Grand Oration 2016
W∴ Grand Orator at the 2016 Communication
Most Worshipful Grand Master, Elected Grand Lodge Officers, Most Distinguished Past Grand Masters, Distinguished East, Ladies, Friends of Freemasonry, and My Brothers All:
Grand Master, I would like to start by thanking you for the opportunity to serve you and The Grand Lodge of Florida as the Grand Orator this year. The travels and visits we made around the state were enlightening, and sharing in the fellowship provoked a plethora of potential subjects and topics. The real work, for me began with filtering through all the information filled conversations to begin laying a foundation of what message might be interesting, informative, beneficial, and motivating.
Questions started filling my mind….. When did my Masonic journey start? Why did I want to become a Mason? Why didn’t anyone ask me to join? I learned over time that my grandmother Emma E. King served as Most Worthy Grand Matron of the Order of Eastern Star in New Jersey in 1936. My father, Arthur King, joined the Fraternity as a member of Temple Lodge No. 173 in Westwood, New Jersey; most likely to travel with his mother as she served the Order of Eastern Star in the State of New Jersey.
As occurred with many, I wondered why, over so many years, my father never asked me to join the Fraternity. As a DeMolay, it was presumptive that, once reaching 21, my Dad would extend the invitation. Maybe enlisting in the U.S. Navy immediately after High School prevented my Dad from asking me to join. I continued to observe my Dad’s many good deeds which benefited others and the quality of the men with which he associated; strengthening my desire to become a Mason. They all seemed to care about others, always performing deeds that resulted in making life just a bit easier or better for others. They always seemed to work together to accomplish these good deeds. Often, it was obvious that my father and these other men seemed to always agree. Later I came to learn, they “agreed to disagree,” but always parted with a handshake and a cordial valediction of “see you soon,” or “thanks for your support.” How could men, all diverse individuals, manage to always get along or if not, still remain amenable and cordial to each other? It was my short exposure to Freemasonry as a DeMolay and learning over time that the majority of men I saw my father associate with were Masons that created the desire in me to be a member, and at the age of 33 I made it known and a petition was finally provided. I talked with my father after becoming a member on why he never asked me to join. He simply told me that I had to ask of my own “free will and accord” explaining that this was how a man became a Mason. Had I only known! Regardless of when I joined, to this day it was one of the best decisions I have made as far as self-development and building a quality life with a broad network of friends and Brothers, and can truly say that “I love this Fraternity!”
Reflecting upon my Father’s moral life, and the slogan that you have heard our Grand Master share, “Remembering the Past – Embracing the Future!” is what has prompted this oration. Building on the slogan, the Grand Master followed with the thought – “we need to get back to the values and ways of yesteryear; back when a man’s word was his bond; a deal could be settled with a handshake.” It was suggested, “When you looked into the mirror in the morning you should ask yourself, based on my actions in the past, would I pass the ballot today? Are your words and actions worthy of a clear ballot?” Pending the answer to that question the recommendation was made that if you can’t pass the ballot test, “you need to make some changes; bring the values of Masonry back into your everyday life.”
Remembering our past is important, as there are values, principles, and character traits contained therein, that we endeavor to emulate in our daily life. The past also teaches us that we are the world’s oldest Fraternity and that much of what we have shared from generation to generation is of a legacy nature. If you believe the premise of “the solutions of the past will not solve the challenges of tomorrow,” then we need to understand the current challenges and search for new ideas on how to continuously improve those actions that are not taking us forward, but holding us back. It is within our power to create the change and actions that will take us forward! A quote that many have heard is that “when an organization focuses more on its past than the future, it is destined to fall behind or even become obsolete!” An important thought to keep in mind as we look forward is that the rich history of our past provides a resilient and steadfast foundation for us to embrace the future. The history of the past has been written, and is “in the can,” or should I say in the history books!
Each time our Grand Master shared this slogan and his thoughts, I started to focus on the second part – “Embracing the Future!” In my mind questions naturally arose. What does the future hold for Freemasonry? In the future, what will Freemasonry look like? How do we blend new generations into our Fraternity? How do we keep the lessons from the past that make us who we are, and adjust those that are no longer working? The second half of the slogan should encourage all of us as leaders in our Fraternity to assess the past, look forward, and embrace the future. The time is right to evolve and adjust as we go, so that we remain relevant, and continue to fulfill the promise we make of “taking good men and making them better!” Human nature tells us that over time there will always be good men that are looking, as we looked, to get involved with an organization or group that can help make them better!
