Summary Assembly 2019: Reaffirmation of Your Masonic Lessons
By Mack Sigmon, Grand Master
Grand Lodge of North Carolina
Grand Master, Grand Lodge of North Carolina
My York Rite brethren, I am honored to have the opportunity to address the 82nd annual Summer Assembly session as your 166th Grand Master of Masons in North Carolina for 2019. I am also proud to be an active member of my local York Rite bodies actively participating in ritual work whenever the opportunities allow me. This past Saturday was a great ritual experience for me being able to participate in the Royal Arch Degree as the Principal Sojourner. My thanks to all who helped plan and coordinate this special event of Chapter degrees. I am hopeful that those who started their York Rite journey will remember this weekend and return each year to our special weekend in Maggie Valley. I look forward to participating in the completion of their York Rite journey at Castle McCulloch on October 9th where I will be conferring the Order of the Temple. I thank Right Eminent Mike Daniels for allowing me the opportunity to confer this Order. I also appreciate your theme for this year’s Summer Assembly session which stresses Education, Unity and Path Forward.
My message today is similar to my district meeting message. Many have heard my message and I am grateful for your attendance at those meetings. Many in attendance today were not able to attend so I want to share some of my message which reflects on what Freemasonry means to me and how is has shaped my life for the past forty-four plus years.
My brethren, as stated at each of my district meetings this year, I am honored to have been elected to serve as your 166th Grand Master of Masons in North Carolina for 2019. I often ask myself, why me? I am not a doctor, lawyer, engineer, scientist or anyone special. I am just a plain simple country boy from a small town in western North Carolina. My early years were spent as an auto technician, then an electronics technician and finally a Marketing/Sales manager selling large power electrical equipment to utilities for GE. So, what did the Great Architect of the Universe have in mind in putting me in this position at this point in time? Maybe it is my love of the lessons that our various rituals teach and that it is time we have a friendly reminder of how these lessons can help bring a positive change to the world we live in. From the very beginning of Freemasonry in the late 1300’s, I believe its true purpose was the development and implementation of the world’s greatest self-improvement program. We thank those pioneers like William Preston, Albert Pike, Thomas Smith Webb and many others for their dedication and efforts in giving us the working tools and plans that help guide us today. Each ritual lesson teaches us not only selfimprovement but the proper way to live, act and treat each other. Our world is extremely divided and has been for some time. I truly believe as Freemasons; we have the tools to make a real difference in guiding this world on a more positive journey. My main goal this year is to help us become better Masons. To be who we say we are. You see the thing that separates us from all other organizations is our ritual. All I really want is for everyone to learn to get alone. It should not be that difficult.
You may discover during my message that I am an emotional type of person. You may hear a crack or two in my voice, you may see a tear in my eye but that is OK. You see my message is from the heart. It may seem harsh to some and step on a few toes, including my own, but I am sincere in what this message means to me. Anyone who knows me well knows of my love of the ritual and the lessons it teaches us. These, coupled with my Book of Faith, guide my life in everything I do and say. My life is far from perfect. It is a constant work in progress. Every day my goal is to move a few steps forward, however somedays I feel I take a step or two backwards. As long as I continue to move the bar forward then I am making progress. In the 11th degree we are taught that Life is a School and that Masonry is Work! It is not always easy being a Mason but that doesn’t mean we can’t be successful if we try. Making good men better as our motto states, making ourselves better, is hard work but as Freemasons, it is truly worth the effort. If your journey focuses only on the social aspects of this fraternity then you have failed to take advantage of what is truly the most important part of being a Freemason. The social aspect is a bonus but not the true purpose of Freemasonry. Making good men better is not just a slogan, it should be a way of life.
For me, it is not important to me that I am more wealthy or successful than others. My main goal in life is simple, to be kind and always willing to help others. It is important for me to always try to speak and be friendly to everyone I meet. When I enter a room, and fail to speak to someone, it is not a neglect of trying but most likely a distraction that I have encountered. I like people and enjoy being around people. Something unique about me is that I can honestly say that I dislike no one. I have zero hate in my heart. I will admit that there are some people I enjoy being around more than others (because they like having fun and enjoy other people as well and always treat others with respect) but I like everyone even if their beliefs and opinions vary or directly oppose what I believe. It does not matter what you say about me either to my face or behind my back, I am not going to dislike you and certainly will never hate you. That is not my nature as a person. We have rituals that teach us to respect others even if we disagree. Our books of faith teach us the same.
