SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.V August, 1927 No.8
To relieve the distressed is a duty taught the Freemason as one of the first lessons of the Ancient Craft. Nothing in Freemasonry is more touching, more solemn or more beautiful than the Rite of Destitution; just how closely it nestles in the hearts of all who experience it, is demonstrated by the reputation which the Masonic Fraternity has for assisting the needy and being charitable toward all mankind, more especially a brother Mason.
Masonic relief is practiced by the brother toward the needy, by the Lodge toward those of its members who have fallen upon evil days, and often toward the profane as well. Masonic relief by a group of Lodges to a sister Lodge is commonplace in American Masonic history. But Masonic relief recently has come to have a new and broader meaning, and to be administered with a national vision.
The Great War taught American Freemasonry that, no matter how ideal was its group of forty-nine Grand Lodges, each sovereign in its own jurisdiction, was the right to make its own rules and laws, decide for itself what the ancient Landmarks are, and rule its Masonic principality as it thought wise, it was not a system designed for united Masonic effort on a National scale. The United States Government could not treat with forty-nine Grand Lodges, which might have forty-nine different ideas as to how Masonry might function overseas for the relief and benefit of the men in khaki. The result was that, except for a few sporadic and divided efforts, organized Freemasonry in America played but a very small part in the great struggle beyond the ocean. The spirit was willing, anxious; brotherhood was frustrated, not by its lack of heart, but by its lack of the machinery - or, perhaps it is better said, by its having too much machinery for such an undertaking.
Out of this trouble - and it was a very real trouble to many earnest American Freemasons - grew The Masonic Service Association, formed of a majority of the Grand Lodges of the United States. In this organization the several Grand Lodges created a servant which could work for them all, which could do what no one of them could do for itself. One of the two main objects of the Association is the collection, distribution and administration of United Masonic Relief; when fire or flood, or other national disaster makes such relief imperative, so that Masons can show nationally, as well as individually, that they have fully learned the lesson of the Rite of Destitution.
This is a great country. It has not only wonderful natural resources, but wonderful potentialities for trouble. We are subject to disastrous fires. We have tornadoes in the Middle West which do more damage in less time than wind storms in any other part of the earth. We have the courage to set up Lares and Penates where nature - and, until we learn, we set them up not always strong enough - result, a Galveston or a Johnstown Flood. And we have the Father of the Waters, and the disastrous floods which afflict the lower Mississippi region.
During the immediate past, Freemasonry has had a chance to test the instrumentality which the Grand Lodges set up. First came the terrible storm in Florida, which did such enormous damage, then the terrific flood in the lower Mississippi Valley, which, even if less destructive of life than the Florida Hurricane, was definitely greater in the destruction of property. Ten counties have been flooded in the State of Mississippi, with a total of seven hundred and thirty-five thousand acres. Thirty-five counties have suffered a similar fate in Arkansas, and nearly one-half of Louisiana has been under water. The total flood damage throughout the entire flood area is estimated by those familiar with conditions, to be at least one-half billion dollars.
More than twenty thousand members of the Masonic Fraternity affiliated with more than two hundred Lodges in the Jurisdictions of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi are materially affected by the floods. Many of these members of the Craft have lost everything they had in the world, while others are able to hold on until a gracious Providence, a beneficent government, or the Masonic Fraternity shall render aid.
In both disasters The Masonic Service Association was immediately upon the scene, to offer its help and cooperation to the Masonic Authorities in the afflicted area, and to make its appeal, not only to its constituent members, but to all Masonic Jurisdictions, for contributions to the relief of worthy poor and distressed Master Masons, their widows, orphans and dependents.
Let it be roundly stated here and now, lest some critic think the Association desires credit where no credit is due. Some Masonic relief would have come to Florida and to the Mississippi Flood sufferers had their been no Masonic Service Association. The great heart of Freemasonry does not need an Association to be touched by want and suffering. But the relief could not have been either so great, so prompt, or so effectively administered had their been no central agency to correlate the many appeals, and assist in the allocation of funds. A movement with no leader, or with too many leaders, will not progress near as fast as that which has a competent general at the head. It was in activities of this kind that the association was of such great value in these two distressing calamities.
We are a cautious race; we naturally discount a man's own story of his trouble, until we have investigated. This is sound Masonic practice. Let an appeal for assistance come to the Lodge, and a committee is commonly appointed to investigate and report the actual facts to the Lodge. This, not that the Lodge distrusts the good faith of the appealing brother, but to get a dispassionate and impersonal survey of the conditions. In these national disasters, The Masonic Service Association was able to act as a "Committee" and to ascertain and report to all the Grand Lodges the actual conditions and the need.
Non-Masons not infrequently ask? "But isn't the Red Cross for just such purposes, and do you not duplicate the work of that organization when you, too, attempt national relief?" The answers are many. Consider the War. Was the red Cross sufficient overseas? Had the Y.M.C.A. no function? The Salvation Army? The Red Cross does, indeed, get promptly on the job in national disasters, but it cannot do it all. And among the "All" which it cannot do is the individual rehabilitation work which Masonry is so peculiarly fitted to accomplish, because of that Mystic tie which binds brother unto brother, and brother unto the lodge; and, which neither the Red Cross, nor any other sectarian organization can duplicate or understand.
