Grand Master C. Brent Stewart delivering his message for the year at the 41st Annual Master’s Breakfast at Algibal Freedom Lodge No 636 on October 25, 2015.
GRAND MASTER’S MESSAGE NOVEMBER 15, 2015
Greetings Brethren: I hope the new Masonic year finds you well. I apologize for not having this Message out earlier but the weeks immediately following the Annual Communication have been unusually busy. You can check the calendar of October events in the most recent edition of The Freemason magazine to get an idea of what we’ve been doing and what is planned.
Unlike in years past, I decided not to conduct the usual Area Meetings during October through the first of December. Instead, your officers and I are going directly to the individual lodges rather than asking you to come to us. We will be doing this all year long.
One thing that seems to be working well is for a lodge to call a Special Communication with a dinner on a Friday night with the Grand Master afterward conferring a first degree, followed by a formal, public lodge re-dedication or cornerstone ceremony on the following Saturday. We have a number of lodges preparing to celebrate their 100th, 125th, 150th or even 175th anniversaries and this is a way for the lodge to make a little money on the dinner, initiate a new brother, bring out some brothers who may not have attended lodge in awhile, and show the general public who we are and what we do.
I also am conducting officer installations, conferring first degrees on regular lodge nights, and making 50 year pin presentations, and just visiting lodges as often as my schedule will permit. If your lodge is interested in having me visit your lodge for any of these events or others, just complete the event request form available on the web site or from the Grand Lodge office.
Brethren, I hope you know that the “Grand Lodge” is not the Grand Master, the Grand Lodge Officers, or the Grand Lodge office staff. The “Grand Lodge” is the general membership. It is composed of the individual lodges. I have long felt that the Grand Lodge Officers and staff should work for the lodges, not the other way around. For this reason our primary focus this year is to help, aid, and assist the lodges in any way we can.
We have been and are doing all we can to restore confidence and trust between the lodges and those of us responsible for the administration of the Grand Lodge’s business. We have been and are: 1) implementing sound financial and operational practices in the Grand Lodge Office; 2) interpreting and applying the By-Laws consistently without regard for who it involves; 3) working to improve the way we communicate at all levels; 4) clearing up misconceptions and misinformation; and 5) bringing a new transparency in all we do. Some examples include giving lodge secretaries a voice in designing and implementing the new membership database, empowering District Deputy Grand Masters to do their jobs as specified in the By-Laws, and for the first time in years providing the membership with copies of the auditor’s report, budget, and financial statements prior to the Annual Communication. We also hope you will like the changes being made to the web site, our social media outlets, and The Freemason magazine. We ask for your help and patience as we move forward.
My theme this year is “Give the Gift but Guard the Gate”. Freemasonry is many things to many people. Some see it primarily as path to personal enlightenment, intellectual growth and spiritual development. Others see it primarily as a way to practice charity, which next to a belief in Deity, lies at the foundation of Freemasonry. Some see it as something in between, or like me, really as a combination of both.
I personally view Freemasonry, in the broadest sense, as being a gift—a gift of inestimable value that is given in and through our lodges. The lodge, that sacred retreat of friendship and virtue, is the very foundation of the Fraternity—where the “real action” is and where we practice our art.
It is in the lodge where we first individually give, and first individually receive, the gift that
is Freemasonry. It is in the lodge where the gift is then shared among the brothers and multiplies, thereby becoming the gift that keeps on giving, both inside the Craft and outside in our communities.
No one may receive the gift we give without first being permitted to pass through the west gate of one of our lodges. In our first and third degrees we are charged to guard vigilantly that west gate, lest our internal peace and harmony be broken and our external reputation be sullied. Only when we properly guard the gate will the harmony, strength, beauty, sincere friendship and good fellowship of our lodges be preserved, not only for us but for all those who will come after us.
Giving the Gift
A gift exists, according to the law, only when three requirements are met: 1) the donor must intend to give it; 2) the gift must be delivered; and 3) the recipient must accept it. If any one of those is missing it isn’t really “a gift”.
To truly have “donative intent” in Freemasonry, a sponsor must recognize that he has something of value that he truly wants to convey to his candidate. In my case, my grandfather personally valued Freemasonry and wanted me—when the time was right—to share that gift. While he may not have been a ritualist or even attend lodge regularly, he did value the Craft and was very proud to be a part of it. He wanted me to have that same experience. Compare that to the sponsor who hands out petitions willy nilly, is driven only by the desire to increase membership, and who does not even show up at his candidate’s initiation or otherwise participate in mentoring his candidate after he is initiated.
Those who focus on quantity at the expense of quality are not truly intending to give the gift of Freemasonry. Yes, we need more members. But that should never override or displace our real purpose. Giving a present to someone you care for is not the same as being a “secret Santa” at an office Christmas party.
How do we deliver the gift? Do we just put it in a bag with colored paper on top and hand it to him or do we take the time to carefully wrap and present it? How are we “packaging” it?
