Vol. XLIV No. 3 — March 1966

You Signed His Petition

(One Side of an Imaginary Conversation)

Conrad Hahn

I see you’ve signed this petition from Joe Smith.

He’s an old friend? That’s good, because I’m sure you’ll want him to get all he can out of Freemasonry if he’s accepted into the lodge.

No, I’m not expressing any doubts about his chances. I’m just reminding myself that it’s an ancient custom of the Craft that every candidate must pass a ballot; and that brings up a couple of points you might keep in mind as one of Joe’s recommenders.

Of course you did him a favor by signing that petition. But sometimes a favor turns out to be anything but. It depends on what develops from it.

Sure, I believe you’re trying to do the lodge a favor, but all this talk about doing favors isn’t getting to those points I wanted to give you. If you really want to do Joe a big favor, you’ll take the job seriously of being his recommender, and if you do it thoroughly, you’ll be doing the lodge an even bigger favor.

What am I driving at? Well, I guess the main point I want to make is that you took on a serious responsibility when you signed Joe’s petition. You are recommending him, but for what?

Sure, the lodge needs new members. But if all you’re doing is signing a paper to bring in a new member, you’d better be sure that Joe’s enough of a self-starter to catch on to what the degrees really mean. Otherwise he may turn out like dozens of new members I’ve seen in my lifetime. They “get the works,” but that’s the last we ever see of them.

No, of course not. I’m not accusing you or Joe of anything. It’s just that I’ve seen too many new members come in and then lose interest, and one of the big reasons, as I see it, is that their recommenders didn’t take their own recommendation very seriously.

Yes, I can tell you some of the things you ought to do for Joe. But before doing that, let’s go back to the question I asked a minute ago, because that’ll help us to understand why recommending is a serious business. The question was: “You’re recommending him, but for what?”

That’s right; you believe he’s a good man and that he’ll be a credit to the lodge. But will he be an asset if he loses interest and joins the majority who are always absent? There’s really more to it than that. If you really recommend him as a potential Freemason, you’re saying that he’s a man who wants to pursue a course of symbolic moral instruction, that he’s a benevolent man who wants to express that attitude in practical ways, and that he will enjoy the association of like-minded men, that he wants that kind of fellowship.

Well, I’m sorry if I sound “preachy,” but don’t you see? That’s what Freemasonry is really all about. It’s all summed up in our three great tenets, brotherly love, relief, and truth.

Of course he’ll get some instruction in those tenets as he goes through the degrees. But I’ll bet it would come easier to him if you’d do the first job that a recommender really should do: give the candidate some idea of what Freemasonry really is.

Oh, you can tell him a lot of things about Freemasonry without violating any of the secrets. The important thing is for him to realize that Freemasonry is individuals working with individuals. It’s not a mass movement; it’s not a pressure group. It’s individuals joining together to search for truth, to practice benevolence, and to discover the joy of the mystic ties that spell out brotherhood.

I know, I’m up in the clouds again; but I mean that a recommender’s first duty is to see that a candidate knows that Freemasonry has these moral and spiritual objectives. His second duty is to see that his protégé gets this understanding from his initiatory experiences.

How? Well, let me spell that one out. A recommender should always be in lodge when the petition he’s signed is read and when it’s balloted on. A man should stand up for what he believes in. At one time there were lodges in which the recommenders stood up and made brief statements about the candidates when their petitions were read in lodge. The members knew that a man came “well-recommended,” and the sponsors made an obvious commitment to the petitioners. But just being there when the petition is read is strong testimony from the recommender.

Why when the ballot is spread? Well, for one reason because you say the petitioner is acceptable. What would you think if someone told you that Bill Jones would make a good member for your club but that he wouldn’t vote for him? That’s just about what you’d be saying if you were absent when Joe Smith’s petition comes up for a ballot. And what’s more, don’t you think that Joe deserves being sure that you want him in the lodge?

O.K., O.K., but let’s get back to the recommender’s responsibility about the candidate’s understanding the real meaning of Freemasonry. This is why a recommender should always be in lodge whenever a degree is conferred on his protégé.

A protégé? That’s a person under your care or protection. And isn’t that just what you should show a candidate you recommended, that you care? How can you do it better than to be present whenever he takes a degree, to take him under your wing and see that he gets to know the other brethren, and to be among the first to congratulate him as he completes another step up the ladder of our Craft?

Of course he’ll appreciate it. Whether he realizes it or not, you ought to be aware of the fact that hes kind of leaning on you, especially if you took some time to explain Freemasonry to him when he filled out his petition. Every time he takes a degree he’s full of wonderment, unanswered questions, perplexities. He hesitates to ask questions. Everybody else seems to know what’s going on. Everybody seems so sure of himself, or takes it all for granted. This is the point where his need for Masonic Light can be stimulated by someone who takes an interest in his new experiences, encourages him to ask questions, and helps him to find the answers.

But that’s true of every one of us. We can all learn something new about Freemasonry every day. Most of his questions can be answered from the monitor, the book of constitutions, or a Masonic encyclopedia like Mackey’s. But don’t forget: every Mason should be encouraged to interpret the symbols of Freemasonry for himself. They’ll mean more to him if he studies them that way.

Now, that reminds me of something else you can do to show him that his recommender really cares about his improvement in Masonic knowledge. As he finishes each degree, you can lend or give him one of the three little volumes of Carl Claudy’s Introduction to Freemasonry, or any similar little handbooks available from the grand lodge. Unless you’re sure someone else is doing it for him, that’s the psychological moment to get him exposed to the idea that a good understanding of Freemasonry is helped tremendously by some reading and study.

