Grand Lodge Publications Ltd,
Freemasons' Hall, Great Queen Street, London,
Copyright © 2011–2013
REPRINTED FROM FREEMASONRY TODAY
FREEMASONS HELPING THE COMMUNITY
by CAITLIN DAVIES
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
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
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
International Masonic Riders Association founded in
‘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.’
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.
THE COMPLETE STORY HERE