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Charity: A Comparison Through Time
by W. Bro. Fred Milliken
The scene takes place in Artificer Lodge AF & AM in the town of Bellows Falls, USA. It could be the 1930s and then again it could be the 1950s. Let's listen in:
"Motion carried," intoned Worshipful Henry Hancock as he gave the gavel one rap. "The next order of business is Benevolence. Could we get a report Chairman Brother Long?"
"Worshipful the committee has, under the leadership of Brother Ernie Weinsted's carpentry skills, repaired and in some areas replaced Widow Esther Frank's porch," reported Brother Long. "It was becoming a death trap, navigating that rotted old porch, Worshipful," he added.
"Last week's collection was donated to Brother Nickerson's next door neighbor in the form of groceries which we purchased", continued Brother Long. "He is not a Mason, just a fellow in need having recently been laid off from work."
"Lastly as Chairman of the Benevolence committee I would like to recognize and thank Brothers Pratt, Dickson, Rezendes and Carter along with their wives for visiting our local nursing home here in Bellows Falls and bringing good cheer and some powerful storytelling to those who seem to have few visitors. I would like to recommend that we send the wives an appreciation note from the Lodge for supporting their husbands and our Lodge benevolence," he concluded.
"Yes indeed! Brother Secretary will you take care of that matter for the Lodge?" queried the Master.
"Consider it done", replied the Secretary.
"A very nice report Brother Long. It always gladdens my heart when I hear what you and your wonderful committee do," praised the Master.
"One more thing, Worshipful. Actually two more," rose Brother Long again. "I would like to remind all Brothers that next Saturday those of us that can will be giving blood at the Red Cross in the name of our Lodge. And also, Worshipful we are more than halfway to our $500 scholarship goal, having raised $300 . We still have five months to go before we present that scholarship to a worthy student."
"Brother Secretary, do we have any petitions for the degrees?" asks Master Hancock as he turns to other matters.
"Five", beams the Secretary.
Now let's fast forward to the 2000s at Artificer Lodge. In the East is Worshipful Randy Ramirez.
"Brother Secretary, what is our next order of business?" asks Worshipful Ramirez.
"Our Community Action Projects", reminds the Secretary.
"Ah yes", says the Master. "I would like once again to appeal to the Brethren for their time, talent and money in support of next month's Child Identification Program. As you know this year we are setting up at the Bellows Falls Mall in the lobby. We need a minimum of twenty Brothers Saturday for six hours and the same for Sunday. The Lodge has allotted $1000.00 to finance this event but we are approximately $300.00 short and I will be passing the hat during coffee and donuts after Lodge. I would point out the importance of getting our name out there in the community as the best chance of getting new members."
Talking about getting our name out in the community, Worshipful Master, are you going to mention the Christmas parade?" rising Past Master Allen asks.
"Oh believe I had not forgotten that", replied the Master. We will be gathering at First and Avenue K the Saturday before Christmas. The parade is two miles long and I need every Brother that is here and more to show Bellows Falls what a great group of guys we are".
"But that's not all, Brethren," continues Master Ramirez. I have great plans for Artificer Lodge which will make us the talk of the town. We are going to adopt a Habitat for Humanity house right here in our community. This will surely show the general public what Freemasonry is all about. For this project we will need volunteers to work every day. For those not retired we will need your services after work and on Saturday and Sunday. Retirees we can use you every day. Now to finance this community action project I will turn the meeting over to Past Master Hines.
"Thank you, Worshipful", says Past Master Hines rising to speak. "To finance a Habitat for Humanity House we will be conducting a different fundraiser each month. January will be a ham and bean supper, in February our ladies will be doing a quilting bee in anticipation of selling the completed quilt by raffle sales held at all our other fundraisers, March will be a Sunday breakfast, April we will have a garage sale and flea market on the Lodge grounds, May will be a gardening sale of donated plants and flowers from our membership, and June will be a fish fry. That brings us up to summer recess, Worshipful."
"I need not remind the Brethren that we will need a full compliment of Brothers to man these fund raisers," chimes in the Master.
"Brother Secretary, do we have any petitions for the degrees?" the Master hopefully asks.
'None, Worshipful", laments the Secretary.
Thus we witness the progression of Freemasonry over a half a century or more. Freemasonry has become all about charity work. Modern day Masons seem to operate under some sort of guilt complex for past success of the fraternity, thus dedicating Freemasonry to long hours and big bucks to helping society as a whole. The biggest change has seen charity evolve from a person to person helping hand, that is one that is face to face and heart to heart to modern day highly labor intensive massive expensive projects. Many of these projects are self perpetuating thus the term "Institutionalized Charity". The same programs come back year after year demanding more time and more money.
And Masonic Institutionalized Charity has become all consuming. It has crowded out traditional Masonic Practice. There is not enough time to practice or rehearse ritual. Thus we put on poor degrees. There is little time for fellowship. There is not enough money for good food, something beyond just coffee and stale donuts. There is no money and no time for bringing in educational Masonic speakers to Lodge meetings. Basically there is no time and money to practice Freemasonry.
But what is equally distressing is that modern Masonic Institutionalized Charity's purpose is no longer relief but publicity. Its number one goal is to get Freemasonry noticed by the public in hopes of boosting membership. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts calls its charity work "Masonic Awareness" and touts MAC Masons in every publication of its Grand Lodge magazine. The primary purpose of all these projects is to make people aware of Freemasonry. If we help anybody along the way, well that is a secondary benefit.
Thus has modern Freemasonry sold its soul to the God of numbers and public approval. As many reform minded Masons seek to return Freemasonry to the basics and to open Traditional Observance and European Concept Lodges, so too do we need to terminate the practice of marketing Freemasonry and trying to court public opinion. We need to return Masonic charity back to its original concept, a helping hand from one individual to another to satisfy one need.
EDITOR'S NOTE: All names and places are fictional and any depiction of real names and places is purely coincidental.
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