Thank you for the opportunity to serve Wisconsin Free and Accepted Masons and for your trust and support as we move forward.
In the many District meetings that I attended this past year, as well as in many personal conversations with respected Masons, I asked where our priorities should be. It will come as no surprise that I kept hearing the same thing voiced over and over again. At every single district meeting and in so many personal conversations, when I asked what our top three priorities should be . . . every single time membership was always on the list.
Those of you who know me well, know that I love to question WHY. At district meetings all across the state, where you told me that membership was the top priority, I asked you “Why is membership important?” Amazingly, when we kept asking why, and really dug down to the roots, we came up with the same answer, every single time, at every district meeting. The bottom line wasn’t because the lodge was fading away. It wasn’t because we have shrunk by about 50,000 Masons from our peak in Wisconsin, and it wasn’t because the lodge could no longer afford its current infrastructure. Same bottom-line answer every single time; membership in our fraternity is important because the world really needs more Masons.
Brothers I hear you. Now the easy part is done, the talking. It’s time to go to work and take positive action.
Membership comes in three flavors: new membership, participation, and retention. Let’s talk about new members. We can all agree that the world needs more Masons. Society is rapidly changing and the need for civility is becoming critical. Look around; listen to the news; there is no doubt that the world, our county, our communities desperately need more good Masons and we need them NOW! The world really needs a good dose of Masonry. As Masons and citizens, it is our duty to identify good men, who can exemplify our great tenets, and bring those men into our fraternity. As more good men are introduced to our principles, they will be a positive impact on the world and our communities.
The challenge is that in today’s busy and rapidly changing world, many men may find it difficult to find the time required to complete the experience of receiving degrees on multiple days and also additional dates and time to prepare for each degree. In addition, some Lodges struggle to organize and confer degrees and without help, and some may find the juggling of demanding schedules difficult. As a result, some candidates languish.
As an alternative to our traditional degree format, this year Wisconsin Masons will offer a Masonic Day of Light. The Masonic Day of Light is an optional program that will attract candidates with busy life styles and provide them with an introductory Masonic experience that is second to none.
Candidates who attend this Masonic Day of Light program will receive all three degrees and the associated lectures in the same day. The degrees conferred at the Masonic Day of Light will be of the very highest quality, conferred by the best of the best. In addition, they will receive instruction following the Wisconsin Plan, and will post in the Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft degrees. They will also receive a foundational education in the Master Mason degree.
A mentor will be required to accompany each candidate. The mentor is a vital part of the candidate’s experience. Mentors will assist in the degree, attend and participate in the training sessions and assist with the posting process. While not required, the mentor should be familiar with the Wisconsin Program. Details will be sent to each mentor, lodge, and candidate with additional information.
Following each of the first two degrees, the newly made Brothers will receive instruction in accordance with our Wisconsin Program Posting Guide. The sessions will be instructor led. The postings will satisfy the requirements of the Masonic Code and our Wisconsin Plan as well as qualify them to receive the next degree. After receiving the MM degree, Brothers will be required to return to their home Lodge to complete the Master Mason Posting to the satisfaction of the Worshipful Master and the lodge.
My Brothers, how these new Masons are handled after the Masonic Day of Light is vital. We must follow up, engage them, make a special effort to welcome them into the local Masonic family and integrate them, and their family members into our fraternity and local lodge. Lodges that participate in this event will be required to bring the new Masons back to the Lodge to complete their Master Mason posting within 30-60 days of the Masonic Day of Light. In addition, the Lodges must present the aprons and holy writings in a celebration honoring our new Brothers, with significant others, friends and families present to help celebrate that achievement.
The Masonic Day of Light event is expected to cost the Lodge approximately $75 per candidate and will include refreshments and lunch for the candidate and his mentor, a presentation apron, holy writings, posting booklets for the candidate and a keepsake square and compasses. A hoodwink and cable tow will be provided. Each lodge’s “usual fees” may still apply to the candidate.
The initial Masonic Day of Light events will be held on November 4, 2017 in two locations: McKinley Lodge in Brookfield, and the Eau Claire Masonic Center in Eau Claire. Additional information will follow.
Not only the candidates, but also everyone who participates in the Masonic Day of Light will benefit. The Masons who will practice and put on the degrees under the expert tutelage of the Lecturers will benefit. The Masons on the sidelines who will see some of the best degree work possible will benefit. Everyone who attends the educational sessions put on between the degrees will learn, and the lodges who will get a new influx of good men will benefit.
Brothers, the world needs more good Masons and Wisconsin Masons are going to deliver.
