Grand Master Harker’s Address to the Annual Communication

June 2010 : Madison Masonic Center

M.W. Joseph B. Harker - Grand Master

My brothers, I am deeply humbled but honored by having been elected and installed as your Grand Master.  I want to congratulate and thank all of the Grand Lodge Officers that have been elected or appointed and installed to serve you this next Grand Lodge year with me.  We all thank you for your support and confidence. We pledge to you our support in  all of your endeavors.  We also pledge our support to York Rite, Scottish Rite, and Shrine and other appendent bodies as well as our youth organizations.  Your work is important and appreciated by all those whom you serve.  Your Grand Lodge Officers want you to know that we are a team that is in place to serve the brothers, lodges and all Masonic affiliates of this great jurisdiction. I want you to know that I will do my very best to uphold the duties of the office to which I have been elected and installed.  I know that our other officers will do the same.

I have been asked repeatedly by many of you if I thought that I would be ready to be your next Grand Master.   As a team of Grand Lodge officers that have been working very well together there are many things we already are aware of that must be handled and I am sure there are many more that we are not aware of that will require handling.   I want you all to know that the team of progressive line officers have been meeting at least once each and every month for several years now.  I trust that will continue.  Your executive officers will be meeting this year once each month or more often as required to address issues that are brought to our attention.  So to answer that most frequently asked question.  I may not know all the answers but with the assistance of the team assembled, I/we will provide the answers and/or information that you deserve and expect.  I strongly believe in team work.  A team will accomplish much more than any one individual can accomplish by himself.

We must thank all of our Past Grand Masters for their excellent leadership and foresight to set the direction that our Jurisdiction has taken in the past.  Their successes have enabled us to set our goals equally as high.  We know that we can count on each of them for guidance.  Thank-you Past Grand Masters.

You Grand Lodge office staff lie poised and ready to assist you and your lodges when you need them.  The young ladies at your Grand Lodge office have the experience and knowledge to address your many concerns and needs.  I would ask that you be polite and courteous providing adequate time for our staff to produce the certificates, forms, materials etc. that you need.   You have provided me with the opportunity the past two years to travel to the North American Conference of Grand Masters and Grand Secretaries.  There I have had the chance to talk with many Grand Lodge officers from various Jurisdictions.  When time allowed, I sat in on portions of the Grand Secretary’s sessions and it is very apparent that we are so very lucky to have M .W. Michael A. Dewolf, P.G.M., Grand Secretary serving our jurisdiction.  M .W. Brother Mike along with our Right Worshipful Brother John Benedict, Grand Treasure spent a considerable amount of time and energy in negotiating some very favorable terms of coverage and premium costs for our lodges and The Grand Lodge insurance protection and expenses this year.  I am sure that nearly all of you experienced a decrease in the amount that you are paying in insurance premiums.  These two Brothers were also tasked with the rollout of the new Government regulations.  These two items alone required considerable time and effort.  My brothers you do not know how fortunate you and I are to have a staff so capable and knowledgeable.

Our Grand Secretary will be conducting secretary training sessions this year.  A portion of that training will be MORI (The Masonic Online Registry Interface) tool.  It is a tool that all lodges must master.  I want you all to know that it has become impossible to maintain the BLIS (Blue Lodge Information System).  BLIS was on a platform that does not make sense to utilize any longer.  Face it today my brothers, BLIS is a thing of the past.  If you are still using it, set a goal to transfer to MORI over the summer.  While it makes the most sense that the Lodge would benefit if the Lodge secretary were your local MORI expert, it does not have to be the secretary but it may be another member of your Lodge who has basic computer skills and is willing to learn the MORI system.  I have attended one of the early MORI training classes a few years ago and more recently have taken the on line training session.  It is not difficult my brothers.  MORI is a complete web based membership management application for use by constituent Lodges integrating The Grand Lodge Office, subordinate body, and fundraising functions into a unified system. MORI can help us to eliminate errors, improve mailings, enforce our Constitution, and lower our operating expenses.  I encourage those Lodges that are not registered to do so now rather than later.   I have looked at the usage statistics: there are 13 Lodges who have as yet not registered; there are Lodges that have accessed the program a dozen times or so and there are Lodges that have accessed the program in the hundreds of times and one Lodge that has accessed it nearly 1,000 times.  Our Grand Lodge Officers want to see you utilize this program as it is a tool to enable your Lodges to be more efficient and to reduce the time your secretary or assistant secretary spends preparing dues notices, recording dues, preparing reports, and sending notices to your membership and many other efficiencies as well.   Please pass along to your MORI user that it would be a great deal of help if he were to provide input in each of the data fields for each member.  I found this past fall and winter while trying to fill Grand Lodge Officer, board and committee positions that the occupation category hasn’t completed or stated retired.  This lack of information makes it difficult in identifying individual to serve your fraternity.  If retired please state the profession or occupation from which our member retired from followed by (retired) in parentheses.

We have good programs in place and we believe that it is not necessary to start new programs but rather improve those that we already have in place.  Our planning committee this past year has been working on indentifying “Centers of Excellence” or in other words Lodges that have been successful using the programs that exist.  These Lodges have been identified and are willing to assist other lodges that would like to improve in certain areas.  Shortly the Districts Deputies will have information on this data.

