Who Are The Shriners?
By Right Worshipful Brother John Smith OSM
Published in the 2009 GLSA Southern Division Spring Ball Magazine
During 1872 a group of Freemasons met in New York City in the USA and formed an affiliated organisation to Craft Masonry by establishing the Shriners. The Shriners’ was to be a dynamic fraternal organisation dedicated to attracting and retaining men of good character by their commitment to providing progressive, quality programs and services in the spirit of fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth.
To become a Shriner a man had to be a Master Mason. This principal remains true today and while all Shriners are Freemasons, not all Freemasons are Shriners. Over the years this affiliated organisation has become international and now has in excess of 411 000 members operating from about 200 Chapters in the USA, Canada, Mexico and Panama.
Their main focus is to provide health care for children and in 1922 the first Shriners Hospital for Children was opened. There are presently 22 of these hospitals which are dedicated to improving the lives of all children irrespective of any Masonic affiliation by providing specialised pediatric care, innovative research and outstanding teaching programs at no cost to the children or their parents.
The Shriners, unlike mainstream Freemasonry, actively and aggressively market and advertise their organisation. They participate in parades and wear outlandish costumes and one may reasonably mistake such a spectacle for being a troupe of circus performers. Notwithstanding their very different approach to marketing and advertising, they remain very serious in their purpose and the Shriners Hospitals for Children now specialise in orthopedic services, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate conditions. All children below the age of 18 years may be eligible for treatment if they could benefit from the specialised care offered.
In the present global economic climate the obvious question is: how do they do it?
The members of Shriners International each only pay US$5 per annum for hospital assessment. They assist, however, in transporting the children and their parents to and from the hospitals and spend time at these hospitals teaching and entertaining the children who are recuperating there. In addition to this they actively and aggressively conduct fund raising activities to assist in running these hospitals. These activities vary from selling hot dogs at shopping malls to hosting multimillion-dollar fund raising events.
The Shriners recently approached David Ragan, a top NASCAR driver for assistance. He has become an enthusiastic financial supporter of the organisation and is bringing national attention to it through public service announcements and endorsements such as wearing a specially decorated helmet when competing at NASCAR rallies. As a result of his efforts NASCAR fans across the USA are donating money to the Shriners for their hospitals.
During 2008 the Shriners approached Justin Timberlake and he agreed to co–host the PGA Las Vegas golf tournament. It was called the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He played in the celebrity pro–am and hosted a concert during the tournament week. During this concert he invited several celebrities to share the stage with him including Lionel Ritchie (a Freemason and a Shriner) and they raised over a million dollars for the Shriners. Timberlake’s direct involvement in assisting to raise money for the Shriners is bringing an unprecedented amount of attention and interest to the Shriners’ programs.
In the USA there are also a number of women’s organisations who are affiliated to the Shriners. The Daughters of the Nile, for example, is an international organisation for women who are related by birth or marriage to a Shriner and they contribute over a million dollars annually to the Shriners Hospitals for Children. The International Order of the Rainbow for Girls is open to girls between the ages of 11 and 20, regardless of Masonic affiliation, and their members actively visit and entertain the children confined to the Shriners’ hospitals. The De Molay International is a Masonic-sponsored international organisation for young men aged 12 to 21 that not only focuses on developing civic awareness, personal responsibility and leadership skills but which also actively supports the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
It appears that there is great interest in Shrinerdom in Europe and in other areas in the world where people are gravitating to the same good works, brotherhood and fellowship being practiced by the Shriners who have, to date, assisted in excess of 850 000 children, free of charge. Perhaps we, in South Africa, can learn some lessons from the Shriners regarding our own fund raising activities for the charities which we support.