latest book, Freemasons: Tales From the Craft & Freemasons at Oak Island. Both are available on amazon.com.