The following are some of the questions that have been asked of me this year. The contents of this page are informational only. They do NOT represent official or unofficial opinions of the Grand Master. (And yes, that does make a difference. If you are interested in the difference, please read the Iowa Masonic Code which is available from the Grand Lodge Office.) But I believe they are accurate.
In some cases, these questions are of a specific procedural nature. In those cases, my answers refer to the way the code is written in Iowa. Other states are practically guaranteed to have different rules. In other cases, the questions are of a more generic nature, possibly concerning the customs of the fraternity. Remember, no man speaks for Freemasonry. When it comes to procedures and rules, I speak pretty loudly in Iowa this year. When it comes to generic items, I can still speak pretty loudly in Iowa, and most will not argue with me too much. But remember, I am still one man, with an opinion based on my life experiences, my reading, my reasoning, and my conversations with others. It is almost certain that other Masons will take great issue with my opinions. And that is just fine. In fact, that is one of the true strengths of this fraternity, that we can all have and express our own opinions on diverse matters without fear of the suppression of our thoughts. (Don't write to tell me that that is NOT the case in your jurisdiction. I understand that such beliefs are not universal in the established governments of the fraternity around the world. However, I believe them to be universal in the true philosophy and spirit of the fraternity.)
Frequently Asked Questions (In no particular order.)
Q. Can you grant a dispensation to change the meeting time of my lodge? Can you grant a dispensation to change the date of a stated meeting of my lodge? Can you grant a dispensation to change the location of a stated meeting of my lodge?
A. No. No. Maybe. The time and date of your lodge's stated meetings are defined in your bylaws. The Grand Master does not have authority to change them or to give permission for you to violate you bylaws. (Nor does he need to approve them when you change them.) The location of your stated meeting is also defined in your bylaws. However, the Masonic Code of Iowa grants the Grand Master the authority to allow the meeting location to be changes, but only in very specific circumstances such as a fire or earthquake or other natural disaster making the defined location unusable. So what happens if you stated meeting night falls on a national holiday? Well, you can define in your bylaws what to do in such circumstances. For example, your bylaws could say that in cases of conflict with a holiday, your stated meeting is delayed by one week or one day. It may even be advanced by a week, depending on where in the month it normally falls. In fact, your bylaws can include other reasons for changing the date of a stated meeting. For examples, conflicts such as national elections, state elections, state caucuses or primaries, opening day of deer hunting season could be listed in your bylaws, along with the deviation to be made when that conflict happens. But if your bylaws don't say that the change can be made, and specify what the change is to be, there cannot be a change.
Q. Can you grant a dispensation to move the lodge charter to another location for a special event, such as a reception, a degree, or a presentation?
A. Absolutely, as long as the new location is within the borders of Iowa.
Q. Can you grant a dispensation to allow brethren from another state to visit my lodge and perform a degree on one of our candidates using the ritual of their state?
A. No. The Iowa Masonic Code is very specific that the ritual to be used is the Webb Work as "Currently Taught by the Board of Custodians." However, a visiting group from out of state can visit your lodge to perform a ritual demonstration without permission, but it cannot be on a "real" candidate. Also, they may confer a degree on one of their own candidates using their own ritual. But for that, you will need the Grand Master's permission. The visiting degree team may also require permission or dispensation from the Grand Master of their jurisdiction to do work "out-of-state". None of this is to say or imply that a visiting brother cannot participate in degree work in your lodge. However, they should TRY to use Iowa ritual.
Q. What can I tell my friends and family about the fraternity? I know that I promised to "keep the secrets" but I don't know for sure what is secret and what is not secret.
A. Not that long ago, many Masons would have told you that you really shouldn't say anything other than that we are a fraternity, that we are charitable, and that we have meetings that nobody else can attend so don't even ask. Current thinking, and really old thinking (100 years or so ago), would be that things are not that dire. In fact, I've heard it said that one of the biggest secrets of this fraternity is that we don't have any secrets. I don't subscribe to that theory, but perhaps I'm not that far away from it.
There are a lot of books around about the Fraternity. A couple good examples are: "Freemasonry for Dummies" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry. These are both great books. They should be read by Masons to help them understand their own fraternity better. They should be shared with friends and families to help them understand what their husband, father, son, or brother is doing in the Masonic Lodge. They contain only good information.
Certainly, the modes of recognition, (the signs, grips, words) are considered secret, and should not be divulged. I know, I know, you can find them on the internet with minimal searching, so they are not very well kept secrets. But you promised not to divulge them, and if your word is worth anything, than you should keep them secret. Actually, the grips, words, and signs are available on the internet both correctly and incorrectly, so somebody using that as a source of their information can never be totally sure that they know them, so I guess that does make them secret. Add I suspect that with a pretty short conversation, I will be able to tell if someone actually took the degrees or not.
Certainly the ritual itself is considered secret. You promised not to write it down, or tell it to someone else, so you shouldn't. But that does not mean you cannot tell someone that the square is used to remind us to square our actions, or that the plumb reminds us to walk uprightly. Just don't use ritual to describe it to them. Remember, the ritual is available in cipher form from the Grand Lodge Office. Nobody violated their obligation to create that cipher or to distribute it, because nobody can read the cipher unless they really already know the what it says. It just helps them remember what they already know.
And remember, that there really is a big secret. But you couldn't explain it to somebody even if you wanted to do so. And that is because the true secret of the Fraternity is personal to each member. It is the understanding of themselves and their environment that they gain through their Masonic experience, through their self examinations, through their philosophical thoughts, through their study and reading, and through their interaction with their brothers. This secret is changing for you as your read this. It is changing for me as I write it. So try to explain it all you want. Many have tried. All have failed. It is truly ineffable.
Q. Can I wear my white leather apron, or must that be stashed away in the closet until I die.
A. Traditionally, at least in Iowa, the answer was "No!" You should put it away until you die, at which time it can be placed with your remains and buried. But when you were given that apron, you were told that it was yours, yours to wear through an honorable life. In my opinion, traditions are all well and good. But if you want to wear your white leather apron, by all means do so. I have been encouraging lodges to have special nights where all the brothers bring and wear their white leather apron, and participate in a re-obligation on all three degrees. It would be a fun event for the lodge, as well as an education program that would not be soon forgotten.
Q. How effective are the Grand Master's One Day Classes? How do retention and activity rates for brethren raised in these classes compare to those raised in conventional degrees?
A. Activity rates are difficult to measure. However, we have good data on retention rates. And the retention rates for Iowa brethren who went through a one-day class is significantly BETTER (Yes you saw that right.) than those who went through the degrees in the conventional fashion. Why is this? I wish I knew. I have an idea, but that's all it is. I believe that we provide better mentoring to the men who go through the one-day classes BECAUSE we subconsciously think they have been shortchanged by going through the one-day class. And because of that improved mentoring, the new brothers become more enrolled in their lodges, get and stay more active, and do not drop out of the fraternity. Based on our first New Master Masons Forum, it appears that our new members are ASKING and WANTING more mentoring. So, if we can provide more mentoring to those who go through a one-day class, why can we not provide that same mentoring to those who take the degrees in the conventional manner?
An interesting note on activity, during the one-day class to be held in Des Moines on April 5, one of the degrees will be conferred by a cast entirely composed of brothers who took their work in a one-day class. Obviously, some of them are active.
Q. More Q&A to be added as time permits. If you have a question that you think should be added, just let me know.