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Sixty Five Years of Service


Editor note: This is very old... but has very useful
Your Masonic Service Association is mark-
ing its sixty-fifth birthday by updating The
"What is the M.S.A.?"
The Masonic Service Association of the
United States is a voluntary association of
American Grand Lodges. Membership is
limited to recognized Grand Lodges of the
United States and its possessions. At the pre-
sent time forty-five Grand Lodges are
members, including those in Puerto Rico and
the Philippines. The latter voted to join the
Association in January 1946, When that country
was still a territory of the United States.
Associate Members are the Grand Lodge of
Japan and the American-Canadian Grand
Lodge in Germany.
There are no memberships for individuals.
The Constitution of the Association declares
that it "shall be composed of the Grand Lodges
of the United States which have heretofore
voted, or may hereafter vote, to become
members." There is no other requirement for
joining. Grand Lodges become and remain
members "of their own free will and accord."
The founding of The Masonic Service
Association in 1919 is one of the inspiring
stories of American Freemasonry's capacity to
respond to a great national challenge and a
global opportunity. When Masons in uniform
in World War I requested Masonic service and
assistance, in cantonments and behind the lines
in France, their brethren at home hurried to res-
pond to their needs. Practically every Grand
Lodge and many of the other rites and orders
collected "war chests" for programs of service
and entertainment.
To their dismay, Masons learned that they
were denied the opportunity to serve their sons
and brothers in uniform because the national
government refused to work with fifty or more
Masonic groups who wanted to do their bit.
"Give us one Masonic agency to deal with,"
said governmental officials.
Far-sighted and responsible Masonic leaders
recognized the need and the opportunity for
Masonic service. They went to work to create
such an agency. They challenged their brethren
to make their beloved Fraternity responsive to a
changing world and to a greater responsibility.
But progress was painfully slow. Old habits of
thought had to be modified. Fears about
jurisdictional sovereignty had to be overcome.
The ancient specter of a General Grand Lodge
had to be banished.
By the time the representatives of twenty-
two Grand Lodges finally assembled in Cedar
Rapids, Iowa, in November 1918, the first
World War had ended. But the dedicated
Masons who attended that meeting recognized
a continuing responsibility to our servicemen.
Demobilization would not be a short-term
achievement. They also envisioned the future
usefulness of a national Masonic agency, in
peace time as well as in war. They hammered
out the structure of The Masonic Service
Association to take home for the approval of
their Grand Lodges, and went to work to make
it a reality.
As a result, November 11, 1919, saw the call
to order for the first annual meeting of The
Masonic Service Association of the United
States at Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Thirty-four
Grand Lodges were represented. The dream
had come true. Nevertheless, the doubts and
fears which attended the birth of this Masonic
service agency are responsible for one of the
most remarkable conditions ever written into
the constitution of a Masonic organization.
Under the article on amendments is found the
following proviso: that this Constitution shall
never be amended in such a manner as to pro-
vide or permit the development of this Associa-
tion into a National Grand Lodge.
With that prohibition, however, the foun-
ding fathers of the Association guaranteed that
its function would always be service, not
sovereignty. The Masonic Service Association
cannot legislate for Grand Lodges it can issue
no Masonic edicts it cannot create a body of
Masonic jurisprudence. Its purposes are clearly
enunciated in the constitution they are the
benevolent and philosophic goals to which
Freemasonry everywhere devotes its labors:
brotherly love, relief and truth.
The Object of this Association shall be the
Service of Mankind through education and
enlightenment, financial relief and Masonic
visitation and ministering to, comforting and
relieving the members of the Fraternity and
their dependents particularly in times of
disaster and distress, whether caused by war
pestilence famine, fire, flood, earthquake or
other calamity."
In the words of the Association's first
Chairman of the Executive commission,
Freemasons had seen the need for "a united
voice, a united front, some agency which would
enable American Masonry to negotiate
whether it be with the government or otherwise
. . . a new opportunity for service . . . a service
even more necessary now than were the
ministrations which we then sought to afford
our brethren clad in khaki." Out of that oppor-
tunity grew the well-known literature and infor-
mation services of the M.S.A., its program of
"Education and Enlightenment.''
A history of the first fifty years of the
Association, " Freemasonry's Servant, " was
written by the noted historian-author, Brother
Allen E. Roberts. This book is available from
the Association at nominal cost.
The educational program was initiated in
1920 with the publication of Speakers
Bulletins the first a description of the work of
the M.S.A., and the second a discussion of
"The Fatherhood of God," by Melvin M.
