Volume LVIIMay 2010Number 2

Q & A
with the Grand Master

"We can't afford to continue to sit back because our membership decline will not solve itself."

From January through March, R.W. Grand Master Thomas K. Sturgeon and the Grand Lodge Officers traveled throughout the state to meet with brethren at the 25 Renaissance Visitations. Grand Master Sturgeon made the following comments about the 21st Century Masonic Renaissance changes:

"I made a commitment when I made all of the changes that are so controversial among all Pennsylvania Freemasons that I would stand in front of all of you to explain why I did what I did, what I think the problems are and what my solutions are as I see them. And I do not shrink from that duty."

"The decisions I made are what I truly believe are the best for the fraternity. If we want our fraternity to be around for future generations, we need to do the right things. This fraternity hasn't changed much at all in 200 years, yet the world all around us has. The right thing today is to make it more contemporary with 2010 than 1810.

"We can't afford to continue to sit back because our membership decline will not solve itself. For 50 straight years, we lost 2-3 percent of our members every year. If we keep up that trend, people won't even recognize us 50 years from now, or know who the Freemasons were. We'll become a name of the past."

"When I joined 45 years ago, there were 250,000+ Masons in Pennsylvania. There are 113,000 today. We can survive today at 113,000, but if we do nothing, next year we're going to have 110,000 and the year after that 107,000 ... and eventually the fraternity will become unsustainable.

"The obligation is ours. Are we content to ride into the sunset, or are we willing to do what's needed to make Freemasonry come alive once again?

"I love this fraternity enough to take all of the criticism that I'm getting. I love it enough to stand up here and tell you that I believe we need to change it to make our lodges and the Grand Lodge better and stronger. I'm in for the long haul. If you love it too, join with me to restore it.

"I don't ask any Freemasons to agree with every single element of the 21st Century Masonic Renaissance. People have their own priorities in different places. The overall good, however, is what's most important. We need to overcome our different perspectives and focus on our pride in and love for our fraternity, and commit to ensuring its future.

"We need to do it today!"

The following questions are among those asked most of the Grand Master during his Renaissance Visitations. His answers follow.

Question: Grand Master, how do you respond to the criticism that you have violated your oath and obligation by printing the ritual?

Answer: First, it is important to remember that the word "ritual" never appears in our obligation and secondly, there is no mention in the "Ahiman Rezon" concerning printing of the ritual.

Most Pennsylvania brothers do not realize that we are one of the few Grand Lodges that did not already have a ritual manual; most others', in fact, are word-for-word.

We have had open installations of the new District Deputy Grand Masters for years now, and much of what has been printed in the new ritual manual is exactly what we have opened to the public in these ceremonies. Most of the more sacred portions of our ritual have been coded in the manual using the first letter of the word which, in my opinion, has preserved the integrity of our ritual.

The general concept of the degree ritual is already fully disclosed on the Internet and in various publications. Google "Freemasonry ritual," turn on the Discovery or History channel and you'll find out we don't have any secrets. The secret art and mystery of the fraternity does not lie in oaths and obligations, but rather in our bonds of brotherly love, our rich history and our matchless charity.

If we truly believe that a brother should take care of his family, community, place of worship and have good work ethics, then we must be more sensitive to the time constraints placed on our lodge officers in their personal lives and with the lodge. The ritual manual will be an aide in becoming more proficient in learning our beautiful work.

That being said, out of respect for our tradition, I have mandated a strict usage of the manual and will penalize any brother or lodge who violates the restrictions.

Question: If we want more people to learn the ritual, then why have district-wide degree teams?

Answer: It's time we do the degree work better than we've ever done it before. Often times when we bring a person from the preparing room door and into this beautiful Masonic light, there is nobody on the sidelines and we do very mediocre ritual. Then we ask ourselves, "I wonder why he never came back?" We need to bring five or 10 people into the sun. We need 50-60 people on the sidelines. We need to have an all-star degree team putting on the degrees and impress the new candidates by doing it with perfection.

Prior to the Renaissance, when a candidate received the three degrees, he was required to memorize the ritual, oath and obligation, working tools and grips. This is one reason why change is necessary. Believe it or not, there are a lot of people who will not join the fraternity because they don't think they can do it. So they stay away. Is our function to make good men better, or to teach them how to memorize a bunch of words that they will never use again unless they choose to be an officer?

"Why shouldn't we invite a worthy man to be a member? Do you like this fraternity? Are you proud of it? Then invite your son, grandson, nephew, best friend, neighbor or co-worker to enjoy the benefits of Freemasonry and help it flourish at the same time!"

