June 4, 2016
It is with deep humility and gratitude that I greet you as Grand Master today. I thank you for your confidence and I humbly promise to give my utmost to fulfill your trust.
As I deliver my remarks this morning please remember one undeniable truth…sleep is a good thing! If this Annual Communication has begun to tire you out, go ahead and close your eyes, don’t fight it! Serious head bobbing is very distracting. I do warn you however that any loud snoring is the equivalent of a cell phone going off and you will be expected to pay a fine to the Loomis/Chamberlain Veterans Fund.Brethren, we are all connected! Masons are connected to God, connected to family, connected to community, and of course connected to each other!
First and foremost, brothers, we are connected to God! In whom do you put your trust? In God, of course. Today, I’m going to stray from protocol a bit. I’m removing my hat and placing it on the altar, just touching the Holy Writings as a symbol of my faith in God and my dependence on him. The Book of Proverbs contains much of the wisdom of King Solomon, who is such a central figure in our ritual. Proverbs 3:5 tells us to trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not depend on your own understanding, but seek his will in all you do and he will show you which path to take.
I cannot embark on this great and important undertaking without the blessing and wisdom of almighty God. Brethren, you may remain seated
“Heavenly Father, I ask your blessing on the brothers of Wisconsin, on our friends and families and on this Grand Lodge. Leadership is only possible with your help, wisdom and inspiration. I offer myself to your service and to the service of this Grand Lodge. I humbly ask you for wisdom, strength and endurance. Amen, So mote it be.
Brethren, we are also connected to each other! Let us look again to the Wisdom of Solomon found in Proverbs 27:17. “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” For over 30 years I have made great friends though Masonry. During my tenure as a Grand Lodge officer I have been especially privileged to learn from some of the sharpest and wisest men that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. To meet them on the level has been an amazing gift.
Because we are connected as brothers we need to focus on our tenets. A tenet is a teaching that is so universally accepted that no one questions that it is true.
Our Tenets are “Brotherly love, relief and truth.” We could easily dig deep into each of these tenets but today I would like to focus on “relief.” To relieve the distressed is a duty incumbent on all men, but more particularly on Masons. To restore peace is the main goal of relief. Relief is a feeling of reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety or distress. Relief can take many forms, it does not just have to be money.
Brethren, we have fallen short of our duty to relieve our brothers. Our Board of Service and Assistance receives very few requests for assistance. This lack of requests stems from two reasons; the first is understandable, the second is inexcusable.
Reason Number One – Masons are proud and do not want to ask for help or to publicize their troubles.
Reason Number Two – Our lodges do not realize that their brother is struggling. Current officers, especially the Senior Warden may not know all of the lodge members.
How do we know a brother is struggling? Talk to him on a regular basis! Get to know your brothers. Follow up if he has not attended lodge. ASK him if everything is OK when there may be hints of trouble. Remind your brothers that the Senior Warden is charged with knowing about sickness and distress. Encourage your brethren to contact the Senior Warden and that any discussions will remain confidential.
If your lodge has a brother in distress, and it is beyond the point of passing the hat or lodge level relief, PLEASE contact our Board of Service & Assistance.
We are connected to our Masonic Family. The strength of Wisconsin Freemasonry is very much dependent on the strength of our appendant bodies and youth groups. Wisconsin Freemasonry is much like a tapestry into which all of these wonderful groups are woven together.
As you look at our pin design for this year you’ll see symbolism of that connection.
While I’m not of Scottish heritage, it has been my pleasure to participate in both the Tripoli Shrine Scottish Highlanders and the Lake Lodge Pipes and Drums for over 25 years. The belt and buckle design that surrounds the square and compasses on our pin is borrowed from the clan crests of Scotland. The belt and buckle symbolize an allegiance to the “clan” or in the case of this design, to the fraternity of Wisconsin Freemasons.
One way that we would like to stay better connected with our youth groups this year will be through an initiative to have every lodge “adopt” a youth group. We will also strive to broaden the ranks of trained youth leaders. Our Junior Grand Warden will be addressing these initiatives.