Johnson of Massachusetts. These pamphlets
ran to a considerable length, sometimes as
much as sixty pages.
In 1923 they were modified to the present
Short Talk Bulletin, which appears monthly for
use in lodges of the member Jurisdictions. The
first of these was Paul Revere a Champion of
Religious Liberty. Ever since, Short Talks
have been published regularly to provide sup-
plementary educational materials for local
lodges and interested individuals. There are
now more than 732 separate titles, all of them
kept in stock at the Association's headquarters
in Silver Spring, Maryland. Back issues are sold
for twenty-five cents apiece. Individual Masons
may become subscribers to the Short Talk
Bulleting on an annual basis.
As part of its service to the member Grand
Lodges, the Association sends a copy of The
Short Talk Bulletin (and its supplement, Your
Masonic Hospital Visitor) to every constituent
lodge. While it is mailed to the Master,
Warden, or the Secretary, as the Grand Lodge
may direct, The Short Talk Bulletin is sent to
the lodge and should be regarded as its proper-
ty. It should be made available to members.
Carefully preserved in the archives or library of
the lodge, The Short Talk Bulletins can be the
nucleus of a program of Masonic reading,
study and research.
Written by outstanding Masonic leaders and
scholars, they also enjoyed the authorship of
Masonic writers like Joseph Fort Newton,
Realff Ottesen, and J. Hugo Tatsch. In 1924-25
a new contributor appeared, who was destined
to become the Association's Executive
Secretary in 1929, Carl H. Claudy. For almost
thirty years, from 1929 to 1958, The Short Talk
Bulletins were the work of his inspired pen.
Under his leadership the Association
broadened its educational services by
publishing more extensive studies of Masonic
history, symbolism, practices, philosophy, and
statistics,generally known as the Digests of
the M.S.A. These are distributed to Grand
Lodge officers and leaders of the Craft. They
may be purchased by interested Masons. In ad-
dition, the Association makes special studies at
the request of Grand Lodge officers and Com-
mittees. It carries on a considerable "informa-
tion bureau" by correspondence with inquiring
brothers. It is building a library of motion pic-
tures of famous Masonic speakers so that even
the remotest lodge in the country can enjoy the
best in Masonic inspiration at very little cost. It
makes available for consultation by Grand
Lodge committees on education all its resources
of personnel and material, including the exten-
sive Masonic library maintained at the offices
in Silver Spring, Maryland. As the "servant of
American Freemasonry," the M.S.A. exists to
help the Grand Lodges in gathering and ex-
changing information, ideas and tools for
Masonic education.
The great tenet of Relief, which called the
Association into being in 1919, has not been
neglected. Repeatedly the M.S.A. has been call-
ed upon to investigate the needs of Masons and
their families in times of wide spread
catastrophe, to make these needs known to all
Grand Lodges in the United States, and to serve
as the clearing house for funds contributed for
the relief of distressed Master Masons who are
victims of such disaster. All this is done as part
of the Association's service to its members, at
no extra cost to participating Grand Lodges.
As early as 1923 the M.S.A. acted for
American Grand Lodges in sending money to
Japan to relieve the suffering caused by the
Japanese Earthquake. In 1927 it performed
brilliantly in the investigation of needs and in
the coordination of relief activities for the vic-
tims of the great Mississippi Valley Flood.
More than $600,000.00 was contributed by
Grand Lodges to that humanitarian effort.
Agents of the M.S.A. worked on the spot to see
that Brother Masons got the temporary help
and relief that they required.
When World War II broke out, American
Freemasonry was ready to serve it's sons and
brothers in the armed forces. It now had a
single agency to carry on a program of friendly
counsel and wholesome relaxation for
lonesome men in training camps and even
abroad. Between 1941 and 1946 the M.S.A.
established more than seventy Masonic Service
Centers near training camps and military bases,
where servicemen could go for entertainment
and refreshment in a clean and wholesome at-
mosphere. It was able to staff them with trained
and dedicated leaders, members of the Craft,
who loved and admired the men they served.
With a unified agency to deal with government
officials, to establish consistent Masonic
policies in the administration of those "homes
away from home," and to economize by "cen-
tralized" purchases of supplies and equipment
for the program, American freemasons got a
dollar's worth of value for every one of the
million and a half dollars which they cont-
tributed to that remarkable service. Through
their Masonic Service Association during
World War 11 American Grand Lodges proved
that the denial of their "bit" in 1917-18 had
been a serious mistake.