The outpouring of relief from the various Masonic bodies over the United States for both disasters was astonishing only to Non-Masons; to the brethren, it was the expected thing. But never before have funds, from Masonry united to relieve the distress been so quickly administered by one group of Masons; and it was this centralization of relief authority and means which placed the money contributed where it did the most good with the absolute minimum of expense. In Florida, it was less than one cent per dollar - more than 99 cents of every dollar contributed went to relieve distress; the partial penny remaining paying for office, postage, printing, advertising, travel, etc. The figures are not yet in for Mississippi Flood Relief, since that task is still in the process of doing as these words are being written. It will be as low in proportion, although the greater area affected, the destruction of so many of the existing means of transportation and the consequent difficulties might well raise it to a higher level, and it will still be low indeed.
The amount of relief in Florida was $114,236.97 from all sources, of which almost one hundred thousand dollars ($96,649.16) came from Grand Lodges and other Masonic bodies outside of the State of Florida. In the Mississippi relief campaign, more than $500,000 has been contributed at the present writing, and the money is still coming in. It is of special interest to note that in addition to Lodges and Grand Lodges, nearly every Supreme Body of Masonry in North America contributed to the Mississippi relief funds; they did not stop to ask whether those to whom the relief would go were Companions or Sir Knights or Nobles or Brothers, or Sisters of the Eastern Star. Masons and their families were in distress, and practically all joined with Grand Lodges and individual Lodges everywhere to contribute to the one relief fund asked for by the three Grand Lodges, through the Masonic Service Association, for the relief of Masons, regardless of Rite or Degree. And it is to be noted that the greatest contribution, except for those from Lodges and Grand Lodges, came from women of the Eastern Star, who opened their purses as wide as their hearts.
Both in Florida and the flooded area, the procedure has been of the same general character; immediately upon receipt of the news of the disaster the Executive Secretary of The Masonic Service Association went immediately to the scene, there to meet the Grand Masters whose jurisdictions were suffering, advise with him or them, assist in sending forth the appeal, and in creating the machinery necessary for the proper use of the funds received. It is necessary, in such sudden disasters, first to create an organization for the use of the funds; next, to make a survey of the situation and find out just what is needed most, and where; and finally to see that Masons in distress know where to come and how to reach the aid which is to be had for the asking.
In Florida the situation was complicated by the fact that there were so many sojourning Masons, not members of Florida Lodges. Relatives and friends all over the United States appealed to the Grand Lodge of Florida for information concerning their loved ones. It is to be noted that no questions were raised in giving out of Masonic relief as to where a brother belonged; as a matter of fact, of the 527 families relieved by Masons in Florida, 228 had men in Florida Lodges; the remaining 297 possessed affiliates of other Grand Jurisdictions. In the Mississippi flood area the problem is made difficulty not only by the fact that three States are effected, but that the vastness of the devastation, and the utter need of many for enough help to get started again.
The machinery put in operation was run by the Grand Lodge of Florida, in Florida; and in the flooded regions by a Board of Control of Grand Officers from Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas who elected Grand Master Johnson of Mississippi as Chairman. All the funds received have gone into a common relief fund; there has been no segregation of money for this body, or that Rite. The great bulk of the relief has been a spontaneous outpouring from Masons everywhere, to Masons, - to be disbursed by kindly, loving brethren of the Mystic Tie.
For the benefit of those who may be interested in figures, a table is appended to this Bulletin, showing the amount contributed to the Mississippi Flood Fund by various bodies and States, up to and including July 15, 1927. Figures for Florida are not given, as that relief campaign is closed, the Grand Master furnishing a C.P.A. audit of the work of his committee at the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge in April, a copy of which has been sent to all entitled to receive it.
Mississippi Flood Relief is not yet finished, and cannot be for some time. But any Mason can well be proud of the relief offered by Masonry to Masons; and the vast majority of brethren of the United States can look with pride upon the table published herewith, and exult that the Rite of Destitution meant something real, something vital to their Lodges and Grand Lodges, and the allied Supreme Bodies of other Rites.
It is pleasant to publish the following Resolution, adopted in the Grand Lodge of Florida at the Annual Communication assembled in Jacksonville, last April:
"Resolved by the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Florida, that we acknowledge with grateful hearts the liberal and substantial aid and assistance rendered by the Masons of the United States to the Sojourning and Resident Masons of Florida who were injured and damaged by the storm that visited a portion of our State during the month of September, 1926.
"That our especial thanks are due, and hereby ex-pressed, to The Masonic Service Association of the United States, to its very efficient Executive Secretary, Brother Andrew L. Randell, P.G.M., and its other executive officers, and to the Masonic Bodies named below, for valuable aid and financial assistance rendered in the emergency which confronted us.
(Here was inserted a list of all contributors)
"Resolved Further: That we express the hope and belief that this manifestation of humanity and brotherly love may further cement the bond of Fraternal regard which should exist between real Masons through the length and breadth of our common country. "That the Grand Secretary, F. & A.M. of Florida, is hereby directed to transmit a certified copy of this resolution, under his hand and the Seal of the Grand Lodge, to each of the bodies and the individuals mentioned above."
"SO MOTE IT BE"