The Secretary

Richard H. Ryder, 2018

Some might say the Lodge Secretary runs the lodge.  Well, that may be true in some lodges, but this is not generally the case.  It is true, however, that an effective and efficient Lodge Secretary plays a pivotal role in the success of any lodge.  It’s not for everybody and not everyone should be a Lodge Secretary.

For those who aspire to this important office there are some key skills and traits you need at your disposal, including communication, interpersonal, management, leadership, and technical.  You also need the right personality that allows you to work with a variety of different people, personalities, and backgrounds. All these must come from a variety of sources: naturally, with training, or with personal growth.  You don’t need to be an expert in any given area, but you do need to be aware of the role each one plays.  Having a working knowledge of each and the ability to keep learning are key success factors.

A dynamic list of Lodge Secretary roles and responsibilities exists on MasonicMaven.com.  This article describes the experience of preparing for and serving as the Lodge Secretary, as told from a variety of sources, including RW Alan P. Koufos (17 years as Secretary of Rabboni Lodge, Westwood, MA) and Brother Robert R. Khouri (8 years as Secretary of West Roxbury – Dorchester Lodge, Westwood, MA).  It also describes the skillset and personal traits one must have to be effective.

Carefully Filling the Position

It is not uncommon for a member to suddenly find himself the secretary of his lodge.  There are times when, for a variety of reasons, the Lodge Secretary position suddenly becomes vacant.  During these times an Assistant-Lodge Secretary, if one exists, can seamlessly move into the position.  If your lodge does not have an Assistant-Lodge Secretary, you should seriously consider filling this position.  Given the measurable ramp-up time to be effective you are doing a disservice to both the new secretary and the lodge by not having a succession plan.

This role should not be filled with just a warm body to satisfy some requirement to do so.  It should be thoughtfully and carefully filled with someone who is qualified or can prepare and learn quickly. Given some lodges may lack the resources to do so, those lodges should request guidance from Grand Lodge.

Skills and Traits

The Lodge Secretary wears many hats: manager, project manager, organizer, arbitrator, record keeper, writer, listener, liaison, diplomat. Taken together, it can be said that the Lodge Secretary is in the business of communication and interpersonal relations, and thus needs all the skills associated with those roles.

Since these traits are required to be an effective Master, one might say a lodge should consider a Past-Master to fill the role of Lodge Secretary. In most cases this may be true. They will argue that he will already be familiar with developing the monthly notice, Masonic protocol, Grand Lodge rules and regulations, creating a meeting agenda, selecting an investigating committee, etc. However, just because a man served as Master, doesn’t guarantee he will serve well as a Lodge Secretary.  He can fall victim to the Peter Principle, where one tends to aspire to his or her level of incompetence.  For example, a great software programmer may not be an effective software manager.  The right man, with the right skills and the ability to quickly learn and apply new material, who may not be a Past Master, can quite nicely fulfill the position.

To help you decide if you possess the right stuff to be the Lodge Secretary, here is a list of some soft skills and traits you should have or acquire:

Communication

Effective note taking: shorthand seems to be a lost artform but being able to take comprehensive notes during a monthly meeting, without interrupting the flow of the meeting, is a must have skill.  Everyone has a few tricks we learned while in school.  Utilize those and learn a few more. Get a good book or check online for training and tips.

Sound listening skills: you may be the first person approached to answer a question, resolve a conflict, or provide advice on protocol or process. Being able to listen attentively, utilize reflective listening, and trying first to understand before making yourself understood are productive arrows in the listening skills quiver. Sound listening skills allows you to better understand what is being said or asked, and results in members being more apt to approach you. Get a good book or check online for training and tips.

Effective writing: this includes how to write a business letter for those times you need to communicate officially with Grand Lodge, a lodge member, or a candidate for the degrees. You also need to create concise and complete meeting minutes and assist with writing the monthly meeting notice. As in honing your listening skills, get a good book or check online for training and tips.

Effective speaking: this is useful for those times when you must read a report; or update the Master and lodge with information from the district, Grand Lodge, or another source. Concentrate on clear pronunciation, pace, projection, properly timed emphasis, and grammar.

Patience

They say patience is a virtue and for the Lodge Secretary this could be considered a fifth cardinal virtue.  As mentioned, the secretary wears many hats and deals with many people within and outside the lodge, some with abrupt personalities and short fuses. While manifesting sound communication skills the secretary needs to practice patience if he wants to continue to work effectively in all his roles.  For some, patience almost comes naturally; for others, not so much.  Everyone has a boiling point, but the more the secretary can control his emotions, the better life will be for everyone.  If patience does not come naturally to you, there are other positions within the lodge that may be able to utilize your other skills and talents.

