[Following are excerpts from the message delivered by Brother James L. Ernette following his installation as R.W. Grand Master, December 27.]
It is a matter of great pride, tempered with humility, to have begun my Masonic life humbly -- as all brothers do in our Fraternity; to grow through the years with the support of the brethren; and to be elected Grand Master of the largest, most prestigious, most progressive Grand Lodge in North America. I am truly grateful.
With the honor of office comes a level of responsibility. I realize the seriousness of my obligation, and take the charges seriously. I accept the challenges, and I promise my dedicated service.
It remains most important in our great fraternity, founded on the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, that we uphold our fervent trust in Him and proceed in our labors with faith and confidence. ... It is my vision that, with a common resolve, the more than 150,000 Masons in our 485 lodges across the commonwealth will demonstrate, personally and actively, the vitality of Freemasonry among the brethren in their lodges, throughout the fraternity, with their families, and in their communities.
Every Grand Master comes into office with programs unique unto his administration. I am confident that you will find the programs on our Trestleboard vital, exciting, and progressive. Some are new and some are enhanced; but, all are aimed at continuing to build our Fraternity.
When you look at the 1998 Grand Master's Medallion, you'll see the definition of my vision in four words:
FAITH, FAMILY, FRATERNITY, COMMUNITY
I don't have to recount the many changes in the world as we approach the new millennium. ... There are changes that we have to make if we are to progress into the Third Millennium. ... changes that have to be made at the grass roots level -- by the backbone of this great Fraternity -- by the Masons in their Blue Lodges.
Nothing will take a higher priority for me than Membership Development and Retention. We are in a people business. We want to continue our good works as a fraternity -- to make good men better and serve our fellow men and communities. The only way we can do that is with a stable and progressive membership.
As you know, our Fraternity has been losing members at a steady rate for several decades not only at a state-wide level, but also on a national level. Efforts in recent years have narrowed the gap somewhat, we have not closed it. ... I am convinced that we DO have the ability -- and the courage -- to turn the corner and build for the future.
We have no control over the deaths. We do have some control over suspensions and resignations. But, we can control our destiny by welcoming interested, worthy men into our Fraternity and making their lives in the lodge interesting and exciting for themselves and their families.
Masons attract good men to Masonry. You represent Masonry for some good and worthy men -- your son or other relative, a good friend or neighbor, a co-worker, or a church or civic associate. Knowing them to be of the finest character, tell them about the heritage and good works of Freemasonry and be sure that each of them knows that those who desire membership must seek it. They have to ask.
In my analysis, the formula for future success is simple: Aggressive membership development, PLUS Focused membership retention, EQUALS Break even in '98.
My membership goal is realistic: It is NET ZERO for 1998.
Immediately we will launch a renewed effort for membership development ... called "The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania's OVERTURE Program for Membership Development and Membership Retention Through Excellence in Leadership." ... We'll refer to it "the short way" and simply call it our "OVERTURE" Program. (Please see "OVERTURE" article on Page 6),
With the help of our District Deputy Grand Masters, we have enlisted 58 energetic professionally talented masons (with significant experience in business and service to customers) to be District Chairmen for Membership Development. They will assist lodges with membership development and retention programs, and help implement the "Overture Program". I firmly believe that if these Brethren have made things happen in their own businesses, they can make it happen for Freemasonry.
Rather than ask a few to do a lot, I am asking a lot to do ONE THING: REPLACE YOURSELF. I mean that each of you be the recommender of at least one worthy man to join you in lodge. If you do that, we will surpass my goal of NET ZERO.
When you get home, you should have a new, Masonic calendar in the mail. With it is a personal letter from the Grand Master asking for your help -- your active support. And, with it is a copy of a petition. Simply, I am asking each Pennsylvania Mason to accept one personal assignment from your Grand Master: Tell one worthy friend about Freemasonry, and when he asks, present him with the petition, then lead him along the rewarding travels of Freemasonry. You'll both be glad you did.
We will continue to award a purple Grand Master's Team jacket to a brother who is a first-line signer of a petition for a new Mason. This applies to all the first-time, first-line signers since the beginning of Past Grand Master George Hohenshildt's term.
Brenda and I will host a Pennsylvania Freemasons' trip to Hawaii in February, 1999. Any brother who is the first-line recommender on 25 petitions during 1998 will be awarded one free ticket for that trip. Further, I am extending the offer made by Past Grand Master Hohenshildt for a free trip for one person to Hawaii to any brother who has been a first-line signer on 50 petitions since January 1, 1994 through December 31, 1998.
Pennsylvania Masons want their lodges to be "all that they can be" -- in the lodge and in the community. It is up to each lodge to make the lodge hall efficient, comfortable, attractive, and visible in the community. The job is yours to do; but, Masons always work with unanimity, so you don't have to do it alone. Grand Lodge is ready to lend a helping hand.
A Low-Interest Loan Program for anything short of construction is being made available for those Blue Lodges struggling to find funds to refurbish or improve their facilities. There will be no-interest loans for the purchase of computers.
There are lodges in 66 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. Wherever we are, our lodges are made up of leaders in their communities, men who do a lot for their friends, neighbors and those in need. Masons have always been charitable and vital to their communities. It is time that we take Masonic charity out of the lodge room and into the community and let our vitality be recognized. When good men are doing good things in their communities, other good men will want to be part of the action -- to join with those who work hand-in-hand helping their communities and those in need.
To help Blue Lodges be active and make a meaningful contribution in their communities, I have established the Masonic Matching Charity Grants Program under the Chairmanship of Brother Samuel C. Williamson, P.G.M. The Grand Lodge will match up to $5,000 of each lodge's financial commitment to a community charity program. It is designed to support you in your charitable community involvement. It will enable you to make a meaningful impact in your community. It will give you and your Lodge all of the credit in your community for your "job well done." (Please see "Matching Grants Program on Page 7.)
I am sure you will join me in the determination that we have to move forward in unanimity -- as individual Masons, as unified Blue Lodges, and as a Grand Lodge that both leads and serves. We are determined to provide all of the ways and means that are available to us to get the job done, together. To dramatize the 1998 philosophy for meeting the need for change and the teamwork necessary for building for the next millennium, I'll say it this way: It's not what you can do for Grand Lodge; it's what Grand Lodge can do for you!
Finally, I want to pay tribute to the family and re-emphasize its importance to us as individual Masons and to the fraternity of Freemasonry. On the Grand Master's medallion, the word, "Family," represents the esteem with which we, as Masons, hold our families. It is important for lodges to involve the families, especially the ladies, in their social activities and in their community endeavors.
And, the word "Family" also recognizes the bonds among the "Family of Freemasonry." In the "Family of Freemasonry," we have outstanding men and women dedicated to the same high principles, who are struggling with the same problems of membership development, retention and apathy. It is gratifying for me to be one of that "Family" striving for a better tomorrow. Since Blue Lodge membership is a prerequisite for all of the appendant bodies, it is essential that we work together. We need each other. If we're going to get this job done, we have to do it as the Family of Freemasonry.
I have no doubt that together, we want to -- we must and we will do it the right way in the best interest of the Fraternity. In my vision, I look upon our Trestleboard for 1998 and see "The Perfect Match: Faith, Family, Fraternity, and Community."
James L. Ernette
R.W. Grand Master