TAKE OFF ALL YOUR CLOTHES!
Dr. E. Otha Wingo
This stark demand, said to a candidate in the preparation room, is not designed to inspire confidence or to ease anxiety about the unknown experience before him. Some misguided brethren seem to think this is amusing. It is not. We should do everything possible to make the candidate comfortable about receiving his first degree in Freemasonry.
Here is a suggested way to explain his preparation for the initiation: "Mr. Doe, for the purpose of your initiatory degree, it will be necessary for you to remove your street clothing for our ceremonial clothing. We will step out of the room, while you slip into this degree garment and we will continue with your preparation.
Brethren, the candidate's comfort is very important for his full participation in his initiation. We should make him comfortable in body and mind. There is always uncertainty and a bit of nervousness about the unknown. A bit of mystery about the initiation enhances the experience. However, he should not be worried or frightened. Make sure your candidate is reassured that nothing either hurtful or embarrassing will happen to him.
The importance of making the candidate comfortable at all times came sharply to my attention recently from two situations. I heard the story of one candidate who was in the preparation room ready to receive the first degree, but he refused to change into the clothing provided. He was very nervous and said that he was leaving. Several brethren, including close friends, tried to assure him that the initiation was totally serious and in no way embarrassing. It was too late to convince him and he left the building. This candidate had not been properly instructed by his brethren.
Another candidate was scheduled for his initiatory degree in my lodge. I called to confirm his appearance that evening. I stated that he would enjoy a very meaningful and memorable experience and I hoped he was looking forward to it. He said, "well, I guess so...". I asked if he had been given any information about what to expect. He hadn't. I asked if he was aware that for part of the initiation he would wear a ceremonial garment instead of his own clothing. He wasn't. I stated that he would be asked to change into different clothes for the initiation and that he would not be embarrassed in any way whatever. I then asked if he knew that he would be blindfolded for a time. He didn't. I told him that he would be accompanied by two persons who would make sure he was safe and comfortable at all times.
I had a sudden inclination to ask him one further question: Has anyone jokingly suggested that you would have to do some ridiculous or embarrassing things? Yes, he had heard innuendos of such. I strongly assured him that such things are not a part of the Masonic degrees, which are in every way serious. He later thanked me for putting his mind at ease about some of his uncertainties.
The Masonic Education of a candidate should begin long before he appears at the lodge to receive his first degree. Typically, he receives a petition from a friend, who can answer some of his questions and tell him what to expect. When his petition has been received in the lodge, he will meet the investigation committee, which determines whether he meets the qualifications to become a Freemason. This committee is crucially important also in instructing the candidate in such basic information as mentioned above. Making a candidate comfortable involves physical as well as mental comfort; accommodating any physical condition that would make him uncomfortable during the degree. Be aware of the need to return his eyeglasses when appropriate or to adjust for a hearing problem.
Extend the comfort zone to the candidate's first meeting after his first degree. Instruct him in the proper way to respond to the Master, how to give signs, how to enter and leave the lodge. Be aware that a long time member, attending lodge after a long absence, may appreciate a quick review of words and signs for the opening. Extend this same courtesy to visiting brethren.
Mark sure your lodge is a place where candidates, members and visitors are comfortable and glad to be a part of Freemasonry.
Editors note: Bro. Wingo is a member of the Grand Lodge Committee on Masonic Education.