The following article comes from the book Alberta Workshop which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro. Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.


Bro. Ralph Johnstone


Fifteen Grand Jurisdictions were canvassed:- Canada, England, Scotland, New Zealand and our four closest neighbours in the U.S., from Washington to Montana. Eleven replies were received. Information was requested on what each jurisdiction was doing in the way of Charity, sponsored at the Grand Lodge, and Lodge level, and each was asked to provide a short resume of the project, how it started, the number of people initially involved, and the length and success of the projects. In the time available today, three have been selected for complete review, two for special mention, and the balance summarized.

First let’s look at our own endeavours and use them as a basis for comparison.

ALBERTA: 157 Lodges 13,000 Members In 1919 three funds, The Masonic Home and School Fund, The Hillcrest Disaster Fund, and the Masonic Great War Fund were amalgamated into the Masonic Benevolent Fund which is now comprised of the Capital Fund and The Relief Fund. Benevolence is dispensed by the Relief Fund from income generated by the Capital Fund, and from specific donations. It is restricted to the relief of distress among Masons of this jurisdiction and their relatives. In fact, in the past, non-Masonic bodies have applied for assistance and because the fund is a “Trust”, the requests were denied. In 1987 the harsh economic times forced the Board to use some of the Capital Fund to supplement the Relief Fund to meet the needs of those who were deemed worthy. This is causing some concern, for if it continues, the Capital Fund could be severely depleted.

The other charitable endeavour is the Masonic Higher Education Bursary Fund which receives donations from the Brotherhood by annual appeal, other donations, and from interest generated from the reserve fund. The 1988 Proceedings state that donations amounted to $36,400.00, which averages $2.80 per member.

MANITOBA: 96 Lodges 9,348 members Rather than para-phrase their report I will quote directly from the letter received from R.W.Bro. W.A. Mildren, Grand Secretary... “With approval of the Board of General Purposes, the Foundation is committed each year to (funding) a project or projects which require a total of $45,000 to $50,000.... Last year the project was to raise $40,000 to buy equipment for one of our regional hospitals in Winnipeg. This year a sum of $45,000 is to be raised to assist three hospitals in rural Manitoba....some years ago, the Foundation raised sufficient money to purchase three passenger cars for the Manitoba Division of the Canadian Cancer Society for the transportation of patients to and from treatment centres. The money donated has allowed at least one replacement of this small fleet, and funds are available for at least one change in about three years time. .....There is very good participation, not only by brethren, but by their families and those belonging to Masonic related organizations.

At the Lodge level there are independent projects to purchase equipment for hospitals and senior service organizations. Amounts donated vary from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. We have a Masonic Enhancement Committee which operates on a limited budget and will consider matching a lodge’s donation to a particular project. This is intended as an encouragement for lodges to take on local projects and gain the resulting public exposure.”

WASHINGTON: 256 Lodges 38,454 Members The Grand Lodge Charity Fund is like our Benevolent Fund, In most cases, benevolence is extended to those of the Craft or their immediate family. One case is cited however, in which a non-Mason required brain surgery and the Hospital refused admission until sufficient funds were guaranteed for treatment. A lodge initiated a project and through its own efforts and assistance from the Charity Fund, which provided $2,500, over $8,000 was raised to provide the sum required.

A very unique programme that bears some examination called the “seed money programme”, was initiated in 1985-86 by the Grand Master, and the purpose was to encourage Charity during the Holiday Season. A $100 cheque was sent to each District Deputy Grand Master to be used as he saw fit. Some divided the amount among their respective lodges, others used it in a district fund. Lodges were encouraged to seek out needy families, in or out of the craft and give material assistance... food, clothing, children’s gifts etc. from this “seed” the lodges are encouraged to have ongoing charity projects throughout the year. All lodges are encouraged to at least match the amount of the Deputy’s cheque. Results are gratifying. In the 1987-88 year, although the exact input amount is not mentioned, about $3000 of “seed money” was used. During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday months $32,478.81 was disbursed for charitable purposes and is a ten-fold harvest and equals less than $1.00 per member.