The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, long concerned about declining membership and the impact it is having on moving forward, has created a program through the involvement of younger members having identified those items that can be enhanced to provide a better experience for both its current members as well as the members it is looking toward. The program has been named the “Valley Membership Achievement Project” or VMAP as it is called. In work groups of younger members, various categories of focus were identified and under those categories assorted criteria and actions were recognized that would create an improved experience. The focus is primarily on: membership; both obtaining new members and the important action of retaining existing members; programs and services that are responsive and participative, and create better experiences for members; and finally outreach and enhancing communication methods and use of technology to introduce the Scottish Rite to existing Freemasons who are not members, as well as to good men who have not yet made the decision to petition a traditional Blue Lodge to become a part of our Fraternity. It is new, but results are being seen, particularly with a routine program of contacting those Brothers who have fallen behind in both their involvement and dues, and re-engaging members who have made the decision not to continue as members.
Membership that reached its peak of 4.1 million Master Masons in the United States in 1959, and continues trending down remains a concern. The downward trend of membership is merely an indicator, and the root cause of why this trend is occurring should be our call to action. We need to better understand what the root cause of this trend is and implement the necessary changes to create the positive growth we all desire.
As I continue looking for more light to better understand and search for answers, I believe there are two primary areas that we as leaders in our Fraternity should look at and better understand so we can take the appropriate action(s) that will bring these newer generations into the Fraternity versus thinking they will somehow tumble on to Freemasonry and know to ask for a petition to join. First, the generational differences that exist within our Fraternity today and the integration of social media and technology to reach the potential members of today and tomorrow must be recognized. Secondly, an alternate operating model of a Lodge as it relates to our aging infrastructure that, in many cases, as it continues to age, increasingly becomes a financial challenge on budgets and the constant need of repair and does not attract men who we want to join our Fraternity.
In Freemasonry today there are five generations of members. Maintaining an environment that involves each one with the other is in many cases a challenge. This is occurring not only with our Fraternity, but in the workforce, other fraternal organizations, and various religious organizations as well. As we take a closer look at each generation we start with “The Greatest Generation,” representing those Brothers born in the 1900 – 1924 period. This generation was also named the G.I. Generation. Many of these Brothers grew up during the great depression and also fought in World War II. “The Silent Generation” also known as the “lucky few” were born between 1925 – 1942; some of these Brothers fought in World War II, the Korean War, and many in the Vietnam War. The “Baby Boomers” followed Word War II, born between 1946 – 1964, the period that saw an increase in birth rates. This particular generation is associated with rejection or redefinition of traditional values. In Europe and North America this group was associated with privilege, as many grew up in a time of affluence. They thought of themselves as a special generation, very different than those that came before them. “Generation X” followed and were commonly known as Gen X; born between 1960 – the early 1980’s. Between the 1980’s and 2000, we welcomed the “Millennials” or Generation Y. The current Generation Z, represents those born in the late 1990’s and is estimated to go grow through the mid 2020 period.
The importance of naming these five generations in and of itself is not that important, but the differences that occur between each is what presents the challenge. How do their values and vision fit with ours? Do their expectations build on the previous generation? Is the work ethic of each group the same or different? How do they handle conflict resolution? In the age of social media and communication technology, how do we effectively introduce Freemasonry to them?
I recently attended a Scottish Rite Workshop and the 19 year old International Master Councilor of DeMolay International shared some extremely interesting facts. Imagine….. Generation Z never knew life without the internet, cell phones, or social media. EVERY Gen Z is connected to electronics at least 1 hour per day; 46% are connected 10+ hours. Millennials used two screens daily, Generation Z uses five daily and two at nearly all times. 73% check email and social media less than an hour after waking up. They have and will continue to grow up with a personal device of some type and other devices that include laptops, iPads, and tablets and rely on social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, Vine, Pinterest, and Tumblr to name a few with more certain to be on the horizon to stay connected to their friends and in the workplace. What drives this behavior is F.O.M.O the Fear of Missing Out, a syndrome that both aids and disables the effectiveness of Generation Z today. 54% visit YouTube over three times a day. They are not nearly as dependent as previous generations.
