Monday, October 02, 2006

A brief history of mergers

First, some background. Our Worthy Grand Matron this year, a wonderful person who has honored me with a (minor) statewide appointment, is opposed to Chapter mergers and often makes this a theme of her public remarks. This has prompted me to examine my feelings about mergers, both for Chapters and Lodges, and it has sparked some discussion on the subject among my friends and traveling partners.

Since I've posted a few times already about too many buildings, it isn't a surprise that I favor mergers as one means of addressing our membership and participation crisis. But my thoughts on this subject are also evolving, in ways I'll discuss in this and future posts.

I watched one of our own neighbor Chapters struggle for years and suffer two failed merger attempts. Stubborn inactive members showed up to vote "no" and then disappeared. Stubborn active members allowed themselves to be churned through the line again and again instead of walking away. The Chapter continued on life support until last year, when they couldn't regularly get a quorum of seven. Their Charter was suspended mid-year and permanently seized at Grand Chapter. Those who sacrificed themselves all those years were rewarded with Demits. Now they're bitter and disillusioned enough that they're in no hurry to come back to Eastern Star, and although I think their ire is misdirected, it's hardly surprising.

This is my Alamo. I invoke our late, scarcely-lamented Chapter and its self-sacrificing Sisters as evidence of where our collective opposition to mergers gets us.

Our current WGM says it had always been her intent to refuse to grant any mergers during her year in the Grand East. She goes on to report, sadly, that three mergers were already under way when she was installed which she feels she has no choice but to allow, though she doesn't approve of them. Another one of the WGM's appointees this year has expressed a wish that an in-progress merger in my county might fall through. "Wouldn't that be great?"

Count me as one who is extremely grateful that our kindly WGM isn't pigheaded enough to obstruct the mergers she's inherited. Remember the Alamo! I don't know whether she's suppressing new mergers, as it's rumored was done by some of her predecessors, but she's certainly making a point of announcing at every Chapter this year that she "hopes" there won't be any more. And it's bad enough that she's disparaging the difficult and painful choices being made by our own Sisters and Brothers in their decision to merge. It's not as though they take it lightly.

My statewide appointment affords me the opportunity (indeed, the obligation) to visit other Chapters regularly, something I haven't done since I was Associate Matron, several years ago. I have to say I'm shocked by what I find. Chapters that seemed healthy 4-5 years ago are now struggling. Chapters that were struggling now have the pall of death over them.

We've gone from losing our sideliners, to losing our line officers, to losing our installed appointed officers, to losing our "permanent pro-tems", and now we've reached the point where most Chapters, including mine, can't even be certain they'll have enough temporary pro-tems to fill their chairs for Opening.

Now I'm seeing the spread from stated meetings to even our "special" events. Turnout at Official Visits has dropped off sharply. Turnout at Receptions is half of what it used to be. Our 61 Grand Representatives, whose only duty is visitation, are lucky to see ten of their number in the same room this year. Even our own Grand Officers barely manage appearances at events outside of their local areas.

Here's a photo from our Grand Chapter Installation this year. Look at the sidelines!!!! I had more people at my Chapter Installation than are in this picture!

This is not new. I'm beginning to understand what my Chapter's 50-year members are so upset about.

Based on what I'm seeing, which is a disaster, and what I'm hearing, which is the same old desperate denial, I'm officially making the switch from "supporting mergers" to encouraging downsizing in many forms, including mergers.

I'll continue these thoughts in upcoming posts.

1 comment:

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