Each of us must be committed if we are to bring a positive change both in our own lives as well as the lives of others. We do this by the example of the type of life we choose to lead. Actions always speak louder than words. Each of us has a choice, we can choose to be a Mason or just a member. To me a Mason is one who lives his life in accordance with the lessons taught to him. Some members may choose to be impressed by Masonic lessons when first heard but afterwards quickly return to their previous lifestyle as if they never gave those first three distinct knocks. Our thirddegree charge cautions us: Be particularly attentive not to recommend him unless you are convinced, he will conform to our rules (this means our ritual lessons as well, not just the Code). We need to guard our west gate!
A couple of years ago I was asked for my opinion on the importance of each of the four corners of our Masonic Lodge. As I reflected on my journey, which began with my initiation in May of 1975, this is what came to my mind.
My journey, like yours, first began in the Northwest corner of the lodge. This is the place of our first official entrance into the lodge as one of the profane. Once first received, we begin our journey. If we listen, observe, and obey the many ritual lessons that follow and continue practicing what was taught to us throughout our journey, we should no longer consider ourselves as the same person as we were before. Sadly, some choose to return to their old ways in a very short time. When this occurs, either Masonry has failed that Brother or more likely they have failed themselves in taking advantage of what we have to offer. Remember, there is a huge difference in being impressed by a ritual lesson versus being changed by that lesson.
We later move to the Northeast corner: This is where we are first proclaimed to be a Mason and charged ever to walk and act as such. Our actions from this point should never, and I emphasize never, deviate from the lessons taught going forward.
In our third degree we focus on the Southeast corner: For me this is the point that prepares us for the upcoming transformation of raising us to the state of the person we should have now become. No longer the old us but the new us going forward continually striving for self-improvement in everything we say and do.
And finally, to one of the most important corners, the Southwest corner: The place where we leave the lodge (the sanctum sanctorum) to enter back into the world of the profane. The place of exit, reminding us as we depart of those words charged to us in the installation of the Master “to practice out of this lodge those duties which were taught in it”. The place near where we are reminded that “Harmony being the strength and support of all institutions more especially of ours” is to be practiced. Past Grand Master Gene Jernigan has a practice of closing his WhiteStone Board meetings with these words “are all hearts, right?”. Before closing our meetings, we need to make sure that all hearts are right with each other. That does not mean that you always get your way or that everyone must agree with your opinions.
Freemasonry has no room or place for self-interest or egos. Remember, there is a big difference is offering wise counsel versus forcing your opinions or your way on other members. Lodges are strong when all work for the common good of the lodge but weak when one or a few try to run the show. I have often found the things that upset members most are typically the things that were never intended to be a part of the original plan of Freemasonry. Avoid the meeting after the meeting. These rarely offer productive results.
There are many important lessons in Freemasonry. They should be a constant reminder of the impact they have on our lives.
My Grand Master pin this year is intended to be a friendly reminder of what guides our lives as men and as Masons. In the center is the all-seeing eye. Under the Square and Compasses is an open book. This book represents both our own Books of Faith and our various rituals where we have taken multiple obligations. At the bottom, it stresses that Masonry is Work. Many view Masonic emblems, pins, rings etc… as our chance to show others that we are members of this fraternity. There are, however, several rituals that teach us that these various illustrations are not to be used to remind others of our rank or title but instead are intended to serve as a constant reminder to ourselves should we ever be tempted to prefer anything to honor or duty or for a moment forget that we are a Mason and the solemn obligations that name imposes on us. More importantly always remember, your own actions, appearance and words provide an opportunity for us to attract the best of the best this world has to offer in becoming a part of our historical fraternity, or they can just as easily discourage someone from exploring further an opportunity to be a part of the world’s greatest and oldest fraternity. As Masons we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. Most of us joined this fraternity because of someone we looked up to, a father, grandfather, a member of our church or maybe a community leader. As Freemasons, it is now our turn to be the person others would want to emulate. The choice of how you choose to represent our fraternity is one that you must make every day. There is nothing on our dues card that indicates we are a Mason. It says we are a member of this fraternity. After being raised in North Carolina, we are told that we have been initiated, passed and raised by authority of our lodge of which we are now a “member”. You have to earn the title of “Mason” and you do that by the respect you earn through your words and action. Remember the all-seeing eye is always watching everything we do and say.
