Very early in his Masonic career—within a hour or so, I’d say—the new Mason learns about charity. In fact, he hears about it several times in his First Degree, about helping the less fortunate, if possible and practical. We’ll get back to the qualifier in a minute.
Nowhere in any of the Masonic degrees, of which I am aware, does it refer to anything but an individual’s own ability to be charitable. The ceremonies don’t espouse that Lodges, Grand Lodges or groups of Grand Lodges get together on projects or mega-projects. But some Masons seem to think they should. “We must be doing something!” is their rallying cry, as if the Masonic goal of improving one’s self is doing nothing.
Regardless, there’s certainly nothing wrong—and probably a lot of things right—when a group of like-minded Freemasons get together and provide charity they can not provide as individuals. Such a programme was instituted about 20 years ago in British Columbia, where Masons, friends and others assist in giving free rides to cancer patients to and from their treatment. Cancer is a horrible thing—the wife of a P.M. of my Lodge is gamely going through treatment; the apron I wear in Lodge belongs to a PDDGM who died of lymphoma—and any burden than can be lifted from a cancer sufferer by a Mason is a true act of Masonic charity.
So it’s with interest I read of the expansion of the Cancer Car Programme on Vancouver Island in this story in a newspaper in Port Alberni on the western part of the Island. Taking a patient from Port to Victoria is not exactly a Sunday drive (have such things existed since the 1920s?). The folks at the local tourism branch say it takes three hours; likely longer if it snows in winter because cars have to go up a steep hill to Cathedral Grove to get out of town.
The rides aren’t restricted to Masons or their families but to anyone in need, provided the cars can get to them.
There have been a few misguided Masons who, over the years, have coupled the programme with another ‘p’ word—“publicity”—suggesting seeing the cars zipping to and fro is “great advertising for Freemasonry” and “could help us get members.” The chastising schoolmarm dealing with recalcitrant students in those gauze-viewed years of the Sunday Drive had the right idea. Such members should be sent to stand in the corner. But not as punishment. They should stand in the northeast corner of their Lodge and be reminded of the meaning of charity.
However, most Masons involved with the programme with whom I have spoken will, instead, talk about the good feeling they get helping others in need and being able to go forth into the world and altruistically provide something to their fellow man, no matter how small. It is thankfully received, they say.
Of course, Lodges and Grand Lodges should keep in mind the phrase “as their circumstances in life may fairly warrant,” and be careful to ensure they embark on projects that are within their means. The worst thing that could happen is for a group of Masons, down the road, to realise they have created a huge, black hole they can not possibly fill, no matter how charitable they are. It’s something even a new Entered Apprentice should know.