First I want to thank you for electing me and giving me the opportunity and honor of serving you and our Grand Chapter.  It is a responsibility which I readily accept and will, with God’s help and that of my Companions, do all in my power to fulfill.

As I sit and contemplate all that has brought me to this moment, I remember my first exposure to Freemasonry. I remember being on vacation in Puerto Rico and watching my uncle getting ready for Lodge; my aunt telling me not to disturb him as he prepared for his meeting.  I remember him joining others as they walked down the street on their way to Lodge.  To me, it looked like a parade; but even at that age, I understood that,”… This was what real men did.”  Although I hoped I would one day follow in his and my other uncle’s footsteps, I never could have dreamed that it would lead me here.

As a member of our Royal Arch, I have learned many things from those who have gone before me.  Within my Lodge, Chapter, District, and especially as a member of this Grand Body, I have had the opportunity to be mentored and learn from some truly great men who have become more that just Brothers, Companions and friends.  They have taught me that in order to be a good Royal Arch Mason, you must first be a good Mason.  They have shown me that there is indeed,”… an Intimate connection between the Holy Royal Arch and the Master Mason Degree.”

Companions, the only way we can continue to grow as an organization within Masonry and this Jurisdiction is by celebrating that “Intimate Connection”.  We have to change the question we ask from, “Would you like to become a Royal Arch Mason?” to, “Why aren’t you a Royal Arch Mason?”  In order to do this, we have to increase our activity and effective presence in our Lodges as we promote Royal Arch Masonry.

We currently have several opportunities that have converged to allow us to grow at a pace that we have not experienced in many years.  Along with a renewed interest in Freemasonry, there is also a heightened interest in the history, values, and further light that can be found within the Holy Royal Arch.  Brothers in our Lodges are asking for more light, the light which we provide in Royal Arch Masonry.

How do we intend to promote this “Intimate Connection”?  First, we must let everyone know we exist.  Yes, there are those who do not know who or what the Royal Arch is.  We plan to do this through increased participation and visibility.  We will “Fly Our Colors”, so to speak, by becoming more involved in our Lodges, Districts and Masonic community.  We will be using our newsletters, social media and our website to promote our Companions, our Chapters, our Charities and our Educational Programs.

We will be reaching out to our District Deputy Grand Masters and Masters of our Lodges, in order to let them know who our leaders are within their districts, where we meet, and what we have to offer.  Our District Deputy Grand High Priests will also be forming district teams in order to offer the Peculiar Stone and the Fervency and Zeal programs in Lodges.

This past year, with the support of Most Worshipful Thomas, we have been trying something new.  He has allowed us to wear our Red Aprons and Regalia in Lodges, from Opening to Closing, as long as we are there to present a Royal Arch program.  The opportunities that this has offered us throughout the State have been extremely successful.  Most Excellent Williamson, our Deputy Grand Master, has promised that we may continue “Flying Our Colors” is this manner, as long as we follow several very simple rules:

  1. We must be there to present a Royal Arch program.
  2. We must keep the District Deputy Grand Master informed.
  3. While at the Lodge, if we sit in a Chair to assist in any Blue Lodge Ritual, we must NOT do so while wearing Royal Arch Aprons or Regalia. No Exceptions, Take Them Off!

I want to again thank Most Worshipful Thomas and Most Excellent Williamson, for their support and this great opportunity to demonstrate our “Intimate Connection”.  They truly understand that a good Royal Arch Mason is first and foremost a good Mason.

This leads me to another manner in which we will be “Flying Our Colors” and celebrating Royal Arch Masonry.  This year we will be having public Rededication ceremonies for six (6) of our Chapters.  Holy Ark Chapter No. 304 in Lackawanna, our own Deputy Grand Master’s Chapter will be celebrating their first 25 years on Wednesday, May 18.  This will be a very special and well attended event, since it will occur just two weeks after he becomes our Grand Master.

That same week on Saturday, May 21, Sandy Hill-Granville Chapter No. 189 in Hartford will be celebrating 150 years of Masonry by re-dedicating their Chapter.

