MAY 21, 2004

by Richard E. Fletcher, PGM VT,
Executive Secretary
The Masonic Service Association
of North America

        The door was shut!
        The Federal Government said-No, we simply will not deal with 49 individual Grand Lodges. We would certainly like to have the support of Freemasons but you need one organization to represent you-This was how the United States Government reacted to the offer of Masonic support for our troops in World War I.
        The Masonic Service Association came into existence as a result of this decision and, because it was finally recognized that there were cases where a national organization, working on behalf of all Freemasons, could serve a useful purpose. It happened in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1918. Initially, the primary function of the MSA was to support our military personnel. From that modest beginning the long road to where MSA is today was undertaken.
        Today the MSA has four basic functions:
                                (1) Education/Publications
                                (2) VA Hospital Visitation
                                (3) Disaster Relief
                                (4) Public/Media Relations
        Let's begin with Masonic Education.
        Paul Revere was a member of Saint Andrew's Lodge in Boston. We all know that his famous ride-warning of the coming of the British troops-was a journey that led, ultimately, to the creation of the United States.
        Paul Revere was also involved in another "ride". This time he led Freemasons into a journey on Masonic Education. Paul Revere was the subject of the first Short Talk Bulletin published in January 1923. This journey has resulted in the publication of almost 1,000 Short Talks covering every aspect of Masonic interest that MSA can think of. When reading through the Short Talks one finds a wealth of Masonic knowledge. In many lodges Short Talks are the tool for disseminating Masonic Education.
        MSA also has a variety of digests, many of which become educational programs as well. For example 101 Questions About Freemasonry is a very interesting and, quite honestly, entertaining look at Freemasonry. A question is asked and a short answer given. It's amazing how many times the lodge brothers don't know the answer and how eager they are to learn.
        There is no aspect of Freemasonry more important or more significant than Masonic Education. The ritual is our introduction to the fraternity. Masonic Education is what makes a man a Mason-for if he does not understand the words and implications of his obligations, he cannot possibly live by them. When we learn what our fraternity is truly all about; when we realize the significance and the impact Freemasons have had in this nation we can thank Masonic Education.
         We know that Freemasons were involved in the movement toward Public Education. In many cases there were schools on the first floor and lodges on the second floor. This is an example of the kind of contribution that has been made by our fraternity.
        It is a major responsibility of the Masonic Service Association to provide material and publications that enhance our understanding and knowledge of our fraternity. To put it poetically:
        The Masonic Service Association is the loom weaving the fabric-the tapestry-of Masonic knowledge.

VA Visitation - Rewarding
        World War II raged for several years. Helping to make life more comfortable and to provide "a little touch of home" the Masonic Service Association-with the cooperation of the Grand Lodges and many, many lodges-operated a number of Masonic Service Centers. These centers were very similar to a USO program. They had dancing, singing, and food. To a lonely soldier, sailor, or marine the centers often provided the last touch of home before they went overseas. Just reading the old records from this period of time makes one proud to be a Mason.
        After World War II the need for the Service Centers was gone, but a greater need emerged. There were over 20 million military personnel involved in World War II and the sick, the maimed, and the injured needed care. The United States government formed the Veterans Administration medical care system to treat our Veterans.
        Also created was the VAVS or Veterans Administration Voluntary Service. This was the voluntary arm of the Veterans Administration medical care treatment program. Many organizations volunteer-some of them are very large such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars-so it's with a great deal of pride that we can tell you that the Masonic Service Association ranks 7th out of 56 volunteer groups registered with the VAVS. We do in excess of 250,000 volunteer hours per year.
        Let's put this into human perspective. The Capital Times-a newspaper in Madison WI-ran the following story on Christmas Day in 2001.
"John Hendrickson of rural Verona, Wisconsin was a prisoner of war during World War II, and he remembers Christmas 1944 as the holiday when he was marched across Germany with other POW's. It was the coldest winter in Germany's history.
        On Christmas Eve he was temporarily locked with other POW's in a boxcar of a train that came under attack by Allied forces. "When the planes started firing our German guards fled, and we were sitting ducks," he recalls. After Hendrickson and the others were able to get out of the boxcar, they used their bodies to form the word "POW" in the snow. The "friendly fire" stopped.
        "There was an angel watching over us that day," Hendrickson says.
        These war memories surface occasionally, but Hendrickson, now 82, would rather talk about his work as a volunteer at the Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, where he pours coffee, visits with patients and greets visitors four days a week.
        "In 14 years, I have about 9,000 volunteer hours in," says Hendrickson, who is a member of the Masonic Service Association-Madison Chapter, an organization that helps to supply the Veterans Hospital with volunteers."
        Marie Broglie was a patient at the VA Hospital in Washington, DC. Marie is no longer with us but while she was at the hospital she was just a great joy to be around. Marie was confined to a wheelchair and while taking her to chapel one Sunday she said to me: "Were you in the service?" I said, "Yes I was Marie, I was in the Navy during the time of the Korean War. It seems like such a long time ago now." She said: "I was in the Navy too". And I said "Marie I didn't realize that". She said "Yes, World War I." World War I.
      Marie was one of the first women to be in the Navy who was not a nurse. She was not allowed to go overseas but she did serve in this country. When the United States Navy Band played anywhere in the DC Metropolitan area, Marie Broglie, sitting in her wheelchair, was always in the first row.
        Mr. Green was walking with us because it was difficult for him to find the chapel by himself. Marie said to me, "Mr. Green was in the Navy too." And I said, "Marie I didn't know that". She said "Yup, he is a Pearl Harbor survivor."
        These stories are being told to you simply to illustrate that every day, of every week, of every month, of every year, these are the kinds of people the Masonic Service Association volunteers are seeing on behalf of all Freemasons. Be proud of being a Mason because you help support this vital program.

