Volume LIXMay 2012Number 2

A Congress of Brothers

Bro. Gary Davis demonstrates a "smart-phone" app

The 9th Masonic Congress was called on March 10 at the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown by R.W. Grand Master Jay W. Smith for the purpose of sharing ideas and concepts for the betterment of the overall Masonic family. The Congress included representatives of Grand Lodge, Grand Chapter, Grand Council, Grand Commandery, Scottish Rite, Shrine, Tall Cedars and High Twelve ... and, of course, each representative was able to speak on behalf of his own Blue Lodge.

Organized by R.W. Past Grand Master Samuel C. Williamson, who presided over the 2nd Masonic Congress in 1982 and has participated in all of them since then, the innovative program was designed to make the participants comfortable with speaking their minds in an open, honest and always respectful dialogue. This was expertly facilitated by the moderator, Bro. Larry G. Newhard, Secretary of the Valley of Allentown, who was also a delegate to the Congress. Others on the committee included Brothers Paul J. Roup, District Deputy Grand Master (D.D.G.M.) for District 54; Rodney E. Boyce, Past D.D.G.M. for District 30; and Thomas R. Labagh, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Masonic Youth Foundation (PMYF). Additional support was provided by Brothers David W. Berry and Seth C. Anthony, also of PMYF, and Bro. Richard E. Whitman, event manager for the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown.

Bros. Rodney Boyce, Sam Williamson and Larry Newhard

The 48 participants were divided into teams and required to mix and mingle with representatives of other bodies and geographical areas. The Congress opened with an invocation by Grand Chaplain A. Preston Van Deursen, welcoming remarks by the Grand Master and a presentation on the current status of the Masonic Villages by Bro. Joseph E. Murphy, Chief Executive Officer.

After a few interesting and entertaining ice breakers, the group went to work. Topics for facilitated discussions included membership, leadership, finances and communication. After lunch, breakout groups discussed the creation of "smart-phone" applications, dues, database functionality and buildings and property. Bro. Berry recorded and organized the comments into Minutes for the benefit of the participants. Following are a few points made that might be good for discussion after your next lodge meeting:

  1. We must put an end to internal bickering, wherever it exists, as it erodes the facade of brotherhood, which is the reason many men join Freemasonry.
  2. Lodges must take a hard look at their traditions to see if some of them are hindering the appeal of Masonry.
  3. Our marketing efforts must not be cheap and amateurish.
  4. We must balance our schedule of activities to accommodate both the retired member, who prefers not to be out at night, and the younger working member, who cannot participate in the daytime or even on weekdays.
  5. Know your members, especially the younger ones, who may be looking for the father figure they did not have while growing up. Many need the interest, encouragement and mentoring of our experienced senior members.
  6. We should offer professional leadership seminars for ALL Masons, which can help them in their personal and professional lives, and, coincidentally, make them more confident to step up and lead their lodges.
  7. Low initiation fees (some at the same level as charged in the 1950s and 1960s) and low dues do not project the same sense of value to new members. When a date night or a dinner and a show with a spouse can cost as much as four or five times annual dues, Freemasonry seems unimpressively cheap.
  8. All groups must be careful to set dues and fees based on their local community, but some kind of regular increase, tied to the consumer price index or other measure, should be annually invoked to avoid further financial troubles.
  9. What would happen if lodges were permitted to pro-rate what is charged for dues based on years of membership and age at joining? What would happen if lodges eliminated initiation fees and just charged more for dues?
  10. Honest evaluation of our lodge properties must be done without the emotion attached to traditional meeting places. We are hurting ourselves with shabby-looking buildings, skyrocketing maintenance costs, limited accessibility, high utility costs and unreasonable real estate taxes by remaining in prime locations.
  11. Many issues are purely local, and lodges should not wait for, or expect, Grand Lodge to take care of their problems.
  12. Sharing of lodge membership data on new members and suspensions in an easy-to-use platform continues to be a "hot topic" for the appendant bodies.
  13. The best recruiting of Masons to the appendant bodies comes when those who are active continue to participate in their home lodges, especially as recruiters and mentors of new Masons.
  14. We need to actively utilize Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking opportunities on the Internet, while recognizing that Masonic decorum is required everywhere - not just in the lodge.

There are no easy answers to the challenges that face our Craft, but with non-confrontational and forthright discussion held among Masons, there isn't a problem that we can't solve.

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