Most Worshipful Grand Master Gary S. Kaufman's message at his installation, May 2020.
To the Past Grand Masters, Past and Present Grand Lodge Officers, Worshipful Masters, Brethren all.
We have entered uncharted waters. Who would think that in 2020 a Grand Master of this jurisdiction would be installed virtually via Zoom conferencing! The implementation of the Annual Communication of Grand Lodge has challenged our perseverance to keep certain traditions intact while adapting to a new reality. I want to thank all who worked to make this virtual Annual Communication a success, even though we are apart. M∴W∴Sokoll, thank you for your virtual installation of me, Brother Melvin Silverio as Right Worshipful Grand Marshal, the Grand Council, the District Deputy Grand Masters and Masters of Ceremonies and all the officers in their respective positions for the ensuing year. It was not how any of us expected to be installed, but we have the distinct pleasure of being the first officers of this Grand Jurisdiction to be installed in this manner. History has been made! History will continue to be made this year.
So, what does Freemasonry in Rhode Island look like in our present situation? The new Masonic year will be anything but normal. The pandemic presents a number of obstacles for the Craft. There are many activities we cannot enjoy because we cannot meet in person, like lodge meetings and Grand Lodge communications, breakfasts, table lodges, volunteering, officer and candidate forums, workshops and recruiting new candidates. While it is hard to visualize what the future may hold as we all struggle with COVID-19, with many events cancelled or postponed in the coming months, our Craft is strong, and we are resilient and resourceful. Maybe 10 people can meet together in June or July, maybe up to 50 people can meet in August. If we can meet face to face in July or August, with a 50-person maximum, we should be able to have regular communications in our lodges. I will give dispensation to any lodges desiring to meet in July and August.
Throughout the months of March, April, and May, Lodges have found creative ways to hold meetings by using Zoom. Even though we cannot meet in person, it is important to put a face to the words, as the brethren truly do like to see one another. These Zoom meetings are a good start and have been well received, judging by the attendance. Our lodges are using technology to take care of necessary business to keep their Lodges running. With little written structure, the masters have opened the lodge with the familiar sound of the gavel and conducted business. Some have integrated prayers and the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. This form is a great first step to continue our association and fraternity but does not provide the structure that we are all used to in our regular communications.
The ritual of the opening and closing a lodge is the foundation of our fraternal meetings. Dressing appropriately and addressing the brethren as we would in lodge should not be lost just because of our virtual communications. Over the past month, I established a committee to work on rewriting our ritual for virtual meetings over Zoom. In the coming days, the Craft will receive formal ritual approved by Grand Lodge to be used for virtual lodge meetings. With the exception of floor work and other things that just cannot be done virtually, there is little difference between the Zoom meeting and our regular meetings in our lodges. In addition, a dress protocol as if we were physically in lodge will be instituted. The Sentinel or assigned brother will make sure that all are appropriately dressed. The masters and officers need to continue to learn and conduct their ritual as before. In addition, new masters have arrived in the East and it is only fair that they have the same opportunity to conduct ritual as all other masters have done. The upgrading of the Zoom meeting to this format with ritual and dress code is especially necessary and important, lest we forget our roots.
To learn and conduct the opening and closing of the lodge in this manner is necessary, as it is possible that COVID-19 may have a second wave in the fall. We need to be ready for that possibility. As such, I have asked the same committee to start formulating our degree work in a virtual format so that we can use it to raise new brother Masons. We cannot simply wait for all this to go away. The degree work may not be what we are used to, but I want to make sure it is as close to our standard ritual as possible. What the candidates miss we can catch them up later. I do not want to wait and lose potential new members to the Craft. In the meantime, we may have a window in late July and August to meet face to face, ‘six feet apart’. We need to take full advantage of this and do the investigation of new candidates, conduct degree work and catch up other candidates in the pipeline. We are preparing for the worst-case scenario and hoping for the best-case scenario.
