Richard H. Ryder, 2017
The decision to admit an applicant into lodge membership is one that should not be made lightly; it must be done with careful thought and an informed understanding of the man. Freemasonry is not a club; it is a respected fraternity of morally upright, like minded men who seek to improve themselves and their community without regard to personal gain. Our job, as Masons, is to ensure that the tenets of our profession and the image of Freemasonry are not compromised by admitting men who have something other than the interests of Freemasonry in mind.
Lodges must obtain thorough knowledge about the applicant’s background from a variety of sources, including the applicant, his sponsor, and references. This responsibility particularly falls on the Master, Wardens, officers, sponsor, ambassador, investigating committee, and formal interviewers.
This two-part article will focus on the formal applicant interview, such as pre-application and application interviews, and investigation interviews, but also highlights the responsibility of the sponsor, ambassador, and senior officers. This article will help guide lodge members in any formal or casual discussion with an applicant or potential applicant, such as during an open house or chance meeting at an event. In fact, lodges should consider the following guidelines during the entire application process, from the time a man expresses interest in Freemasonry to the time the Master closes the ballot. Pondering these guidelines will help ensure Freemasonry remains a reputable, well-respected fraternity of likeminded individuals where good men are made better in all their roles.
The sponsor represents the initial purveyor of knowledge to the lodge about the background and intentions of the applicant. The sponsor should know the applicant well enough to recommend him to a lodge and understand that Freemasonry seeks quality not quantity of members. In taking the responsibility of recommending a man for membership, the sponsor should consider the following:
- Do I know this person well enough and do I know his motives for joining?
- Is this man the type of person with whom I and my fellow brothers would want to associate?
- Is this man mature enough to understand that Freemasonry is not a club or benefit organization, but rather an organization whose tenets are taken very seriously by men throughout the world?
The Ambassador serves an important role in determining the caliber of the individual seeking membership. No longer are men drawn to the fraternity strictly through friends and family members who can vouch for the character of the individual. More and more men come to us from open houses, from advertisements, and social media. As such, greater care must be taken to ensure men of strong caliber are proposed for membership. The Ambassador can serve as the single point of contact, ensuring the lodge follows a sound process from the point of inquiry to the taking of the degrees. The Ambassador can provide consistency throughout the application process by conducting an introductory call or meeting with the potential applicant, then planning and being present during the pre-application and application interviews.
The Master and Wardens
The Master has a vested interest in ensuring only men of good moral character join the membership ranks, since he is ultimately responsible for all lodge events and activities. Likewise, the Wardens have the same interest, given they are close to assuming the East themselves. As such, all three senior officers need to take an active and collaborative role in the application process, including formal interviews.
The Formal Interview
By the time the formal interviews take place there should be an initial body of knowledge available from the sponsor and ambassador. There should be some idea of the man’s personality, maturity, family responsibilities, profession, associations, etc. Formal interviews allow the lodge to explain Freemasonry in more depth and the lodge in more detail so that the applicant can better understand the commitment he is about to undertake. It is during formal interviewing that realistic expectations are set by both parties as to time commitment, level of involvement, what the lodge and Freemasonry offers to the candidate, what the candidate offers to the lodge and Freemasonry. The candidate needs to understand the timeline for membership, what is entailed in preparing for and achieving each degree, proving proficiency, and the financial obligations. But, most importantly, this is an opportunity for the lodge to really understand the man and his intentions.
In addition to learning more about the applicant and giving him an opportunity to learn more about Freemasonry and the lodge, be sure to describe the following items:
- Description of Masonry, its history, organization, and benefits of membership
- Description of your lodge; including its culture, activities, and priorities
- Masonic lodge charitable and community work
- Level of involvement
- Time commitment
- Memorization commitment
- Adherence to Masonic tenets and principles
- Loyalty and service to the fraternity, family, god, and country
- Balancing primary responsibilities of work and family, with lodge responsibilities
Describe what Freemasonry and the lodge will do, including the following:
- Opportunities to grow, to better oneself in all roles, living a life of high standards
- Opportunities to give back to others
- Support in times of need
- A family inclusive lodge
The Tone of the Interview
There should be no hidden agendas or attempts to confuse and intimidate the applicant. Although the formal interview is a serious event, it should be understood that the dissemination of inaccurate or misleading information serves neither the applicant nor the lodge. The goal is to create a better understanding of the Fraternity and lodge on the part of the applicant, and a better understanding of the man on the part of the lodge. This is best done when all participants are relaxed and allowed to speak honestly and freely.
Application Form and Fee
At least one experienced lodge member, such as the Ambassador, should be present with the applicant when he completes the application form. The member can assist in answering questions that arise regarding content or the best way to correctly answer questions. Also, if the applicant is seriously interested in taking the next step toward membership, the member can review the application in a timely fashion for errors or omissions. This is the time to begin closing the application process, assuming the lodge and applicant wish to do so, and begin the investigation process by the formal submission and acceptance of the application form.
Hopefully, the applicant was previously notified that he must pay an application fee at the time he submits the application. It is during the formal interview process that the lodge should describe financial obligations, both as an applicant and a member. If there is financial hardship, the Master should proactively discuss options with the applicant prior to application form submission.
Formal Interview Dates
Formal interview dates should be convenient for both lodge members and the applicant. Since weekends are typically allocated for family and personal activities, a week day evening may prove convenient for all attendees. The Master might consider a standard monthly interview date in his yearly schedule, thus allowing all interviewers to plan accordingly.
Formal Interview Location
Formal interviews should be conducted in a comfortable and welcoming environment. This is not an interrogation, but rather an opportunity for candid discussion. Ideally, a quiet room within the lodge may be best, since it allows the applicant to view the lodge building and creates a visual image of where Masons meet. A tour of the building, if not already conducted, would be a great way to welcome the applicant. and to showcase Masonry and its symbols. The rough and perfect ashlars are perfect symbols for conveying the concept of Masonry as a lifetime journey toward perfection.
Members conducting their investigations should consider doing so at the applicant’s home, thus providing a visual impression of his living arrangements and to meet family members.
Lodges should seriously consider their standards for interview attire and the impression they wish to make. At a minimum, the attire should make a positive impression and reflect well on the lodge. Jacket and tie shows the seriousness of the occasion; while a casual, clean and neat appearance may convey a more relaxed culture. Each situation is different, so make your decision based on the circumstances and what makes sense for your lodge.