In order to better connect with our appendant bodies we will work closely with he Masonic Unity Conference. The Conference is made up of leaders from all of our appendant bodies and meets twice yearly to share calendars and common concerns. Working together we are creating a combined “Charity Book” that will feature the broad array of charities supported by our various organizations…everything from Jobies to Shriners.
Another initiative that we are planning this year is “Wisconsin Freemasonry Day.” This event is scheduled for the second Saturday in October. On or about October 8 we hope to have all organizations working together to host friends events and public awareness events. This may also include special degree work or membership celebrations. Our goal is to have our groups work together to host joint events throughout the state.
Masons are connected to family. We need to continue to make Masonry “Family Friendly.” Masonry needs to be passed from generation to generation. It is also essential that Masonry is supportive of men who are active in the lives of their families. There is an important balance that needs to take place. Men need to spend time with their families and cannot always be expected to skip family outings or to arrive home late night after night. Families need to be welcome at Masonic gatherings.
We are connected to community. Successful lodges are active and visible in their communities. This is not just to attract new members, but also to give back to the community. Masonry is not built as a “community service” organization, but it is a natural extension of our fraternity to want to be involved and to help. We have been actively supporting the placement of medical equipment such as AED’s, as well as offering numerous scholarships. We have also undertaken more and more help and support of veterans.
Once again, this year the Grand Master’s appeal will be to raise funds for support of veterans. More specifically we will work to identify help for veterans that suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. Brethren, it is a shocking fact that nationwide we lose 22 veterans each day to suicide. We will establish a task force to identify and vet programs that support veterans, specifically in the area of treatment for PTSD and suicide prevention.
Brethren, we will endeavor to connect Masons to programs that make a difference in the battle against PTSD and suicide among veterans. The more programs that we can identify, and the more we can connect Masons to them, the better our chances of identifying the symptoms and helping our veterans find the necessary support. An example of one such program is “Pets for Vets.” The program pairs up rescue dogs with veterans. Those of us that own pets know how much they can do for our spirit!
We are connected to our lodges. Our lodges are the key to Masonry in Wisconsin! Lodges are where the friendships are formed. They are also where the important task of Masonic Education needs to happen. Masonic Education is what separates us from the many other clubs and civic organizations. The most important job that Masonry does is to help a good man to look inside himself and to become a better man. The lodge facilitates this learning. The individual brother needs to build his own character, but the work of the lodge helps to make that possible.
Every lodge in Wisconsin is important! We have lost too many lodges over the years. We should be starting new lodges! We have brothers and potential brothers in many communities around Wisconsin that are not served by a local lodge. We need to cherish our lodges and protect them! Every lodge should have it’s own personality and follow it’s own direction. Ideas and programs from Grand Lodge are only kindling. The fire has to happen in the lodge!
As long as the candles are burning there is Masonic light in our lodges and communities. I fervently wish that we can keep the candles burning in all of our lodges this year and that perhaps we can light some new candles. We are coining a new term this year, that term is “Candlelight Lodges.” Fully half of the lodges in Wisconsin have a membership of 50 or less. “Candlelight Lodge” is intended to be a positive, term that describes smaller lodges that exemplify Masonic principles. A lodge should be able to fill the chairs and have at least a couple sideliners…perhaps ten to twelve brothers at a meeting is a minimum. If your lodge numbers 50 members and ten attend, that’s 20%, which isn’t bad. Could we have a lodge that numbers only thirty members, but has ten attending? Why not? Our main challenge is often the cost of a building, but if we can manage that cost there is no reason not to have more lodges around our state. Masons don’t need a building to be visible in the community. The fact is that many of our buildings are virtually invisible now.
Rough Ashlar Lodge
Brothers, let me introduce you to my favorite lodge…some of you have heard of it. Its name is Rough Ashlar Lodge. Rough Ashlar is a struggling lodge. It’s been stumbling and bumbling along. The chairs aren’t filled, the brothers are shaky on degree work. The roof is leaky and the furnace is on its last legs. But do you know what? These brothers are great friends! They are proud of their drafty old building. They care about their brothers!
