Brethren, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you as Grand Master. It’s a very humbling experience. My only wish is that my wife Joy could have been here to participate and enjoy this special time.
My slogan is “Expect Perfection – Settle for Excellence.” My theme is “Friendship, Morality, and Brotherly Love.” I believe we need to get back to our roots – get back to the Fraternity of “Friendship, Morality, and Brotherly Love” We need to reduce and/or eliminate the contention, the unmasonic charges being filed, and the trials being held. We need to communicate better among ourselves.
This contention and bickering can destroy a Lodge and is destroying relationships. Many of these problems arise at the time we elect our Lodge Officers and in an effort to eliminate these problems, I plan to introduce legislation next year (2015) to change the way we elect our Lodge Officers. I will be discussing and seeking the Craft’s ideas and support as I attend my Official Visits around the state. I will be seeking support and a consensus from the Craft. Some type of nominating process will work, but we can’t get caught up with paperwork or a process that is doomed to failure. We must keep it simple and simple will work.
Our Flagship Charity, the Cardiac Research Institute at the MMRL, remains the Grand Master’s Charity and we will continue to focus on fundraising possibilities with public campaign events throughout the state. These public campaigns not only strengthen our ability to raise money, they also enhance the awareness of Masonry. Our focus is to connect Masonry, the MMRL, and heart research in the eyes of the public and to have name recognition as the Shriners now enjoy with their Children’s Hospitals. When the public thinks of Children’s Hospitals, they think of Shriners. When they think of Shriners, they think of Children’s Hospitals. Our mission is to have the names Masonry, MMRL, and heart research synonymous. What a great day it would be, if when the public thinks of heart research they think of Masonry and vice versa.
This leads me to my next topic which is advertising for Masons. Currently the budget is tight to say the least. We don’t have funds for radio, TV, or billboard advertising but we can begin with local advertisements in local newspapers advertising “Friends Night” or “Open House” paid for by the Lodge or District.
Our membership numbers continue to drop and I will continue the current amnesty policy for NPD’s. The number of NPD’s and deaths continue to exceed the number of candidates. Advertising handled properly certainly can’t hurt.
In Florida our mission is to concentrate on quality not quantity. Our new candidates will become Masons the traditional way and they will be provided the tools necessary to become knowledgeable Brothers through training and education.
Ritual Competition will return in a different format. Competition will take place at the Zone level with Lodge or District teams. The highest score will be the State Champion. There will be no competition at Grand Lodge and the only cost will be for the trophies which should be $200 or less.
The Lady’s project will be somewhat different this year in that the project will be to replace the wheelchair van which has almost 200,000 miles on it and is in need of replacement.
Let me now bring to your attention an article that was published in The Farmer’s Almanac in1823 at Andover, Massachusetts, and was printed under the heading,
Definition of a Freemason:
“The real Freemason is distinguished from the rest of Mankind by the uniform unrestrained rectitude of his conduct. Other men are honest in fear of punishment which the law might inflect - are religious in expectation of being rewarded, or in dread of the devil, in the next world. A Freemason would be just if there were no laws, human or divine except those written in his heart by the finger of his creator. In every climate, under every system of religion, he is the same. He kneels before the Universal Throne of God in gratitude for the blessings he has received and humble solicitation for his future protection. He venerates the good men of all religions. He disturbs not the religion of others. He restrains his passions, because they cannot be indulged without injuring his neighbor or himself. He gives no offense, because he does not choose to be offended. He contracts no debts which he is certain he cannot discharge, because he is honest upon principal.”
My Brothers, this definition begins by distinguishing a real Freemason, not from his neighbor, but from the rest of Mankind. How many Masons in your jurisdiction actually fit this definition? Better yet, do you? Do we? How many of us fit this definition of a Mason? A definition that refers to an unrestrained rectitude of conduct, a man who does not need laws either human or divine because he will do what’s right and what is just because it is written in his heart.
In conclusion, let us now talk about values. What value do we place on Masonry? The world has changed. Masonry has changed. Have our values changed? Have our Masonic Values changed? We no longer live in a world of “Leave it to Beaver” where the entire family sits down and has dinner together and at the same time each day. There are few restrictions regarding the content of TV advertising and the subject matter of TV shows. There are few restrictions on words that are used on both TV and radio. Yes, the world has changed, and yes, our values have changed.
Freemasonry has also changed, but our Masonic Values should never change. We do not want to be known as a secret society. We want people to know us and what we do. In Florida, it is no longer improper to ask a man if he would like to be a Mason (still, of his own free will and accord). We want people to know about our Flagship Charity (the Cardiac Research Institute at the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory); we want people to know about the Child ID Program, and the various scholarship programs throughout our state. We want people to know about the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, the Shrine, and all the other Allied and Appendant Bodies, and all they do for their various charities and their communities. Yes, change has taken place. Time does not and will not stand still and we must adjust to these changes without changing our Masonic Values – the value of Brotherly Love and Affection - the value of Friendship and Morality – the value of Relief and Truth – the value of our obligation to each other.
Our forefathers have left us a legacy; a gift which is ours to cherish and continue into the future. We have a ritual that bonds us as men and Masons. The future is ours! It is ours to decide – where we are going and how we will get there.
Being a Freemason does make a difference. It makes a difference in our hearts!
James W. Ford