Volume LVIIAugust 2010Number 3

Q & A with the Grand Master

Question: Why do you feel membership in the fraternity is declining? How do you plan to remedy the situation?

Answer: All fraternal and public service groups are suffering the same declining membership. Men just are not "joiners" as they were 50 years ago when they had more time to devote. With 85 percent of homes being dual income families, men are now balancing demanding careers with added household duties. Our children and grandchildren are involved in more activities and we continue to be active in our communities.

It is my goal to make the Masonic fraternity more convenient and less time consuming so more good men cannot only join, but participate in meaningful ways. We have so much to offer, but we must be more contemporary to the 21st century than to the 19th century. The elements of the Renaissance will enable more men to become not just members, but active and involved brethren, because we are making it more inviting and easier for them to do so.

Question: Some brethren say that you violated your oath and obligation by printing the ritual. Do you regret that decision?

Answer: No! In fact, it is the decision that I am most satisfied with. I do not feel that I violated my oath. The oath of the Grand Master is the prevailing oath for me, and in that oath I agreed to do the best for the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, and that is what I am doing. Without going into the specific parts of our ritual, let me say that the word "ritual" does not appear in our oath.

Nevertheless, I will protect and treasure our ritual more than any other person. Keep in mind that I have preserved the more sacred parts of the ritual by coding those parts. We are one of the last Grand Lodges to print our ritual; in fact, the ritual of several Grand Lodges is available on the Internet. Printing the ritual is an important part of our Renaissance.

I have mandated our Director of the Ritualistic Work to protect the sanctity of our ancient ritual while making the process more in line with the 21st century. That means making the ritual easier to learn so our degrees will be more impressive and inspiring for our candidates. As a result, brothers all over this state are learning our beautiful ritual at an accelerated pace. Brothers who never tried to learn our ritual are now doing so and conferring degrees! To me, these are signs of success!

Do we consider it acceptable or meaningful for the degree ritual to be done in a very mediocre way with few, if any, brothers on the sidelines? Absolutely not! If we bring more men into this fraternity in a more dignified manner with excellent degree ritual and the sidelines are filled with interested brothers, we hit a home run.

The real question is, "what is the secret art and mystery of Freemasonry?" That has never been defined. My position is that the true secret art and mystery is the depth of the bonds of brotherly love and affection that we have for each other. It is the transformation that is undergone when a man becomes a Mason. It is the tradition of moral excellence for men who have enjoyed the bonds of fraternal love.

The truth is, we are making it too much about the ritual and should be more focused on living the life of Masons by being good men exhibiting all of the attributes that we tell the world we represent.

Question: Some feel that the modified dress requirements and the ability to shorten the opening and closing rituals demonstrate a lessened respect for Freemasonry and our Masonic heritage. How do you respond?

Answer: What is Masonic heritage? Who is the definer of that term? When most do not wear a necktie to church, to the country club, to work or most other places, then why should we be so different? We can no longer march in one direction while the whole army is marching in the opposite direction and then think that the whole army is out of step. Every lodge in this jurisdiction is not operating in an air-conditioned lodge room with a cool fixed temperature. We need to be sensitive to the comfort of those brethren or they may not attend the lodge. We are taught to judge a man on his character, not on his clothing. I will be there with a necktie on, but I'm giving you the choice.

Shorter meetings just make sense so we can make the most of our precious time together. I think that what occurs before and after the meeting - when our true brotherhood is in full bloom - is just as important in nurturing our bonds as Freemasons.

Question: Doesn't the ability to ask another man to join the fraternity undermine the age-old requirement that a man must take his own initiative to petition?

Answer: The truth is that a large percentage of brothers have been asking for years. If we truly love this fraternity and believe in its teachings and principles, then why is it wrong to invite good and worthy men to join so they can benefit from the greatness that we enjoy? We should not be selfish and keep this brotherhood only for ourselves.

Question: Aren't we lowering the bar for membership by requiring three black balls for denial?

Answer: If I thought, for even a millisecond, that this was wrong, I would not have done it. We have rejected too many good men for all of the wrong reasons. What does that say about the integrity of this grand old fraternity? Most men are rejected because of the brother who recommends them.

In the end, a brother can still reject a candidate by going to the District Deputy Grand Master (DDGM) and stating his reason for rejection. If it is a valid reason, the rejection is issued by the DDGM, and the brother remains anonymous. This is a good system and has worked several times this year - in both directions.

Question: Do you feel allowing men to rush through all three degrees in one day makes the experience less personal and meaningful for the candidates?

Answer: Receiving three degrees in one day is not lowering anything. It provides some men the opportunity to join our ranks where otherwise they could not due to work schedules or serious time restraints.

Question: Masons have not traditionally sought publicity for our good works or allowed open installations. Why the shift in perspective?

Answer: Our closed past has harmed us in many ways. Freemasonry must become more open and transparent while preserving our ancient heritage. We need to shed the banner of total secrecy while we respect our ritual and our very few so-called secrets. Let's tell the world who we are and what we have done for more than 280 years for the society in which we live, and at the same time be proud of what we stand for and of our accomplishments.

At the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown's Centennial Banquet on June 26, an historical moment was captured as every living R.W. Past Grand Master (11 total) gathered for a photograph with R.W. Grand Master Thomas K. Sturgeon (center) and Bro. Joseph E. Murphy, CEO for the Masonic Villages (far right). The Past Grand Masters in attendance were, shown left-right: Brothers Stephen Gardner (2008-2009), Arthur J. Kurtz (1988-1989), Robert L. Dluge, Jr. (2000-2001), James L. Ernette (1998-1999), Edward O. Weisser (1996-1997), Edward H. Fowler, Jr. (1992-1993), William Slater II (2004-2005), George H. Hohenshildt (1994-1995), Marvin A. Cunningham, Sr. (2002-2003), Samuel C. Williamson (1982-1983), and Ronald A. Aungst, Sr. (2006-2007).

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