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Sunday, July 23, 2017

NE Conference of GMs Wrap Up, and Masonic Renewal Essay Contest

I had the opportunity yesterday to address the Northeast Conference of Grand Masters here in Indianapolis at the Columbia Club. I don't often get the opportunity to lock a whole pile of sitting GMs in the same room and hector them for 20 or 30 minutes without interruption, so it was a treat and an honor (at least from my side of the podium—I can't answer for their side). Many thanks to Indiana's own Grand Master Rodney Mann, our Deputy GM Carl Culman, Grand Secretary Rick Elman, and my friend Roger VanGorden, PGM for letting me me be a part of the day. Plus, I got to spend some time with Simon LaPlace of the Masonic Service Association, which I always enjoy, along with meeting up with some old friends I haven't seen in a while.

(NOTE: I have updated several broken links for the MRC below as of 8/7/2017)

In the course of the morning, Roger spoke about his involvement on the Masonic Renewal Committee and a couple of programs they are working on. Roger presented a terrific Power Point program on 'Rethinking the Stated Meeting' at last year's Conference of Grand Masters in Ontario, and I'm sure he will be rolling out a touched up version at that Conference here in Indianapolis next February (frankly, it needs to be run and rerun every single year—see it HERE). So, yesterday he and PGM Gail Kemp gave overviews of some of that, as well as a discussion of the role of ritual in terms of educating members, presenting it in meetings, and how to more effectively communicate it to brethren. All of that is a work in progress, so I suspect it will have even more meat on it early next year for all of the Grands to hear.

The MRC has also got a program to develop and promote Academic Lodges—that is to say, lodges that base their membership on the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of a given college or university. An Academic Lodge has a special relationship with the university as a part of their family, to include scholarships, lectures, and participation in school events.

The concept is very similar to the United Grand Lodge of England's "Universities Scheme," which has had good success in their jurisdiction.

From the MRC's handout:
Academic Lodges are a wonderful opportunity for young people at the University (and older ones too) to experience all Freemasonry has to offer. They can also provide a new spark of energy and enthusiasm for Masonry, introducing the Craft to the university and the broader academic community.

When starting an Academic Lodge, a Grand Lodge should keep in mind that it must provide a quality experience for the brethren first and foremost. There is a temptation to focus on membership opportunities, but a quality experience at all Masonic meetings must take precedence over quantity of membership. This quality experience includes:

1) Masonic education, to include sharp ritual and stimulating continuing education. This is a must, especially for an Academic Lodge. There are many educational resources and professors to leverage at a university, which helps to provide a truly unique experience.

2) Good fellowship, to include fun events and good food.

3) Truly taking care of the Lodge brethren, to include regular follow up. These values correspond closely to the tenets of Freemasonry and must be the foundation of an academic, or indeed any new Lodge.
There are several existing Academic Lodges throughout the United States currently chartered:

The MRC website has a slide show that details the practices and goals of such a lodge, and provides successful examples of establishing and sustaining one for a college or university in your region. To play it, see HERE.

If you want more information to investigate the formation of an Academic Lodge (or to perhaps ally an existing local lodge with an academic institution in its community), contact RW Bro. Jon Shelton, PDDGM, Grand Lodge of Virginia at sheltonjv@aol.com




The other MRC program that was discussed is an essay contest. The Committee is trying to rejuvenate not only our lodges and the lodge meeting experience, it's also trying to rejuvenate itself as well. They have established the David Bedwell Memorial Masonic Renewal Essay Competition, and the 2017 topic has been announced.

Here are the details:
Enter the 2017 Masonic Renewal Essay Competition and share your thoughts and ideas on the theme: “Concept of Masonic Renewal – What does it mean to you now and in the future?”
“Concept of Masonic Renewal – What does it mean to you now and in the future?”

Your thoughts in conveying about the concept of Masonic Renewal are needed by the Masonic Renewal Committee to reunite and re-generate our efforts to revitalize Freemasonry. The MRC Committee has in the past published the following resources to assist Lodges in their efforts to revitalize Masonry in their Lodges: 101+ Ways to Improve Interest and Attendance in Your Masonic Lodge; 150+ Ways to Involve Your Lodge with the Family and in the Community; Leadership Development Program and recently a Leaders Resource Handbook. These publications are available and in use by Lodges today.
Also, in the 1990’s, the Committee was instrumental in the collection of data about Masonry and the profane. This survey was very useful by Grand Lodges and Lodges to pinpoint and concentrate efforts to expand the knowledge of the profane about Freemasonry.
This contest isn't just some idle exercise. If you think no one is listening, they are. Take note that this essay competition is offering cash awards to the top three entries. 
  • First Prize: $1,500
  • 2nd Place: $1,000
  • 3rd Place: $500 
To see all of the gory details, rules, and requirements, see the MRC website HERE. 

I haven't been on that Committee for many years, so I have no personal involvement with this. I do know I've been a noisy bellyacher myself for 19 years. But I've heard a whole lot more bellyachers who don't actually try to accomplish anything. If you have serious ideas about fixing what we all know is broken in so many lodges across the country, then don't just bitch about it, step up to the plate. Freemasonry doesn't need any more guys sitting on barstools or folding chairs in the basement, wagging their finger and saying, 'Ya know what's wrong with this fraternity?" Yep. We all know. We've all heard it to death. If you have a better way to do things, get to work, start typing, and maybe even get a little spending money for it. 




Speaking of essays, Simon LaPlace reminded me that the Masonic Service Association is ALWAYS in need of short, succinct Masonic papers/articles/essays for their monthly Short Talk Bulletins. These little gems of Masonic education have been published without fail since 1923, and they are sent to just about every single Masonic lodge in America, month after month. Your Secretary usually just holds it up and says "the usual MSA Bulletin came again this month, and it's in my desk if anyone wants to read it." 

Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. 

"Somebody" (that means the Master, the Secretary, the lodge 'education committee,' or just plain YOU) needs to go and pick that little folded paper up and read it out loud without fail.  If the men in your lodge carp that there's never any 'Masonic education' in your lodge meetings, it's partially because things like that monthly envelope get ignored. it's mailed right to your lodge Secretary, so do something with it besides consigning it to the trash.

And if you think the latest one you read isn't very good and that you can do better yourself, by all means do so. If you can take a Masonic work of your own and cut it down or plump it up to about 1,100 words, then send it to Simon at the MSA. You will have a captive audience in a couple of thousand lodges just sitting there hearing it.

A reminder that the MSA has recently been collecting every one of these and compiling them into beautifully printed AND INDEXED hardbound volumes. Volume V is ready for preorder right now for a substantial discount over the final price, and all of them (except for Volume 1, which is sold out) can be ordered from the website HERE.




I hope all of our out of town Masonic visitors and their ladies enjoyed your visit to our fair city. Because 2018 is Indiana's 200th anniversary of the founding of the Grand Lodge of Indiana F&AM, there are going to be numerous Masonic activities and events around here kicking off in January. We're all looking forward to welcoming first timers as well as those of you who have been here before, and we have much to see and do here. Thanks to everyone who came yesterday and we hope to see you all again here soon.

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