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.