Why does masonic regalia end up on eBay? Director of Special Projects John Hamill puts it down to a lack of family communication and lodge support
Old habits die hard. For many years, for professional reasons, I used to visit antique shops, markets and boot sales to see if there were any masonic items on offer. These days I periodically surf the masonic section of eBay. What was, and still is, available was usually fairly modern standard regalia and jewels mainly for the Craft but occasionally the Royal Arch or other orders. I always found it sad that what was once a brother’s treasured possession should end up on a market stall or car boot sale. Thinking about it I came to the conclusion that two main factors were at play. First was the excessive privacy of our members who never discussed their Freemasonry with their wives or families. When they died, unless they had made provision in their wills for the disposal of their regalia, the family were left wondering who it actually belonged to, whether or not it had been on loan and what they should or could do with it.
The lack of communication between family members became very apparent in the 1980s and 1990s when, as part of the openness policy, I took part in many phone-in programmes on national and local radio. On virtually every occasion someone would come on line and say that they had been sorting out the effects of a relative and had discovered a small case containing regalia and medals – what should they do with it?
The second factor was a group who should have been available to advise widows and families: the lodge almoners. It has to be said that for too long the office of almoner was seen in many lodges as a token act or sinecure to keep a Past Master in the team and on the list of officers. Before the introduction of the office of Charity Steward, many almoners believed that their role was to persuade the members to support the masonic charities, the lodge benevolent fund and the Master’s list. There were undoubtedly good almoners who did excellent work in looking after the welfare of their members and the widows and dependants of former members, but the majority tended to be reactive rather than proactive.
Reversing the trend
When the Craft came under intense scrutiny in the 1980s and 1990s for the first time in generations, we were forced to look at ourselves and our relevance in society. To the dismay of many it became apparent that we were not quite as good as we thought we were in caring for dependants. The central and local masonic charities were doing great work when deserving cases were brought to their attention, but too many were slipping through the net. Almoners were seen as crucial to reversing that situation.
The message soon went out that the office of almoner was not a sinecure but a working office within the lodge. In London and a number of Provinces, seminars and training sessions were introduced, the central masonic charities became involved and began to organise meetings in the Provinces to make almoners aware of what support was available and how they could tap into it. That process culminated in the introduction of the office of Grand Almoner at Metropolitan, Provincial and District level. They act as liaison with the charities and organise the work of lodge almoners within their areas. As so often in Freemasonry, lack of communication was part of the problem. Now there are good lines of communication and support and fewer should slip through the net.
Change takes time to percolate through, but I look forward to the day when I can go on eBay and not be saddened by entry after entry showing what are clearly the masonic effects of a former member.
Letters to the editor - No. 21 Spring 2013
John Hamill’s Reflection and your article on dementia care were both impressive and thought provoking, but I believe there is one area where lodge almoners can provide real benefit, especially for our elder brethren and widows.
It never ceased to amaze me in my years as a lodge almoner how many of those with real needs were unaware of the benefits from the state to that they were entitled, which could make a real difference to their well-being. Because of my background in financial advice, I have been able to help a number of lodge members and widows who have care needs. Attendance Allowance is worth £51.85 per week if help is required during the day, and £77.45 per week if help is required day and night. This money makes a tremendous difference and is not means tested nor taxable. Additionally, it may entitle some to increases in other benefits such as Pension Credit.
The office of Lodge Almoner is completely different from any other office within the lodge. His duty is to look after the welfare of the members and their wives or partners during times of distress which can arrive in any shape or form. And he must also be able to lend a sympathetic ear as those in trouble may have difficulty discussing it with another. His low-profile report in the lodge during the meeting is often the only glimpse lodge members get into his world.
I should like to give you some insight into the world of Lodge Almoners, the reports I will give are all cases I have dealt with. Not all Almoners will have experienced this workload but some might have had much more.
I first accepted the Office of Lodge Almoner about five years ago and during this time I have enjoyed the work and found it very rewarding with the normal routine of sending cards, flowers, paying visits to Brethren recovering from accidents, operations or suffering bereavements. But mixed in with these are the private conversations regarding the problems faced by Brethren, problems which range over every facet of life: perhaps his wife or partner is ill, or his house is too large with an overgrown garden and the need is for a Home. Or perhaps the lodge member is lonely without his family, having trouble with wills, or unemployed or relocating jobs.
These are just some examples of the private chats, sometimes at the lodge, or at home, or on the telephone at any time of the day or any day of the year.
Life can turn upside down in no time at all
One lodge brother had cancer which was in its early stages. We had a conversation at the lodge and then, his condition deteriorating, he could no longer attend meetings so I would visit him at home. After a while he had to give up his car but he could not walk very far and was distressed at not being able to get about. With the help of the Dorset Provincial Care Fund, a motorized chair was purchased to the Brother’s great delight. However, he managed to use it for only a short time. My reward was to see his happiness even for that brief period. His cancer reached the stage when admission into a Macmillan Hospital was necessary. I visited him there regularly and he enjoyed a different face and conversation. He died peacefully with his family around him.
A widow of a former lodge member was lonely. She was living a block of flats in a wonderful location but she had not met anyone. I contacted the Masonic Care Home to enquire about vacant rooms. The staff there were wonderful and helpful; we arranged a visit to this home for the widow and had a tour of the facilities with the manageress. The widow liked it very much and is now a resident, enjoying her life and company. This was a very rewarding conclusion both for her and for me.
A lodge member had breathing problems: we had many private talks but eventually he had problems coming to lodge meetings as he could not walk very far any more. We purchased a lightweight wheel chair through Dorset Provincial Care Funds. This enabled his wife to drive him about on visits. Eventually his condition worsened and he could not go out as he was dependent upon oxygen day and night. I visited him regularly and for Christmas – which was his last – I made up a hamper of his and his wife’s favourite things. My reward was to see the tears in their eyes when they received it.
The last case is sad and a reminder that life can turn upside down in no time at all. A young Freemason with a family, selfemployed, with financial commitments, was hurt when walking on uneven ground one weekend and unable to walk. Suddenly he had no income and he started paying his commitment from his savings. I contacted him, discussed his situation and then got in touch with Dorset Provincial Masonic Care and the Masonic Samaritan Fund.
With the wonderful help from these two funds we could give him some immediate financial help locally and arranged for the necessary operation for his injury. We also made an application to the Grand Charity for financial help.
However, being unable to work during a long recovery process together with his financial problems caused him to become very depressed. I spoke to him on a regular basis but the last time I did so he was in utter despair. The next message I received was to inform me of his death.
I assisted his wife with the funeral arrangements and since then have helped in any way possible. The Grand Charity has given assistance and now the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys have supported his daughter at University. At present she is doing very well and taking exams.
This is just a short insight into the office of a Lodge Almoner. Nobody in the lodge knows what you do, only those concerned and your Provincial Almoner.
And even he does not know everything that passes between you and those you are helping. So do not take this office with promotion in mind. Also, do not take on this office if you are a person who absorbs other people’s problems. You must be able to stand back while at the same time retaining a sensitivity to the situation.
But do accept this office if you are able, for your rewards will be great, in particular knowing that you can help people in a direct way, and this brings great satisfaction.
Gerald Middleton is Lodge Almoner for Northbourne Lodge No. 6827 and Fraternal Lodge of Dorset No. 9649. His wife is also a Freemason.
You can contact Freemasonry Cares to discuss how they can help:
- By Freephone: 0800 035 6090
- Via the web: www.freemasonrycares.org
- By mail: Freemasonry Cares, 60 Great Queen Street, London, WC2B 5AZ