I firmly believe that Freemasonry is on the threshold of experiencing a new boom in interest for membership. Interest in Freemasonry is growing, which is excellent, but that also means that existing members and lodges must be prepared to deliver the experiences that are expected of them, as well as have processes in place to ensure only the well-qualified are allowed to gain admission.
Are you ready?
“In order for Freemasonry to flourish, Masonry must be good for the man and the man must be good for Masonry.”
-GLoTX Petition Investigation Manual, Author Unknown
Freemasonry is more relevant today than it has been in several generations. Young men are interested in joining, which is what many lodges and Grand Lodges have been hoping for but it also means that we need to be mindful that we seek quality members, not quantity.
I have written about the shortcomings of putting quantity before quality in the past but I haven’t formally detailed the best practices associated with the first, and most important step of the petitioning process: the investigation committee.
In this post, I intend to do just that by addressing some essential concepts that you can start applying to investigation committees in your lodge, right now.
Before I begin, I want to mention that I will be discussing some ideas that others have accused of being ‘elitist’, ‘snobbish’ or ‘unreasonable’. If having higher standards and adopting better practices in a manner that will have a positive effect on your lodge and, by extension, the fraternity is snobbish or unreasonable then I can tolerate it for the benefit of Freemasonry.
It’s also worth pointing out that much of this content will come from a resource that can be found on the secretary database in the Grand Lodge of Texas – the much undervalued and underused “Petition Investigation Manual”. So, if you’re a Texas brother, rest assured that these ideas weren’t arbitrarily concocted in some Country Club Lodge, but rather they come from literature distributed by the Grand Lodge of Texas.
The Importance Of The Investigation Committee
“No Mason could be charged with a higher or more noble and rewarding responsibility than he who is charged with the responsibility to be a guard at the entrance porch of the Temple.”
“In the times in which we live today, nothing is more dangerous to our beloved Order than a careless and slipshod investigation of a petitioner.”
-GLoTX Petition Investigation Manual
From the moment a man makes that transition from “Mr.” to “brother”, he becomes a walking representation of our fraternity. It is, therefore, essentially necessary that we do not neglect our responsibility to carefully investigate any man who might seek to join our ranks.
A worthy brother will reflect well upon the fraternity and be a boon to your lodge, however, the opposite can be said of a brother who, perhaps, never should have been made a brother at all.
For too many lodges, the members of the investigation committee are expected to do no more than check the necessary boxes, fill out the correct blanks, and sign on the dotted line. Often, all members of the committee will sit down with the petitioner at the lodge, fill out their forms together and turn them in to vote on at the next meeting. In fact, if it’s the evening of a Stated Meeting, they are often voted in that very night.
At this point, few, if any, of the lodge members have taken the time to get to know this man and his family. Nobody has followed up on his references or looked him up on social media to inquire into his character. This lodge is, essentially, voting to initiate a complete stranger into the fraternity.
Would you meet a stranger on the street and offer to confer the degrees of Freemasonry for him on the spot? That’s basically what you’re doing.
“We need to face the fact that more than just a few Lodges have taken in members of whom they cannot be proud, and who, had they been thoroughly investigated, would never have passed the ballot box.”
-GLoTX Petition Investigation Manual
I have one more point that I’d like to discuss before moving onward and I hate to bring this up in light of recent events here in Texas but I also feel that I must bring it up in light of recent events in Texas.
There is a great deal of mentally unstable people in the world and there are also a great many people that hate Freemasonry. In a day and age when you suddenly find your life at risk anywhere you go, it’s just one more reason why it’s essential that we start carefully examining anybody that wishes to associate themselves with our fraternity.
This subject is very unsettling to write about, so I’ll leave it at that.
The Investigation Committee
The first step for ensuring that a petitioner is properly investigated is to give careful consideration to whom you place on the committee. A lodge should take the time to train members that take investigations seriously on the concepts that we will cover in this post. Granted, you cannot have a permanent investigation committee, at least not here in Texas, but the more members that are trained and willing, the better.
If you have any members that already have a background or experience in investigations then you should do your best to include them in this process and future investigations, if they are willing.
As with all good committees, there should be an appointed chairman and they should meet before taking any initial actions.
Working Through The Petition
The first thing that the committee should do when they first meet is to review the petition together and look for any gaps or inconsistencies. This may, or may not, indicate that the petitioner is being untruthful but it should be made note of and attempts should be made to clarify for accuracy.
As there are typically three members that make up an investigation committee, there are three primary duties that can be assigned to each member. As quoted directly from the GLoTX Petition Investigation Manual with one exception:
- Background check
- Criminal records
- Social media*
- Petitioner’s References
- Contact each reference listed by petitioner
- Contact petitioner’s past and present employers
- Petitioner’s recommenders
- Contact the petitioner’s listed recommenders
*This is the one exception which I have added to the list.
After duties have been assigned, set a date for the committee to meet again in the near future so that you can compare your findings. After this meeting, the next step will be for the committee members to visit the petitioner at home.
Let’s take a few moments to look more closely at each of the duties I just listed before we go any further.
