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Freemasonry is well known for its fund raising – it’s the second largest charity donor after the National Lottery - but what about the work that goes on behind the scenes, offering much needed pastoral care to members and their families in times of need? This side of Freemasonry is less well known.


‘Pastoral support is a phrase that is used a lot, because it’s our duty,’ says Mark Smith, Provincial Grand Almoner of Gloucestershire. ‘There is a perception that Freemasonry is an inward looking organisation, it’s not, it is outward looking and founded on the principles of charity and benevolence. There is the ritualistic aspect, and the social side, but at its core is helping those less fortunate than ourselves.’

Mark coordinates 80 Freemasons throughout Gloucestershire, who help members and their families experiencing hardship. Local Freemasons ‘keep a caring eye’ on lodge widows for example, liaising with the central Masonic charities and local community groups.

They also assist the elderly. If a Mason who has always looked after the household finances has a stroke, then his wife can be left very distressed. ‘What they need is someone to talk to, care and guidance. I might not have all the answers, but I know people who do.’

Freemasons also look out for children and grandchildren. If a Mason suddenly dies and leaves children of school age then financial help could be needed, and a lone parent may be concerned about the children if something happens to them.

Central to pastoral care is the Masonic network, if someone dies then ‘others will know the family’s circumstances, raise it, approach us and then we ask if help is needed.’

And do people say yes? ‘Undoubtedly they say yes, just to have someone to chat to can be a great sense of relief, because there can be a huge amount of anxiety.’

A common source of anxiety is state benefits. The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution has a specialist advice team, providing free guidance on benefits and other issues like moving to a care home.

‘Older people can be confused and frightened about the system,’ explains Mark. ‘My experience is that it’s increasingly difficult to actually speak to people about benefits, you make calls on someone’s behalf, you get put on hold, you get told to speak to someone else and so on.

‘Pension credit is a good example, I have experience with my own father, I’m tenacious and I will get there in the end but someone older, I can see why they say it’s not worth it and don’t bother to claim. But people don’t know what they are entitled to, and some have limited income.’

And while the focus is Gloucestershire, the network also reaches wider. A member or a widow might live in the county but their associated lodge might be elsewhere, so Mark will contact his counterpart and a visiting brother will get in touch.

But unlike fund raising – for both Masonic and non-Masonic charities – it’s harder to measure the pastoral support that goes on.

In Gloucestershire the Provincial Grand Master set a fund raising target of one million pounds in five years. In February this year they reached 1.6 million, and recently gave £14,000 to seven local charities.

Grants are measured, statistics are produced, but there is no means of measuring support and Mark says the wider membership has no idea of the work that goes on.

Then there is the sensitive nature of pastoral care. ‘Most people are too proud to let anyone know about the support they’ve received. They appreciate it but they don’t want to let others know. The confidentiality of the job means their stories are not told, especially if it’s financial help. They are too embarrassed to put their hand up and say, ‘I’ve received support’. There are misconceptions about Freemasonry and misconceptions within Freemasonry, it’s difficult to share the positive stories.’

But Teresa Mills Davenport, from Newcastle-on-Tyne, is happy to bear testament to how the Masons helped her during a terrible time of grief.

One Saturday morning in the summer of 2010 her husband Rob said he was going for a ride on his bike and would be back in a few hours. Teresa went about her normal business, taking care of her 27-year-old son Michael who has severe learning disabilities, autism and epilepsy, and his younger brother 11-year-old Bobby.

An hour and a half later, there was a knock on the door. She opened it to find two policemen. One of the officers said, ‘Teresa?’ and instantly she knew what had happened. Rob, her husband of nearly 21 years, had been killed on his bike.

Over the coming days she was full of despair, afraid of the future and how she would take care of her sons. But, she says, ‘I’m a strong believer and every night I talked to Jesus.’ She also discovered another form of help, because Rob had recently joined the Widows Sons, an International Masonic Riders Association founded in 1998.

‘The day Rob joined I said, ‘what’s that all about then?’ He said it gives help to widows and orphans of Master Masons and I said, ‘OK then.’ It’s ironic isn’t it?’

She contacted Martin Coyle, a Widows Sons member and a Mason in Rob’s lodge, as well as two other Masons, Terry Fisk and Tom Parker. ‘I turned to Rob’s brothers so to speak, and they couldn’t do enough to help me. They gave me emotional and financial support. I had to claim benefits and it was all new to me. They even took us to inquests.’

A couple of months later, Teresa woke up with an idea. She would create a road safety awareness group for motorcyclists, named Dying to Ride.

Martin advised her to contact the founder of Widows Sons, Carl Davenport, in America. ‘I emailed him, I thought, well he’ll help, he’s a Mason and I’m a widow asking for help.’ Carl replied that he would do everything he could to promote the group.

The two kept in touch and then Teresa and her sons went to visit. ‘It was like a fairy tale,’ she says and in March 2011 they got married.

Dying to Ride now has 3178 members. ‘I don’t want to see others go through this, to get that unexpected knock on the door…’ Teresa explains, her voice breaking as she struggles to compose herself, ‘what I'm doing comes from a personal point of view.’

The Royal Masonic Trust for Boys and Girls also helped, contributing money for Bobby’s school uniform and a new laptop, and paying for private respite for Michael, which was ‘a huge help'.

‘They have been absolutely brilliant, I'm so grateful. People say, 'Masons are into all sorts, they're a secret society.' I say 'there is nothing secret about them at all’, and I explain what they’ve done and how they’ve helped. I always defend Masons. People haven’t got a clue; I'd be lost without them. The best thing Rob ever did was to join the Widows Sons.