Counting Up a Year of Blessings

By Grand Master Speed Hallman

An old-timer said to me one night after a meeting, “Every time you go to lodge you get a blessing.” I haven’t totaled the number of meetings I’ve attended so far, but the blessings are off the charts.

This year I’ve talked about time, and how quickly sand races through the hourglass, and how every minute is precious. Today I’m struck by how rapidly a year passes. That big lap around the sun seems to take less and less time with each rotation. And so it has been this year, as I prepare to hand the Grand Master’s jewel to my immensely capable successor.

I had the opportunity to observe Grand Masters at work as I moved through the officer line and I was familiar with the Grand Master’s duties. But this year I’ve experienced a great deal of Masonic serendipity and I received blessings I didn’t anticipate. Some examples:

  • Shaking the hands of brethren who survived Pearl Harbor, landed at Normandy Beach and endured the Bataan Death March;
  • Signing a petition for the son of an incoming lodge master just before the father’s installation, and watching the son present it to his newly-installed father in the East;
  • Hanging out with the brethren frying shrimp and oysters at Manteo Lodge before our district meeting, eating way too much, and loving it. Repeating the experience with flounder and hush puppies before a meeting at Hanks Lodge, and loving it;
  • Heading home from a meeting in Raleigh, being passed by a truck and getting a big thumbs-up out of the passenger window. When I got home I had a Facebook message: “I believe I just passed you on US-1, Most Worshipful. I was the one in the work truck;”
  • Seeing my Eagle Lodge brethren working tirelessly and giving generously to prepare for the Grand Lodge installation;
  • Riding at the front of a 22-mile tractor parade, and attending a tractor pull with a group from our Children’s Home;
  • Getting a call from a brother who knew I was on the road late at night, just to ask how I was doing and how far I was from home;
  • Talking with the Tyler while we waited to alarm the door at every lodge that received me;
  • Helping with degrees in a 90,000 square-foot railroad shop, at the bottom of a quarry, on a battleship and in the George Washington Masonic National Memorial;
  • Working in the kitchen with members of Thomasville Lodge, who handed out 1,900 hot dogs to townspeople on Memorial Day and returning for the third degree of one of those brethren a month later;
  • Planting two dogwood trees in God’s Half Acre at Oxford with members of Andrew Jackson Lodge;
  • Attending the Friday afternoon Wine Down at WhiteStone and realizing it would be a great place to spend my golden years;
  • Watching members of Clemmons and West Bend lodges give 10 new bikes to champion elementary school readers through the Bikes for Books program;
  • Giving blood at the 29th annual Masonic Blood Drive in Statesville, one of the largest one-day drives in the country, and meeting brethren who love serving their community and practicing their Masonry;
  • Attending Cherokee and Montgomery lodges, the westernmost lodges in the state; visiting Blue Ridge Lodge, the highest in the state; touring that beautiful corner of North Carolina and zipping all over Hiwassee Lake on an aptly named Bullet boat. Thanks, WBs Derek, Rory and Dave;
  • Attending Kilwinning Lodge the day Susan and I moved back home, experiencing instant brotherhood and finding an excellent traveling companion for this year. Thanks, WB Pete;
  • And stopping for an ice cream cone at Pee Dee Orchards on an eastbound trip and finding fresh peaches at my back door when I got home. Thanks, WB Chesley.

Every Grand Master will have his own chronicle of the high points and grace notes that enriched his year. These are just a few of mine.

I also encountered a phenomenon every Grand Master experiences. There is a tremendous amount of respect for the office and love for the fraternity. It is powerful, it is pervasive and it is immensely humbling.

I’ve experienced an incredible outpouring of brotherly love and friendship and I’ve met Masons who are living their obligations and serving with freedom, fervency and zeal. To those Masons and to those of like mind I say: To have been elected by men like you to serve as the 165thGrand Master of the great state of North Carolina is the highest achievement I can imagine, and, with one eye on that hourglass, I’ve done my best to help you build our beloved fraternity, and prepare to hand it to the next generation better and stronger that it was before.

Some thoughts for your consideration:

  • Good men who want what Masonry offers are all around us. They just don’t know who we are. Live your Masonry in your community. Be active, be visible and check your lodge’s curb appeal. Good men will find you.
  • Be mindful of numbers and watch membership trends, but be more concerned about the qualityof men on your lodge rolls than the quantity. I’d rather have 10,000 Masons than 100,000 members.
  • How many good men does your lodge lose after the first degree? Or in the first three years? Ask them, ask yourself, ask your lodge, why?
  • I’ve heard too many NPD horror stories. Make every effort to contact men before excluding them. Find out what’s going on in their lives and ask how you can help. It’s the right way to treat a brother. It’s also good lodge management. Remember the old adage that keeping a current customer is easier than recruiting a new one. The brother who doesn’t respond to notices may have moved to a nursing home, or he may be embarrassed that he can’t pay his dues. He is a brother. Find out.
  • Have you heard the old saying that some people know the price of everything and the value of nothing? The price of Masonry is what you pay to carry a dues card. What is Masonry’s valuein your life? I’m writing this before our Annual Communication, when we’ll ask delegates to approve an increase in the per capita. A $5 increase is less than a dime a week. I say this with all due respect: A Mason who can’t afford an occasional modest increase needs our charity. A man who opposes such an increase on principle needs to examine his own values. What is Masonry worth to you?
  • A coarsening in society is intruding into our sacred retreat and eroding our bonds with one another. Remember your obligations. Heed our closing charge.
  • Masonry is rare. It is special. It is not for everyone. And it has been entrusted tousfor only brief time. Our fraternity needs our very best efforts before our time is up, and before we hand Freemasonry to the next generation.
  • Your Grand Lodge is fortunate to have a cadre of line officers who are smart, hard-working and focused on the good of Masonry. Each brings a strong skill set and individual talents. Together they mesh into an effective and highly qualified team that is dedicated to excellence in all we do. Any success I have had this year I share with them, and every mistake and shortcoming is all mine.
  • Every Mason and every lodge is well served by our outstanding, professional and dedicated staff. This year I discovered how utterly indispensable each member of the team really is to the orderly and efficient functioning of this sprawling and complex enterprise of 371 lodges and 38,000 members. Thank you Walt Clapp, Jonathan Underwood, Cornelia Doherty, Vicki Lam and Hayley Moll.

Finally, from Brother Goethe, a quote I’ve carried with me all year:

“We are tied together, seeking that truth which none may learn for another, and none may learn alone. If evil men can drag us down, good men can lift us up. No one of us is strong enough not to need the companionship of good men and the consecration of great ideals. Here lies, perhaps, the deepest meaning and value of Masonry; it is fellowship of men seeking goodness, and to yield ourselves to its influence, to be drawn into its spirit and quest, is to be made better than ourselves.”

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular Masons! May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue cement us. So mote it be.