Saturday, September 02, 2006

A "concept" Chapter: Service

I'm beginning to think that the old Chapters (which is to say, all of them in this Jurisdiction) are holding back needed reforms. We have too many of them, due to overexpansion. Traditions and history are a beautiful thing, but clinging to outdated practices isn't. All of our rosters are filled with inactive dues-check-writers, who don't participate or work on behalf of the Chapter, but who outnumber active members when it comes time to vote on lifesaving measures like mergers, dues increases, relocations, etc. Our buildings are boat anchors. Our Charters represent unnecessary separation among what few members we have left. Even our treasuries are a threat... some Chapters spend irresponsibly, others hoard unjustifiably.

So what about a fresh start? Could we get critical mass for a new Chapter? The Brethren of our Grand Lodge seem to be making small steps in this direction, with a handful of new "concept" or "affinity" Lodges chartered in the last decade or so. A DeMolay Lodge, a Spanish-speaking Lodge, and a Filipino Lodge are just the beginning. Could OES do the same?

There are lots of different directions we could take with concept Chapters, and there's no reason our Jurisdiction couldn't pursue several at once. Here's my latest idea:

A Service Chapter, dedicated exclusively to charity and community service. What would that mean?

In order to be effective, the Chapter should pick a single charity and focus all of its fundraising efforts on that one goal throughout the year and year after year. It doesn't matter so much what the charity is, as long as it's basically a worthy one, but it's probably a good idea to identify the basic nature of the charity in the Charter. The Chapter must politely decline requests to participate in any unrelated fundraising, including (especially) Grand Chapter projects, and should make this clear to the Grand Chapter from the outset.

The Chapter needs to be able to dedicate all of its fundraising efforts to charity, which means member dues must be set high enough to clear its non-discretionary expenses (rent, basic supplies, and the Grand Chapter assessment).

The Chapter must not spend its funds nor sanction its members spending their own funds on anything other than necessities and charity. From the outset, it should be accepted by all members that the Chapter will not give gifts or door prizes, pay for refreshments or meals, pay for decorations, programs, ode cards or rosters, and that its officers and members generally won't either. Chapter dress must be "dress of choice" every year. Meals should be potluck, and refreshments should be modest. If the Chapter desires to honor a distinguished visitor or a member's appointment, it should do so by making donations or through some other no-cost "gift" such as a special skit or entertainment. This needs to be consistent. Worthy Matrons who want to spend their own money still need to spend it on charity, not fluff.

The Chapter should have short meetings twice a month and avoid special meetings. It should invite the WGM to see its true work by attending a regular stated meeting (perhaps with a guest speaker explaining its charitable project) and it should never pair with another Chapter for OV. This should be agreed-upon with the Grand Chapter in advance and perhaps included in the Charter.

The Chapter might choose to set up investments with the idea of increasing its return for the benefit of its charity (or using interest income for operating costs), but otherwise it shouldn't hoard money in savings. It should never run a deficit, obviously.

Yes, there should be fellowship, because all work and no play makes a lot of tired Brothers and Sisters who barely know each other and can too easily forget what the point is.

I think it would be really radical and interesting to have a mandatory minimum level of participation and active community service by every member every year. Members who fail to meet the minimum could be, by Charter, automatically granted a "no-fault" demit. Those who wish to re-commit to the service requirement could simply petition for re-affiliation and be balloted upon.

With or without the participation requirement, this Chapter won't ever be "big" and shouldn't aspire to be. It needs to be profoundly selective about its membership and must not hesitate to blackball someone "nice" if they would threaten to dilute the Chapter's mandates.

This is the sort of thing where, if we could find just enough people to get behind the idea, we could create a powerhouse little Chapter and be a model for reform of OES. But if we can't find enough people to get off the ground at all, or if the workload turns out to be more than we can bear, or the whole idea gets co-opted by compromisers, all of which are entirely possible, then it wouldn't work at all.

I do not by any means suggest that all Chapters in a Grand Jurisdiction should be this way. I think they shouldn't be. A balance of formal traditional Chapters, Chapters for ritualists, Chapters primarily for fellowship, Chapters of Research, etc., are necessary for balance and to give prospective members meaningful alternatives. Maybe this new Chapter wouldn't have longtime members at all, but would have a shifting roster of workers who go in and out without any stigma attached to doing so.

We work absurdly hard just keeping our legacy Chapters above water. What if we directed our effort toward something that actually matters?

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