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Uncertain Times Strengthen Our Obligation
The recent COVID-19 outbreak has upended life as we know it, and like the rest of the state, California Masons are now confronting the challenge of living in a world on lockdown. Some of our members have lost their jobs and are having trouble affording even the essentials. If you know members of your lodge who have been affected by COVID-19, please learn more about the Distressed Worthy Brother Fund, which can help. This relief program, administered by Masonic Outreach Services, is just a phone call away, at (888) 466-3642, or visit the website here. Please include this information in communications with your members.
The Relief Fund is made possible by the generosity of our fraternity—and of the generations that came before us. Please donate if you have the means. It could mean the difference between a fellow member affording rent, groceries, or other urgent supplies. Donate here.
Meeting on the Level, Virtually
Until further notice, all lodge meetings and Grand Lodge-sponsored events are postponed. Although this isn’t the first pandemic California Masonry has survived, it nevertheless represents an enormous challenge—and one that Masons are trying to navigate in real time.
Already, we’ve seen inspiring instances of California Masons proactively reaching out to their communities, whether it’s ensuring the safety and well-being of elderly members and widows, delivering groceries and medication for vulnerable neighbors, and offering the use of their lodge halls for blood drives. Organizing these sorts of lodge-wide efforts is obviously difficult, and even more so when Masons can’t meet in person. But with the right tools—hello, Zoom!— it’s possible even for the most low-tech among us, as many lodges are quickly learning.
Keeping in Touch in Era of Social Distancing
On Thursday evening, March 18, Grand Master John E. Trauner announced that all Masonic gatherings were henceforth canceled until further notice—a move that jurisdictions around the country and world have nearly all followed. At Sacramento Lodge No. 20, the response was both welcomed and—crucially—planned for. Just two hours after Grand Master Trauner’s directive went out, 18 members of the lodge booted up their computers’ webcams and hosted their first-ever online get-together.
Using Zoom, one of several online video-conferencing apps (others include Google Hangouts, Apple FaceTime, BlueJeans, and GoToMeetings), the members stumbled through a few initial minutes of “can you hear me” and “is this thing on?” before settling into a groove. Lodge Master Gabriel Marisca says for three days leading up to the first web conference, members had reached out to elderly and less tech-savvy members helping them download and install the program, so all things considered, the initial foray was a success.
In Southern California, Saddleback Laguna Lodge No. 672 hosted a similar dry run call on Zoom in advance of their first digital get-together. “Everyone liked the idea of doing a teleconference call in place of our usual business meeting, so we decided to go ahead with it,” says Michael Ballou, the lodge senior warden. Stated meetings are prohibited from taking place online, but per Grand Master Trauner’s order, certain basic housekeeping matters can be conducted via video-conference. Ballou’s meetup wasn’t tiled, of course, but it still served as an important way for members of the lodge to connect, check in on one another, and attend to immediate business, says lodge master John Grace. “Keeping in touch with our members is as important as ever.”
Beyond simple usefulness, the Zoom calls injected a bit of novelty into what had been a trying and uncertain week, and seeing one another’s faces seemed to lift the lodge members’ spirits.
Tips for Hosting a Virtual Meetup for Lodges
In the week since Saddleback Laguna No. 672 went digital, more and more lodges have started hosting online gatherings—part of what seems like a new normal for California Masons. For some, the meetings have even opened up possibilities for more enriching material. “I think we’ll talk about Masonic philosophy in our next meeting,” Marisca says. “After all, just because we’re prohibited from meeting in person doesn’t mean we stop being Masons.
Tips for Moderators
- It’s a good idea to reach out to members well in advance of your first video conference. Make sure those less tech-savvy among you know how to access the meeting once it’s live and how to operate the basic tools of the platform (especially the mute button—see below).
- Set an agenda. Video conferences should be formatted just like any other meeting, and having an established agenda will prevent time-wasting, which can be rampant online.
- If someone has trouble with their video, don’t take too much time during the meeting trying to help troubleshoot the issue. As long as members have their audio, they can participate in the conference. If you’ve followed step one above, you should have a good idea which of your members don’t have working webcams.