Sure, you’ll be giving him some Masonic education, but don’t let that word bother you, or him. Don’t even use it. Just say, “Joe, I remember the night I took this degree and how confused I was. I think this little book will answer a lot of the questions that are probably buzzing through your head right now.”

Of course he’ll appreciate it. If he doesn’t, he’s the kind of guy you shouldn’t have recommended in the first place. Wasn’t he really desirous “of becoming a candidate for the mysteries of Freemasonry,” which was what he said when he signed his petition? And when you signed it, you were saying you believed him.

Certainly I mean it! When Joe Smith signed his name to that petition, he wasn’t just practicing his penmanship. He was making some pretty solemn declarations. That’s one of the big troubles with this Fraternity today. We use a lot of beautiful words over and over again, but sometimes we don’t even hear them or see them. For more than thirty years I’ve heard the senior warden say at least twice every meeting, “harmony being the strength and support of all societies, more especially of ours.” So what did we get in between at last month’s meeting? One of the nastiest squabbles I’ve ever listened to, over Bill Blunt’s motion to take some money out the charity fund to help a poor family at the other end of town!

I know. I’m sorry; I did get carried away, but you ought to be glad that Joe Smith wasn’t a member in lodge that night. He’d really be wondering what Freemasonry is all about. You see, though, that’s another reason why you ought to care about the impressions we make on candidates and new members. You didn’t only recommend him to the lodge; you also recommended us to him.

Naturally, you can’t make every member a perfect Mason. But you can help a candidate you’ve recommended to understand what the ideal is. That’s why I think his recommender should follow his progress closely in acquiring “proficiency.” Even if you’re not his official “mentor,” “intender,” or teacher, you should take a real personal interest in his learning the catechism. He’ll be grateful for your help and interest; he’ll want to please you simply because you sponsored him. But you should make him feel that you’re going to be proud of his Masonic progress; mere memorization of the ritual isn’t good enough. You’re going to see that he understands every word and phrase, every image and symbol. When the question is asked, “Has he made suitable proficiency in the preceding degree?” you want to be able to say to yourself, “You bet. He’s well-qualified, not only well-recommended.”

You can say that again! That’s exactly what I think. It’s the recommender’s job to see that a candidate gets a good start in Masonry. And I’m not the only one that thinks so. Let me show you a quotation. Here. This is what a past grand master of Alberta said at the Banff Conference last fall:

When we receive a petition from an applicant, that is a serious business. That petition comes to us with two [or more] members’ names attached to it as sponsors. Now what these men don’t realize is that when they sign that petition, they assume a permanent responsibility for that petitioner and they are personally responsible for that man as long as he is a member of that lodge. He is their personal responsibility and they should see that he is properly trained in the principles and practice of Masonry if we are ever going to have a lodge, a proper body of Masons here.

Of course I know that grand lodge has a program of Masonic education. But let’s face it. That program isn’t aimed at candidates. It’s aimed primarily at lodge officers to develop leadership and at members who didn’t get what they should have had when they first became Masons. But you know as well as I do from the attendance records that we’re not reaching half of those in the latter group. They never come to lodge. Why? We didn’t make them active Masons when we made them members. That’s our fault, and as I said before, one big reason for it is that recommenders rarely take their recommendation seriously enough to do something for the candidate, to make him an interested Mason, to create some of the fellowship he’s looking for.

Maybe my judgment is harsh. But just look back over the list of the last ten members who joined this lodge. How many of them do you know personally? How many of them are attending lodge regularly because they want to be active Masons? No, just a minute — I want to make a small bet with you. Wherever you find one of them who’s making good, you’ll find that he had at least one recommender who took his job seriously. . . . Now, you wanted to say. . .?

Yes, that’s sad but true. Many a recommender goes through the mechanics of signing a candidate’s petition, sometimes because Al or Jim asked him to do it as a favor, and sometimes because he happened to know the applicant. But if that’s all a man is willing to do, just sign his name to a petition, he’s got the wrong idea of how Masonic influence grows and spreads. You don’t make a man a Mason merely by signing his petition. If that’s all you’re willing to do, you may make him feel that it’s just a mechanical requirement in a drive to sign up new members. He begins to feel like a statistic, counted in but not counted on. And as he goes from degree to degree, wondering and questioning, with no one taking any interest in his queries, and too often no interest in him personally, he comes to the conclusion that this is just another club where busy organizers promote themselves through a mumbo-jumbo of ritual work that they take awfully seriously in the lodge but don’t seem interested in explaining to others.

Of course I don’t think Masonry is “going to the dogs.” There are always, thank heaven, some men in the lodge who know that Masonry is individuals working with individuals. The candidates they recommend “to improve themselves in Masonry” actually improve because they see to it. They know that this is one of the ancient rights of a lodge of Master Masons, to see that each new apprentice is taught the principles and skills of the Craft, by himself, as an individual, in a manner suited to his interest and ability.

O.K., O.K. But give me one last word. Every recommender should be willing to do what we’ve been talking about. Why? Because it’s the Masonic way to preserve the lodge’s right to develop worthy apprentices into skillful masters. When a lodge fails to accept the responsibility that goes with that right, only one of two things can happen. Either decay sets in, or some outside agency assumes the responsibility. Either way the lodge is a loser.

Right! You signed Joe Smith’s petition. You are recommending him. Make sure that you’re there to commend him again and again as he takes each step to become a master of the work.

The Masonic Service Association of North America