NEW ZEALAND: 406 Lodges 31,000 Members The Grand Lodge of New Zealand prepared an extensive report on their charitable activities. (Time does not permit a complete review so their report has been sent to the Grand Lodge Bulletin for inclusion as time and space permits.)

The first project outlined was the establishment of a Masonic Chair of Geriatrics within the School of Medicine at the University of Auckland. It is the first privately funded Chair and has full technical and secretarial back-up services. A “Chair” is best described as a teaching and research facility, headed by an eminent scholar in the field, who will teach the subject to the student body and at the same time engage in detailed research in the subject. An appeal for $1,000,000.00 was launched by Grand Lodge and the Board of Benevolence contributed $400,000.00. With contributions and bequests, about $1,250,000.00 was raised. Continuity of the project is the important factor and a “Trust” was set up to continue this project in perpetuity.

Another project was the establishment of two annual Fellowships in Paediatrics and Child Health for medical school graduates. The Paediatric Fund’s income is used to pay the annual costs and for intensive research in this specialized field.

One other project, the Grand Lodge Disaster Fund, provides immediate grants in the case of disaster. Sums of $200-500 are given for immediate needs such as bedding crockery, etc..

General benevolence is dispensed in a similar manner to our own Benevolent fund. Perhaps one exception is that of secured loans for housing at low, or interest free, rates. Repayment is required when the house is sold or on the death of the mortgagee. Also, annuities are paid to elderly Masons, bursaries provided, and lodges subsidised if they are taking on some local project. This might be described as assistance by a matching grant. Examples are purchase of helmets for a project called “Riding for the Disabled”, funds for an emergency operation, and the provision of wheel chairs for use by the elderly in a Senior Citizen Home.

In New Zealand for the year ended on August 31, 1988, charitable and benevolent expenditures of over $1,250,000 had been approved. That works out to about $40.00 per member. New Zealand has two and a half times as many Lodges and Masons as Alberta, so a comparable amount if dispensed in Alberta, would be about $500,000. How do we actually compare? The 1988 proceedings show that the Board of Benevolence authorized expenditures of $103,032.53 or about $8.00 per member.

QUEBEC: 103 Lodges 9,382 Members Special mention must be made of two projects which are funded through the Quebec Masonic Foundation. The first is the “Let There Be Light Project” which provides audio play back equipment and tapes to the Blind and Aged confined to institutions. The other project is the in-fraternity “Legacy Project”. Funds raised are used to purchase a single premium life insurance policy on the life of a willing insurable brother. Payment of single premium of about $10,000, depending on the age of the brother, will eventually provide two to three hundred thousand dollars payable to the Foundation.

OREGON: 156 Lodges 25,043 Members The Main thrust of the Masons of Oregon is through their Masonic and Eastern Star Home. Master Masons, their wives, widows or mothers and ladies of the Eastern Star may apply. A most attractive brochure details some ways of giving, and the final paragraph, entitled CLOSING THE LIGHTS, states: “REMEMBER that your estate represents the material dividends resulting from your good stewardship of the talents the Creator gave you. There can be no finer means of expressing your own gratitude than this: In your Will earmark a fraction of those accrued blessings for the Masonic and Eastern Star Home at Forest Grove. BUT DO IT NOW while the temple still stands and the Column is yet unbroken. Need knows no time clock, nor does it ebb and flow with the tide. A word unwritten today may be lost tomorrow...So again, DO IT TODAY... AS THE SUN SETS IN THE WEST.”


