M⸫W⸫ Chris J. Coffman, Grand Master
Grand Master’s Address
I stand before you with a so many emotions that it is impossible to explain. I am extremely honored by the trust you have placed in me and I promise that I will do everything that I can to support our Gentle Craft, to guide us through these troubled times and help assure that we will continue for generations to come. This Annual Communication was not what any of us desired. I am saddened that MWB Woody was not able to have the Annual Communication he expected. Next year we will give him the honors he justly deserves.
Additionally, I am saddened that my Masonic mentor, my father, and the biggest supporter of our Craft, my mother, are not here. The ravages of time and age took both of them before this journey was set in motion. I miss them very much.
Six months ago, my partner, the love of my life, was taken from me and my family. The impact of her absence today is immeasurable. We started planning this event the day after you elected me Junior Grand Warden. As many of you know, Lynn was a planner and she made sure that everything laid out for us. My thanks and sincere gratitude go to Melinda, Karolyn, Robin, Jane, and Jennifer who have agreed to handle many of things she would have done. Your help eases the burden of losing her.
One of the first things we did three years ago was to develop a theme. We decided Remember the Past, Visualize the Future was particularly fitting. Our thinking was that Masonry needs to remember the contributions of our predecessors. Not only the famous like George Washington, but also the lesser known whose contributions continue support our gentle craft. For example, in 1932-33 Masonic year, the Grand Lodge Masonic Home Fund received a $5,000 bequest from the estate of Clara Duncan, as well as numerous other gifts as small as $1. While I do not know anything else about Clara, I thank her for her continued support. The generosity of Clara and many, many others is how we finance the operations of Grand Lodge and Washington Masonic Charities.
I applaud MW Brother Woody for his challenge to the Brethren to contribute $40 dollars to Washington Masonic Charities. I likewise challenge my Brothers to do so again this Masonic Year. It is my hope to split such donations between the On the Level, Student Success program, which helps unaccompanied students graduate from High School and the Washington Masonic Charities Endowment fund where the donations will continue to support our charitable activities well into the future, like Clara Duncan did so many years ago. Both of these programs, Visualize the Future.
Additionally, I do have coins and a team tie which are available for sale. I do not think of these as fund raisers, but collectibles. Every year the Grand Master has his pin and this year is no different. Lynn’s pin is also available. There is no charge for these, but if a Brother or lady wishes, donations can be made. The profit from the sales of ties and coins as well as all donations received, will be split between two programs. The first is the Shriners Hospital in Spokane. We all know the good work done by Shriner’s Hospitals, and I do not need to explain that to you. The second program is one that is very personal to both Lynn and I. It is the vision program at the Seattle King County Free Health Clinic. Lynn was the vision coordinator for several years. She stepped down from that position after I was elected JGW because the Conference of Grand Masters occurs at the same time. This program provides free eye examination and glasses to uninsured and underinsured from a wide range of locations. The vision program this last February was dedicated to Lynn’s memory. This year they provided prescription eye glasses over 1,100 patients. Additionally, they made arrangements for almost 100 more patients to receive free treatment for cataracts and glaucoma. Those patients came from locations with over 200 distinct zip codes. This is a worthy cause that we as Masons should be willing to and able to support.
Many of you know that I was trying very hard to visit all of our Lodges before assuming the mantle of Grand Master. Sadly, I failed in that endeavor. Between the impacts of the COVID-19 virus and the untimely loss of Lynn, there were scheduled visits that had to be postponed. To those few Lodges I missed I apologize and promise to do everything I can to visit them this year. I visited the Lodges not because I wanted to accomplish some great feat, but rather I wanted to hear from my Brothers and ask them what they would like to see Grand Lodge do.
Based on that feedback, I am not introducing any landmark programs. I strongly believe that we have many programs that if, actually used by Lodges address most of the comments I received and those programs will assist the Lodges in thriving. I will not go through all the programs that are available; but, will mention a couple.
One item I heard numerous times was Lodges wanted help getting new members. The television advertisements produced by the Public Relations Committee have been running for a few years. A new nation-wide website “Be a FreeMason.org” recently went live. The Grand Lodge Office receives inquiries from both of these efforts that are referred to Lodges. If Lodges contact these men and use the tools available like the six steps program (borrowed from British Columbia and Yukon), then they learn about the potential candidate. We learn if this man is a suitable candidate for our degrees and, this is very important, we can determine if our Lodge is the right one for him. If he is suitable for Masonry, but your Lodge is not the right place, refer him to another Lodge in your vicinity that may be a better fit. Additionally, the Public Relations Committee that can also help you let the public know about good things your Lodge accomplishes, which will help bring interested men to your door.