So respected and admired was the work of
Field Agents in this welfare work for our sons
and brothers in uniform that military leaders
and government officials requested its exten-
sion into Service and Veterans Hospilals, when
the mounting number of casualties filled these
institutions as the war was drawing to a close.
Since July 1, 1946, The Masonic Service
Association has been carrying on, in behalf of
United States Grand Lodges, an extensive pro-
gram of hospital visitations, to bring to our
hospitalized sons and brothers the warm
greetings and handclasp of a Brother Mason, a
morale-building gift of some simple creature
comfort, or the patient and willing perfor-
mance of some little service that a bed-ridden
patient cannot do for himself. The magnificent
story of this great "labor of love" is told in
every supplement to The Short Talk Bulletin. It
is called Your Masonic Hospital visitor.
Although World War II and the Korean and
Viet Nam Wars ended many years ago, the
Veterans Administration is still expanding its
hospital facilities. It doesn't expect the peak of
its patient load until near the close of this
decade. Service incurred disabilities have a way
of developing many years later. Our govern-
ment is naturally concerned to care for those
who have borne the battle, no matter when
their disabilities occur. Freemasons, likewise,
must continue their service of brotherly love for
the lonely patients in V.A. Hospitals and in
State Veterans Homes.
The Masonic Service Association is not
merely a group of employees at headquarters in
Silver Spring. At present there are hundreds of
regular and volunteer Field Agents of the
M.S.A., specially trained, visiting in Service,
V.A. Hospitals, and State Veterans Homes.
Their performance is one of the finest public
relations programs that American Freemasonry
enjoys today. But when you realize that there
are more than a hundred and seventy-two V.A.
Hospitals in the United Stales, you can see that
Freemasonry's service of brotherly love is
restricted to less than half of the opportunity
presented .
Why? Because that's as far as the money
goes. The Hospital Visitation program is sup-
ported entirely by voluntary contributions. Not
a cent is taken from he Association's income
from dues paid by members Grand Lodges.
That must be allocated to the administration
and educational activities of the Association.
Contributions are received largely from
Grand Lodges which vote special funds or
assessments, or which make special appeals to
the Craft. Many individuals make contribu-
tions directly to the Association and other rites
and bodies, notably The Supreme Council of the
Scottish Rite, Northern Jurisdiction, have been
generous and faithful supporters of this great
labor of love.
The administrative and educational services
of the Association, which include its publica-
tions, are maintained by the annual dues paid
by member Grand Lodges. These dues are bas-
ed on a per capita of a few cents per member in
each Jurisdiction, with a downward adjust-
ment for larger Grand Lodges after the first
25,000 and 75,000 members. Since unit cost
decreases with quantity, the larger member-
ships pay less for materials but all Grand
Lodges share in the overhead cost of rent,
salaries, initial costs of publication, and similar
expenses .
The management and direction of the
Association's affairs are vested in an Executive
Commission, which consists of a Chairman and
one member from each of six geographical divi-
sions, all elected annually.
The Executive Commission elects and ap-
points the Executive Secretary, who also acts as
Treasurer of the Association. It also appoints
such other officers, committees, or employees it
considers necessary. The Executive Commis-
sion is responsible for doing whatever is
necessary to carry out the purpose of the
Association, in accordance with the policies
determined or approved by the delegates, usual-
ly the Grand Masters, who represent the
member Grand Lodges at the Association's an-
nual meeting.
That assembly is a "working meeting," for
every Grand Master or his accredited represen-
tative is assigned to one of the committees
which review the various areas of the Associa-
tion's activities. They evaluate results, and
recommend the continuance or modification of
practices or programs. Committees function
for an entire calendar year. The annual meeting
must be presided over by one of the delegates
elected from the floor. All acts of the Commis-
sion and its appointed officers must be approv-
ed by a vote of the representatives of the
member Grand Lodges. Complete reports are
made and published. The Chairman and
members of the Executive Commission must be
elected annually. Each member Grand Lodge
has one vote. Control of the Association
therefore rests in the Grand Lodges which com-
pose the M.S.A., through the franchise of their
The usefulness of American Freemasonry's
agency for service has been fully demonstrated
in the sixty-five years of its existence. It has tru-
ly been a servant, not only for the Grand
Lodges in its membership, but for individual
Masons and constituent lodges who seek its
help and counsel. The Masonic Service Associa-
tion has been able to "speak as one voice" for
the Fraternity and in its name it has been able
to demonstrate to mankind that Masons are
sincerely devoted to Brotherly Love, Relief,
and Truth.
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