It was the first of 28 events we required to attend with the newly elected Grand Master of Florida Masons as he made his required visits to each of the 34 Masonic Districts throughout the State of Florida. We were the 34 newly appointed District Deputy Grand Masters (DDGMs) who he had selected (hand-picked) to represent him in overseeing the operation of the many Masonic Lodges that made up these 34 Masonic Districts in the State of Florida. Dressed in formal tuxedos and accompanied by our wives or ladies, we had just finished a wonderful evening meal that included all the pomp, ceremony and pageantry of our Masonic Fraternity. Knowing that we would be given the same respect and extended the same courtesies as the Grand Master we represented in our Districts, we were all like wide-eyed young boys, astonished and excited to be a part of the Florida Masonic Fraternity Leadership for the ensuing year. It was like our first trip to Disney World and we were taking it all in.
The event was attended by all the Grand Lodge elected and appointed officers, all state and zone chairmen for the various committees that administer the Grand Lodge Programs and all the Lodge Officers and Brothers from the various Lodges in the District we were visiting. Sometimes in excess of 400 people attended. After the meal we all moved to a Masonic Lodge to have the Stated Meeting where we would officially receive the Grand Master and his Party which included the current District Deputy Grand Masters (DDGMs) and any Past Grand Masters or other dignitaries’ in attendance for the honors normally accorded him. For our entrance into the Lodge we were divided into three groups and like my Navy days aboard ship, where the most senior leaders entered the boat to go ashore last so they could be the first out when we reached the pier, we followed the same procedure.
Group one consisted of the Grand Lodge Committeemen, Past DDGMs, Past District Instructors, and the Heads of the Allied and Appendant Bodies. Each individual introduced themselves and they were all men who deserved special recognition for their contributions to our Fraternity.
Group two consisted of the current Appointed Grand Lodge Officers, current District Deputy Grand Masters (DDGMs), and current District Instructors (DIs). The Worshipful Grand Marshall introduced this group.
Group three consisted of The Most Worshipful Grand Master and his Party which included the Elected Grand Lodge Officers and any attending Past Grand Masters who all received Grand Honors. The Worshipful Grand Marshall introduced this group.
It was the duty of the District Deputy Grand Master (DDGM) of the District we were visiting to preside over the meeting. So, the local District Deputy Grand Master (DDGM) and the Officers of the Lodge along with the attending Brothers proceeded into the Lodge to reopen the Lodge in order to formally receive the Grand Master. This became a time of waiting for us.
Waiting can be a painful experience but in this case it wasn’t. It gave us time to retrieve our aprons and get properly dressed for the meeting. Although the 34 DDGMs had initially met at our formal day –and-a-half DDGM orientation in St Petersburg approximately two-and-a-half months earlier, this was our first official visit together and our first opportunity to gather as a group and talk among ourselves. So, we gathered in the hall or an adjoining room to wait for our time to make our formal entrance. Here we reintroduced ourselves to each other, we told stories, shared experiences, and got to know each other at a level beyond the Masonic Brotherhood and it really afforded us the opportunity to become lifelong friends. We were truly wide-eyed, excited, “boys in the hall” socializing, sharing our strengths, building on our weaknesses, eager to become those “men in the arena,” strong masons, who could perform our duties at the level our Grand Master expected of us. After attending several of these meetings we became closer and even conspired to play tricks on the Grand Marshall, such a hiding from him when he came out of the Lodge to usher us back in. This somewhat private time we spent together, waiting to be ushered into the Lodge, was important time that allowed us to bond together as a special group of leaders. It made us feel important as a team and to use the experiences, background, and knowledge of each other to build our own self-esteem. This further allowed us to focus, in a unified manner on the mission and goals put forward by our Most Worshipful Grand Master for our Fraternity. We had come of age and truly become the, “men in the arena”.