Thank you to the Brothers who have entrusted me, for a time, with this high office. I will endeavor to live up to that confidence and earn the opportunity you have presented to me.
Despite the challenges we face, our institution is, and remains, strong. I do not rely on our profound history and past achievements to make this claim. I instead rely on my own observations and knowledge of the fantastic men who comprise our ranks.
We have dedicated Masons from all walks of life who can — and will — form the blocks upon which our noble Craft will continue to be built. However, we will only be able to build our Masonic structure with the materials we have, not those we once had or hoped to have.
For now, that means our edifice is smaller than it once was. But smaller does not mean inferior. A simple, solidly built, brick-and-mortar house will last far longer, and give far greater value, than a modern McMansion constructed on a poor foundation and with inferior materials.
How then, do we ensure our Craft uses only quality materials — in this case, men of good report — in its work? The most important thing we as Masons can do is provide experiences worth having. We are asking men to give us their most important asset — their time. In exchange, a quality Masonic experience will offer at least some of the following in some combination: Brotherhood. Friendship. Social activities. Excellent ritual. Thought-provoking education. I ask you when you return to your lodges to analyze the Masonic life of your lodge. Is your lodge doing the right blend of these things to keep members — from the youngest Entered Apprentice to the oldest Past Master — engaged, enthusiastic and eager to come back for more?
To be sure, there is no magic ratio of these elements. What works in Juneau may be different than what works in North Pole. One lodge may emphasize the social, another the educational, while a third may take a “jack of all trades” approach.
What can Grand Lodge do in this regard? Let me begin to answer that by saying what we cannot and will not do. We will not dictate from on high. We will not get in the way of lodge plans and programs, unless those undertakings run contrary to our ancient usages and landmarks. We will not “tut-tut” if plans for progress involve new ideas and fresh activities.
We can, however, help lodges and Brothers overcome and avoid obstacles to their own progress. We can provide ideas and examples of what has worked in other locations, and how those successes might be incorporated into the progress you and your lodge want to make. We can marshall manpower for degree work and other projects. We can serve as a listening post for your ideas and offer — hopefully — constructive feedback. In short, if it’s within the length of our cable tow, we will do it.
While we continue to grow our Craft — slowly but surely — we cannot put that growth ahead of guarding the West Gate. We build our edifices with imperfect men, a category I certainly fall into. We must take care, however, the men we admit are not uninterested or unworthy. We must be clear about what we are and what we are not. The man who comes through the West Gate seeking what we do not offer will quickly become frustrated and uninterested, and we have wasted each other’s time. Worse, however, is to grant the unworthy man access to our Mysteries. For not only will the unworthy man waste our time and frustrate our efforts, he will deter worthier men from seeking admission into our ranks.
What is the upshot of all this? If anything, it’s to emphasize the importance of the time we are asking our Brothers to give. He wakes up and can spend an hour getting himself and his children ready for work and school. He may commute to work — even in this COVID-concerned time — up to an hour each way. He is supposed to work eight hours in the day, but he may have to work 9, 10, even 12 hours on any given day. In theory, he should be getting eight hours of sleep, but sleep often gives way to work, school plays, soccer games, the occasional date night. Saturday means more soccer games, catching up on work and chores, perhaps a nap. All of that gives a man, at best, about four hours a day — 24 hours in 168 each week — in which he can choose how to spend his time. How will he spend it? Catching up on the latest on an ever-growing network of streaming services? Pursuing a hobby? Surfing the web? Or will he spend it in a community of like-minded men, trying to build something better than himself? The answer is surprisingly simple. He will spend it where he believes he is getting the best use of his time. Will that be in your lodge? Let us work together to make that answer an unreserved “yes!”
M∴W∴ Charles Ward IV
Grand Lodge of Alaska