The last 2 years have been unusual and the role of the Almoner has never been more important. Here is a brief reminder of their role.
Those appointed to the Office will need to devote significant time and energy to their duties. The position is one which benefits from experience and continuity, he is expected to commit to the role for around five years. Set out below are although not exhaustive those tasks which are most typical:
- Keeping in regular contact with brethren and their families, so they know where to turn to in times of need. This includes brethren who have resigned, widowed partners and others.
- Listening carefully to individual needs and being open and honest about the assistance available.
- Highlighting the support available from the state, Masonic charities and other organisations and helping to initiate contact.
- Recognising cases of loneliness and helping to find resolutions.
- Working closely with other Lodge officers and members. For example, in conjunction with the Proposer, Seconder, Lodge Mentor and Membership Officer, making new members feel welcome or following up with Lodge members who are not attending meetings.
During the current Pandemic with the cessation of Lodge meetings, it became very apparent that there was a need to provide not only the Almoner’s core pastoral roles but to identify an alternative means by which Lodge members could maintain contact with one another whilst maintaining physical isolation mandated by the Covid regulations. Everyone knows this solution was achieved by the outstanding effort by Lodge Almoners and Lodge Members in the forming and organising small support groups within the Lodge, these groups used several ways and platforms to maintain this contact whether by telephone, email and of course the trendier social media WhatsApp and Zoom platform meetings. It is no exaggeration these contact groups and virtual Lodge Meetings were a lifeline to many of our members who rely on our Lodge meetings as their only means of social contact. There was an undeniable concern that continued social isolation would have a detrimental effect on an individual’s Mental Well-being.
Subsequent to the contact groups it was equally important for the Almoners to maintain contact with our elderly members who do not regularly attend lodge meetings and to maintain contact with lodge widows, the increase in the numbers and frequency of these individual conversations dictated that we Almoners had to try to develop more forensic listening skills, encouraging an individual to open up and share information about their current situation and express how they were feeling, this can be a daunting task, but there are many techniques and approaches recommended and described in the Almoners Guide, To develop how to put people at ease and guide the discussions, listening is a vital skill which takes time, sometimes we hear the words but miss the underlying message. There are a few simple ways to stay engaged with a conversation and improve listening skills. During the conversation don’t interrupt whilst the other person is still speaking, something important may be missed, use phrases like “How did you feel about that?” or “What were you feeling when that happened?” to help to build an understanding of how the person is feeling.
Social Isolation was not the only area of concern that could and would affect Mental well-being, many of our members were affected by a reduction in their salaries and if self-employed the complete loss of income was a distinct possibility, in these instances the assistance of the Masonic Charities would be required. Our own Provincial Charity the Masonic Charitable Trust (MCT) was very proactive in giving support during this period and the Tom Langton Fund ( TLF) also made emergency payments to deserving causes. The Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) continued with their outstanding support although their staff were working from home, during this period the MCF restricted their support to emergency applications and those which involved Cancer and Cardiac applications, all applications for home adaptions and less urgent medical procedures etc were suspended, however, this is not now the case, all applications are considered providing the applicant and need meets the mandated criteria.
Notwithstanding the easing of the imposed restrictions, there are still many brethren and their families who require help and assistance including elderly brethren and lodge widows, therefore there must be continued vigilance of our members and those within our charge and be aware of their Mental Health and Wellbeing, this can be achieved by continuing the contact, this continued contact will ensure that any potential problems will be identified early on. It is also evident, that although lodges are returning to some degree of normality there is still a reluctance by some members to attend Lodge meetings, Amity Group or social gatherings not forgetting that some of our charges or members are still adversely affected by continued financial difficulties.
Be mindful that we are all Almoners whether in the office or not and that we must continue to be vigilant of those who may be considered vulnerable is maintained, ensuring that any changes of mood or disposition are identified early because prompt intervention or investigation could stop, what is a small problem becoming a far bigger issue.
Remember “If in Doubt Please Ask “
To request assistance for a brother or their family or anyone eligible, contact the S.E. Area Almoner or in exception, the Provincial Grand Almoner. Alternatively, you can call the MCF direct on freephone 0800 035 60 90 or email email@example.com If an application is appropriate, arrangements will be made for someone to make contact and complete the relevant application form and report. An applicant or the person completing the form normally an MCF AST or Visiting Volunteer may invite the Lodge Almoner to be present when the application form is completed. Remember that confidentiality is paramount.