The last few months have been challenging in many ways, but Ohio Freemasons, as always, have gone above and beyond serving their communities. With so much change in such a short time, we caught up with Grand Master Keith Newton to discuss what it means for Masonry, and his ever-growing pride in his brothers across Ohio, especially during these times.
When you assumed the office of Grand Master, you challenged your Ohio brethren to focus on the basics and live their charter in 2020. What are some ways you have seen Masons and lodges rise to the occasion?
The lodges and brethren around this state quickly embraced the charge to Step into the Light and renew their focus on our Charter obligations. I was very impressed with how quickly they embraced that charge.
Something we’ve seen, especially within the last few months, is many lodges calling their membership to see how they are doing. I had originally requested lodges call at least 20% of their members and many have found such a benefit or satisfaction from the calls that they continued through their entire membership rolls. That simple connection is a powerful thing.
I have enjoyed of a couple calls from friends and brothers just checking in. They are refreshing for me. We’re all so busy that just having a moment where you can relax your mind and connect with a person or a friend has been a nice benefit.
We have also seen several lodges that have done miraculous work delivering groceries and medical supplies to their members and widows. Many others are continuing to reach out to members to see what they can do to help. It’s been very gratifying.
Making Masons has taken on new challenges, but it has really opened up new doors for us because we haven’t been able to physically meet and make Masons. With daily inquiries from potential candidates building up in our membership program, we are improving our processes to better receive them, contact them, and establish the beginnings of their journey to become an Ohio Mason.
What would you say to a man who is interested in joining Freemasonry but is uncertain on how to proceed given the current climate of social distancing?
If you are interested today, I would encourage you to pursue that interest in our fraternity by connecting with the lodge and although we can’t meet physically yet, we can still get to know you through a phone call or virtual meeting. There is still an opportunity to meet and get to know what Masonry is about. Masonry is much more than going to a meeting and there is a way to open that door.
Has anything about holding the office of Grand Master surprised you?[laughs] Yes, there have been a few surprises. One is how fast time has been going by. I never imagined that no matter how much you plan and prepare, suddenly you are six months in, moving right along.
Representing this office has been such an honor. We prepare ourselves during the seven years progressing through the Grand Lodge line…and a lifetime before that learning from mentors we meet along our Masonic journey. I am surprised by how a vision statement introduced in August 2019 has come to fruition. The intended interpretation has taken on new understanding as we navigate a new normal.
I really can’t believe how fast time goes by. That’s the biggest surprise for me. I need to try and slow down and enjoy it.
This turned out to be a challenging year as the country responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. What has it been like to lead the Grand Lodge through this time?
This has been very challenging. This has pushed me into places I never thought I’d be. As I said you make as many preparations as you can so that you can have an agenda and try to make some slight impact to Masonry along the way and leave it just a little bit better than you found it.
We were moving along at a normal pace until March hit and everything came to a stop. I think I realized then that my path was going to be different. No matter how much I prepared I wasn’t prepared for what is happening right now.
But, after I did a little self-reflection and got over the initial disappointment of what was happening, I realized we needed to roll up our sleeves and get busy. Masonry keeps going and my charge, as I reflected back on my installation day and the obligation I took as Grand Master, to uphold the laws of the land and our Masonic Code.
My challenges were how to suspend activity, how to keep Freemasonry active and moving forward, and how to resume when the time was right. My role transitioned from executing my agenda to maintaining the safety and wellbeing of our Brethren. Our average age of an Ohio Mason is 66, putting them right in the high-risk group. Our activity had to come to an immediate halt, shifting the 2020 Grand Lodge schedule from traveling and visiting each District to virtual meetings and conference calls.
What sort of response is the Grand Lodge getting from guys across the state regarding these virtual meetings?
The response has been overwhelming really. Back when this started in mid-March, we very quickly saw our members searching for how they could get together. They were looking for ways to meet and talk. With all the changes impacting, not only Masonry but their lives,
their personal lives, and professional lives, there were many guys focused on finding a way to meet.
When we did see this virtual meeting as an opportunity for that, the Grand Lodge officers and mentors here helped us put together some guidelines for making it a safe environment what we could and couldn’t do. We have seen a tremendous response with people that have been able to create those meetings on a scheduled basis.
There have also been benefits that we hadn’t foreseen. I was initially concerned with just maintaining Masonry or promoting the activity of Masonry, it’s turned out to grow much bigger than that. We have Masons from out of state or Masons that can’t travel so well that now can sign on to their computer and join their Lodge Brothers right on the screen, many of whom want to continue that.
What would you say to your brethren who are missing the camaraderie of lodge amidst the social distancing measures?
I completely understand how they feel, I miss it too, and it’s tough to fill that void. I’ve learned through all of this that we are a social society.
I was overwhelmed with how quickly our brethren began looking for ways to meet. Our tech-savvy members helped us create virtual meetings to replace those physical gatherings. It’s been a small substitute, but it has shown me that Freemasonry is even more than being together. That we can still talk and understand each other and feel supported.
I recommend our brethren remain patient and support the limitations imposed on us during this pause. Keep living our tenets and show our communities who we are. We’ll be back together soon to shake hands again.
Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, Ohio Masons have truly heeded your call to Step into the Light this year and give back to their communities, now more than ever. What does that mean to you?
I am prouder than ever to be an Ohio of Mason today. The love and support of my Brothers never cease to amaze me. These guys find new ways to Step into the Light as the opportunity comes. Masons are known to do that; to step up and take on a little bit more.
That challenge for Step into the Light was a nice hook to allow me to challenge them to be creative and step outside their comfort zone. But, you know, many of us in this fraternity live that in our daily lives. We’re seeing that and I just can’t thank these brethren enough for their support in how they are trying to help in different avenues that maybe they didn’t think would be in their vision for this year. It’s a great group of people.
How have you been Stepping into the Light this year?
Being a Senior DeMolay, Masonic Youth is important to me and I wanted to do something for them in 2020. Thanks to Coordinator Tim Larrimore and the Columbus Shrine, the Masonic Model Student Assistance Program for Ohio Youth groups of DeMolay, Rainbow Girls and Job’s Daughters was a great success in March. This was a way to Step into the Light for our youth.
Developing guidelines for Lodges to hold Virtual meetings during this historic time has been very well received. We are seeing many more benefits from it than initially proposed. Members unable to get to Lodge for any number of reasons are now able to join their Lodge members on a virtual meeting. I have received many requests to continue them in some format even after we return to our buildings.
How have you been keeping busy with social distancing measures in place? Have you picked up a new hobby or revisited your passion for music?[laughs] You know, Sharon keeps telling me to go down to the basement and set up my drums and make some noise, but I haven’t yet had the time. It’s really something, with meetings canceled and my poor car sitting in the garage with cobwebs on it, Masonic planning and business keep me busy. Emails and phone calls continue at a fast pace and virtual meetings fill the calendar.
Today we continue with plans for the Grand Lodge 2020 Annual Communication in Wilmington, OH for 1500 of my closest friends. With crowd restriction levels changing, we’re not sure where we’ll be in October. We are reviewing alternatives with technology to fulfill our responsibilities at a Grand Lodge communication with crowds from 15 to 1500.
So, there hasn’t been time to set the drums up yet, but I have been able to keep up with the spring grass cutting.
Thank you, Grand Master Newton, for all your hard work and your dedication to Ohio Freemasonry!
Interested in more Ohio Grand Master content? Read our current Grand Master’s letter to Ohio Freemasonry.