Membership continues to be an area in which we must concentrate our efforts. Grand Master Campbell is to be commended on his initiative to hold several public seminars that are continuing to generate new members for some of our Lodges.  We can do nothing about our members that pass on to the lodge above.  However, there is an area where we must, at the Lodge level, do a better job and that is communicating with our brothers, especially those whom for whatever reason choose to resign or simply stop paying dues annually.  I can not tell you how many former brothers have told me they are too embarrassed to request to be reinstated.  The Worshipful Master and/or Wardens should be (no must be) contacting these brothers before they are suspended.  Maintain contact with brothers that live both locally and outside what you would normally list as your boundaries.  A suggestion may be with a birthday card or Masonic anniversary card sent annually.

Your expenditures committee and Progressive Line Officers spent a great deal of time and effort to understand our operating expenses.  We reviewed the way that our annual budget was developed only to determine that our budgets ware based on the previous year’s budgets and not the actual expenditures.  We found that for the past several years the actual expenditures exceed the budgets in several categories and were over budgeted in other categories.   We found that there were expenses that did not make sense being categorized the way that they were.  As a result the true actual expenses did not equate to the budget. We prepared a budget that is based upon what our actual expenses have been for the past 3-4 years and a projection for the year just completed.  Those records will be audited by September and we will know where we will need to control with our expenses in an effort to stay within budget.  We know that in future year we can refine this process. We have added additional funding to the Masonic Journal to improve the paper stock that is used in your printed publication.  How many of you have gone to the Grand Lodge Web site to see the Masonic Journal?   Did you realize that there are additional pages showing more pictures and repetitive data?   We have also budgeted to make some necessary repairs to your Grand Lodge Office building.  It is necessary to provide our staff with raises this year.  There are also the benefits that are increasing as well.  We have made our Grand Secretary position a paid position.  We have found it necessary to meet additional Government/IRS requirements.  This has meant that our Grand Secretary study and implement procedures to comply and stay current with these regulations. Some of you may think that your Grand lodge is being too forceful in requesting timely filing of reports.  Let me assure you that our Government is insisting on this, it is not your Grand Lodge office making it difficult on the Lodges..

We are not in favor of consolidations.  Once a Lodge no longer exists in a community it is doubtful that it will ever reopen.  There is one Lodge that we are watching because they tell us that this may just happen.   There have been the past couple of years Lodges that wanted to consolidate but didn’t and are now once again doing degree work like they did 20-40 years ago.  If they had consolidated what organization do you think these new bothers would have joined?

While a lodge that I am a member of has used the one day Man to Mason program several times very successfully I want you all to know that I am not a fan of this method of raising a brother or group of brothers.

We are seeing a couple of our Lodges working on re-establishing youth organizations in their Lodges.  We offer to those Lodges encouragement and would ask other Lodges to consider reforming or starting a youth organization.  It is proven that youth exposed to Masonry will directly or indirectly add to your membership.  Additionally, I have experienced many Lodges where the youth groups provide services to the Lodge during Lodge functions.  This is a win – win opportunity for your Lodge.   Your Grand Lodge through our investments and those of your Wisconsin Masonic Foundation continues to support Rainbow for Girls, Job’s Daughters and DeMolay.

I encourage all lodges to plan well in advance of the day of installation of Lodge officers.   Your Grand Lodge Officers enjoy participating in your installations.  Ask them early before their calendars fill up.  We work cheap.  However, my brothers spend some time planning your Lodge’s year.  The Budget is most important.  Understand your expenses and activities and prepare your Budget well in advance of your elections.  This will also help in determining if an increase in your dues is needed.

The Wisconsin Masonic Home, Inc., Three Pillars Campus has undertaken the needed construction of a 17,000 square feet expansion for a new Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Dousman.  This will provide 14 private room beds for private therapy and continuing wellness programs.   The “Caring to Grow” Capital Campaign is currently soliciting lodges and individuals for donations.  Please consider a generous gift to this effort.  We continue to be concerned with our Van Brunt Building.  We also continue to keep close watch over the Mason Woods facility.  We hope to have a solid direction on the path forward for these two properties.

My brothers this is “OUR” fraternity.  This is “OUR” year.  It is not my year.  For my brothers as stated in the installation ceremony last evening “a Grand Master should be ever mindful that though elevated for the time being above his fellows, that he was elevated by them and to them he will shortly return.”

Grand Master's Pin for 2010-2011

My brothers you will now see on the screens the lapel pin representative of our year.   As we are about to close this annual communication and you will hear from our Senior Grand Warden “On the LEVEL”.   Those simple three little words have meant a great deal to me all these years I have been attending Lodge meetings.  When you open your mind to it there are any number of meanings in this little statement.  In the Lodge closing there are two little questions asked by the Worshipful Master and you will hear them said a lot this coming year.  I expect each and every member to respond.    Let’s try IT!

How do we meet?  How do we act?  And how to we part?

“Never Forget” our obligation and always remember that we meet “On the Level”, act by the “Plumb” and part upon the “Square”.

Thank you and may God Bless!!!