This is my last column as your Grand Master. The year is finishing so much differently than it started. It seems like ages since we have last sat together in a lodge room whether in a stated meeting or degree. I have to say that the social meetings via Zoom that many lodges and districts are having, when working well, are quite satisfying. Chatting with our Brothers, remarking how our hair is longer or how we are creatively getting it cut, some like me having beards that were started when many of us started working from home due to the crisis response, is gratifying given we cannot meet personally. Virtual meetings such as 9 o’clock toasts, meetings with everyone wearing hats, and other creative themes make the calls more interesting.
Lodge Wellness Committees are getting more traction at many lodges. I get many comments how our Brothers, especially those remote or homebound really appreciate the calls from members of the committees. The lodge officers are truly getting the latest news from our Brothers, from those that are laid off, from those ill and distressed, from those in need who would not have called anyone to let them know they were in need. Thank you, my Brothers, for rising to the occasion. This should be continued when we get back to the new “normal”.
I hope you paused this past Memorial Day and remembered that freedom is not free and has cost us dearly. We honor those of our armed services who have fallen, making the ultimate sacrifice, in defense of our country and its freedoms. We gave our thanks and appreciation for all those men and women of our military and those who support them, past and present. They were and are our heroes. We pray for all of them.
The question I know that is in all your minds is when will all of us be able to enjoy meeting together again in our lodges, be able to enjoy face-to-face fellowship, work on fundraising efforts, examine our candidates, and start doing degree work. I know it is constantly on my mind and is every morning when I wake up. This terrible COVID-19 virus and our reactions to it have irrevocably changed our lives these past months. Lodges that depend on annual fundraisers for supporting the lodge and its charitable endeavors have not been allowed to do them. This will have lasting effects and will take lots of effort to catch up when we can re-engage. Since many of the community events that we pair those fundraising event with have been cancelled, we’ll need to be creative in our future fundraising events and efforts, thinking out of the box. We just completed our first Re-engagement Strategic Planning session. With some of the various counties and major cities in Wisconsin still having separate orders or regulations controling stay-at-home policies or just social distancing, it will be difficult to have a consistant re-engagement protocol, so we wait a little longer, into June, and see whether we can settle into something manageable and more consistant around the state. Our next Grand Master, if tradition holds, RWBro. Ken Gorgen, will be ready to bring forth a state-wide re-engagement plan for Masonic meetings and activities as soon as he and the Grand Lodge officers are assured it keeps our Brothers safe. I await that day.
I’ve been so proud to be your Grand Master. Thank you for the opportunity. It hasn’t been a cake walk, with our current crisis, but it has been an experience I would not trade for any other. You have greeted me and welcomed me to your lodges and events, whether in person or virtually. I thank all of you for making me feel at home. I enjoyed listening to your stories about the lodges and their buildings and it is clear to me that the spirit of Freemasonry is alive and well and thriving in Wisconsin, and that you have “Embraced the Experience”.
I am so proud to be a Freemason, a Scottish Rite Mason, a York Rite Mason, and a Shrine Mason. Continue to be safe, be healthy, and look out for our Brothers and their families.