Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Building Bridges

On Tuesday, April 20th I made my Official Visit to Plum Creek-Monroeville Lodge No. 799 - my home Lodge.  I was pleased beyond measure to have Brother Vern A. Henery, PDDGM travel with me.  Brother Vern acted as Guide for my Entered Apprentice Mason's Degree, so he was really the first "face" of a Freemason for me.  It was great to have him in the travelling party. 

We presented three Brothers with 50 year Emblems.  What a thrill.

Before retiring to the fellowship hall for an excellent meal, I was pleased to offer the following remarks.

Building Bridges

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal. - Nietzsche
When you hear the word bridge, what comes to mind? I believe for most people it would be the image of a bridge – Brooklyn, Golden Gate or maybe even a pastoral scene with a small covered bridge spanning a little trout stream. What if I asked what a bridge means? That would be something different entirely.

Dream dictionaries offer several interpretations of bridges. They can symbolize transition from one thing to another, a crossing over or a birth.

Tonight I want to take a close look at bridges and bridge building as those things relate to Freemasonry. We will examine how to build bridges within and without the Craft and ways that Freemasonry itself is a bridge.

In W.A. Dromgoole’s poem The Bridge Builder, a tale is told of an old man travelling alone who comes to a difficult river to cross. He does so, and upon reaching the other side, built a bridge. A traveler on the other side asks him why, since he is old and will never pass through again, he spends his time making a bridge.  Then:

The builder lifted his old gray head.
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him."

If we are to thrive as a Fraternity, we need to have that kind of vision. Those who came before us did. They set out to establish a legacy – to build a bridge so that generations of men to follow could learn the valuable lessons that the Craft has to offer. They knew that they had something of value and weren’t ashamed that it had a price. They were always mindful that to be responsible meant not only to be able to pay the bills, but to have money left to build a trust fund for the future. Today we are content to rest on our laurels, to live off of the hard work of those who came before.

We must change our thinking Brethren! We need to examine not only what it costs us to run the day to day operations of our Lodge, but what we need to continue to build a bridge (like those who came before did for us) to the next generation of Freemasons. If that means that dues need to increase – and they probably do – then do the right thing. Give the Lodge, its Officers and its members the chance to enjoy Masonry the way our forefathers did. Ensure that your Lodge will be a shining monument to forward thinking and hard work for generations to come. Build the bridge.

Within the Craft we also need to build bridges to those who are thinking of leaving. We MUST contact our delinquent Brethren, ask them why they are giving up membership in the greatest fraternity the world has ever known. If they have fallen on hard times, we need to be charitable. If they have just lost interest, find out why. Maybe we need to look at whether we are providing our members with what they want.

There’s a story about a woman who had stopped going to church for a while. After a few months of sitting home on Sunday, she finally decided to quit. The pastor got her letter and called her. “Why are you leaving our church,” he asked.

“Well, I was getting the feeling that I just didn’t matter to the congregation, so I decided to stay home for a few weeks to see if anyone noticed. No one did, so I guess I was right.”

Sometimes, all we need to do is let the Brethren know they matter. The “Call to the Craft” is an excellent tool to let them hear from you. The Lodges that use it regularly have seen increased attendance. As your May Stated Meeting approaches and it is time to suspend for non payment of dues, you must first have made every effort at a personal contact by telephone and it should be your goal to suspend no one. Let no man feel that our great Craft is better off without him, or he without it. Build a bridge.

So too must we construct bridges to the community. In his 21st Century Renaissance, Grand Master Sturgeon has authorized us for the first time in our history to invite good men to be a part of our Fraternity. He has prepared a brochure answering the questions that most men would have of our organization. What do we do? Who do we help? Where do we come from? What are our ideals? And most importantly, how do I join? It is downright tragic when you consider the number of fine men who have gone to their graves wondering why no one ever asked them to be Masons. There are no doubt men who volunteered in their community, supported their local church, synagogue or temple and walked as uprightly as anyone could who simply couldn’t figure out why they weren’t invited into their local Lodge. The problem is, they never knew that the first step was supposed to be theirs. Not anymore my Brothers. The You’re Invited brochure is now a tool that you can use to start a dialogue with a friend who you deem worthy of our Institution. It is the bridge to a conversation about a man becoming a better father, son, citizen and brother. Use it. Build a bridge.

You see, a problem looming in our not too distant future is that of declining membership. I am preparing a report for each Lodge to show membership statistics over the last five years. I will use Plum Creek Monroeville Lodge for illustrative purposes, but the picture I paint is essentially the same across the board.

In the last five years, this Lodge has initiated, restored or affiliated forty-nine men. In that same period, we have lost to suspension, death or resignation one hundred fifty-four. That is not quite twenty percent of the membership. I don’t think you need me to explain the dangers of that kind of decline.

If you hand a brochure to a friend and he tells you that he is just way too busy to join, the answer is the One Day Masonic Journey. On October 30th we will meet in Soldiers and Sailors Hall and confer the three Craft Masonry degrees by one o’clock, p.m. The One Day Journey is not a shortcut to the Craft. It is a bridge from what we did in the past – because men simply did not have as many demands on their time as they do today – to the 21st Century where we seem to schedule our days, hours and minutes to wring productivity out of each second.

Will some of these men take the Degrees and never be seen again? Yes, and that happens just as often with the traditional conferrals. Will some of them go on to become active members, Officers and even Masters of their respective Lodges? There are several here tonight who bear witness that they will.

Another way to build bridges to nonMasons is through our works. Grand Master Sturgeon has asked us to perform monthly community service projects. The Lodges of the 54th District have answered that challenge. We have volunteered at food banks, answered phones at fundraisers, sponsored teams, picked up litter on highways, read to children at their schools, beautified cemeteries, helped the scouts, the elderly, the veterans and the sick. It is simply astounding what we have been able to do.

When we step into the community to ease the path of others, we are changed as well. The satisfaction of having done something to help should never be your motivation, but it sure is a nice side effect. And when others see our works, they too may be spurred to action. We may become the bridge from self-indulgence to self-sacrifice.

Acts of kindness and selflessness can have a ripple effect. Just as self-interest has deteriorated our communities, so too can altruism rebuild them. It will take patience and time. As water eroded stone slowly – literally one grain at a time – to give us the beauty of the Grand Canyon, we can slowly bring about change in our world by effecting change in ourselves. We can entice good men to do the same by giving them something worthwhile to do and to be. Build those bridges.

Leave this sanctuary of peace tonight, think about good men in your life who are not Masons and invite them to be a part of this esteemed band of men. Support the One Day Journey as a mentor. Volunteer with your Lodges as they build better communities. Be a span – from intolerance to peace, from self-indulgence to self-sacrifice, and from the past to a future made more glorious because Freemasons played their parts.

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