On Sunday, August 28th, we will be having a very unique re-dedication ceremony.  On that date, three Chapters in the 11th Capitular District, Cayuta-Elmira No. 42, New Jerusalem No. 47 and Eagle Chapter No. 58 will all be celebrating their 200th anniversary with a joint Re-dedication Ceremony.  This will be a very historic occasion.

On February 11, 2017, Oneida Chapter No. 57 in Utica, just a few miles from the Masonic Care Community will also be celebrating their 200th Anniversary.  We will be publicizing all these events and encouraging everyone to attend Mason and non-Masons alike and help us to celebrate these historic Masonic institutions in their communities.

As part of our increased participation and visibility throughout the state, we will continue to support our Masonic Youth groups.  We all understand that the Rainbow, Triangle, and DeMolay are important parts of our future.  With that in mind and in order to encourage the support of our Masonic Youth Groups I have introduced a new award to be presented to the Chapter that demonstrates the most participation with our youth throughout the year.  The awards will be presented at our next Grand Convocation in March by the three youth leaders themselves.

Our Royal Arch Charities are shining examples of the good and hard work in which our Companions are involved.  Under the chairmanships of M.·.E.·. Michael Dunn and R.·.E.·. Grant Held, every year more and more Companions have pledged to support our charities by joining the Zerubbabel Society.  In fact, we now even have Chapters and Districts joining, as all the Chapters in the First Capitular District recently did.  Two years ago we introduced two very attractive pins to be presented along with the society’s medal.  The red stone pin is given, along with the medal, when a Companion first joins the Zerubbabel Society.  When they complete their $1,000 pledge they are awarded a second pin with a clear diamond stone.  Much to our delight, our Companions have continued to show their generosity.  As a result this year we are introducing a new pin which will have two diamonds and will be presented to Companions who have given $2,000 in donations.

Every year our Chapters and Districts have worked diligently to support our Charities.  They host several different types of fund raising events such as Table Chapters and Golf Tournaments.  This year I am asking each District Charity Chairman to have at least one (1) additional fund raising event in addition to their District Table Chapter.  It does not matter what the event is, or even how much they raise, as long as it is one additional event.  When I first came up with this idea, I heard from many chairmen saying that they did not know what to do.  So in order to assist our Charity Chairmen, I have appointed R.·.E.·. Joseph Hummel as the Grand Chapter’s Charity Event Coordinator.  He thinks out of the box and has come up with many good ideas.  It will be his job to work with each Charity Chairman to ensure that this gets done in addition to being a resource for them with ideas and contacts throughout the Jurisdiction.

Ritual and Education have always been integral parts of Royal Arch Masonry.  We will be continuing to emphasize both throughout the state by requiring each Chapter to recertify on Opening and Closing as well as through our Ritual requirements for each Chapter.

The Ritual Requirement for the upcoming year is based on our emphasis on Masonic Unity and our “Intimate Connection” with our Blue Lodges.  If there is any facet in Masonry which separates us from other organizations while at the same time providing a sure and constant support for all Masons, it is Ritual.  The Ritual encompasses Masonic life and light.  Its wisdom is not categorized or confined to the Symbolic, or the Capitular, or the Cryptic, or the Templar. It addresses us all, simply, as Masons.

A commonality of all York Rite Degree Rituals is the Obligation.  The root meaning of this word is to bind together.  The purpose of the Obligation is not only to bind the Brother to his expanded Masonic duties but also to bind his Lodge, Chapter, Council and Commandery in providing him the opportunity and support to fulfill his obligations.

This view is the underpinning of this year’s Ritual requirement.  All Chapters at the Assistant Grand Lecturer’s visitation will present the four (4) Obligations contained in the Mark Master Mason, Past Master, Most Excellent Master, and Royal Arch Degrees beginning with, “Say I…” and ending with, “In testimony of your sincerity…”  After this presentation, the Assistant Grand Lecturer will lead a discussion based on the ways these Obligations can be met in the Royal Arch as well as how they build upon the Obligations of the Symbolic Lodge.  The Grand Lecturer, R.·.E.·. Peter Pizzorno has been tasked with generating materials to aid the Assistant Grand Lecturers in these presentations.

