At our last Lodge meeting, we had one of the Deputy (or Assistant – I’m never sure of the difference) Provincial Grand Masters attend, and present a number of our members with festival jewels (worn like medals). This, being my first time awarded with such a thing, initially pleased me, being recognised for contributing. However I must say that something troubles me about this award.
For those not in the know, I’d better explain what our festivals are, and where the jewels come in.
In the UK, there are 47 provinces, 44 of which regularly host festivals. Every 11 years, each province was asked to raise money for one of the four charities, which they would do over a period of 5 years as a ‘festival’, and over a 44 year cycle, monies were evenly collected and distributed between the charities. The four charities were:
- The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institute
- The Royal Masonic Trust for Boys and Girls
- The Masonic Samaritan Fund
- The Grand Charity
I used the word ‘were’ because these four charities have been amalgamated into a single charity, The Masonic Chritable Foundation, which reduces the amount of administration required, and therefore administrative costs, allowing more of the donated money to go to where it is needed.
Festival Jewels are awarded to people who have contributed to a festival, either individually, or within a Lodge that has donated to the festival; over the 5 year period, anyone who has donated more than £500 is eligible. Many who have been Masons for a long time will have several such jewels, as they have participated in several festivals.
Firstly, let me say that I do not donate to charities for the hope of a reward; when someone is initiated into Freemasonry, they are told that Charity is a highly regarded virtue within our Institution. But it is always gratifying to be appreciated for your efforts.
My issue is not with receiving a jewel as a token of appreciation, but with the bar that the jewel has across it, that either says ‘Grand Patron’, ‘Patron’ or ‘Vice Patron’. At first, I wasn’t sure why some of my brothers received different titles. So I asked.
These titles give an indication of just how much an individual has contributed. I remember being hugely impressed when a brother enthusiastically told me that he was a Grand Patron of a particular festival; but now that I know he just gave some money, I am less impressed.
To me, such a distinction is unnecessary; a brother has either contributed, or he hasn’t. We have poorer brethren who contribute, as well as better off brethren. It calls to mind the parable of the Widow’s Mite.
I am not yet sure whether I’ll be wearing my jewel at future meetings. Doubtless, I have earned it; but as the value is somewhat tarnished to me, I would be prouder wearing my past master’s jewel when I receive it, than this that creates such a distinction between brothers according to fiscal means.
These are, I emphasise, my personal views, and I encourage others to add their comments, both for and against.