I recently participated in a masonic investigation committee for a petitioner to my lodge. I will not go into the specifics of this for privacy reasons, but our report to the master of the lodge was favorable. The experience prompted me to write a few thoughts about the process. If you’re not familiar with what these committees are, this article describes the process in detail.
It’s Just a Conversation
It’s common for candidates to be nervous in such a formal discussion. Members of the lodge do take care to be presentable, and arrive at the same time. These practices show appropriate respect for the candidate, but I notice that they are also so formal it does not put candidates at ease. If you’re a candidate or on a committee, please bear this in mind and try to break the ice early. It is not an interrogation or a job interview.
If the candidate isn’t at ease they won’t ask their own questions and get the information they need to join of their own free will and accord.
Significant Others Are Very Important
It is always great to have the significant other (SO) of the candidate present. The candidate of course has met other men from the lodge, but the SO may not have. The SO deserves the opportunity to see Masons in the flesh and ask his/her own questions and develop a level of comfort, firstly out of basic respect, but also to counter-balance whatever incorrect information they may have seen on the Internet. It boils down to something a brother said to me when I was being investigated:
Masonry has no business coming between a man and his significant other, and this other person has the right to know what the prospective member will be doing, and with whom he will be spending time.
The Question about Deity
A hard requirement in my jurisdiction (and I suspect most others as well) is to ask the candidate in plain terms if they profess a belief in deity or a higher power. I’ve found it to be a bit delicate where to place so blunt a question, but asking the question as plainly as possible is important to establish the answer, since it is a hard requirement.
The non-religious and ecumenical aspect of Masonry is very important to me and many other brothers. And so a positive answer is all that is required.
I specifically do not want to probe further, because these differences do not matter to the lodge, and we should avoid the appearance of any “religious purity tests”.
This is the toughest part. A critical part is to establish the moral character of the candidate and guard the west gate of the lodge, but how exactly to do this?
There are no rules or litmus tests here I suppose, only the good judgment of the Masons on the committee.
In my jurisdiction we already know a great deal about the candidate before the committee arrives, as we’ve met him, gotten to know him, and probably already done a criminal background investigation as well. There is also the opinion of the petition signers to consider ahead of time as well.
I do not in any way mean to take the investigation committee responsibility lightly, but it does seem a “last safeguard” at the end of a long social process to establish candidate credibility. In practice it is not the primary way we establish the moral qualifications of the candidate. As a result, unfavorable results are quite rare, as earlier in the process such a candidate may have struggled to find signers, or otherwise may have been dissuaded from joining.