Author’s note: This commentary references some procedures and law within the Grand Jurisdiction of South Carolina which may not be completely applicable to other Grand Lodges.
Like most all organizations, Freemasonry has a leadership structure whose origins predate even the Grand Lodge system that is currently familiar. This structure begins at the lodge level and the basic process involved in the selection of the officers of a lodge is fairly well known to most Master Masons. Five officers are nominated and elected – the Master, the two Wardens, the Treasurer, and the Secretary. Up to six other officers are appointed by the three Warrant officers. The Master appoints the Senior Deacon, the Chaplain, and the Tiler. The Senior Warden appoints the Junior Deacon while the Junior Warden appoints the two Stewards.
What is often overlooked, however, are the processes involved in the grooming of Masonic officers and leaders. This is often complicated by an expectation in some lodges that officers will almost automatically be “moved up” to the next higher officer position. Before an examination of that aspect begins, however, let us take a moment to specifically identify the leaders of a lodge.
Technically, there are only three leaders of a lodge. They are the warrant officers – the Master, the Senior Warden, and the Junior Warden. All other officers – even the elected Treasurer and Secretary – work for one of those three officers. If we really want to get down to it, even the two elected Wardens work at the pleasure of the Master. A Master can arrest the jewel of any officer (dismiss from office) – even the ones elected by the lodge members. The Master, on the other hand, can not be impeached or otherwise removed from office by the members of the lodge. These facts make a Master the undisputed true leader of his lodge even though the other officers are also serving in leadership roles.
With all of that said, it should be obvious that it is very important – maybe as important as the investigation and balloting process involving petitioners – that leaders and potential leaders of lodges be groomed and tested throughout their Masonic career. A “wrong” Lodge Master can be even more damaging to a lodge than a “wrong” petitioner that is allowed through the West Gate. This grooming and testing process can begin as a Brother enters into the appointed positions, which are typically the Steward and Deacon positions. The process commonly referred to as “moving through the chairs” is not necessarily a bad way to accomplish the process as long as there is no expectation on the part of the individual or the lodge members that service in one officer position equals automatic appointment or election to the next higher level of leadership. A mediocre Junior Deacon, for example, is probably not going miraculously become a stellar Senior Deacon.
The election of a Junior Warden is one of the most critical decision points for a lodge when it comes to a Brother’s leadership performance and potential. Once a lodge elects a Master Mason to the position of Junior Warden, it has – for all intents and purposes – declared that man ready to lead the lodge. If something were to happen to the Master and Senior Warden, the Junior Warden automatically assumes all of the power and responsibilities associated with the station of Lodge Master. If a poor leader is elected to the either of the stations of Junior Warden or Senior Warden, a lodge may not have an opportunity to correct its mistake before that Brother finds himself in the Master’s chair.
To effectively build a leadership corps and to ensure some amount of success when it comes to choosing the right Lodge Master, the Brothers of a lodge must constantly evaluate the performance and potential of a Brother for higher levels of leadership and responsibility. Any expectations or practices of automatic advancement are potentially dangerous to the long-term well being of a lodge. It should further be understood and accepted that not all Masons – even very good Master Masons – are leadership material. There are many roles to play in the Fraternity and – often – leadership is not the role for everyone.