Charity, what is it really?

Everyone understands the meaning of charity, don’t they? I am sure they do, which makes an article about charity all the more difficult, but it is a vast subject, here are some points of view and information on Masonic and other charitable givers.

So why charity, can’t governments provide for the needy? That can only be answered by each individual who donates, but even in a perfect society where the state steps in, it can’t provide for every aspect of need. But the state can provide some support, like the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), this is compulsory to contribute to by means of taxes, but if the state provided for each and every need, then this would result in huge tax bills for all, and the needy, of course, simply can’t afford that. Therefore charities exist to fill the gaps and rely heavily on individual voluntary contributions from the generous public who really can afford to share their wealth.

In the UK, one of the largest contributors to charity is Freemasonry. All the monies collected for good causes are donated by Freemasons and their families and redirected to numerous charities via the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), see here: https://mcf.org.uk/about-us/  Freemasons in general do not carry out charitable functions as a group, we leave that up to the professional charitable organisations. However, for example, the current Covid-19 pandemic has seen many individual Freemasons volunteering to provide a service to the community. Using their own resources, Freemasons have manufactured PPE for local hospitals and hospices, they have delivered groceries to vulnerable neighbours, served in food banks and many more local services free of charge.

Freemasonry is itself a very charitable organisation, even in our ritual of initiation, we remind newly made Masons of their duty to each other with these few words:

“,,,,as a warning to your own heart,,,, should you at any future period meet a Brother in distressed circumstances who might solicit your assistance, you will remember the peculiar moment you were received into Masonry, poor and penniless, and cheerfully embrace the opportunity of practising that virtue you have professed to admire.”

We qualify this by adding “without detriment to yourself or connections.”

Of course, as stated above, long have Freemasons provided support, not just to each other, but to the neighbourhood where they reside. My own Lodge, Neptune, which has around 30-40 regular attendees, provides around $6,500 each year to local charities. Also, each Masonic Province in England and Wales, periodically in Provincial groups and in turn, has a 5 year festival, where each Lodge collects additional funds to support the Masonic Charities Foundation (MCF) mentioned above, Neptune alone donated around $40,000 in our previous festival; there are 256 private Lodges in this Province, so you can imaging the grand total collected during our festival. For more insight in the charities of the Province of Hampshire and Isle of Wight see here: https://www.hiowmasons.org/charity/ 

In the USA, Freemasons not only support charities through their Lodge meetings, they also have a Masonic charitable organisation called Shriners. For an example of Lodge charity, here is the page from the Grand Lodge of Virginia Masonic Charity: https://grandlodgeofvirginia.org/charity/. There are 50 states with Grand Lodges, many also have Prince Hall Masonic Grand Lodges too. The Shriners are even bigger, an international organisation for Master Masons, find out more here: https://www.shrinersinternational.org/Shriners. The Shriners also own children’s hospitals, see here: https://www.shrinershospitalsforchildren.org/shc. An estimate of just how much financial support given to charity by Freemasons, their families and friends is around $2,000,000 per day!!! (Ref: http://www.themasonictrowel.com/freemasonry/How_do_I/charities.htm.) That’s a lot of love, but a love that is often missing from some US governments.

Whilst Freemasons donate a lot to charity (for Masons and non Masons alike), the general public do too. The word ‘charity’ can be traced back to an old English derivation and, not meaning to steer the reader towards Christianity, the archaic meaning of the word charity is ‘Christian love; representing God’s love of man, man’s love of God, or man’s love of his fellow-men.’ But I am sure that in all faiths you will find charity and love at their heart.

Charity is an attitude of caring for others less fortunate than ourselves. It is an act of giving of oneself for the benefit of others. Often we simply give money and walk away fulfilled, and promptly forget about it; charity often involves giving a cash donation. However, by giving cash you are almost always supporting a charitable organisation that provides further assistance for the benefit of others, such organisations need cash so they can provide services for those who need them.

I am always impressed by charitable people, and one permanent charity that comes to mind is called Langar, which is simply Punjabi for kitchen, or in reality, community kitchen. In every Gurdwara (a Sikh place of worship) you will find a Langar where a free meal will be provided to every visitor irrespective of their religion, This innovative charity was started by the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, around 1500 AD (CE). Recently this wonderful charity found its mobility on the streets of England serving a free meal to any and everyone who asked, especially important for those who have encountered hard times during this pandemic. Just a reminder, all meals are vegetarian.

Throughout the world there are Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who provide free services to those in need. NGOs are supported by private donations, membership fees and government donations.

Is charity a social responsibility? Well, it is in the minds of many, and when the word socialist is applied to a government, it usually means supporting the needy of the nation along with other government business. In the USA, however, currently the word ‘socialism’ is, apparently, to the current President, a dirty word. But believe it or not the USA does provide support to those in need as, depending on ethnicity, the poverty rate lies between 10% (white) to 25% (Native American). Unfortunately, the so called ‘American Dream’ is everything but charitable! It suggests that everyone can ‘make it rich’ in the USA, which is most definitely not true. The USA has the best medical facilities possible, but unless you are rich enough to have full medical insurance, you will be sent a huge bill if you need treatment of any kind, over 30,000,000 US citizens fall into this category. Now you see why the richest country in the world relies of such huge charitable donations as made by Freemasons. Quite the contrary to Europe, and in the UK and other European nations, medical care is free for all at the point of delivery; we all pay for each of us in taxes.

The types of charities requesting support vary immensely, from animal welfare, medical research, disaster assistance (as in Beirut recently), water aid, mental health, loneliness, children, the types cover just about every aspect of human and animal need. For example, Freemasons support hospices both locally and nationally, they support the UK air ambulance (neither fall under the NHS), and are often first to provide support overseas where a disaster has occurred.

People that give to charities seldom expect any recognition, they do it for the love of a particular charity, they often feel it is a social responsibility and probably feel good about it, and quite rightly so; they do it to help those that need it, and inn return receive that inner feeling of goodness.

Charities also provide education, like schooling, or more especially for those who may have a learning disability. I believe that, if it is within your means, it is a social responsibility to help where needed. But, having said that, there should be no guilty feeling for not supporting, charitable giving must always come from the heart, but only if the wallet can support it.

To summarise, is it not a human kindness to support those who can’t fully support themselves? To educate where it will raise someone out of poverty, provide love, kindness and even therapy to individuals or groups that have encountered a traumatic experience, especially children who may not fully understand; there is so much need in the world. Above all, it really does make us feel better inside, knowing that we have provided something, no matter how small, to assist others who need our love and support.

These articles are written by W Bro Steve Froggatt PPJGD, former Chaplain of Neptune Lodge No 5150 EC. Steve was initiated into Freemasonry in 1986.They do not represent the view of any Grand/Provincial Grand Lodge.

© Copyright 2019 Al-Khabar/Stephen Froggatt all rights reserved 

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About Steve

Steve is part of the publishing team of Al-Khabar. He was initiated into Neptune Lodge 5150 EC In 1986 and completed his third degree by being exalted into Neptune’s Royal Arch Chapter in 1989; he also enjoyed two successive years in the Chair of KS in 1993/4. He has also enjoyed being a Mark Master Mason and a Royal Ark Mariner. He has been honoured with the position of Past Provincial Junior Grand Deacon. All the articles are his own and represent no Official Masonic Body

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