Words of caution here Brothers, please don’t stop what you are doing now! Continue to do degree work and raise Masons in your own lodge when the candidate’s schedule permits. The candidates we bring in during the Masonic Day of Light need to be new Masons above and beyond what we are doing now. Please do not use the Masonic Day of Light as a reason not to do our own degree work within the lodge.
Secondly, we will bring back some of our lost members. We worked hard to get them, but they left us for some reason. Life situations change, Lodges change, so let’s go get them and welcome them back. This year I will send you a list of men who resigned or were suspended for NPD. I’ll ask you which one of these men we should invite back and then send them a personal letter inviting them to come back to Freemasonry. From the Grand Lodge level, we will forego any per capita penalties. We will leave it up to your lodge if you wish to do the same.
Third, we need to continue to work hard on retention and participation. Following our strategic plan, your District Deputy Grand Masters took best practices from lodges that are growing and thriving and revamped the Lodge Excellence Award. The Lodge Excellence Award is an outstanding planning tool and provides a great recipe for lodge success and it’s now user friendly. It should come as no surprise that nearly every one of the lodges that were recognized this year at Annual Communication for achieving positive membership also achieved Lodge Excellence Awards. The Lodge Excellence Award program provides a road map for success, please use it. In addition, a few years ago Past Grand Master Struble traveled the state conducting Listening Sessions and developed a large list of events and best practices that have been distributed in several formats to all lodges. Hundreds of Masons have attended the Wisconsin Masonic College, which was championed by Past Grand Master Beetcher and were provided the training and tools to successfully lead and manage a lodge. This past year, Past Grand Master Hensiak shared how “Rough Ashlar Lodge” overcame challenges that so many lodges face. We all learned a lot from Rough Ashlar Lodge. Brothers, all these things are part of our strategic plan and it’s working. Your hard work is beginning to bear fruit, and for the first time that anyone in this room today can remember, we came into this Annual Communication with a small net positive membership gain. And finally, when it comes to membership retention, don’t forget about the Brothers that don’t attend Lodge – keep in touch, reach out and spread the cement of Brotherly love.
This year we are going to increase the focus on our facilities. Change is sometimes difficult to accommodate, and that is certainly true when it comes to managing and maintaining our facilities. Our Masonic fathers and grandfathers built Lodge buildings to accommodate existing needs and aggressive future growth. These buildings were often the pride of the Lodge and a shining example of Masonry in the community. Today, in far too many cases, we find those same buildings have become a financial burden and no longer match our infrastructure. In too many cases, Masonic facilities have fallen into disrepair and far too many facilities across the state have become problems. Too often we find ourselves lacking in expertise to deal with those issues.
This year we will Reconstitute and rebuild the Lodge Facilities Charters and Consolidations Committee and then charge them to develop Facility Management guidelines and a pool of facility experts ready to advise Lodges as needed. Your Wisconsin Masonic Foundation has agreed to increase Spruce-up Award Incentives to provide 50% matching grants of up to $1,000. Brothers, if the last time your building was redecorated was around the year I graduated from High School or even before that – then Brothers it’s time. It’s time for the plywood paneling, shag carpeting and musty smell to go away. It’s time for Wisconsin Masons to pool our resources and develop the tools and resources necessary to assist our lodges and our Lodge Trustees in making fact based decisions when it comes to facilities management and maintenance.
Brotherly love, relief, and charity are virtues incumbent on all Masons. Civility is a hallmark. This year, let’s work hard to walk the walk of a Mason. By our actions and deeds, let us demonstrate those virtues we stand for and “show the way” to the rest of society. Working together, we can make a bigger impact in our Communities by supporting local charities and performing acts of kindness. This summer, the Wisconsin Masonic Foundation will announce a program to match funds that Lodges raise for local charities that fall within certain broad categories. Each Lodge will be allotted matching funds of up to $3,000 (includes up to $1,000 for Spruce-up Awards). No pass through funding will be allowed.
The Wisconsin Masonic Home is working to reach out across the state to provide relief to all Masons and family members. I commend the Wisconsin Masonic Home Board on the Living Better at Home Program that was introduced at our Annual Communication. Living Better at Home is a service that will provide expert referrals when relief or expertise is needed. It’s a great step toward statewide relevance and to eventually playing a much larger role in caring for our Masonic family members wherever they live. Expect to see specific information on the Living Better at Home in your mailbox this summer. Help spread the word and encourage Masons and their families to use this service. Talk with those Brothers who no longer get to Lodge and with their families who may need assistance in providing care. It’s a service we will pay for based on the number of active Masons. If we don’t use it, we will lose it. Please get the word out and personally help facilitate the use of this valuable resource and benefit.
As Masons, our actions and deeds distinguish us from the rest of the community. By working together, we can show the rest of the world the way. The World needs more Masons.
L. Arby Humphrey