Gen Z does their research, they have the internet at their fingertips and use it as often as is needed to stayed informed, and get answers to their questions whenever needed. One comment shared, “We don’t ask parents for as much help anymore. Why get advice from parents when we can get it online?” That surfaces the question, is the advice accurate and the desired method for our young people to easily get answers to their questions, but this is a topic for another day? If after an average of 8 seconds you have not caused a Gen Z to stay on your site, they are gone. Landing pages are employed more and more in marketing today and are embracing the concept of making your homepage for prospective members and not active members. The site must be VERY visually appealing, NOT a lot of words. Are our Masonic sites such that it grabs one’s interest within 8 seconds? Visit the DeMolay International site and see an example of a landing page that is visually appealing and causes you to click through to one of the three actions listed with an image or picture and not words. After this short narrative on generations, can you understand the challenge that the generational differences and the regular use of technology and social media presents in our very traditional environment?
As we learn from the opening paragraph of the “Address on Freemasonry,” that is delivered by many of us each year at the ceremony of open installation. “Freemasonry is a moral institution, established by virtuous men with the praise worthy design of recalling to our remembrance the most sublime truths, in the midst of innocent and social pleasures – founded on Liberality, Brotherly Love, and Charity. It is a beautiful system of Morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. Truth is its center – the point where the radii diverge – and directs the disciples to a correct knowledge of the Great Architect of the Universe, and the moral laws which He has ordained for their government.”
There is no mention that Freemasonry requires an individual Lodge to have an individual building. With the use of technology, we are all afforded the opportunity to go to college or receive technical training online; banking is now accomplished at anytime and anywhere through a technology solution; and shopping for most anything you would need takes place online, all without a physical building. Our own Grand Lodge is moving in this direction when it comes to running the administrative functions of our Fraternity. Technology is all around us, and we have all heard from the leaders in the technology arena that this is just the beginning.
The financial impact of maintaining a building by every Lodge is not always possible and certainly not needed in many situations. I would venture to say that there are many Masonic Lodge buildings that are utilized less than 10% of the available time and sit empty when not in use. As an organization, each Lodge needs to consider if their individual financial situation is getting tighter and ask the question, “would sharing an existing Lodge building, when the geographic area allows this to take place, be a better option?” It does not require a merger or acquisition, the Lodge can maintain its identity and work out a financial arrangement that benefits all parties. I fully understand that this is not possible in many situations, but when it is, it should be considered as an option to maintain a sound financial position for the Lodge. This is a decision made by the individual Lodge and its members, let me repeat that, it is a decision made by the individual Lodge and its members, and should not be overlooked as an option if it is felt that a dues increase is not possible or requires an exceptionally large increase that in either case could potentially cause a decrease in membership. Imagine for just a minute a Lodge building with all external maintenance and repairs completed, fresh paint, proper signage, green grass, and a manicured outside. In my mind that image says come on in, something good is happening in here!
My Brothers, we have faced challenges since the early days of American Freemasonry and most likely before that, as challenges are a part of life that we all face each and every day. When you reflect on those many great men that have gone before us in all generations, and who will follow in the generations that will follow us, we have always stepped up to the challenge and turned them into opportunities. I believe that the few challenges shared above, along with others we will face, can and will be turned into new opportunities to improve ourselves and the organization we all represent. However, the answers that we seek are not within any one Brother, but within all of us. Identifying the challenges through dialogue and conversation, remembering that we can agree to disagree with each other, will create the opportunities. Our past remains a vital part of history and while we are fraternally strong with Brotherly Love and affection; and with charitable giving estimated to well exceed $2 million a day, there remains a need to make adjustments to take our Fraternity into posterity so future generations may accept the responsibility we all accepted and make changes necessary to assure our rich history remains just that, history, as we continue to grow from the lessons of our legacy pressing forward into tomorrow. We will turn the corner on membership, remain focused on the future, with the understanding and commitment that our best years are before us, yet to be realized.
To those military veterans in the room who served, regardless of your branch of service, or the rank you obtained, and whether you did one tour, retired, or are still serving, thank you on this Memorial Day for your service to our country. And let’s never forget the many who served in harm’s way and gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in defense of the freedoms we enjoy. They are missed, but the memory of each and every one of them will keep them alive in our hearts and minds. May God Bless us all as we continue the work of our great Fraternity, may God Bless our leaders and those currently serving, and May God Bless the United States of America. Thanks You!
R∴W∴ Chester King
W∴ Grand Orator 2015-2016