The Brothers at Rough Ashlar Lodge are worried about their future. They recently visited “Perfect Ashlar” Lodge. Have you ever been to Perfect Ashlar? You probably see their pictures in the Masonic Journal all the time. Perfect Ashlar is conferring multiple degrees, their tuxedos are first rate, their shoes are shiny and every brother has a perfect smile and perfect hair.
Brothers let me share a secret with you that I learned from an old past master of Lake Lodge, Brother Leroy Kelpin, one day almost 30 years ago at our lodge picnic. I was the Senior Deacon at the time. He told me, “You know how everyone talks about how great things used to be? They weren’t always that great!”
Quite often, if you look close, Perfect Ashlar Lodge isn’t so perfect after all. The lodge may have had numerous defaults over the years, or brothers suspended for not paying dues. They don’t really know all of their brothers and haven’t kept in touch with their widows. The fact is, there really aren’t any Perfect Ashlar lodges around after all. We are all a little rough and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way!
The success of Freemasonry in Wisconsin can only come from one place…our lodges! Your Grand Lodge has transitioned over the last several years. We have worked at strategic planning to avoid the “my year” syndrome that leads to new programs every year that end up on a dusty shelf.
So what is this year’s “new program” to help our lodges?
The 4 P’s
Very simply, we will help old Rough Ashlar Lodge to find its own identity. It is important for every lodge to find a balance. This 4 legged stool will help me symbolize the balance that is needed for a lodge to succeed. Just like this stool, each lodge needs four legs, and they need to be equal to be balanced. These four legs are People, Planning, Programming and Proficiency – the “4 P’s.”
As the year goes on, you’ll be hearing and reading lot’s of thoughts and ideas relating to the “4 P’s.” For now let’s take a quick look at each leg of the stool:
You can’t have a lodge without people! There are various “stakeholders” in each lodge. What can we do to consider all of our stakeholders? These include older members, younger members, new members, snow birds, Past Masters, officers, candidates, ladies and families. There are many ways to identify people that are part of your lodge. If we are intentional about serving these various groups we’ll be much more successful!
Speaking of People….during the month of November this year I’ll be asking you to help develop awareness among men of the risks of prostate cancer. Roughly six years ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer through a very simple PSA test. I underwent robotic surgery and have been completely cancer free since.
To develop awareness and encourage our brothers to get that simple blood test we’ll be inviting you to participate in “No Shave November.” I will personally be shaving my goatee on the first of the month and won’t shave again until December 1st.
As a special incentive I’m inviting you to enter the “Cheesy Mustache” competition. We’ll be asking you to enter the competition by submitting your before and after photos. Whichever brother is deemed to have grown the cheesiest mustache will win a “Cheesy Breakfast” for you and your lodge brothers. We’ll serve up cheesy potatoes and made-to-order omelets for you and your lodge.
Once in a while you can “wing it” and the year will go great, but any good program usually needs a plan. Planning doesn’t have to be scary or complicated. Plans don’t always have to even be in writing. The truth is however, that even the best ideas can be a flop if there isn’t some good planning that takes place.
Programming helps your lodge establish an identity! Do you like dining out? Do you like outdoor events? Speakers? Movie nights? Masonic Education and discussion nights? There is no silver bullet here, there is no one size fits all!
This is not just ritual! Proficiency simply means that we should try to do what we do well. If you are in charge of running the meeting, be prepared and do it well! If you are sending out a flyer, make it neat and accurate. Have someone proof read it! It should go without saying that all ritual, including opening and closing the lodge should be done well. Proficiency means to be prepared.
At this time I’d like to call attention to Past Grand Master Frank Struble. His efforts this past year to travel the state and hold numerous Listening Visits has given us a stockpile of ideas and recommendations that were all generated in lodges. Let us salute PGM Struble and all the lodges that participated in these listening visits.!
Brethren, thanks to YOUR input, we have ideas, programs and recommendations stacked up like kindling and cordwood! They are stacked up right outside your door! These are YOUR ideas!
Your Grand Lodge team stands ready to help in anyway possible to ensure your lodge’s success, but it is up to YOU to make your lodge successful. YOU need to supply the match
Thank you my brothers!