Why do people join Freemasonry? People from all walks of life become Freemasons for a variety of reasons. Some are attracted by the valuable work that the movement performs in raising money for charity. A proportion of these funds is used to assist Freemasons and their dependents in times of need, particularly the sick and the elderly, but the greater part goes to non Masonic charities – local, national and international. Freemasons also assist the community in more direct ways, such as carrying out voluntary work. Others become Freemasons because of the unique fellowship it provides. Visit a Masonic lodge anywhere in the country – or indeed, the world – and you are greeted as an old friend. Freemasonry is the ultimate leveller, a community where friendship and goodwill are paramount.
It has been said that some people become Freemasons for personal benefit. This statement is true, but for the wrong reasons. The personal gain is in experiencing the warmth of an honorable society and being part of an organisation that works hard to help the less fortunate of the world. Freemasonry does ask its members to give as freely as they can to charity. How often have we told ourselves that we really should send money to help with some famine or other disaster we have seen on TV, only to forget all about it in the rush of everyday life? Freemasonry provides a structured channel for fundraising from its members and reacts quickly when help is needed urgently, as in the case of the Tsunami disaster.
But what about the so called funny handshakes and the outlandish dress styles? Freemasonry has been in existence for over 300 years and over this time has developed a pattern of rituals. They are no more outlandish than ceremonies such as the State Opening of Parliament but, like this event, they perform a valuable function in reminding members of the heritage and standards they are expected to maintain. Once people have become Freemasons and understand the context of the rituals and symbolism, they no longer seem quirky.