DORCHEAT — Doorknobs have been replaced with deadbolt locks on the two doors of Givens Hall, a building more commonly referred to as the fellowship hall of the Evergreen Union Church. But none of the church members has keys.
The locked doors kept the church from holding its fifth-Sunday singing and covered dish dinner in September. The cemetery association canceled its October meeting. It had nowhere to gather.
Members of the Dorcheat Masonic Lodge F&AM No. 276, who meet on the church’s second floor, changed the locks in August. The lodge took the action after the church voted unanimously to evict the Masons from the church — which is separate from Givens Hall — to use the space for church activities. The Masons didn’t budge. The church sued. The Masons countered with their own legal challenge claiming ownership of the hall.
That’s the gist of the disagreements. Court hearings are scheduled Dec. 18-20 in Minden.
To those involved, the ensuing court fight goes much deeper than courthouse papers. It has fractured friendships and divided neighbors in the small rural community hidden in the heavily forested hills north of Minden.
The issue is so sensitive that few of the dozen or so people The Times interviewed in person or by telephone would talk about it on the record. Many worried that their position might further alienate friends and acquaintances associated with the church and lodge. Others fear repercussions from the lodge hierarchy.
Bossier City Attorney William Ledbetter Jr., who represents Evergreen church, declined to comment on the pending legal matter and advised his clients to do the same. Ledbetter said he prefers not to try his cases in the media.
Attorney Travis M. Holley, of Bastrop, who represents the lodge, said the lodge was “more than willing” to share the fellowship hall and the second-floor meeting space.
“I’ve not got a response nor do I think I will get a favorable response,” Holley said in late October.
Though not a member of church or lodge, Cotton Valley resident Ken Tripp wavered on whether to share his thoughts. Tripp said he has close ties to the church because many family members are buried in its cemetery. He’s also knows members of the church and Dorcheat Lodge.
He finally decided someone needed to speak about what’s taken place. He said his decision to side with the church cost him — he was suspended from his lodge in Cotton Valley, where Tripp is a past lodge master.
Frank du Treil Jr., grand master of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, accused Tripp in a letter dated July 28 of interjecting himself into the disagreement involving the Dorcheat Lodge.
“I cannot allow you to spread unrest any longer,” du Treil wrote.
Tripp, a railroad retiree who returned to Webster Parish after his career in Texas, believes the lodge — from the local to state level — is wrong to have taken on a legal battle with a church. Doing so, he said, goes against Masonic teachings.
“We all are rooting for the church,” said Tripp of dozens of other Webster Parish masons who oppose the recent turn of events. “We’re embarrassed about this causing negative feedback for Masons.”
Minden resident William G. Frazier, Dorcheat lodge master, while on the opposite of Tripp, agreed in principle.
“This is a black eye on everybody. Nobody wins. ... This is not the way we were supposed to be doing it. This is not Christianity, this is not Masonry.”
Evergreen church traces its history to 1858 with a unique arrangement of having members of the Baptist and Methodist faiths under one roof. In 1915, 4 acres of land were purchased from R.L. Lewis for the cemetery and church, and a new two-story building was erected with the second floor being used by the Masons.
The existing building was constructed in the 1940s, and Givens Hall in 1983.
By all accounts, the relationship between the church and Masons worked for decades. Many Masons were church members, too. But those members are dead. A rift reportedly developed when leadership of the Dorcheat Lodge changed late last year
The church voted unanimously in January to ask the Dorcheat Lodge to vacate the property by April 27. Minden attorney John D. Johnson notified the lodge in a Feb. 6 letter of the church’s intentions. Because lodge members had participated in construction of Givens Hall, the church offered to pay Dorcheat Lodge $30,000.
Frazier said that is not enough to build a new lodge — so, without a place to go, the members voted to not leave. He regretted locking Givens Hall but said that was a decision of the lodge.
Frazier also denied reports of friction between himself and the church but conceded “one of the church members doesn’t like me.” He added, “I do not know what sparked the eviction notice. I don’t if anybody can say what happened. ... I wish somebody could tell me what we did.”
The lodge, in its July court filing, challenged the deed to the land upon which the church was built. It also refers to the “church and Lodge hall” being completed in 1946 with the “lodge portion of the building.”
being used continuously by the Masons since then.