Accuracy and Attention to Detail

Part of being an effective communicator is getting the facts right and being aware of the details.  Incorrect and or insufficient information can be harmful and an inefficient use of time, requiring additional clarifications and corrections. Done enough times, your credibility and reputation can be compromised.  Taking the time to get it right the first time reaps rich reward.  You need to be mindful of the big picture, but you also must provide the right amount of accurate detail without losing your audience.  

Time Management, Prioritization, and Organization:

Like in any other important role, professionally or personally, the Lodge Secretary must practice sound time management skills along with the ability to be organized and effectively prioritize work.

There is a steady stream of communication that flows to and from the secretary’s desk, from a variety of internal and external sources. This includes general paperwork, applications for membership and affiliation, letters, emails, phone calls, text messages, invoices, cash receipts, candidate material, and awards. The secretary also needs to be aware of a variety of deadlines imposed by Grand Lodge, candidate degrees, tax reporting, District Deputy official and fraternal visits, etc. To deal with the above items the secretary needs a sound method to organize his work.

Without a sound system to effectively receive the information, properly process and distribute it to the correct recipients in a timely manner, and organize it, all with a sense of proper prioritization, the inexperienced secretary can be easily overwhelmed. Knowing this before assuming the secretary role and preparing for it in advance will make life a lot easier for everyone.

Develop, through online material, training, books, or a friend a system of organization that is simple, effective, and supports the way you work.   Follow the same steps to learn effective time management and prioritization methods

Trust, Confidentiality, Judgement and Discretion

As mentioned, the Lodge Secretary is often the “go to” guy and first point of contact for information and guidance, sometimes during difficult times.  Like any other personal relationship, a level of trust must be developed where confidentiality and discretion are its cornerstones.  Once trust is established people will be more candid and know they can confide in you with sensitive, possibly embarrassing information.  The Lodge Secretary must be able to maintain this level of trust and confidentiality, while balancing it with sound judgement and discretion, especially when someone’s safety or the interest of the lodge is at stake. The secretary must be able to use all the soft skills at his disposal to access and judge a given situation, maintain trust and confidentiality, and practice unbiased discretion to determine what next steps, if any, are necessary.

Software Application Proficiency and Online Skills

You don’t have to be a techno-nerd to serve as Lodge Secretary, but you do need to have a minimal working knowledge of word processing, spreadsheet creation and maintenance, and publishing. Microsoft and Apple products provide such a tool set, but there are other discreet products.  However, the more standard the product, the better the chance that others will be able to communicate without software compatibility issues. If you don’t feel comfortable with your skills in any of these areas, seek education via the least expensive channel that works best for you.

Here are some considerations regarding software applications:

MORI: one application that Lodge Secretaries live in and must thoroughly know how to use is MORI, the Masonic Online Registry Interface. This is the jurisdiction-wide membership recordkeeping system that Grand Lodge and all lodges use to store information about all Masons in Massachusetts.  Grand Lodge provides training and support, and it is incumbent on all Lodge Secretaries to become extremely proficient in its use and navigation.  At the lodge level access is restricted to Lodge Secretaries and the Master.  The time to learn this system is not in the heat of battle, but rather, before you assume the secretary role.  To find out more, contact your Lodge Secretary or contact the Grand Secretary’s office.

Word Processing: outside of MORI the next most important software application is word processing. MS Word is a common, easy, but robust word processing tool with a myriad of features. It includes mail merge and labeling for commonly used letters and the monthly notice.  You might also consider other word processing tools, like Google Docs. The more standard the toll, the better.

Spreadsheets: you may want to store some membership information locally, which might require you to use a spreadsheet application.  For example, there are always requests for someone’s contact information.  If the member agrees to make his information available, the secretary can store member information in a spreadsheet, like MS Excel, which also allows filtering, sorting, reporting, and query capability. Then, you can share this information with authorized recipients. You don’t need to be an expert, but you should have a sound working knowledge of a good spreadsheet tool. For some who are more experienced, a basic database tool like MS Access provides more robust capability than MS Excel.

Publishing: the most recognized responsibility of the Lodge Secretary, outside of taking meeting minutes, is generation of the monthly meeting notice.  Having basic publishing skills and access to a basic publishing application like MS Publisher make life a lot easier.  Once again, you don’t need to be an expert to add a unique look to the notice and event announcements.  If you are not familiar with this kind of application seek guidance from another lodge member, another Lodge Secretary in the district, a friend, or online.

