From the Westside Gazette in Ft. Lauderdale, "Bro. Thomas Hamilton’s death stirs Mt. Carmel dialogue," by Derek Joy:
A curious thing happened when Bro. Thomas Hamilton died April 23, of circulatory and respiratory failure.
Hamilton, 80, was an usher and member of Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church in Miami, for more than 30 years. He remained a faithful member of Mount Carmel when the Rev. James C. Kinchen, Jr., was selected to replace Bishop Victor T. Curry who left to form his current church home of New Birth Cathedral of Faith.
“They wouldn’t let us give him his last rites as a Masonic Brother,” said the Illustrious Bobby Meeks, Florida State Grand Master of the International Free and Accepted Modern Masons and Order of Eastern Star. “The pastor said he didn’t believe in it.”
Kinchen didn’t return a call for comment.
“When that happens, you find another church,” said Bro. Tony Williams, a long time member of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in Southwest Miami Dade County.
And that is what happened. Hamilton’s funeral services were held at Peaceful Zion Missionary Baptist Church, where the last rites of the Masonic family were held and the Rev. Dr. C. P. Preston, Jr., delivered the eulogy.
“I was very upset,” said Hamilton’s daughter, Noble Lady Patricia Hamilton Dismuke. “He didn’t come or call the entire time daddy was sick and in the hospital. I was very upset about it.
“I thought a minister was supposed to visit the sick and shut in. I thought that was what the church was about. Everybody wanted to know why we didn't have his funeral at Mount Carmel. I tried to keep down confusion, so I just told people we were having his funeral at Peaceful Zion because it’s a bigger church.”
Consequently, the questions surface.
What happens when a deceased church member’s survivors are denied the availability of the church for funeral services? What actions can surviving family members and church members take? Is such an action in keeping with Christian values?
One school of thought was voiced by a Brother who grew up in Antioch Baptist Church of Liberty City and requested anonymity.
“I don’t know if that’s (Masonic last rites) enough to take a tenured member’s Home Going Service out of the church,” he said. “That’s enough to start a riot in the church. Family members will start a riot.”
Don't get bogged down in jurisdictional and regularity arguments in this situation. I'm certain the pastor wasn't objecting on the basis of Hamilton's membership in an unrecognized Masonic obedience. While he was an International F&AMM grand lodge Mason, even the Prince Hall Grand Lodge Grand Chaplain expressed his dismay, as all Masons should.
The Rev. Dr. C. J. Carpenter, pastor of Emanuel Missionary Baptist Church in Miami offers a bit of diversity to the dilemma. Carpenter is also the Florida State Grand Chaplain for the Prince Hall Affiliated Masons.
“No. I don’t think that’s reason to deny the family of a church member to have his funeral in the church,” said Carpenter. “I understand. A lot of the pastors won’t let the brothers come in and give the last rites.
“I know Kinchen. He’s a good teacher and preacher. A lot of the brothers and sisters have left Mount Carmel. You have to understand the Baptist Church. Some of these preachers think the church is theirs.
“It’s not. It’s God’s House. The church belongs to the community. The people in the community make up the church body. By rendering a service you stand to gain membership from the surviving family and friends.”
Amen, Brother. Amen.