Background Check – Yes, you should absolutely run a criminal and financial background check on all new petitioners and anyone requesting affiliation from out-of-state. What you should not do is ask a law enforcement official to perform a background check to obtain non-public information as this is now illegal. It is up to the lodge to determine what route they will use to run the background check although it should be obvious that the more thorough the check, the better.
Some Grand Lodges mandate background checks, however, this is not currently a requirement in Texas.
Social Media – Although this topic isn’t covered in the official manual, I believe that it’s an important addition to the investigative process for three reasons:
First, you can tell a lot about a man just from looking through his social media feed. Is he rude? Racist? Argumentive? Is he active in the community? Is he a nice guy? I assure you that even a quick review of a man’s timeline will tell you all of these things and much more.
Secondly, recall that a man becomes a representation of our fraternity once he becomes a member. How would it reflect on our fraternity if he had a square and compass on his profile picture based off of the type of things he tends to share and post?
Lastly, aside from looking at the petitioner’s character, you can often use the information presented on social media to verify any factual information he provided. Is he married? Where does he work? And so forth.
It is also highly advisable to check the social media of brothers that are new to the area and seek to affiliate with your lodge. Not all lodges perform their due diligence when accepting new members and you inadvertently allow a toxic brother to join your lodge. I’ve seen this first hand.
Employment – Get in touch with the current and past employers that the petitioner lists and ask them to verify the information that you’ve been given. You should also ask if he left willingly or was fired from his job. Some employers won’t want to share any information and this is understandable. It never hurts to ask, however.
Former Residence – This one may be difficult but it’s still worth following through. If the petitioner is from out-of-town then call the secretary of the lodge the petitioner is from and ask if he’s ever heard of the man. This is especially effective in smaller towns and you may gain some valuable insight into his character.
If he’s recently graduated then consider calling his former high school and speaking with the administration there. Again, they may be very guarded about what they share but, as always, you won’t learn anything if you don’t try.
Neighborhood – Check out the petitioner’s house. Is it well maintained or does it look as though there’s a perpetual estate sale going on? If you see any neighbors, then take a few moments to visit with them and see what you can learn about the petitioner.
Summary – It’s important to find as much information about the petitioner as possible. This is, after all, an investigation.
Overall, you are looking for indications that he is a good man who will represent the fraternity in a positive light and conform to our traditions and teachings.
References and Recommenders
This aspect is pretty straight-forward: a petitioner is required to list five brother Masons (at least, here in Texas) that actually know the petitioner, three of which must be members of the lodge in question.
Call these brothers and ask them probing questions that will give you more information on the petitioner. Here are some examples:
- How long have you known him?
- Would he make a good Freemason? Why or why not?
- What is his best trait?
- Would you admit him into your lodge? Why or why not?
- What are your thoughts on this gentleman?
Leave no stone unturned. The reference that you fail to follow up on may have important information that will assist with your investigation.
It’s also worthwhile during this step, and the next is to make attempts to learn about the petitioner’s faith. Since no Athiest can be made a Mason, it’s important to find out more about what the petitioner actually believes.
Anyone can misrepresent themselves on a petition and anyone can repeat what they’ve been prompted to say. It’s important to find out now, rather than later. (Thanks for the suggestion, Kyle Wahlquist!)
Sitting Down With The Petitioner
Go visit him at his house. By yourself. Unannounced.
This aspect of the investigation process is often overlooked because it tends to put everyone outside of their comfort zone when done correctly. That being said, you don’t grow as a man by sitting in your comfort zone, so it’s time to step up.
You’ve already told him that he will be investigated and it’s ok to tell him to expect visitors, just don’t tell him when.
The reason for this is because you want to get to know “the real” petitioner and his family. If he knows that you’re coming then you’ve lost an opportunity to see how he really lives and behaves.
This also gives you a chance to meet with the family and answer any questions they may have and get to know them as well. How do they feel about him joining the fraternity? Do they understand that he will have a time commitment? Do know about the financial expectations?
It’s just as important that the rest of the family be on board with his membership, otherwise, he may not be able to commit time to the fraternity. What’s the benefit of putting a man through the degrees if he’ll never have time for the organization?
Again, you want to ask probing questions based off of the information that he has provided and you have learned through the investigation process. Keep your questions as open-ended as possible and, most importantly, let the petitioner do most of the talking. This isn’t the time to impress anybody with your knowledge of Freemasonry, you are there to learn as much about this man’s character as possible.
Review The Petition
After all members of the investigation committee have sat down with the petitioner, they should then meet again to discuss their findings. Every member of the committee should choose ‘favorable’ or ‘unfavorable’ based off of what they have learned and believe to be best for the lodge and fraternity. If a brother is undecided then this provides an opportunity for the committee to work together to resolve any uncertainty.
The GLoTX guide book lists some excellent questions that a committee member should ask himself before deciding if they should deem him favorable or unfavorable:
• Is this man truly “Worthy and Well Qualified”?
• Would I welcome this man into my home?
• Would I leave this man alone with my wife?
• Would I want this man to marry my daughter?
• Would I trust my life to this man?
• Will this man be a credit to the Fraternity?
• