History Matters


Last time, we learned that at the 1923 St. Louis Convention, Resolution 34, known as the “Magna Carta” of Rotary, established the principle that all Rotary Clubs were free to determine the direction of their service projects. Rotary International could not mandate the types and manner by which clubs conducted their business, as long as they did something service oriented.


It took several years before this notion was fully accepted by the clubs and at times, the conflict between business related beliefs and humanitarian directed goals were fully reconciled.  


In 1931, Paul Harris’s good friend George Clark, a man he had worked for in his youth and a member of the Jacksonville, Florida Rotary Club wrote, “There is now in Rotary a large faction of preachers and religious zealots who are willing to sacrifice Rotary’s future success for their own narrow minded ends. At least that is the way I would look upon it.”


The issue that was cause for his alarm revolved primarily around the practice of clubs saying a prayer before enjoying a meal together.  Clark believed this observance was ushering in a religious custom that went against the basic tenets of Rotary, in that, Rotary was neither a religion nor a substitution for one. Clark was adamant about abolishing the ritual at club meetings.  He reasoned Rotary International was sowing the seeds of “religious dissension which if not checked will eventually result in the breaking up of R.I. into national groups, followed by a complete breakdown.”


R.I. President Sydney Pascall and General Secretary Ches Perry agreed. They wanted to issue a conciliatory memo to all the clubs worldwide instructing Rotarians to, “stand for one minute quietly before commencing a meal.”


After reading a copy of the proposed correspondence, Paul Harris entered into the fray. In his opinion, the recommended compromise was a “step toward the entire banishment of any observances whatever.”  Paul counseled the R.I. Board not to consider the matter to be within its province as it was the right of any club to “banish the practice” if they deemed it desirable.


In an effort to calm the fears of his good friend George Clark, Paul wrote him stating, “Ches Perry is a master of technique of Rotary and will probably be glad to advise you as to what, if anything can be done.” He continued, “The celebrated Resolution 34 passed at the St Louis convention gave each individual club complete autonomy in all such matters.”


So while clubs are free to make expressions of giving thanks, they should be reminded that the basic tenets of Rotary are rooted in tolerance and understanding of others who might hold different ideals than ours. It is our ability to recognize these diverse opinions and work through those assorted distinctions that makes Rotary unique in the world.


Fred Carvin, PDG

Author “Paul Harris and the Birth of Rotary”

Unpublished Copyright© Fred A. Carvin March, 2014

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