What holds true for us, generally holds true for lodges, as well. Though their life cycles may be longer, eventually, a lodge may reach the point where it cannot hold meetings or conduct its business. When that occurs, what happens? Does the charter evaporate as the lodge dies, or does the charter pass to another lodge or group of men to continue the work ad infinitum? In other words, are lodges immortal?
I argue that while they can die, it is only in the most rare and dire of circumstances, when the Grand Lodge steps in and seizes a charter. Otherwise, a lodge may, in fact, be “immortal.”
In our case, the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia presently has 43 lodges, all contained within a less than 10 square mile area. In our history, we have indeed seen lodges (in rare circumstances) surrender their charter, or have their charter seized by the Grand Lodge when they stumble in their work – effectively killing those lodges. But today, we see little contraction or consolidation while we continue to create new lodges, even though some of our older lodges are struggling to fill the chairs or pay the bills. This artificial expansion is creating a bubble, in the economic sense of the term.
A bubble is a market phenomenon characterized by surges in asset prices to levels significantly above the fundamental value of that asset. The problem with bubbles, in this sense, is that they burst when the market corrects itself. When we apply this metaphor to our lodge scheme, we see how the artificial expansion in the number of lodges dilutes the whole over time. When that inefficiency corrects, many lodges are affected to the detriment of the Grand Lodge, as a whole.
So how do we fight off this dire consequence? Continuity.
The best-case scenario would be for the older lodge to offer its charter to a group of Masons seeking to form a new lodge. The new lodge could then honor the old lodge by incorporating the older lodge name into its own…or not. In either case, the new lodge would pick up where the old left off, continuing to work and grow. The members of the older lodge are kept on as members of the new lodge. Continuity is thereby preserved. History is preserved. A new vision and vitality encompasses the lodge. In some lucky cases, the money of the old lodge may transfer, which would provide an immediate source of funding for the new lodge’s activities. In this case, it’s easy to see that the lodge remains immortal.
However, absent the transfer of a charter, a struggling lodge is faced with tough choices: surrender its charter, or merge with another existing lodge. An even more rare circumstance is that the lodge has its charter arrested or abrogated by the Grand Lodge. There are instances where a surrendered charter is resurrected as a new lodge at a later date – further proving that lodges are immortal.
So, the only way for a lodge to truly “die” would be for the Grand Lodge to take the extraordinary step of seizing their charter. This is obviously a rarely used and irrevocable action on the part of the Grand Lodge. Think of it in terms of a “nuclear option.” Thankfully we have only seen that happen 2 times in our Grand Lodges history – Alexandria-Brooke Lodge #2 (Chartered February 11, 1811) went extinct in 1833, and General George C. Marshall Lodge #55 (Chartered January 30, 2001) had their charter abrogated by vote of the Grand Lodge on May 12, 2004.
There is no easy answer to the question of the mortality of a lodge. It must be addressed through discussion, consensus, and the willingness to make the hard choice. The Grand Lodge can offer guidance and, of course, any action must be ratified by the Grand Lodge at one of its communications. But it seems to me that once chartered, it is neigh impossible for it to die. Therefore we must conclude that lodges are indeed immortal.