The second major theme I heard was Grand Lodge needs to do better in communicating with the membership. There are a couple of aspects to this. First, Grand Lodge has several means of communicating with its members. We have Grandview, the member portal. It can be used by Lodges to post their minutes, notices of events, etc. It is also used at the state-wide level to make announcements and other communications. Your Grand Lodge also has a Facebook page—Freemasons of Washington where this event is being broadcast live. Grand Lodge has a twitter account and there is the Monthly Grand Lodge Messenger. However, these platforms only work if you read them. Additionally, we have posted YouTube videos. I have attended meetings where members have said Grand Lodge never tells the Lodges what is happening in the state. When I asked if the members knew about Grandview, etc., they say yes, but they don’t use them. Communication is a two-way street, I can stand up here and yell all night, but if you do not hear what I said, it matters not.
One of the lessons learned by the COVID-19 pandemic is that while we may be separated, we can still communicate. I am aware of several Lodges and Districts that have set up weekly virtual meetings where Masonic education can be shared, and just plain fellowship. Let’s not forget this tool when the current crisis is over.
I remind you to be careful in what we say. My Brothers we live in an age when sending hard copy documents is no longer the norm. Unless you get someone’s attention in 15 seconds, you have lost the chance to communicate. Society as a whole wants instant gratification. We need to move into that reality. But that does not mean we can lose our values. We have all seen Facebook posts, twitter feeds and the like that lack civility and would fail that old test, “what would your mother think if she saw blank on the evening news?” This applies to all of our actions. If you have a Facebook page, twitter account or other social media, then use it in a respectful manner. If you identify yourself as a Mason, do not post items that defame others by name, religion, ethnicity, or race. Remember that we have Brothers of every race, religion, and creed and you would not look kindly if a Brother cast dispersions about you or your family, religion, or creed. Masonry must be above that fray and be the guiding light back to civility.
The second aspect of this year’s theme, visualize the future, has multiple meanings. Lynn was an optician and it seemed only appropriate when the term starts in 2020 that vision be part of the theme. We need to decide where we want this fraternity to be 5, 10, 20, 50 years from now.
Many of my predecessors have tried to get Lodges to develop Long Range Plans. They had limited success. Our Grand Lodge has also had limited success with its Long Range Plan. I believe that Long Range Planning is essential for every organization, but an essential aspect of Long Range Planning seems to be missing. The first step for Lodges and the Grand Lodge is to determine what is the reason it exists, what do the members hope to accomplish.
Visualizing the Future also means that we can’t just rest on our laurels and the generosity of our predecessors. That is why I am encouraging my Brothers to contribute to the Washington Masonic Charities Endowment fund.
There is one initiative for this year. Approximately 20 years ago there was a special committee formed to look at the Grand Lodge Committee structure. It is time to do so again. I am appointing a special committee to do a thorough review of our committees and make recommendations as to whether a committee should continue, whether its purpose should change, or whether it should just continue as is. Thank you VW Matt Appel for agreeing to Chair this valuable Committee.
My Brothers, I am humbled by your support for me and my family over the last six months. The outpouring of support really demonstrates the greatness of our Gentle Craft. I don’t know how I could of handled this time without the cards, e-mails and posts. The phone calls from Brothers just to check on me are greatly appreciated. A special thanks goes to Right Worshipful Clint who would frequently call just to say hello and ask if there was anything, he could do for me. Thank you, Clint.
It is unfortunate that this installation could not have been more public. I am glad that we are able to stream it for others to see.
A special thank you to Olympia Lodge No. 1 and WB Loren for allowing us to use this building for this Annual Communication. Organizing this event has been difficult and your help has made it much easier.
My heartfelt thanks go to MW Brothers Gale and Warren. It was very important to me to have you be part of the installation. I know that several members of my family wished to be here, but under the circumstances it is not possible. I want to mention them anyway, my Brother James who lives in Hawaii planned to be here and so was my sister Peggy, who is a Past Worthy Grand Matron of OES in Washington. Peggy wanted to officially and personally present me with the family gavel that I am using today. It was originally used by my Great Grandfather and has been used many, many times by my family. My son and Brother Clinton, his children Nevaeh, Annabelle, and Collin. And my daughter, Sarah, her husband Tanner and their 5 children, Lucas, Natalie, Rebekah, Katelynn, and Malachi. They were looking forward to going to Great Wolf this year, I know that you are watching thank you.
To Cameron, Ed, Steve, and of course Clint. Thank you for your willingness to serve this Great Fraternity. I look forward to this year. It will be a success because of your participation.
To my appointed officers. Thank you for agreeing to be part of this team. You are appreciated beyond what you may realize. I think it is important as we visual the future that Grand Lodge Officers should not be same Brothers year after year. This year I appointed 14 officers. 13 of them had never held a Grand Lodge Office before. The average age is 58. I thought it very important to have appointed officers from throughout the state. Too often in the past there has been a feeling among some that Grand Lodge is just a bunch of guys from the West side. I can tell you that is not what any of YOUR elected officers feel. You may note that 7 of these Brothers reside in Eastern Washington and 7 reside in Western Washington and everyone of them is deserving of the position they now hold.
To my deputies and committeemen thank you for your service.
REMEMBER THE Past, Visualize the Future.
M⸫W⸫ Chris J. Coffman