Why don't we teach them where we came from, who we are, about the Shriners' Hospitals for children who are crippled or burned, the learning centers of the Scottish Rite, the Knights Templar eye foundation, and all the good things we do ... so that when a man receives his Master Mason degree and he walks out onto the street and someone asks him, "What are the Masons all about?" instead of just saying, "I can't tell you because it's all a secret," let's prepare him to talk about our greatness! We shouldn't be ashamed of what we are. I'm proud of what we've accomplished in this world. Aren't you?

Question: Aren't we becoming less selective/lowering our standards by requiring three black balls to reject a candidate?

Answer: Anyone can still blackball a candidate if he chooses; the only difference today is, if the candidate passes the ballot, the objecting brother must go to his District Deputy Grand Master (DDGM) and explain why the man is not worthy of membership. Upon investigating the situation, if the reason is found to be a valid Masonic objection, the candidate will be rejected by order of the DDGM. He is only person who will know who objected or why. This process ensures that candidates are being rejected only for valid reasons and not petty personal ones.

Question: Grand Master, what do you have against neck ties?

Answer: Absolutely nothing! In fact, I have had a number of new Masonic ties designed in Jerry Garcia-like fashion which I wear quite often and have received many compliments on. These will be provided to all first-line petition signers throughout my term as my personal "thank you" for being part of my Masonic Renaissance team.

If you're referring to my change in the dress code not requiring members to wear a necktie to lodge, that is just another small step toward making this fraternity more contemporary.

I, personally, will not come to a lodge meeting without wearing a necktie. However, I also acknowledge that we have many decent young men in this country today who don't wear ties or even own a sport jacket. In May, June and September, some people won't go to lodge meetings because without air conditioning, it's too hot to wear a suit. That's a shame.

I don't know of a church or club where you can't go in without a necktie today; it seems that they would rather have people enter their sanctuaries or dine in their restaurants in less formal attire than to not have them come at all. The world has changed; we need to change with it by being willing to make this fraternity more open and welcoming to all brothers.

So, go ahead and wear a necktie if you want to wear one; I'm not telling you that you can't. In fact, you won't be alone; I'll be wearing one, too.

*Projected decline based on past trends without implementing the 21st Century Masonic Renaissance

Question: Pennsylvania Freemasonry has been around for more than 280 years. Why do we need a Renaissance to change it now?

Answer: Over the past 50 years, membership has declined and with it, so has our income. In those same 50 years, the expenses of the Grand Lodge and of the local lodges have risen greatly, and we still must maintain the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia and ensure the perpetuity of the Masonic Villages and our Masonic Charities.

All across the state, there are small lodges that can barely keep their doors open because they can't even afford to pay their taxes and their utilities. We can't overlook the fact that we need to pay the bills and be financially strong. If we can't afford a building to meet in or have enough members to afford to even to buy the collars and aprons, the fraternity will fade into oblivion.

It's time we do something to revive this great fraternity before our membership decline becomes a catastrophic situation from which we are unable to recover.

*Projected decline based on past trends without implementing the 21st Century Masonic Renaissance

Question: Won't the One Day Masonic Journey be a short-term, band-aid approach to the membership decline?

Answer: One of the biggest myths permeating our fraternity is that new brethren who join the fraternity through a one day class are less active and less likely to maintain their membership. Here are the facts: if you look at Pennsylvania Masons within a five-year span who join the fraternity the traditional way, we lose 16 percent of those brothers for non-payment of dues. In 2004, when we took in over 5,000 Masons in one year, we lost 14 percent over five years, a 2 percent improvement. As for these members' participation levels, there are Worshipful Masters and lodge officers all across the state who joined during that one day class. So it works. Let's give the men who work midnight and afternoon shifts a chance to join the fraternity.

This approach is not short-sighted; on the contrary, it works hand-in-hand with allowing selective invitation, enabling us to grow substantially. By promoting our fraternity, educating and welcoming quality men who otherwise were afraid to ask for fear of rejection or the unknown, we are becoming a more friendly fraternity that more men will want to be part of.

CPI-Consumer Price Index, a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a sample of consumer goods and services.

Question: Considering the recent economy, how is the Grand Lodge positioned financially for the future?

Answer: As you can clearly see in the chart above, for many years our lodge dues and initiation fees have not risen sufficiently to consider the cost of inflation, causing many of our lodges to merge or disband. To remedy this situation, we have one of two choices: we raise our dues substantially, or we do a better job of bringing new members

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