As promised here is a quick overview of the other jurisdictions. Canada In N.S., N.B., Ontario and Saskatchewan a Benevolent Fund aids Masons and their families. In N.S. the Masonic Home is assisted financially by individual lodges undertaking garage sales, flea markets etc. The most well known endeavour in Canada is the Masonic Foundation of Ontario. The funds come in from lodges, by gifts and bequests and are channelled to the Revenue Account. Interest from the Revenue Account is dispersed for bursaries, medium and long term projects, special projects of a one time nature and District projects. Medium to long term projects are Hearing Research, Autistic Homes, Voice for Impaired Children, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, the 4-H Council of Canada and the Cancer Society. From July 1988 to July 1989 the Masonic Foundation of Ontario will launch a $1,000.000 capital investment campaign to celebrate its 25th Anniversary for a project entitled “Working to Prevent Alcohol and Drug ABUSE Among Youth”.

ENGLAND: A large portion of the money given from the Grand Charity goes to Masonic Charity. Non masonic charity falls into three areas. Small grants of $1000 to $3000 to National Charities. $400,000 being available annually. Special grants of from $4000 to $100,000 each for individual projects, and major grants of up to $500,000, for one project $100,000 being given each year for five years.

SCOTLAND: For several consecutive years Grand Masters have encouraged lodges to extend assistance outside of the Craft. One lodge selected two charities and solicited donations by holding a Dinner Dance denominated “Charity Night 1988”. Grand Lodge will help supplement funds raised by lodges and one lodge with help from Grand Lodge donated an Electric Wheel Chair to the “Dundee Brittle Bone Society”.


While I was researching material for this talk I was very impressed with the many outreach programmes that Masons were involved in throughout the world. Doesn’t the scope and variety of the needs being met make you proud to be part of the Masonic Brotherhood? Your reaction is probably the same as mine when I first realized how small our accomplishments seem to be in comparison to some of the endeavours I have outlined. Yet when I stopped to think about it, I realized that since our neighbours to the South do not enjoy Universal Medicare, and other social programmes such as Senior Citizens’ Housing, as just one example, Masonic charitable acts in the U.S. enjoy an immediate and high public profile because of their response to personal crisis such as the medical crisis cited earlier. The thrusts in New Zealand and Ontario are particularly outstanding because large dollar expenditures are directed to specific areas from which lasting effects accrue. Our Masonic Higher Education Bursary Programme also produces long lasting effects but the student is the one who decides which direction the effects will accrue. Should Alberta Masons be thinking of long term, goal-oriented projects also?

I would like to bring forward two areas of perceived needs expressed by members of my own lodge. The first concerns a particular group of our aging population. We don’t seem to have sufficient housing facilities for aged couples to continue to be together, or at least live in the same building, when one partner requires full time medical attention and can no longer be looked after by the other. The couple usually married for 50 years or more become separated, he in one institution she in another. Another need is the establishment of a “Chair” for “Palliative Care” in the faculties of Medicine and Nursing at the University of Alberta

One can go on about pet projects and we must think and talk about them but I digress from the terms of reference of this talk. To get back to the basics, would you please listen to a few ideas I’ve had that may lead us to experience charitable thought and action at first hand. I’m of the opinion that we cannot just verbalize charity as inculcated in the ritual, we’ve got to practise it. The ideas, though not grand, are meant only to enable us to focus on what it really means to practise charity.

Perhaps the easiest project to start is a “Lodge Cookie Jar”. Do it now, even though no specific purpose for the use of the funds has been established. The idea is to have members, and even visitors to the lodge, deposit their pennies, dimes, quarters etc. into the jar. Any brother is at liberty to make anonymous suggestions for the use of the collection. His written suggestion is also placed in the jar. In the subsequent year a “Charity Committee” will choose one of the ideas and with approval of the lodge, implement it. Keep it small, keep it current. Sudden emergencies would permit the committee to “raid the cookie jar”.

The other idea is to establish R.S.V.P., the “Rotational Social Visiting Programme” to contact and visit the sick, confined elderly, and absent brethren. Every one should participate. If a brother claims shyness pair him with one or more brothers who have experience so that he gets the practise. Keeping in touch with our own is one of the first and most important charitable acts we owe to our members. Perhaps we will be surprised by the response you may get from those who have not been out for years, especially after you visit with them and then try to involve them in the project.

