The Potential Candidate
Should We Solicit?
R.W. Bro. Lloyd Hussey, D.G.M.
G.L. of Newfoundland (S.C.)
As Freemasons we are charged to preserve the ancient usages and established customs of our order, sacred and inviolable. "Sacred" suggests a sanctity to our usages and customs; "inviolable" indicates, in the strongest terms, that they cannot be assaulted, changed or amended.
The question that this paper will examine is whether these usages and customs permit us to solicit potential and worthy candidates, and, if we are so permitted, under what parameters must we be governed.
The Constitution and Laws of the Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland appear to be silent on this matter. The Ritual of Scottish Freemasonry, however, is not so silent and offers some illuminating guidelines.
All candidates join freemasonry and are admitted to its mysteries and privileges "by the help of God, being free and of good report". This statement encompasses within itself the three essential qualifications that must be met before any man can become a freemason. We are all here "by the help of God" and are freemasons because we believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, a Creator. We are all masons because the tongue of good report was heard in our favour when our applications for membership were considered by our mother lodges. But, we are also masons, "being free", that is, not subject to the orders or mandates of any person in our decisions to join freemasonry, nor bullied, nor blackmailed, nor coerced, nor bribed, not browbeaten, nor badgered into our decisions, but rather, freely, of our own free will and accord did we make the decision. In considering the question, therefore, of whether we may solicit candidates, we must always bear in mind this absolute and inviolable guideline, that the candidate's decision to seek membership must be made of his own free will and accord. This, I would suggest, is the sole parameter by which we must be governed. If a potential candidate feels in the slightest way pressured by approaches made to him, then the brother or brethren who made the approaches will have acted unlawfully. If, however, the candidate can truly say, "This is my decision; freely and voluntarily I offer myself as a candidate," then those who approached him will have violated nothing.
Each candidate into freemasonry is asked, in accordance with our Ritual, whether he comes unbiased by improper solicitations of friends against his own inclinations. An affirmative answer indicates the freedom of his choice. "Improper solicitations" would lead to a candidate seeking membership against his own free will, for the question to the candidate includes the term " against your own inclinations". But, note the term "improper solicitations". The very term suggests that there can be "proper" solicitations. If not, why use the adjective "improper" at all? Why not ask, "Do you come unbiased by solicitations of friends?" I have absolute confidence in the wisdom of our ancient brethren and believe that when our ritual was first composed each word was chosen carefully. The word "improper" was included because, I believe, it was recognized that there could be proper solicitations.
If my premise is accepted, it is still necessary to ask why we should solicit potential members and how that solicitation should be effected to make it "proper".
In 1962 I accepted a teaching position in Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon. Within a few days of our arrival in our new community high amidst the tea estates, my wife and I became friends with a couple who had children at the school. The friendship flourished and we spent many evenings together. Two or three nights a month, the husband, Ron, would be absent. In time I discovered that he was attending lodge meetings. My father was a freemason and I was interested in joining, but I did not know how to do so. One evening, two years after our arrival in Ceylon, Ron indicated that he had been at a masonic meeting the night before and that a mutual acquaintance of ours had joined the lodge. Feeling bolder than usual I asked, "What's so special about you masons? What does a person have to do to join? Why haven't you invited me?" Immediately he asked me if I was really interested in joining and, when I replied affirmatively, he put his hand into his pocket, extracted an application form and gave it to me. He had carried it in his pocket daily for a year and a half waiting for me to make the first move! A few months later, twenty-five years ago this year, I was initiated into freemasonry in my mother lodge, Dimbula Lodge 298, Irish Constitution, sponsored by my friend, Very Worshipful Brother Ron Harrison, Honorary Grand Director of Ceremonies, Grand Lodge of Ireland. But, if the devil had not been in me that evening and had I not questioned Brother Harrison as I did, I might never have become a freemason. His masonic upbringing, as was mine, and as was that of so many masons, taught that candidates had to make the first move. We seemed to have the conviction that if a potential candidate did not approach us first he was not a worthy candidate. The term "unbiased by improper solicitations of friends" was interpreted as if the adjective "improper" was omitted so that no solicitations could be made or as if "improper" meant "any" solicitations. How many potentially excellent masons have we lost to the Craft over the centuries because of this interpretation? Are we doing freemasonry a service if we persist in this approach? Since we all join freemasonry because of a general desire for knowledge and a sincere wish to render ourselves more extensively serviceable to our fellow beings, are we not being particularly selfish and elitist if we deprive others of this most desirable goal? Are we not being unfeeling and unsympathetic to men whom we consider worthy of being good masons if we fail to show them how to become freemasons? The answers to all these questions indicate the first and most important reason why we should be prepared to solicit candidates. In short, we owe it to the Craft and to our fellow beings.
The second reason why we should solicit potential candidates, or at least be more open in our approaches, is to educate.