        Sometimes nature pays a call in ways that disrupt our lives. Let me illustrate with two examples:
1. Hurricane Andrew - 1992
        There was a small lodge in Homestead, Florida that received some damage but was not totally shut down. It had no power, it had no running water. But the day after the storm they served 2,000 hot meals to people who came into the lodge building. There were National Guard, who had no food because they had not received their rations; there were policemen; there were farm workers-they were helped by the Masons and their families. Seven families lived inside the lodge room for two and a half weeks while they awaited a safe haven.

2. Midwest Flooding - 1993
        Saline Lodge #226 opened a relief center in the basement of the lodge on July 30, 1993 for the benefit of all flood victims of the area which included residents of St. Mary's, Missouri and Kaskaskia Island, Ilinois. This center remained open until September 4, 1993.
        "This center provided relief in the form of canned goods, cereal, soda, bottled water, dog and cat food, diapers, personal items such as combs, shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrushes, soap and deodorant. Milk, bread, eggs, and ice were provided daily, as these items could not be obtained locally from any other source. When the flood waters started to recede items necessary for clean-up such as boots, shovels, mops, were provided as needed."
        From our first appeal in 1923-for relief to help the Japanese recover from earthquake damage-through hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, Oklahoma City bombing, the 9/11 tragedy-the Masonic Service Association has been there to help support relief efforts for those in need. More than 6 ½ million dollars has been raised to help people put their shattered lives back together
        Masonic Outreach in helping those in need expresses both hope and help, almost beyond belief.

