Masonry Matters

March 15, 2012

“Masonry Matters”

By:  Justice Bill Cunningham

Kentucky State Supreme Court

“All Masons Day” 

Kentucky State Capitol

    Frankfort, Kentucky

 

February 28, 2012

Every morning, when I walk out the door of my apartment down on St. Clair Street, the first thing I see is the Old State Statehouse down the street.  It’s a beautiful, historic structure with Greek revival architecture and fluted columns.  It’s been anchored there at the foot of St. Clair since 1830.

As I drive across the river and up broad, tree-lined Capitol Avenue to our “new” Capitol, I feel high.  I’m driving into the morning sun as it reflects off the dome of our magnificent Capitol—the beautiful edifice looming larger as I near its shadows.

I’m on a high for two reasons.  First, that the people of the First Supreme Court District of Kentucky have given me the honor and privilege to rub shoulders with history and come to this historic Capitol to serve them.  Secondly, I am inspired by the vision of those men—those public officials—who over 100 years ago had the vision to lay the plans for the construction of one of the most splendid Capitol buildings in the United States. 

In 1904, the Kentucky General Assembly had outgrown the elegant, but small Capitol building downtown and appropriated one million dollars to begin a new one on that very site.  Frank M. Andrews of Dayton, Ohio was commissioned as the architect.  When Andrews came back with his plan a year later, in 1905, the lawmakers faced a dilemma.  The building he had designed would not fit upon the site where the existing Capitol was located.  They had to decide whether to scale back the plans for the new Capitol in order to fit the footprint of the old one or to keep the plan for the grander Capitol and find a place to visit.  They decided to maintain the larger plan and purchase another site for construction.  They appropriated $40,000 to purchase 33 acres of the “Hunt farm” across the river in south Frankfort.

In other words, these speculative masons kept the vision which was larger than their size.  And today, because of that vision, we have one of the most magnificent and impressive Capitol buildings in the United States—one which people all over the nation travel to see.

What is the vision of Free Masons today in Kentucky?

Our numbers nationwide have shrunk from 4.5 million fifty years ago to less than l.5 today.

Why?  Because we lack vision.  We eat and meet, but have no notion of a mission.  No goals.  No great call from the hills.  No vision.

The Bible admonishes us that “without vision the people perish.”

We are perishing.  We have slowly divorced ourselves from the communities in which we meet, eat and greet.   

 

I have attended several lodge meetings over the last few years.  I don’t hear much going on which is relevant to our communities.  The talk is most times only about future meetings, future eatings, either at that lodge or at other lodges.  No outreach projects are discussed; no community activities in which the Masons are engaged.

My wife Paula and I raised five boys.  They were all outstanding athletes and all played baseball—two of them college baseball.  Needless to say, over the years I watched many youth league baseball games at numerous ballparks throughout west Kentucky.   I cannot recall seeing one single Little League, Pony League, or any youth league team sponsored by a local Masonic lodge.  What a great opportunity to send the name of Masons home on uniform backs to washers and dryers in every county of the state.

 

But alas, we shrink from these opportunities because we have lost our place in the community, our mission, our vision.

We have become irrelevant.

To survive we must have a vision.  Like the builders of our state Capitol, we must have a vision larger than ourselves.

Today, I declare that vision to you. 

By the year 2020, over fifty percent of high school seniors in this state will know who the Masons are and what they do.

Our means of reaching that goal is “Masonry Matters.”

This program is in two parts.

First, it is reaching out to raise and give much needed financial support to the needy children in our high schools.

It may come as a sobering surprise to many that there are high school students in the Commonwealth of Kentucky who are destitute.  By that I mean there are those who do not have money to meet even the basic needs and wants of a high school student. Even in the most thriving school districts there are young men and women enrolled in our public schools who cannot afford to go to basketball games, pay fees for certain extracurricular activities or cover the expenses of participating in such constructive activities as band, the debate team, or cheerleading.

In west Kentucky, several of our lodges have already accepted the challenge and, on a regular basis, are raising money to assist these needy students.  School administrators are given the money free of any strings attached to use as they see fit for boys and girls in need without regard to race, religion or gender.

Except for one condition.

They are required to inform the receiving youngsters that “this comes from the Masons.”

Who knows what long lasting seeds are planted there?

The second part of “Masonry Matters”—or the bookend to the fundraising and financial assistance part—is “Operation Preparation.”

Our Kentucky State Department of Education is begging for community mentors for high school students.  “Operation Preparation” is a new program aimed at providing positive community influence upon our young students.  There is one guidance counselor in the public schools of Kentucky for every 500 students.  Volunteer community advisors are being sought to meet one on one with high school sophomores and seniors for only a short period of time to guide them in their career plans and aspirations.  This is a great opportunity for Masons to get into the schools and meet directly with students in a positive and helpful way.  You need to ask your local high school principal about this program. 

We are at a crossroads in American Masonry.  We can continue to meet, eat, and greet ourselves out of existence.  Or we can respond to this opportunity.   If we turn away this challenge our loss in numbers may prove to be irreversible in years to come.   Said the poet John James Ingalls about opportunity, “I knock unbidden once at every gate—if sleeping, wake—if feasting, rise before I turn away.”

My vision is that by the year 2020, fifty percent of high school seniors in Kentucky will know who the Masons are; what they do; what they stand for.  Masonry Matters will be to the Blue Lodge what children’s hospitals are to the Shriners.

That is my vision.  One of my favorite stories in literature comes from Cervante’s “Don Quixote.”  He has arrived in front of this dilapidated and abandoned old house.  The windows are broken, the shutters dangling askew, holes in the roof, weeds in the yard.  “Look at the beautiful palace,” says Don Quixote.  “It is magnificent with its grand gates and lofty turrets.  It matches the beauty of the palace of Alvacar.”  His servant Sancho Panza is quick to correct his employer, telling him that it is just an old rundown shack, abandoned and in ruins.  The answer of Don Quixote was, “I will not let your facts interfere with my vision.”

We live in frightening and decadent times where fear and doubt are rampant.  Our numbers are dwindling.  But we “must not let these facts interfere with our vision.”

Unless we as Masons hold fast to a vision that is larger than ourselves—like the original builders of our resplendent State Capitol—we will perish.  So, as I close, let me ask you to lift your eyes beyond the troubles and fears of today to the hopes and dreams of tomorrow.  Let us heed the slightly paraphrased words of Langston Hughes:

“Hold fast to a vision

For when a vision dies

Life becomes a broken wing bird

That cannot fly.

 

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life becomes a barren field

Covered with snow.”