Grand Master Address --Masters & Past Masters' Conference
Oakland ~ February 5, 2000
Sacramento ~ February 12, 2000
San Diego ~ February 25, 2000
Pasadena ~ February 26, 2000
Santa Maria ~ March 10, 2000
(Alvin J. Weis ~ Grand Master)
~ MASONRY 2000 ~
As we boldly move into this new century - the brethren of this jurisdiction have favored me with the opportunity to serve as their Grand Master. And as a result, I have chosen to use my position - as a pulpit - to focus on the future - with a message of hope and optimism.
But first, let me take you back to 1792 when another Mason - President George Washington - laid the cornerstone of the Executive Mansion in Washington D.C. - where future Presidents were going to live. Like a lot of other people President Washington began a job but was not around when it was completed. He died in 1799 and John Adams occupied that residence in 1800. Life seems to be a cycle of some people laying down cornerstones for others to build upon.
One of the ways we lay down new cornerstones in Masonry is by installing new lodge officers each year - beginning a new Masonic cycle - building upon the work of our predecessors and hopefully providing a legacy for those who will follow us.
We will celebrate our sesquicentennial anniversary on April 19, 2000 - the end of 150 years of Masonry in California. Yet every end is just a new beginning. We now have a strong legacy to build upon - as we enter this new century.
If you were to evaluate our past and the prospects for our future - would you be optimistic or pessimistic? Would you be able to say:
"At no other time in our history have we been able to look to the future with such confidence, hope and optimism. There is pride in our newfound self-confidence, our culture of achievement - But miracles don't happen by chance. Our miracles have come about because ordinary - sometimes extraordinary - individuals look at the world around them, at what is needed to be done, and they used their talents and energy to make it happen. They countered the counsel of despair, the cynical voices which drain us of energy and imagination. They gave us a belief in ourselves and a record of achievement to spur us on to more."
Would that be your assessment of the Fraternity today? It might well be. But those words were borrowed from Mary McAleese, President of Ireland - in her "Millennium Message" at the turn of this century. If we succeed it is because we listened to the 'ordinary - sometimes the extraordinary - individuals that looked at what needed to done - and then used their talents and energy to make it happen' - as President McAleese acclaimed.
Look around this room right now. What would stop us if not ourselves. Consider the counsel of Wayne Gretsky when he said, "You miss 100% of the shots that you don't take."
I am convinced that each Mason in California can, and should, look to the future with a sense of expectation and enthusiasm. As your Grand Master my dream is that the fraternity will once again be an organization of men who make a difference.
The trend for Masonry in the United States for more than 30 years now - has been to: Reduce our ritual - shorten or do away with the time between degrees - cut down or remove parts of the ritual to satisfy special interest groups - lower our standard of dress code to accommodate a society of low standards - to maintain an unrealistic Fees and Dues structure in fear of losing members. And yet through all this - we are expected to maintain our image as the greatest fraternity man has ever devised.
During recent years, our membership has experienced a steady decline. We have played a numbers game, worrying more about how many men we brought in, and perhaps we have lost sight of the original intent of Freemasonry. Quality should be our watchword - not quantity. By quality, we need to emphasize the personal qualifications and characteristics stressing morality, ethics, concern for our fellowmen, family values, and love of God and country. These are the characteristics of a Freemason and should be prerequisites of every candidate. It is up to us to seek out men of this caliber. By bringing them into the craft, and through reinforcement of our teaching through Masonic Education - we will establish a membership that is the cream of the crop. The numbers will then - take of themselves.
My Brothers, let me make four points about which I have strong convictions:
First - the process must start with a much stronger investigation procedure of prospective members. Quality selection will make sure that we maintain a membership that we can rely on and be proud of.
Second - ever since our formation in 1850, the ritual has been the tie that binds us into one sacred society of men who can best work and best agree. Why do we cringe and hide every time an Anti Masonic Group attacks us? Reducing, removing, and changing will never satisfy our critics. Whenever we have changed they find new areas of criticism and will continue to do so. I say to you, "Stand Strong." We need not bend to any group.
With the reduced proficiencies, the memorization requirements to become a Mason are not very difficult. If a man wants to be a Freemason, he will learn about our Fraternity. His memorization may not be perfect, but if he makes a valiant attempt, let him pass.
At the same time, our lodges must make sure the ritual is performed in an excellent manner. There is nothing more embarrassing to a lodge, and to the candidate, than having poorly performed ritual. If a lodge needs help it is the responsibility of the District to provide the support required to ensure that the candidate receives the best degree that can be conferred.