Photo Storage and Sharing: a picture is worth a thousand words and those lodges who share experiences through digital pictures have a great team building and marketing tool at their disposal.  Consider taking advantage of free photo storage services through Google, Yahoo, or another provider.  For a few more dollars you can purchase additional storage from them.  Instagram is a current favorite for photo sharing, as is Facebook.  Of course, adding photos to your lodge web page is a convenient medium for anyone, Masons or non-Masons, to measure the activity within a lodge.  All the above helps keep members coming and attracts new members.  Although the responsibility for photo storage and sharing does not have to be a Lodge Secretary responsibility, it sometime becomes so by default.  If this is the case, then the Lodge Secretary should have basic skills in these areas. Regardless of who stores and shares the pictures, be sure to include some in your monthly notice.

Photo Editing: like photo storage and sharing, image editing may default to the Lodge Secretary.  This skill is not critical since photos can be easily shared without editing them.  However, skill with image editing applications can add a different dimension to your photos.  Your digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR) manufacturer provides this capability, as does application providers like Microsoft (i.e. Microsoft Picture Editor).  Your smartphone may also provide editing features.

Web, Social Media, and Email

Like it or not, the web and especially social media is the best way to keep members informed and the public aware that your lodge exists, is active, and is healthy.  Once again, the Lodge Secretary may, by default, be responsible, fully or partially, with creating and maintaining your lodge’s web and social media presence.  Even if someone else provides these skills, the Lodge Secretary should have a seat at the table when deciding on the appearance and content of your web site and social media presence.  For example, since the Lodge Secretary is the primary conduit for information traveling to and from the lodge, he has a vested interest in the capability of these tools, the way they will be used, and especially timely content updates.  The Lodge Secretary, at a minimum, should be aware of what is available and how they are used so he can maximize the efficient flow of information.

Email is so common that most people use it every day.  For a lodge, an email group serves as an important tool in quickly and efficiently distributing information to multiple people.  As such, the Lodge Secretary should be proficient in using email group capability hosted by providers like Gmail and Yahoo.  Rabboni Lodge in Westwood, MA uses a Yahoo Group for broadcast emails, which helps when requesting manpower for lodge events, notifying officers of a funeral service, or notifying members of an ill Brother.  To keep the content strictly lodge and Masonic based, members email the secretary with content. Then he vets the material and if acceptable, distributes the content to the email group. These are just some of the ways a Lodge Secretary can take advantage of email group capability.

Bookkeeping

How are you with another person’s money?  Are you comfortable with handling it and keeping transaction records?  Bookkeeping lodge cash receipts before presenting those receipts to the Lodge Treasurer is a fundamental responsibility of the Lodge Secretary.  A very basic understanding of bookkeeping is helpful so that you can properly track and account for monies received by the lodge.  For example, receipt of dues payments and associated recordkeeping is required.  An understanding of a basic voucher system is necessary to follow generally accepted accounting principles.  This information is available online.

Relationship with the Master

It is vitally important that a strong and respectful relationship exists between the Master and the Lodge Secretary.  It is also important that this relationship is a two-way street. Friction between these two officers manifests itself in a variety of different way, often at the most inopportune time. Like any relationship their mutual respect must be earned and continually fostered. For the good of the lodge they must both leave perceived slights and an unproductive attitude at the door of the lodge.

The secretary must be able to respect the Master’s boundaries and authority, and must resist the temptation, especially if he is a Past Master, to control the presiding Master. Even with a weak Master in the East, the secretary must respect the fact the he is not the Master. Instead, the Lodge Secretary/Past Master can better serve the lodge as a mentor to the presiding Master.  Sound guidance and council, timely reminders, following the Master’s preferred communication method (ex. Phone, email, text) proactive assistance, discretion, in addition to utilizing the skill set described in this article are beneficial to all.

In Closing

There are many things to consider in deciding to assume the office of Lodge Secretary. You need an understanding and sufficient level of proficiency in soft and hard skills, so strive to improve your skill set in all areas.  Beyond this, consider the following steps to prepare for the Secretary position: take Lodge Secretary training provided by Grand Lodge; study the Lodge Secretary’s Handbook that is available through Grand Lodge; serve as Assistant-Secretary, if possible, for at least a year; and form a mentor-protégé relationship with the current secretary, if possible.  Be sure to reference a dynamic list of Lodge Secretary skills and personality traits, roles, and responsibilities at MasonicMaven.org.

Finally, lodges should incorporate a succession plan by selecting a qualified member to serve as Assistant-Secretary, who can seamlessly fill a vacancy, planned or unplanned, in the Lodge Secretary position. Some lodges may not have the resources to fill the role but must continually seek to do so.  Lodges cannot run effectively without a competent Master; likewise, it also cannot run effectively without a competent Lodge Secretary.

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