Is the Sergeant-at-Arms really the Club Bully?

“An official of a legislative or other assembly whose duty includes maintaining order and security”. That is the definition of a ‘sergeant-at-arms‘ given by the online Oxford English Dictionary.

I have long had a very large bee-in-my-bonnet about this Rotary Club Office and look forward to the day the position is dropped never, ever to be seen in Rotary again.

Having travelled around many Clubs I have seen this frankly outdated and embarrassing office being fulfilled in many different ways, but generally always under the guise of “fun and fundraising”.

From what I have witnessed at Club level in Rotary, the Sergeant-at-Arms is pretty much given free rein to say, do and act as he likes (and I have yet to see a female Club Sergeant). Even above that of the Club President – who can often be the brunt of weekly fines during their whole Presidential year.

“Not wearing a tie – £1 in the charity box!”

“Turned up late – £1 in the charity box!”

“Having a vowel in your surname – £1 in the charity box!”

…and so it goes on.

So, what is the position of Sergeant-at-Arms is all about? Many Clubs have them, many don’t. When asked what they thought of the post of the sergeant on @RotaryBlogger’s twitter account, one follower commented, “it helps the lodge members feel at home”. I wonder how much of a throw-back the position actually is, who knows?

Now in posting this blog I appreciate I will open myself up to all the Clubs who will immediately come back and say that their ‘fine system’ generates income for the Club’s charity every week and generating a bit of humour to the Club at the same time. They should certainly be proud of the fact they are raising funds – but fun and humour…really?

If raising funds by way of humiliation and embarrassment is your bag – then full your boots but you’re on your own.


Some members will still feel uncomfortable being pointed at and laughed at despite the fact it is authorised by the Club Sergeant-at-Arms

But, let’s demonstrate how ludicrous the role of Fine-Master-General is at Club level. Picture the scene…it’s meeting day and one of your existing members brings a visitor along to the Club. This new ‘prospect’ is giving some serious thought to joining Rotary – so all great news.

The visitor (who is a senior manager in a highly successful business) turns up and happens not to be wearing a tie, doesn’t own a tie and frankly has no inclination or need to wear a tie. (Many old-school Regular Rots will be shocked to know that many senior business managers no longer wear ties.)

Next thing he knows is that the Club he is thinking about joining starts to fine some of its internal members for not wearing ties. And the rest of the club find this extremely entertaining. Do they fine visitors he asks himself? As he sheepishly shuffles about in his chair hoping that his naked neck is not on the sergeant-at-arms radar – and at the same time feeling in his pocket for a pound coin, just in case.

Now you may think this is somewhat far fetched as a visitor would never be fined – so to speak. But what about the Rotarian who accompanied them? Yes, I was attending a Club when the Sergeant-at-Arms fined a member for bringing a guest [albeit the previous week] who had not been wearing a tie. I don’t know whether this was factually accurate or just another excuse to squeeze a pound sterling from some Rotarian’s hand – suffice to say I was uncomfortable as a guest at that Club and I remain convinced that so would some other potential new members. So-much-so, it could put them off joining.

I definitely accept – and endorse – that there may be a ‘Stewarding’ role for the Sergeant-at-Arms teams at some events such as Conference and Assemblies. My experiences are that these individuals are genuinely there ‘to help’ – and in all the years I have attended such events, I have yet to see any Regular Rot or otherwise ‘fined’ by any of the senior Sergeant-at-Arms teams.

I see absolutely no place for the ‘other’ role played at a regular Rotary meetings whereby one of the Club members is given the licence to humiliate and demean other Club members in the name of charity and humour.

As a closing thought, first think of the role I have outlined above and the action of the Club Sergeant-at-Arms.

Now instead of using the Rotary Club, let’s make it the playground of your child or grandchild and instead of using a Club member, let’s use a class mate…completely different story now is it not? I think they still call it bullying and harassment at school.

In the same transference process, try theoretically applying the same Sergeant’s principles to any other community group where you are involved – your church; your Scout group; your Community Council. You simply can’t can you? Can you imagine the outcry from the congregation, the parents or the electorate if we started humiliating and berating those in attendance? Well, this must surely demonstrates how stupid, archaic and out-of-place the role of Sergeant-at-Arms within a Rotary Club is.

Let’s hope that in modernising our organisation, we drop-kick the role of Club Humiliate-arian to such a distance that it will never return. Surely those Clubs who raise so much by way of the fines levied by the Sergeant-at-Arms can think a bit creatively to replace any funds lost by making a certain office redundant.

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  Image by Marc-Andre Lariviere by CC

15 thoughts on “Is the Sergeant-at-Arms really the Club Bully?

  1. says:

    Thank goodness we don’t have one. It’s bad enough when some members try to show what good sorts they are when we have prospective members visiting without this nonsense. Besides I thought Rotary was about service not purse service so why the need for continually squeezing the members for cash when they probably already contribute their fair share through other means.

  2. Jeremy Jessel says:

    I totally agree with Rotary Blogger, my sentiments entirely. Following a visit to the RC of Cambridge Mass. USA in 2005, l persuaded my club, Southgate, D1130, to adopt their Happy Dollar idea, calllng it Nifty Fifty (50p being the nearest to a dollar). Club members and visitors paid 50p to make a non Rotary announcement or story, takings go to End Polio Now. Last year we renamed the scheme Nifty Quid to reflect the exchange rate!