- Require all members to “mute” their profile. When you get 10 to 20 or more people on one video conference, the background noise of all 20 can create a deafening—and distracting—cacophony. Members can unmute themselves when it’s their turn to speak or if they have a question.
- Encourage your participants to utilize the “chat” function of most video conference platforms. If one of your participants has trouble hearing other members, or needs to let you as the moderator know something, they can type it in and it will appear for all to see without disrupting the flow of the meeting. These chats can usually be aimed at the entire group or just the moderator.
Tips for Participants
- It’s best to treat video conferences like in-person meetings. If you wouldn’t go to lodge looking disheveled and wearing your pajamas, don’t log onto a video conference looking the same. By taking the effort to put yourself together, you can get into the right headspace. The saying that the clothes make the man is especially true here.
- By that token, be conscious of where you’re going to be sitting for the video conference. Remember, everyone on the line can see immediately behind you. Maybe move that dirty clothes hamper two feet to the right and out of the shot. Make sure you aren’t backlit (like having a window directly behind you.) All the same tips that make for a good selfie apply here: Have your camera eye level or higher and avoid distracting backgrounds.
- Be patient. This is new for everyone.
COVID-19 Resources from Grand Lodge
Distressed Worthy Brother Relief Fund
Get information about accessing services and funds if you’ve experienced hardship as a result of the outbreak, or if you or your lodge would like to donate to the effort.
Gary Charland on Helping Masonic Seniors
Masonic Homes of California CEO Gary Charland on ways Masons across the state can live up to their obligation to take care of elderly brothers.
Instructions on Lodge Events During COVID-19
New rules pertaining to lodge business during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Masonic Event Tracker: Updates, Cancelations, Postponements
Refer to this page for updates on Grand Lodge-sponsored Masonic events.
Grand Lodge staff are still available to assist you:
Your April Checklist
Even though stated meetings are postponed, stay on track with normal lodge business during this crazy time. Stay on track of lodge business and prepare for important deadlines. Here’s your April checklist.
- Prepare any proposed legislation for Annual Communication, due April 24.
- Begin preparing 2021 program plan.
- Begin preparing 2021 budget, remembering to set aside funds for retreat attendance.
- Begin preparing 2021 officer appointments.
- Begin preparing 2021 installation of officers.
- Review all candidates’ progress toward advancement.
- Begin tracking 100% officer giving to the Annual Fund, with officers setting an example through gifts that represent their capability as well as their commitment to our charitable programs.
- Continue to collect delinquent dues from members (were due on January 1).
- Send list of members with late dues to the master for the Retention Committee.
- Send any suspension notices.
- Charity Committee considers remissions.
- If your lodge has employees, file quarterly federal payroll tax form 941 (unless IRS has approved an annual filing of form 944, due in February).
- If your lodge has employees, file quarterly state payroll tax form DE9/DE9C and deposit form DE88.
- Prepare IRS form 990 and FTB form 199, both due by May 15 (unless your lodge has previously agreed to have Grand Lodge prepare these forms).
- Audit lodge books, to be completed by end of month.
- Prepare form 200, due to Grand Lodge by May 15.
- Prepare IRS form 990 and FTB form 199, both due by May 15.
- Prepare insurance premium payment, due in May.
Questions? Contact Member Services at email@example.com or (415) 776-7000.
For Your Trestleboard
Masonic Outreach Services is here to help those who find themselves in need due to COVID-19. Relief includes emergency financial assistance, case management, and information and referral services. Learn more at masonichome.org or call (888) 466-3642 to speak with Masonic Outreach staff.
Question of the Month
Last month we asked how wildfires have impacted your lodge or members. Of those that responded:
- 38% - We’ve donated or volunteered to support the victims of fires
- 33% - Members were evacuated or lost their homes
- 19% - We’ve taken precautions to make our hall building more fire-resistant
- 29% - Other (Wildfires have caused poor air quality, Phone Committee)