Delivering the gift of Freemasonry takes time. A sponsor starts giving the gift when he makes his first contact with the prospective candidate. He continues the process by then introducing the prospective candidate to the brethren of his lodge and otherwise preparing the candidate prior to even handing him a petition. This process continues through the investigating committee right up to the candidate first being taken into the preparation room. Being a progressive science, it continues step by step, degree through degree. Delivery of the gift is completed incrementally as the degrees are conferred and by the one-on-one mentoring provided thereafter.
We as Masons are not truly delivering the gift if we slop together our degree conferrals or perform our ritual purely by rote memory without conveying the meaning behind our ritual. Doing it right, again, takes time.
I believe that there are three elements to properly performing our ritual. The first is
memorization. You obviously cannot convey the meaning if you don’t know the words or floor work. The second is taking the extra time and effort to understand the meaning of what you’ve memorized. There is a meaning behind the words and work. The third is conveying or communicating that understanding to others. Monotone delivery without emphasis and meaning conveys little. All three elements are required to deliver the gift.
We confer our degrees in one of two ways. The general membership has voted to allow a
Chance-To-Advance or “C2A” setting as an alternative to traditional degree conferrals. While it has not always been the case, today our C2As provide our candidates with excellent Masonic education and top notch ritual. If you have not attended a C2A recently or have never seen one, I strongly recommend that you do. I guarantee you will learn something you didn’t know to take back to your lodge and that you will witness the ritual as it should be performed.
There has been much confusion and misinformation about C2As. The By-Laws make it clear that C2As are the exception, not the rule and only can be held by dispensation of the Grand Master. I do not believe that the brothers intended C2As to serve as a “degree mill”. As Grand Master I will not approve a request for a C2A unless I am convinced that they deliver the gift through top notch education and ritual. Moreover, I hope everyone recognizes that going through a C2A does not relieve the lodge of the obligation to provide one-on-one mentoring. All candidates, regardless of which way they receive their degrees, are entitled to and should always have a personal mentor. This ultimately is the responsibility of the lodge, as it always has been.
Contrary to some misconceptions, mentors are allowed to teach the traditional “proficiency” lectures as par t o f a candidate’s Masonic education . “Proficiency” is not a “dirty word”. While the general membership has voted to no longer require that a candidate memorize the proficiency as a condition to advancement, and has done away with the vote of the lodge on the candidate’s proficiency, the By-Laws do not prohibit the teaching of the traditional proficiency work. To assist the mentors, individual degree ciphers even have been republished as part of our new Mentoring Program and are available from the Grand Lodge Office.
So there is no confusion, please know that as Grand Master I enforce the will of the membership as reflected in the By-Laws. I will take prompt, remedial action if a lodge is found to be requiring a candidate to memorize and give back his proficiency or is taking a vote of the lodge as a condition of advancement. I do, however, have faith in the lodges that they will observe the By-Laws and understand what is and what is not allowed. Like most things, there is a right way and a wrong way to use the proficiency lectures. I strongly encourage those old “proficiency coaches” who may have stepped aside out of a misunderstanding of the rules to get a copy of the Mentoring book, read it, and then start teaching again. We need you back. Help us deliver the gift.
In terms of accepting the gift, a candidate cannot accept what he doesn’t understand. It is our shared duty and responsibility—as sponsors, mentors, and brothers—to help our new brothers understand that Freemasonry is something of great value and that it is a gift that will keep on giving for his entire life. If he understands that we have done our job and he has received the gift.
Guarding the Gate
We necessarily must be selective in who we share our gift or the gift will become meaningless. This is in addition to what I’ve already have said as to why “guarding the gate” is important for us as an institution. I know some have said and believe that “all good men should be Masons”. I have to respectfully disagree. Not all good men can appreciate the gift or otherwise be comfortable in becoming and remaining a member of the Craft. We are admonished that a candidate must first be a Freemason in his heart. If he is not, we do a disservice to him and to ourselves escorting him through the west gate. The number of automatic expulsions and suspensions for non-payment of dues year after year tells me that we are not being selective enough in guarding the gate.
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I am not suggesting that we require, as some
“Traditional Observance” jurisdictions have, some sort of arbitrary college degree, financial qualification, or occupational threshold. If such things had been in place, my grandfather who worked at the post office, and my father who was a bricklayer—both good Masons—would never have been admitted. Our ritual is clear that it is the internal, not external qualifications that matter. Nor am I suggesting that our lodges go overboard in checking into the private lives of our candidates. Aside from it just being plain wrong, there can be some severe legal consequences should a lodge go too far in checking a person’s background without that person’s consent. Using common sense here, as elsewhere, is the appropriate standard.
So how do we guard the gate? Perhaps it is as simple as making sure that sponsors, investigating committees, and lodges ask themselves two basic questions: 1) is the person under consideration worthy of receiving and able to accept the gift of Freemasonry?; and 2) will the lodge and the Craft generally receive a gift if that person is allowed to become a Master Mason among us?
Thank you Brethren, give the gift, guard the gate, and I hope to see you in lodge sometime soon.
Fraternally and respectfully,
Grand Master 2015-2016