Most Worshipful Grand Master Gary S. Kaufman's message in The Freemason Magazine, March 2021 issue.
COVID, COVID, COVID....
I am sitting here at the end of January penning this message and see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. It has been a very-long road to get here. Just about one year ago the first cases of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, were reaching our country. We were alerted to the seriousness in February 2020 and full outbreak in March. Just like the rest of the world, we as a Craft went on lockdown. For us, that meant closing the lodges. We were able to meet on this "new to us" platform called "Zoom" to take care of the business of the lodge and socialize, sort of. In June, we were able to open our lodges to limited attendance and a new hybrid meeting format was born. As we navigated investigations and degree work, it was clear that we had a backlog of candidates awaiting degrees. In September, all three degrees were conferred on consecutive Saturdays and at the end of the day, there were 42 new Master Masons in our jurisdiction.
Foreseeing the possible surge of Covid-19 cases in the Fall, a virtual ritual was prepared to be used at the opening and closing of each lodge. As cases skyrocketed in November, we needed to close the lodges yet again, but this time the closure and back to full Zoom meetings was noticeably different. Dress code was required, and the jurisdiction met like we usually do in lodge, but virtually. The clothing we wear and ritual we present are the foundations of our meetings. We need to continue to do the things we have done for centuries, so we do not forget how to do it!
So, here we are at a point where the Covid-19 vaccine is in our sight. However, new variants of Covid-19 are emerging and causing uncertainty. But as a Craft we are optimistic. We will meet again on the level in lodge, soon!
It is very strange to write your last message four months before your term ends. What do I say? Do I recap my year as Grand Master knowing that the last four months are missing? I have decided to provide some highlights of the accomplishments that have been reached, even as we continue to battle the restrictions and limitations of Covid-19.
Grand Lodge Building
In February, the exterior renovations to the building were completed. The renovations included mitigation of interior water damage, fixing multiple building leaks, new portico decking, new portico entrance doors, new stairs to Taunton Avenue building entrance and awnings, cleaning, repointing and sealing the entire exterior of the building, and replacement of glass block windows around the building. This has been a year-long process. The building is now in good condition and many of the updates will last many years to come.
Lodge Meetings/Virtual Ritual
As Grand Master there are two important things I have had to wrestle with during the pandemic. The first is to make sure our brethren stay safe and healthy when at lodge. The second is to work diligently to keep the Craft together and minimize the loss of brothers during this pandemic. To accomplish the first, I chose to close or open the lodges in the best interest of health and safety for all brethren. This has worked as I have not been informed of any lodges that have had members with Covid-19 that can be traced to a lodge meeting.
The second has been more challenging. We know how difficult it is to keep the brethren engaged at regular communications. Degree work and interesting programs usually does the trick. But the pandemic has precluded us from meeting in person and no degree work can be conferred. The initial Zoom business/social meeting worked well at the beginning, but without structure and purpose, brethren were losing interest. The requirement of proper attire and opening and closing ritual was introduced in November. We are Masons and we have certain rituals which have been presented for hundreds of years. By doing what we do in lodge, on Zoom, we continue our dedication and need for more "Light", keeping the Craft together in these trying times. As an extension to this ritual, a ritual was prepared to install lodge officers over Zoom. Although not quite like being in person, the ritual is similar to the semi-public installation format, and has worked very well.
At the December 2020 meeting of the Grand Lodge Executive Board, I proposed a $1,000 gift to each lodge, which was approved unanimously. The gift was given without restrictions. The money could be used in any way the lodge decided. My reasoning for the gift was simple. During the pandemic lodges cannot actively raise money for operating expenses, rent, charity, etc. This gift was well received by the lodges and I received a number of thank you notes.
Under the direction of the Junior Grand Warden and many capable brethren, the three degrees of Freemasonry were conferred in September 2020. Hours of work went into the adjusting of ritual and floor work to allow for these degrees during Covid-19. I am pleased to announce this program was a success and plans are in the works for another three sessions in April.
Balloting on Zoom
In January 2021, I approved the balloting on Zoom. This was necessary to keep the Craft moving forward during the pandemic restrictions. This balloting included new candidates as well as balloting on lodge officers.
During the initial opening of lodges in June, part of the guidelines required in each lodge was to take the temperature of everyone entering the building. To assist the lodges with this requirement, Grand Lodge provided thermometers to each lodge along with a supply of hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves.