Imagine the following. A certain lodge had not attracted any new members for many years. The brethren, fearful for the future of the lodge, decided, after some debate, to approach a Public Relations firm. A young, eager executive met with the brethren and received from them as much information as they could disclose. In due course, the following advertisement appeared in the local newspaper.
Can You Keep A Secret?
Are you financially secure?
Do you own or would you like to own a tuxedo?
Would you like to mix once a month with distinguished local citizens?
If you can answer "Yes" to all these questions, then Lodge X has vacancies for six new members.
NOTE: Membership is not guaranteed. Atheists and women need not apply.
This story, of course, is fictitious. But, there is no statement in the advertisement that is blatantly false about freemasonry. It does sum up how some perceive us. We are viewed by them as a chauvinistic group of rich, religious elitists who belong to a secret society. Unfavourable press reports at different periods of history have not added to our image. How many potential candidates do we lose because of the impression they have of the Craft? If we can identify individuals who might make good masons, then by approaching them properly we can rectify any false impressions they might have.
Initiates into freemasonry are asked if they are prompted to seek the privileges of ancient Freemasonry "from a favourable opinion, preconceived, of the institution". How can any potential candidate have a preconceived opinion that is at all accurate if no-one will speak to him? Why would he seek membership 'of his own volition if he had no preconceived opinion? Certainly, many of us joined freemasonry in this manner, but perhaps we found an organization that we enjoy more by good fortune than good judgement. Initiates into lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Ireland are not asked if they have a favourable opinion, preconceived, of the institution. If I had been asked this question at my initiation, I could not, if I had been absolutely honest, have answered in the affirmative. I had no preconceived opinion. I knew nothing bad about freemasonry, but that does not, of its own, constitute a favourable opinion. I did not know what freemasonry stood for, what freemasons believed in, nor what was expected of me. I had a favourable opinion of the men who I knew were masons, but they were not the institution. I now know masons who after joining the Craft, have ceased to be active members for they have discovered that masonry was not what they expected and was not for them. They joined freemasonry with a false preconceived opinion. That should never have been allowed to happen. Potential candidates, whether they make the initial move or whether their membership is solicited, must be given some indication of what masonry entails, what our philosophy is, what values we try to live by, and what is expected of a mason. We owe it to the Craft to ensure that a favourable opinion is preconceived of the order. We owe it to potential candidates to educate them, as fully as possible, about freemasonry in general. Candidates should know what they are joining.
Finally, we must determine how we can properly solicit potential members. I would suggest that we can do so in two ways, subliminally and directly.
Traditionally, the only outward visibility, to a community, of the existence of a masonic lodge has been the lodge building itself and the annual church parade. We have, for too long, hidden the light of freemasonry under a bushel. Yet, we have so much of which to be proud. By our actions, individually and as an organization, we can help to create a favourable impression of our Order. By such actions, we can attract members.
For the last four years, Lodge Mic-Mac has sponsored, organized and hosted an annual Roast. We have "roasted" celebrated citizens of the community, three of whom were not masons. Tickets are sold and are eagerly purchased since the Masonic Roast has become the social event of the year. All proceeds are donated to a local charity. Except for the one year when I was the unfortunate victim of the Roast, I have had the honour to be the Master of Ceremonies. Each year, I have introduced the masons present. The first year I gave a brief synopsis of what freemasonry is, who could become candidates and how they could apply for membership. We now have worthy members in our Lodge who joined because of our visibility through the annual roast. This is but one example of how we try to become involved in the community. It is but one example of what can be done by any lodge. By such subliminal soliciting we have attracted members. By such actions a favourable opinion has been received of the excellence of our Order.
Whenever we approach a potential candidate directly, we must bear in mind that should he eventually seek membership in a lodge he must do so of his own free will and accord. Our approach, therefore, must be gentle. If the approach is clearly rejected at any time then we should not pursue it. If, however, a spark of interest is shown then we should offer to discuss masonry, at an appropriate time and place, so that the potential candidate can be properly informed. If the interest is maintained, then discussions should continue, literature could be offered and other masons introduced. Only when the candidate is ready should an application form be offered. Let us remember that we are not salesmen pursuing the hard sell, but freemasons gauging, on our part, the suitability of the candidate and permitting him, on his part, to assess whether masonry is for him.
A person may solicit in many ways. One can solicit by asking or seeking earnestly, by tempting or enticing. This is not masonic soliciting. As masons we can only solicit by enquiring, by offering to share relevant and permissable information, by praising honestly the virtues of our Order and by indicating our own faith in the potential of the candidate. Such gentle soliciting cannot possibly be contrary to the ancient usages and established customs of our Order for the final decision will always be the candidate's. If we can enrich the Craft with worthy men then we can play our part in securing the future of our great, fraternal organization.