This jurisdiction has needed proper education classes for several years now. I am specifically relating to Officer Forums and Wardens Workshops which I am renaming “Leadership Training.” We need to take this opportunity to provide this valuable learning for the masters, officers and brethren. As of today, M∴W∴Hallstrom, III and Brother Stephen Stock, along with M∴W∴Iacobucci and his ‘officers training committee’ are working on ways to implement remote learning programs to keep all our brethren engaged in Freemasonry even when we cannot meet face to face. We will accomplish this endeavor with Zoom conferencing, podcasts, webinars, videos, and other forms of remote learning. Now is the perfect time to teach Freemasonry remotely with a robust training program. I am happy to announce today that the first training session l took place on Saturday, May 23.
To assist in bringing the learning to you, I have enlisted the expertise of R∴W∴Mike Southern and the IT Committee to provide equipment and software necessary to produce a good product that will be user-friendly and enjoyable for the brethren. I have also asked the IT Committee to position Grand Lodge with up-to-date equipment and to enhance our communication capabilities so Grand Lodge is well suited for remote telecommunicating in the future. I have heard some say that the virtual conferences and meetings we have had are a great tool. After this crisis is over, we should be able to have some meetings virtually. When people are busy, a virtual conference would save time and enable greater participation.
Along with the making of Masons as mentioned above, we must keep our eyes on our candidates in the pipeline of every lodge. We currently have:
- 47 Inquiries (in process of follow up)
- 48 Candidates (waiting to take their EA degree)
- 43 Entered Apprentices (waiting to take their FC degree)
- 22 Fellow Craft (waiting to take their MM degree)
These candidates and brothers also need to be engaged in the Craft during this period of time. We do not want to lose them, we want to invite them to join the virtual meetings in each lodge at the appropriate times through ‘Waiting Rooms’ and encourage them to continue to learn about Freemasonry through our remote educational programs that will be forthcoming.
I hope that I have given you a glimpse into the priorities and opportunities facing our Craft at this moment. If we have a turn of events and COVID-19 is a thing of the past, we can change gears and work on some other programs like the introduction of the Lewis Jewel into our jurisdiction, the creation of the 5-year Grand Lodge Strategic Plan and other such programs to enhance and enrich our jurisdiction.
In summary, we all know that Freemasonry is built on face-to-face contact and a handshake. That is not possible right now and may not be in the near future. This pandemic is far from over, but we can plan for the future and provide Freemasonry activities remotely to continue to connect to one another until we can meet again on the level, face-to-face and with a handshake. I am hoping with Grand Lodge’s lead, the lodges will also think outside the box and design programs to keep our brethren engaged. My goal is to provide the best Freemasonry experience to all brethren and to keep them involved in Freemasonry during this difficult time.
In closing, I want to thank M∴W∴Douglas Connell for appointing me District Deputy Grand Master all those many years ago. I will not disappoint you. M∴W∴Sokoll, M∴W∴Iacobucci, M∴W∴Pothier, M∴W∴Smith, M∴W∴Hallstom Jr., M∴W∴Ault, M∴W∴Allen, M∴W∴Hassell and M∴W∴Poyton thank you for your good counsel over the years. Your wealth of knowledge is invaluable for anyone who is seated in the Oriental Chair. I look forward to our continued relationships though my year in the East.
To my son, Josh, a brother at Redwood and Jenks Lodges and present on this virtual installation, and my daughter Rachel who lives in Israel, both of whom did not understand what I was doing on so many nights out when they were growing up, thank you for your support. You finally learned how much Freemasonry means to me. I love both of you with all my heart.
Lastly, I want to thank my wife Miriam for allowing me to pursue Freemasonry for the last 23 years. You have always supported everything I do, and I love you very much. Good Luck with being First Lady of this Grand Jurisdiction. Anything that you need for the Grand Ladies please do not hesitate to ask.
As this is being recorded and will be posted on Facebook and YouTube, not only will Miriam and Rachel have the opportunity to see this installation, but my parents Robert and Elaine Kaufman who reside in Florida, who I did not want to travel to Rhode Island under these circumstances due to their age, will get to see it also. Love you Mom and Dad!
Thank you to the Grand Secretary, Grand Treasurer, Grand Council and Grand Lodge officers who will assist me in making the Craft even better in the year to come and thank you to the brethren of this Grand Jurisdiction. You are Rhode Island Freemasonry and I thank you for putting your faith in me to guide us through 2020.
Gary S. Kaufman