Grand Master’s Charity of Choice
Several years ago, I decided that my charity would be Special Olympics of Rhode Island. The charity follows our mission of assisting children. Through Masonic Grand Lodge Charities and the President’s Fund, a donation of $10,000 was presented to Special Olympics in January. In this year of Covid-19, Special Olympics’ ability to raise funds has been severely curtailed and they were very-grateful for our generous donation.
Grand East Bulletin
Communication with the brethren, especially during the pandemic, is critical to our fellowship and maintaining our connection to one another. I established "The Grand East Bulletin," a monthly e-publication to bring information to the brethren in-between the quarterly publication of the RI Freemason.
Prince Hall Masons
Sadly, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge building had a devastating fire. I immediately reached out to and continue to be in communication with the Grand Master of Prince Hall Masons in Rhode Island, offering our assistance and support. We have offered our Grand Lodge building for their meetings as needed. A fund has been established within Grand Lodge Charities to assist lodges in making donations to the cause and Grand Lodge will be providing financial support to Prince Hall in the future.
Brethren, these are just a few of the accomplishments we are proud to have achieved during this pandemic year. But you my brothers are the strength and support of this Craft. You have faced challenges this year and you have risen to the occasion in each one of your lodges to keep this fraternity going. Recognizing Covid-19 would result in a loss for those brothers who had worked for so many years to serve as Master of their lodge, the fair, equitable, and brotherly thing to do was to give those brothers the opportunity to serve for another year. For the masters who took my advice and chose a second year, you made the right choice. Not only will you get the opportunity to have some portion of the second year in normalcy (the way it used to be) but your officers, also will be able to perform and learn as all others have done before them. Believe me, if I had had the choice, I would have done the same.
For those who do not know, the editor of the RI Freemason is retiring this year. R∴W∴Richard Lynch has edited and composed the publication for the last 12 years! We whole heartedly thank him for his many years of service and dedication to bringing the magazine to us. R∴W∴Rick once said to me "it is a labor of love." As he continues through the districts as Master of Ceremonies, please take time to thank him for a job well done!
I would like to thank those brothers who stood by me and supported me during this year. R∴W∴Jack Anderson, R∴W∴Michael Southern, W∴Pat Connors, R∴W∴Eric Grist, R∴W∴Gil Fontes, R∴W∴Rick Baccus, R∴W∴Andre Faria and Brother Josh Kaufman. Your assistance and support were greatly appreciated. R∴W∴Michael Barboza Grand Treasurer, thank you for your expertise throughout the year. R∴W∴Ronald Reed you have proven to be a very capable and thoughtful Grand Secretary. You supported all my needs and desires, and I sincerely appreciate your friendship.
A special thank you goes to R∴W∴Douglas Grant, Junior Grand Warden. Thank you for your enthusiastic and energetic way of getting done all that I asked. You never complained and just did it. I also want to especially thank you for your outstanding support during this pandemic year. You knew as a brother what the right thing was to do, and you provided unwavering support. Thank you for all your efforts and being there for me.
R∴W∴Stephan Saraidarian, District Deputy Grand Master, I am so proud of you and what you have accomplished this year. I knew that you were a great choice for this position. I am looking forward to the next 8 years of your Masonic career. Thank you for your steadfast support this year. Good luck in the future. Whatever I can do for you, all you need to do is ask.
M∴W∴Richard Sokoll, Past Grand Master. We began our journey together when you were in Grand Council and then Grand Master. I provided council when you asked and this year you provided good council when I asked. You are a very special friend. Thank you for your good council and support as a friend, a brother, and a Past Grand Master.
My right-hand man - my Grand Marshal R∴W∴Melvin Silverio. What can I say? We had great plans and the pandemic got in the way. But that did not dampen your enthusiasm or resolve. While we did not visit, in person, half the lodges I was hoping to get to or attend the social events together, you were there for Zoom meetings and special events, performing admirably and with dignity. I can think of no other brother who I would have wanted as my Grand Marshal.
I cherish our friendship. I will always be here as a brother and friend, as well as available to you for advice and guidance. Thank you for all your support and friendship.
Without my wife’s support I would never have made it to the Grand East, let alone make it through this challenging year. You are my best friend and knowing you were here with me during this year made all the difference. Thank you, Miriam, for letting me be a MASON! Thank you for all your support and advice. I love you so very much.
It was always my goal to leave the Craft better than when I entered it. As I quoted in the beginning of the Blue Book, "I cannot change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination." This year I did just that and accomplished my goals. It has been my honor to be your Grand Master throughout this challenging year.
Gary S. Kaufman
M∴W∴ Grand Master