I heard a national level speaker once say, while pointing at the altar, that this was the place when taking our obligations that we were first made Masons. My interpretation is slightly different. It is the place where we were first made members. To me it is when the lessons of our rituals, obligations and vows, coupled with those lessons from our own Book of Faith, enter our hearts that we are truly made Masons. How often do you renew your obligations? Consider holding an annual homecoming event at a stated communication of your lodge. Make renewing your obligations a part of that celebration. As PGM Mayo reminded us in 2014, as Masons you cannot pick and choose which parts of the obligation you keep. You keep them all. The same applies to all ritual lessons. To truly be a “Mason” they all must apply and guide your life in everything you do and say. Freemasonry was meant to be practiced not just observed.
Remember, every decision we make in life should be made as if we are passing a test that will be required at the end of life’s journey. There is a prayer in many of our Masonic funeral ceremonies which says; “Almighty and Eternal God in Whom we live and move and have our being, and before Whom all men must appear in the judgement day to give an account of their deeds in life.” To many the thought of doing this is concerning while sadly for others they are either not worried or have no fear. One of the interpretations of our third-degree scripture reading concerning the words “man goeth to his long home” and “also when they shall be afraid of that which is high” describes the time when we all go to meet our Maker and our fear of standing judgement for our actions. You see, I truly believe that each of us will have to make that presentation at some point in time. I spent almost thirty-three years working for a large corporation. As a Marketing/Sales Manager I made many, many presentations to customers explaining why our business and product were better than my competition. Those presentations were important to me at the time. They afforded me a livelihood for which I am grateful. But they also pale in comparison to the most important presentation that I will someday have to make. The one that will count the most. That presentation that will be based on my life and actions and how I treated others on my journey. Our Books of Faith and our ritual lessons clearly teach us how to treat others as well as how not to treat others. They also teach forgiveness. Several of our ritual lessons ask questions such as; If a Brother has wronged you, have you been willing to forgive him and seek reconciliation? Does any Brother entertain ill will or an unsettled quarrel against his Brother? If so, let him now make it known, that the promise may be fulfilled, or the injury atoned for. Many problems in our lodges could be solved if we would be Mason enough to sit down and do what our lessons teach, both in prevention and forgiveness. A simple rule to follow is; if you have wronged a brother-apologize, if a brother has wronged you-forgive. I believe every wrong deserves forgiveness but that does not mean it goes unpunished, if applicable. In the Maundy Thursday ritual of the Scottish Rite we are reminded at the end of the relighting ceremony that “Each man must account for his own actions. What there is, to be our fate and fortune, depends upon ourselves”. Being a Mason is hard, you see Masonry is Work! When considering my masonic journey over the past almost forty-four years, it should be considered in two parts. The first being from 1975-1983 and the second from 2003 until the present time. During this first phase, I spent more time memorizing ritual words instead of focusing on how important each lesson would be in shaping the person I would later become.
The second part of my journey has been more involved than I had ever planned. It is a humbling experience to serve as Grand Master and one of the most important parts of my Masonic journey. I like my predecessors did not seek this opportunity. For some reason, it came to me and I am grateful to serve in this position. As for the second phase of my journey, l have and continue to spend considerable time focusing on the meaning of our ritual lessons and their contributions to my daily selfimprovement. So, what is the most rewarding part of my Masonic journey? Every journey is unique and should leave a long-lasting memory. Some might think the most important part is the honors and recognition that may come your way, but I would quickly say: Don’t measure the success of your journey by titles or recognition. Those will soon be forgotten after our journey in this life is over. Honors are best served when given to those who don’t expect or feel they deserve them as taught in our 4th degree. The most rewarding part of my journey has been and continues to be all the people that I have met along the way. My wife and I talk about this often. We have many friends across this state due to our Masonic journey. Had it not been for this journey our paths would never have crossed.
As mentioned, before we live in divided times. Social media has contributed to the problem. I respect everyone’s right to freedom of speech; however, I am extremely disappointed in some of the social media postings I read from my Masonic brothers and my friends outside of Freemasonry. It is human nature to have differences in opinions, but it does not and should not give us the right to be disrespectful. If you choose to continue a disrespectful path, I encourage you reevaluate your mission as a Mason. If not moved to improvement, please remove any Masonic references from your social media pages as your comments will not represent what Freemasonry teaches. Instead, I hope you will choose to live our lessons as taught.
One of my favorite lectures comes from the second apartment of the 31st degree. In that lecture is a lesson that I choose to follow in my daily life.