Third - today's society, with its' "laid back attitudes", has dramatically influenced our dress code. Does that mean that a Fraternity that prides itself on being the "best-of-the-best" should compromise, become Politically Correct, and dress down? I believe that the lack of proper dress in our lodges underscores the decline and apathy of beloved Fraternity. A feeling of pride fills me when I see men in the lodge dressed in jackets and ties.
Fourth - now I come to the subject that shakes the trees - Fees and Dues. Most lodges in this jurisdiction have fees and dues structured from many years past. In a realistic appraisal of the need in our individual lodges, dues have not kept up with the times. During the previous thirty years, the cost of everything has gone up twenty-fold and we have not kept pace with inflation. I will not suggest any amounts needed to solve the problems of individual lodges in their pursuit of fiscal solvency. I will ask, however, that each of you become involved and consider what needs to be done and consider the consequences if we do not find a fiscal solution.
So that you can reflect upon my message and the critical issues that face us, I want to balance my remarks on what needs to be done. If you keep your lodges informed of these things, you will have done what I would do in person if I were there.
lodge - those great moral virtues to which we have pledged ourselves: Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.
Stress the Importance of Masonic Charity: We must never allow our lodges to forget that the first priority of their resources is for their members who are in need, and their widows and children. Moreover, organized Masonic Charities, no matter how worthy, must never replace this primary duty we owe Mason-to-Mason.
That being said - always remember that our Masonic charities have great power because we work together to achieve common goals. Do not forget our Masonic Homes, and those that they care for, young and old. And do not forget our outreach to the community through scholarships for the college-bound. And the Masonic Student Assistant Program, which helps our teachers help children headed toward personal failure and disaster.
Stress the Importance of Masonic Education: Our candidates come to us seeking the light that Freemasonry can shed in their lives, and we owe them the teaching and personal development that they seek. Never be misled into thinking that memorization of the Ritual is a substitute for learning what it means to be a Freemason. Every lodge should be a workshop and school, a workshop where the ideas of Freemasonry are tested and made to work in their daily lives, and a school where we grow by learning, and learn by growing in Masonic knowledge.
Stress the Importance of Leadership: We offer unparalleled opportunities for present and future officers to learn how to be leaders. As leaders of the Craft yourselves, you should be in the forefront, encouraging our members to attend the Wardens Retreats, the Officers' Management Workshops, and the Secretaries' Administrative Seminars. If you believe in leadership development as Masters of your lodges, then your officers will learn to value them as well. If you accept the challenge of learning to do your job better, they will too.
In order to focus on what I just said, I invite you to consider the Mission Statement developed by the Research and Planning Committee this past year. Each lodge was mailed a copy of it. I am merely extracting some of the most important points here:
~ THIS IS OUR MISSION STATEMENT ~
The purpose of Freemasonry in California is to satisfy our members as we teach moral standards and support a way of life that promotes fellowship, brotherhood, and self improvement through excellence in leadership, education, family improvement, charity, and community involvement.
Let me conclude by reinforcing my five short-term basic goals for our future:
Goal No. 1 - TO BE WELL GOVERNED, ORGANIZED AND MANAGED.
Goal No.2 - TO BE WELL LED WITH OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN AND TO BECOME A LEADER.
Goal No. 3 - TO ATTRACT, SATISFY, DEVELOP AND RETAIN OUR MEMBERS.
Goal No. 4 - TO BE A FRATERNITY THAT MAKES GOOD MEN BETTER WITH MEMBERS WHO UNDERSTAND AND PRACTICE THE TENETS OF FREEMASONRY.
Goal No, 5 - TO BE A MEMBER-CENTERED FRATERNITY OF MEN OF HIGH STANDARDS.
This is the time that - together - we begin a new Masonic year - full of optimism and expectations concerning our future. The anthropologist Margaret Mead said it this way, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world - indeed it's the only thing that ever has." We are those few committed people who are able to build upon the cornerstone that was laid 150 years ago - a fraternal chain, with strong links, and we have the ability to make it even stronger.
Please reflect upon what I have said, and when you have the opportunity, share these remarks with the members of your lodge. You are empowered to do so - and do it with the full assurance that you represent me. I am counting on you to carry this message to the Craft in general, and to your lodges in particular. I am counting on you to share this vision with your members so that this year can truly be one of "Living the Dream - Building a Better Tomorrow."