MINDEN — A year-long dispute between a Webster Parish church and a Masonic lodge has been settled in court in favor of the church.
As a result of a consent judgment in state District Court, Dorcheat Masonic Lodge F&AM 276 is evicted from the Evergreen Union Church property and has until March 1 to leave.
The ruling recognized the church as sole owner of the 1.2-acre tract that was part of the dispute.
The lodge is not leaving empty-handed, though. The church must pay it $60,000.
A settlement has been in the works since December.
After the ruling, one of the first orders of business was for some church members to return to Evergreen and remove deadbolts that have kept them locked out of the church fellowship hall, known as Givens Hall, since August.
The agreement required the lodge to immediately hand over keys to the locks that the lodge had changed. Dorcheat lodge master William Frasier had said the locks were changed on orders of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana.
The intermingling of the church and lodge stretches back decades. In 1915, after a two-story building was added to the sanctuary, the Masonic lodge was given permission to use the second floor for its meetings. Many of the lodge members also held church membership.
The relationship was unchallenged until recent years when death caught up with aging lodge members and a rift developed as leadership of the Dorcheat Lodge changed. The church voted in January 2012 to ask the lodge to vacate the property by April 2012. And because lodge members had participated in construction of Givens Hall, the church offered to pay Dorcheat Lodge $30,000. But the lodge balked and claimed ownership of Givens Hall.
The fallout put friends and neighbors at odds. It even extended into other Webster Parish Masonic lodges as some members opted to side with the church in disagreement with the Dorcheat Lodge’s actions. Several were subsequently kicked out of their lodges, while others resigned.