“Ever remember that, being human, you must of necessity often err; that those who hold different opinions entertain them as honestly as you do your own; and that you have no right to deny or doubt their sincerity. Especially, never harshly denounce an opinion that more experience and a more thorough investigation may someday compel you to adopt. Therefore, always treat your opponents as if their opinions were at some time to become your own.”
So, what are my main Ritual/Book of Faith lesson guidelines on how to interact with others?
- I choose being disappointed in other’s actions over hate
- I choose being difficult to offend and easy to forgive
- I choose to treat others as I want to be treated (the Golden Rule)
- I choose to pause and reflect before I speak or act. There is a statement in the second section of the third degree that I like to turn into a question before speaking or acting, “is this the proper time or place?”. Remember we are taught that “the mouth speaks from that which fills his heart”. If you are speaking ill of others, don’t repair your speech, repair your heart.
- I choose to follow the words in the charge when installing the Tyler; To set a guard at the entrance of our thoughts, place a watch at the door of our lips, post a sentinel at the avenue of our actions thereby excluding every unqualified and unworthy thought, word, and deed, and preserving consciences void of offense toward God and man.
- I choose to follow the words in the closing charge when installing lodge officers; May kindness and brotherly affection distinguish your conduct as men and Masons.
- And finally, I choose to follow the words from the last and highest recognized degree in Freemasonry; Hate none and Despise none.
Being a Mason is hard, you see Masonry is Work!
Every day we should live our lives with a goal to help others. That is what Masons are taught to do. As I have mentioned before, as Masons and non-Masons, we should live the words of Albert Pike, who once said: “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us, what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal”. Never miss an opportunity to help someone in need both our youth and elderly. It is what Masons are taught and obligated to do. Remember, we did not obligate our lodges to charitable, we obligated ourselves to do so. Contributing as a lodge should be considered a bonus but personal contributions is your obligated duty to aid and assist distressed Master Masons, their widows and orphans.
Have faith that the world will get better with our help, always strive for unity in your interactions with others, enjoy and treasure your friendships on your Masonic journey and most importantly always love one another despite having differences of opinions. You see this is what Freemasonry is all about.
So, when my journey is over it is not important for me to be remembered by any specific titles, honors or recognition. Those will soon be forgotten. I only want to be remembered that I was a nice person, always willing to help others, nothing more and nothing less.
As I near the end of my remarks, I want to offer you this challenge. It is a challenge that I try to give to myself every day. When you stand before the mirror in the morning to wash your face, to brush your teeth or comb your hair, ask yourself this question. Today, am I going to be a Mason or just a member? I hope you do as I try to do each day and live your life as the best Mason you can possibly be. Last year, Grand Master Hallman spoke of the value of time and how we use should use our time wisely. We are taught in the Third-Degree Lecture that the Hourglass is an emblem of Human Life. “Behold how swiftly the sands run and how rapidly our lives are drawing to a close”. It then skips down to “in the short space of an hour they are all exhausted, thus wastes man”. Whether your journey in this life is 20-30 years or 90-100 years plus, in the grand scheme of all eternity it is extremely short. Another degree reminds us; that man’s sojourn here on earth is but a passing visit intended to be a period of probation. Remember, our actions today, prepares us for tomorrow (our next journey).
So, before my Masonic journey in this life is finished, what do I hope for? I hope that Harmony truly will be the strength and support of all institutions, more especially of ours. I hope that everyone truly understands that it is better to love than to hate. The more we have the more we owe to others who need our assistance. And that our duty is not to be better than our brethren, but better than ourselves. My Brethren, that means being a better person tomorrow than you were today, every single day of your life. I hope that Brotherly Love will prevail, and every moral and social virtue will cement us, and I hope that we truly will stand as just and upright Masons ever to walk and act as a such in everything we do and say. So that when it comes time to make our presentation, the most important presentation that we will ever make, it will be an easy one. You see Life is a School, Masonry is Work, but it is important work. My brethren, it is time that we as Freemasons lead the way in Making a Difference in this world. Practice Freemasonry in everything you do and say. Be the example! Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
I thank you for this opportunity to address our 2019 Grand York Rite Summer Assembly session and allowing me to serve you as your Grand Master for 2019. May God bless each of you and may God continue to bless this fraternity that we love so much.
I close with these simple words “I am glad our paths crossed.”
M… W… Dwight M. “Mack” Sigmon
Grand Master – 2019