With thanks to my Hungarian Brothers
I was invited to an online discussion held by a few lodges from my mother jurisdiction, the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary. (No AFM or AFAM, in case you were wondering…)
It started with a presentation about the responsibility of the “investigators”, also providing a list of excellent advice and tips. It was followed by a vivid discussion based on personal experiences, successes and failures, which are also inevitable – just as in every other domain of human interaction and activity.
Back home I’ve never been on an investigating committee, as we call it here in Ontario, because shortly after being raised to the Master Mason degree, I accepted a humanitarian job abroad in war zones, so I wasn’t around long enough. Of course, I recall my own investigation, when the members assigned to research me and investigate my background, contacted me and we had long talks. I remember them even today. On the other hand, my experiences here in Ontario, at the other end of the stick, i.e. being an investigator was nothing like that. But we will get to that later.
Lately, there was an interesting twist to their usual process due to the increasing number of “seekers” (that’s how they call the interested gentlemen who may consider joining the Craft) coming from the internet. Traditionally, just as in our jurisdiction, it used to be that a lodge member knew the petitioner and he was, in most cases, his sponsor – the lodge member that signed his petition recommending him. Since our regulation here requires a second sponsor from the lodge as well, it happens quite often that sponsor #1 asks either a brother or the secretary to co-sign the petition. Sometimes without ever seeing the individual…
Now, these old friends from Hungary take things a bit more seriously: especially in the case of internet seekers, the first stop, so to speak, is the Master of the lodge. He would go and meet with those seekers several times during a period of one year (6-12 times) and he acts as a first filter. If the seeker doesn’t qualify, the Master will not hand them an application and send out any investigators, and he will advise the gentleman to pursue other paths in life. There were several current Worshipful Masters present, and they all assured the audience that the procedure is the same or very similar in all their lodges!
Then comes the investigation itself. The three assigned members of the lodge would go separately, each on his own to meet with the petitioner, preferably at his home but could be first in a public space as well – coffee house for example. They never “compare” notes, every investigator is supposed to form his opinion based on his impressions. Such an interview-type meeting would last around two hours, and quite often, if they are undecided about the candidate, they set up a second, third or as many meetings as necessary. Their responsibility is enormous: the lodge is going to ballot based on their (written) opinion and all members are “sentenced” to live with the newly admitted member for a lifetime…
Consequently, they don’t worry that such an approach would result in a waiting period that lasts much more than a year – it is also considered as a “filter”, testing the petitioner’s patience and his real commitment to join. One could say my brothers from my former home lodges try hard to make it difficult for the seeker to get through the West Gate, while my present brothers on this continent bend over backwards to facilitate the entrance for anybody that happen to knock on the door of the lodge.
In the presentation, it was emphasized the importance of assigning the right people to be investigators: it was agreed upon that not everybody is equally suitable for this role, regardless of their abilities, knowledge, and skills in other fields.
Which reminds me of the first occasion when I was sent out by my lodge to investigate an applicant: all three of us went on the same night to the apartment of the petitioner… and he wasn’t at home, and we left emptyhanded. The second time we met the gentleman, and I was diligently listening and watching how the process was unfolding. We all received a short pamphlet outlining our duties and roles (according to which I was the most “junior” member of the committee, destined to remain silent and watch). Then came the candidate’s turn to ask questions, and the “head” of the committee was supposed to answer them. And he did: Dan Brown novels, National Treasure, combined with cheap Templarism and subconscious conspiracy theory ideas. A total lack of education, Masonic or otherwise. But my role was to be silent. As for questioning, nobody followed even vaguely the scenario described in the pamphlet. Considering that we were sent there to judge the character of that man, we failed to learn anything about him. Of course, we initiated the man, who disappeared forever, when he learned that he must memorize a few sentences in order to progress further.
Different worlds and different histories result in different practices. For example, in Canada the Craft has never been persecuted, so such secrecy practices as placing the candidate blindfolded into a car and driving him to the lodge building, conducting him into the lodge room and being interrogated by the lodge members, while he is still blindfolded, and then driven somewhere far from the lodge and released… would be considered outrageous and, truth to be told, unnecessary. They do it at some lodges in Eastern Europe because the candidate is not supposed to see the faces of the brothers until he is initiated. Where one can or could be thrown in jail just for being a member of a Masonic lodge – developing such practices and cautious procedures can be understandable.
So, I am not saying we should blindly copy what others do. Our circumstances are not the same. However, giving some more thought to the slogan of “guarding the West Gate” might be in order if we care about the future of Freemasonry in this land.
P.S. One of the participants, a past master mentioned that he always warned the seekers about the financial expectations, if admitted: the initiation fee, the fees for degrees (they have such a thing), the yearly dues, the contributions to the “widows’ purse” at the end of each meeting, the cost of dinners at the festive boards, donations for the causes supported by the lodge and the grand lodge… His rationale, if we claim that we support noble causes and help the “humanity” – we should be able to cover our own expenses. All in all, converted to Canadian currency, that means around $1,200 per year. And this is a poor post-communist country with an average $8,400 (CAD) household income per capita.