As a 1998 Leadership Conference Fellow, I had the opportunity to learn more about Scottish Rite Masonry in three days than I have learned in the past three years. A Fellow is a younger member, an emerging leader in his Valley, selected by his Brethren to attend the 1998 Scottish Rite Leadership Conference. This year, some Fellows received a stipend from their Valley to cover part or all of their travel expenses. Other interested Brethren, if approved by their Valley, attended as Fellows at their own expense.
At the Leadership Conference, the Fellow was expected to attend a general morning session where the purpose of the meeting was presented. Then, Fellows and other conference attendees went to three breakout sessions where specific questions were addressed in an open forum. All, Fellows or not, were encouraged to participate. As a bonus, Fellows were invited to a luncheon with the Grand Commander to share their thoughts directly with him on how to improve our Order and bring it into the next millennium as a vital institution. Then, each Fellow was expected to present one or more reports on the conference to his Valley Brethren, thus igniting beneficial change on the local as well as regional and national levels.
When I was notified of my selection as a Fellow, I was given a copy of the Biennial Session report of The Supreme Council’s Subcommittee on Strategic Planning. It was great background for the meeting. From the report, I quickly learned that The Supreme Council had done its homework and prepared topics for discussion which got to the heart of today’s problems. Still, there were ideas I could bring to the conference. After all, they wanted to hear from younger members. At age 38, I was one of them.
It is so easy to say what the problems are, but it is a real challenge to correct the problems for the future of the Rite and the benefit of mankind. As the Strategic Planning Report points out, the Scottish Rite and the Grand Lodges are in trouble as our members and income decrease while our expenses increase. Frankly, the report’s picture is pretty bleak:
“Obviously, an organization which offers fraternalism and brotherhood, which teaches values and morals, which encourages its members and others to lead good and useful lives in and for their communities should be greatly respected. But a cold look at reality tells us that we are not generally accepted and that, while we are still respected in many quarters, it is the same kind of respect offered to aging professors of abstract mathematics or astrophysics -- a respect combined with a feeling that we are venerable but irrelevant. This is the result of Masonry in general refusing to realize that profound and permanent changes to society have occurred, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. Because we do not like many of those changes, we choose to ignore them. The result is that Masonry strives to help Masons 60 or more years old hold onto the world they knew, but does little or nothing to help Masons 50 or less years old with the world in which they live each day.”
Sobered by this report and inspired by the opportunity to make a difference, I immediately started gathering my thoughts on what I would “tell” the Grand Commander. And, you know what? I found him eager to listen!
My method was to describe what I thought would be the ideal for a Scottish Rite Body to achieve and then, with specific ideas, point out how to go about achieving that ideal. These ideas came from successful programs within my Valley, details of the Strategic Planning Report, and suggestions from Brethren within my Valley and, later, from Fellows at the Leadership Conference. In the process of doing my research, which boiled down to a five-page essay, I learned quite a bit and felt that I was prepared for the Greenville Conference.
When I got to Greenville, South Carolina, the location of the first of three regional Leadership Conferences in 1998, I met many other Fellows the Friday night before the conference and discovered that several shared my ideas. Once we got into the Saturday morning general session of the Conference, it became obvious to us all that we were there to make a serious contribution to the future of the Scottish Rite. From the first moment, I felt that we could not have had a more open forum for our ideas, comments, and questions.
The special Fellows Luncheon with the Grand Commander, Ill. C. Fred Kleinknecht, 33°, was a real opportunity to be heard regarding our concerns and to have our questions answered. After the lunch, we broke up into groups with the Fellows and other members attending the conference to discuss topics of who and what we are, where we are going, and how do we get there. Again, the Fellows were made to feel perfectly at ease and not only allowed but encouraged to speak what was on our minds. The keynote speakers and discussion group leaders enabled us to learn that our concerns are shared by others, including seasoned members. By being given a voice, we felt validated and encouraged. There were so many new ideas that the conference experience has motivated me to come up with even more ideas on how to seek -- and keep -- membership as we enter the new millennium.
Basically, we can get new members into Freemasonry and the Rite and keep them coming back by building a “nest.” In this nest, the Lodge or Temple, a new member must feel comfortable joining, working, learning, leading, and bringing his spouse and children. Here are a few basics. None of these ideas are new or something I just dreamed up. Rather, they are a composite of ideas shared by many Brethren attending the 1998 Leadership Conference. Put them together, and you have a stable Fraternity with an atmosphere which promotes nurturing and security.
I rode to the Leadership Conference with another young man from my Valley, but if I knew that my wife would be entertained and that there would be something for my three children under the age of ten to do, then I would have taken them to the Leadership Conference also. I love my family very much and spend a great deal of time with them at home and with their activities. I surround them with grandparents, aunts and, uncles.
By including my family in Blue Lodge and Scottish Rite activities as much as possible, my children have hundreds of adopted grandparents, and my wife receives many of the benefits of Masonry by being with women who are a good influence. The senior men and women provide the younger Mason and his wife with solutions to many of their problems by sharing their own experiences.
Create warm fellowship and leadership roles at every Masonic meeting. Young men today are thirsting for the guidance, stability, and positive role models Masonry can offer. Yet some of the Fellows at the Leadership Conference told of how they have been shunned by older members of the Rite who thought they could not have anything valuable to contribute until they had been members for many years. I am fortunate in that I have always been made to feel comfortable in my Valley. As a young man in Scottish Rite, I have been given every opportunity to pursue as much as I was willing to take on and always with continued support by and mentoring from senior members. Make this the case in your Valley, too!
The last, but certainly not the least, item is so simple, yet apparently so hard to accomplish. When we visit in our Blue Lodges, we must promote the Scottish Rite. A lot of the Valleys wear colored sport coats that identify them as members of the Rite, others have a distinctive name tag, etc. Let us be an easy target for the Blue Lodge Brethren who are not Scottish Rite Masons and encourage them to ask us how they, too, can get to be a member of the Rite. Let the distinctive item also be a reminder to each of us to say something at each Blue Lodge meeting about the Rite in order to promote it not only for Reunions but also to educate the Blue Lodge Brethren throughout the year.
It was truly an honor for me to be chosen as a 1998 Scottish Rite Leadership Conference Fellow. I have a tremendous thirst for knowledge in life in general and for Masonry in particular. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of men under 50 in my Valley of about 830 members. We all know what is pending in our future. Our country needs the morals, values, and guidance that the members of the Rite currently possess, but we must strive today to ensure that the Fraternity is there for the next generation.
My son is five years old, the DeMolay in my Valley of Lynchburg, Virginia, has folded, and the local Job’s Daughters Bethel is down to two girls. Will Freemasonry be there for my children? I, for one, will do everything in my power to keep the Blue Lodge going, the Scottish Rite active, and Masonry’s Appendant Bodies meeting so that my son and daughters have the same Masonic opportunity I have had and benefited from so significantly.
I joined Masonry to be like my father and grandfather and because of what I knew about Masonry’s philosophy and philanthropy. I joined the Scottish Rite to receive further education in Masonry. I have become a better Mason, husband, father, and son because of Freemasonry. It is my sincere desire to ensure that this wonderful and great organization is here for a long time to come.
To sum up the 1998 Scottish Rite Leadership Conference and where the Scottish Rite wants to go in the Twenty-first Century, I will borrow a phrase from a recent movie, Field of Dreams: All we have to do is build it, and they will come!