  3. Cath Chorley says:

    Agree with you on the fining aspect of the Sergeant at Arms role. It is outdated and silly in my view. I don’t like this ad hoc way of raising money but if people want it why not do what some clubs do and pay a pound to tell others of good news.

    The stewarding role of the Sergeants at Arms at Conferences is invaluable but there is no question of fines! It should be the same in the club. The role of the Sergeant should be to facilitate the meeting and ensure everything runs smoothly.

  4. James Lovatt says:

    It’s an alien role to a young person I feel. I’d never heard of it before I became a member of Rotaract, although I have seen it used well on the odd occasion such as national conferences or in the RC of Kingston-upon-Thames who used it as “give a £1 for positive news” type role. Still though, I’ve seen less of the positive examples and more of the examples shown in the blog, and it’s hard to argue against that when trying to sell Rotary to my age group (20-30).

  5. mike harvey says:

    May I take an opposite view. There is a moment at the end of a Rotary meeting when you can send all members away with a smile on their faces and the feeling that they have joined a club with humour. It does mean ,hwever,that you need a very creative S@A.. the job might be re-named. The purpose is to have a laugh but not at the expense of others…forget fines for not wearing pins or ties.Try finding a few little tit bits about members and without embarrassing them , laugh with them. There is a set piece of Rotary and mostly serious…..but heckiling,repartee and a summary of fun that would or could have been had should be welcomed. Give it to the joker in the pack-one who knows the members well and is aware of thir sensitivities. Guests will be impressed if its done well ….The DG will just have to take it.. !
    An example would be a Chelsea supporter who mentioned Manchester City at the bar !..who is harmed ? This is the fun we need in Rotary

  6. John says:

    Exactly this happened to me. I was a visitor and I was fined. I knew nothing of the rule and was interested in joining. I am not now. Ironically, my jacket was probably twice as expensive as any of the suits any of them were wearing… some matched with ties that only a clown would wear. And they wonder why they have a problem with attracting new members…

    1. Thanks for commenting – you make the very point the blog was trying to. It is disappointing you haven’t joined the organisation partly on this basis – however there are many clubs who do not actually have SAAs, so maybe worth a look for one of those…

  7. Brian says:

    I am a newly elected s/a. i am looking for ways to improve the position so no ones feelings are hurt. I think the s/a of arms does have to keep order in the meeting plus create a light atmosphere so members feel welcome and comfortable in the meeting setting. As far as the fines go, I always thought it was fun to be singled out once in a while. Being fined for your wife putting up with you for the last 25 years on your anniversary, or being the only one showing up in shorts meeting day. Lets have a little fun.

  8. Bassey Bassey says:

    After reading through the articles and the comments from readers, I must say that a bit surprised as to how the SA operates in other clubs. In my club, the role of the SA is to ensure that everything is properly organised during meetings and also to instill discipline. Yes we do collect fines but for offences such as fiddling with your phone or disturbing others, when important issues are being discussed. Even at that, nobody is forced to pay fine and we don’t fine visitors or guests.

  9. Past President Drummond Hammond says:

    Firstly we have a female Sergeant at Arms. The job description of the S@A is well defined in the Secretary’s manual Page 67 and 68. Nowhere in the manual do they talk about bullying or embarrassing fellow Rotarian’s – fining is the last and smallest role an effective S@A plays in the club. Maybe, just maybe … your club are not real Rotarian’s or you do not have the Rotarian fellowship spirit in you! We love our Sergeant dearly and can’t wait for her to climb into us and then the inevitable “Reply to the Sergeant” call by our President and whoever gets the call gleefully reply’s. In Rotary it’s called a sense of humour based on fellowship!

    1. Thanks for your comments Past President Drummond Hammond. Interesting how you immediately revert to quoting the ‘rule book’ – and of course they are not going to speak anywhere about bullying or embarrassing fellow Rotarians…even Rotary isn’t that stupid.

      I also note that you have attempted to justify the position of bullying, harassment and humiliation on something called a “sense of humour based on fellowship” – it is a therefore a shame that you appear to have missed the point of this blog.

      Oh, and congratulations for having a female Sergeant-at-Arms at your Club…

      1. Marcia Bullis says:

        This year we are trying a floating Sergeant at Arms, and it has nothing to do with controlling the meeting. No one gets out of line in our morning meetings
        Everyone must be asleep. Lol
        We have a greeter every week, and that person is the SOA at that meeting. They can choose what they want to say, jokes, history, recent happening, Rotary trivia, what ever that person wants to share.
        I am next week…..wish me well.

  10. The Sergeant At Arms is meant to read the room and maintain decorum during the meeting. The happy or sad dollar is entirely voluntary and fines for not carrying your lapel pin, late arrivals or disrupting the meeting acceptable for full members. A joke of the day or curious fact leaves everyone feeling merry after the main activities. Some of my most memorable meetings were because of how thoughtful I found the S.A.A. to be. It stands to reason if anyone makes you feel uncomfortable you may approach them in person or through the president or even another member. Rotary/Rotaract is a family after all.

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