CAN WE RAISE OUR IMAGE? Last year Grand Lodge gave approval for Masons in this jurisdiction to invite potential candidates to become members. We are at liberty to tell them of our aims as outlined in the two pamphlets prepared by Grand Lodge.

Brethren consider this hypothetical scenario. Your lodge has been asked, on behalf of the Masonic Higher Education Bursary Committee, to make the presentation of a $1000.00 bursary cheque. The Master, and perhaps one or two other persons, call on the recipient and with a few well chosen words, hand over the cheque. Perhaps a photograph is taken for the local newspaper and that finalizes the matter. Has the recipient learned why our order has been motivated to make this presentation in the first place, or that the Masonic Order is a “System of Morality” dedicated to brotherly love, relief and truth? Certainly if the presentation is made as described it has accomplished none of this.

Instead, try this; Start a business meeting early, say 7 o’clock and accomplish EVERYTHING by 7:45 even if you have to postpone business to the next meeting. Close the lodge but have all brethren take seats and remain clothed in regalia. The Bible and any other V.O.T.S.L. are closed but remain on the altar. The working tools are covered or put away. At 8 o’clock the recipient of the Bursary and a few of his or her invited family and friends are escorted into the lodge room by the stewards and shown to seats set aside for them. The Master welcomes the visitors and hands the festivities over to a Master of Ceremonies selected for his ability to communicate. He can explain to the visitors where the station of each officer is located, then briefly outline why we wear aprons. Refer this back to the dress of the operative mason. Begin with a brother wearing a plain E.A. apron and explain that the apron is a speculative symbol of the operative mason and that the basic apron is adorned with symbolic additions at each rank. Show example of aprons from the Master Mason up to Grand Lodge level. Finally the M.C. or some other eloquent brother, using the Grand Lodge pamphlets as a basis, could give a very short explanation of the aims of the order, emphasising charity and explaining that the presentation of the Bursary is but one of forty or more, being given, to assist students achieve their academic goals. The cheque can now be presented and the whole assembly invited for refreshments prepared in the banquet hall.

This scene has not violated any of the “secrets” of masonry and if the Officers and members are dressed formally an atmosphere of dignity and decorum will lend to the impact of the presentation. Several people who would normally have remained at a perpetual distance may now have a some informed insight into why we belong to the Masonic Order. (A dispensation to wear regalia in public will be required. The Grand Master will make his decision based on the merits of each presentation. So please, through your secretary, submit your “script” giving as much detail as possible to permit the Grand Master to make an informed decision.)

Finally brethren, I would ask you to listen closely to some words of the York Rite closing charge. They are very pertinent to the thoughts we have heard expressed in the last two evenings.

Do good unto all but remember it more especially to the household of the Faithful. By liberal benevolence and diffusive charity discover the beneficial and happy effects of this ancient and honourable Institution. Let it not be supposed that you have laboured here in vain and spent your strength for naught, for your work is with the Lord and your recompense with God. Finally, Brethren be ye all of one mind, live in peace and may the God of Love and peace delight to dwell with you and bless you.

W. G. Ralph Johnstone.

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  1. Why do Alberta Masons have such a relatively poor record for charitable giving to the Higher Masonic Education Bursary Fund?
  2. Would a specific charitable “project” within the lodge better focus members in charitable thoughts and actions?
  3. Is it enough to just give money? Will the giving of money only de- sensitize us to personal involvement in charitable acts?
  4. If you could choose one area of charitable concern, in which your lodge should become involved, what would it be?
  5. Has your perception of charity changed over the weekend? Will you act upon the change?
  6. Do you think that a “Charitable Task Force”, to perhaps work in conjunction with the Grand Lodge Benevolence Committee, should be established to focus on the perceived needs in the future such as:-
    1. single parent families?
    2. the aging of our population?
    3. drug and alcohol abuse?
    4. homelessness?
    5. palliative care?
  7. Since, more and more, large charities and governments are now caring for the poor, needy, sick and distressed, what areas should Grand Lodge be looking at to dispense “charity”?