        When Homer the Great from the TV Series The Simpsons joined the Stonecutters Lodge they were spoofing Freemasonry. We can laugh at the silliness of what they said. For example, at the end of their lodge meeting they all sang the Stonecutters song which went:
Who controls the British Crown?
Who keeps the Metric System down?
We do! We do!
Who leaves Atlantis off the maps?
Who keeps the Martians under wraps?
We do! We do!
        There is nothing wrong with humor and all Masons ought to be able to laugh at themselves. That was certainly the intent of Homer the Great. However, there are those who say much the same thing and they are not kidding, they are very serious. Let me give you an example:.
        Dwayne Washum has written an article for a publication titled Power for Living which he calls: Why I Left The Lodge - Dwayne Washum's Reaction To The False Teachings Of Masonry. In this article he makes the following statement:
"God began to show me that I was following false teachings of an organization where we prayed to the Great Architect of the Universe," Duane relates. "GAOTU, as he is called, was not the God of the Bible, but rather some sort of a composite deity who Muslims, Buddhists, and other non-Christians are equally comfortable praying to. God began to show me that instead of receiving the truth of His Holy Word, I was receiving skillfully, sometimes not so skillfully, crafted distortions of it."
        This publication was distributed in April 2004. The problem with this kind of distortion of Masonic belief is that many of these so called "Christian leaders" have large followings who must accept and believe what their leader tells them. There is no room for dissent in these extremist groups and toleration and respect for the beliefs of others does not exist. Whatever a leader such as Dwyane Washum or Pat Robertson tells their followers is gospel truth to them. This is the real danger in following those who profess religious certainty.
        Let me take you a step further. There are two primary groups who oppose Freemasonry and attack us whenever possible. The two groups are: religious extremists and conspiracy theorists. Lighthearted as it is, The Stonecutters song fits the conspiracy theorists mold. Let me give you another example. This is from an article in the Washington Post, September 1995 titled Speaker in the Black Helicopter referring to Newt Gingrich.
"Those with a paranoid bent are convinced that the Georgian is in cahoots with President Clinton, the Rockfellers, the Freemasons, the Council on Foreign Relations and the entire Eastern Establishment to abrogate the Constitution and forge a New World Order under the thumb of Jewish central bankers and the United Nations. To these folks, the Contract with America was a cleverly disguised attempt by the wealthy and powerful to impose their hidden agenda."
        From an article in the Washington Post, October 1994, Richard Cohen quoted Pat Robertson from his book The New World Order:
"It is reported that in Frankfurt, Jews for the first time were admitted to the order of Freemasons," Robertson wrote in his 1991 book, The New World Order. If indeed members of the Rothschild family or their close associates were polluted by the occultism of …Freemasonry, we may have discovered the link between the occult and the world of high finance."
        "There is no hard evidence to prove it, but it is my belief that John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated Lincoln, was in the employ of European bankers."
        If you follow the thread of what is being said in these quotes-just two of many that could be used-they combine religious fanaticism and conspiracy theories with anti-Semitism. Freemasons have accepted Jewish men into the fraternity since the 1700's and that of course has been another reason our fraternity has been targeted. Anti-Semitism is at the core of a large part of anti-Masonry.
        John Robinson formed the Masonic Information Center through the MSA in 1993. The first task we were asked to address was the condemnation or attempted condemnation of Freemasonry by the Southern Baptist Convention. Fortunately the final vote was overwhelmingly in favor of letting the individual choose whether or not to be a Freemason.
        You may have noticed there have been fewer anti-Masons seen on TV as was the case in the past. Many of the virulent anti-Masons, such as Pat Robertson, rarely venture into the public sector anymore. They stay on their own tightly controlled TV shows and rarely do guest appearances in the public arena. This is because of strong action taken against them by Jewish and other organizations whom they have attacked. Freemasons have not been as public in our response but we have quietly and effectively silenced many of our critics. Brent Morris co-author of Is It True What They Say About Freemasonry has even had a letter from one of the anti-Masons acknowledging that he will no longer use the Rev. James Dayton Shaw as a source.
        It is important for Masons to be aware of the things that are being said about our fraternity and to have information to refute them. The Masonic Information Center does have a wide variety of publications that respond to these false accusations.
        The Masonic Information Center is charged with the responsibility of preparing and disseminating factual, accurate information about Freemasonry. Not only to members of our fraternity and the general public but to the media. We have, many, many interviews with print media and occasionally requests to be on camera for electronic media.
        No one can elminate the kind of hatred spewed out by the anti-Masons. But, if we confront it wherever and whenever possible we are able to present Freemasonry in a more positive manner.
        Let me conclude my remarks with a composite view of Freemasonry taken from several of the Masonic Information Center publications.
        "True Masonic ritual, as it always was intended to do, teaches the great lessons of life: the importance of honor and integrity, of being a person on whom others can rely, of being both trusting and trustworthy, of realizing that you have a spiritual nature as well as a physical nature, of the importance of self control, of knowing how to love and be loved, of knowing how to keep confidential what others tell you so that they can "open up" without fear. In short, Masonic ritual teaches us to reach for a higher standard in conducting our lives.
        Freemasonry has sometimes been referred to as a "secret society." This is an inaccurate statement. Freemasons certainly don't make a secret of the fact they are members of their Lodges. We wear rings, lapel pins, and tie clasps with Masonic emblems like the Square and Compasses, the best-known of Masonic signs that, logically, recall our early symbolic roots in stonemasonry. Masonic building are clearly marked and usually listed in the phone book. The only thing that could be referred to as secret-although we prefer the word private-are the methods of recognition such as grips, words, signs, and our ritual by which we induct new members.
        Over the centuries, Freemasonry has developed into a worldwide social and community service organization, emphasizing personal study, self-improvement, and social betterment via individual involvement and philanthropy. During the late 1700's, it was one of the organizations most responsible for spreading the ideals of the Enlightenment: the dignity of man and the liberty of the individual, the right of all persons to worship as they choose, the formation of democratic governments, and the importance of public education. Masons supported the first public schools in both Europe and America.
        The 3.5 million Masons worldwide continue to help men and women face the problems of the 21st century by building bridges of brotherhood and instilling in our communities ideals for a better tomorrow."