In order to assist each District in presenting the Capstone and Capitular Development courses, we will be developing Train-the-Trainer programs for our Districts.  We are also placing additional emphasis on our mentoring program as well as our pre-degree education program.

Through my own personal experiences and by comparing this with the experiences of many others throughout the years, I strongly believe that in Masonry all Ritual advancement is meant to be done at a pace in which the Candidates/Brothers are given ample opportunity and time to become proficient and educated in the lessons contained in our Rituals.  In this manner they are given the tools and skills to lay the square and level foundations on which to construct their own Masonic Temples.

Festivals falsely promise the incorporation of substantial numbers into our Craft within a minimum amount of time using the available Ritual talent in a District or Region.  Unfortunately, a substantial number of Companions exalted at Festivals do not continue in Royal Arch and those that do remain drop out due to not being properly exposed to the education and attention they would have received during a normal Degree cycle.

The following Festival procedures are meant to give structure to the process with the hope of overcoming the above mentioned issues.  We will review this policy as the year progresses and make modifications as needed.

  1. A Dispensation will NOT be granted to a Festival that includes the Holy Royal Arch Degree.  The Holy Royal Arch will be kept as a separate entity and held, as per Constitutional Regulation, no sooner than seven (7) days after the Most Excellent Master Degree.
  2. No matter the number of degrees being held, the District Deputy Grand High Priest and Assistant Grand Lecturer should be kept informed and included in the planning of the degrees.  They are a valuable resource within the District and ultimately responsible for the successful presentation of the Ritual.
  3. In order to be considered for a Dispensation, the following information must be supplied to the Grand High Priest:
    1. The estimated number of Brothers receiving the degrees.
    2. A complete list of parts for the Degrees involved and the names of those Companions who will be doing the parts.
    3. Pre- and post- educational plans for the participants.
    4. In addition to the District Deputy Grand High Priest and Assistant Grand Lecturer, the names of those Companions involved in the organization of the Festival.  The Grand Lecturer will be a member of this group and serve as an educational resource and facilitator.
  4. Three (3) Weeks Prior to the Festival the following information will be sent to the District Deputy Grand High Priest, Assistant Grand Lecturer and the Grand Lecturer:
    1. A finalized list of parts with back-ups (if possible).
    2. An updated list of Candidate/Brothers with their Chapter affiliations.
    3. Time schedule for the Degree conferrals.
  5. Within Two (2) Weeks after the Festival a list from the involved Chapters of the newly Exalted Companions together with their assigned mentors will be forwarded to the Grand Council, Grand Secretary, Education Committee Chairman and the Grand Lecturer.

I strongly believe that this year’s plans will continue the great work that all our Companions, Chapters, and Districts have been doing.  These plans continue the course set down over seven years ago when the Grand Line members developed the 11 point plan which has given form and focus to the efforts of our Grand Chapter during this time.

I now wish to thank a very important group.  A group whom without their support many of us would be unable to function in our capacities as Royal Arch Masons.  We could not participate and enjoy this great craft if it were not for these special individuals.  I want to thank our spouses, families, and loved ones.  Their support on so many levels makes it possible for Royal Arch Masonry and its members to do so much.  I especially want to thank my wife, Carmen, for everything she does.  She has always been at my side, offering her support and encouragement through everything we have done in Masonry and in life.  I can never thank her enough for her love and understanding, but I promise I will always try to do so.

Finally, I wish to thank the Great “I AM”, the Great Architect of the Universe, for setting me on this path while lighting the way.  I want to thank him for giving me his love, his strength, and his support to continue the work of rebuilding his Temple and especially for giving me this opportunity to work with all of you, this opportunity to make History by daring to shape the future as all Masons have done for over 300 years.

With Fervency and Zeal,

Raymond Roché
Grand High Priest – 2016
Grand Chapter State of New York Royal Arch Masons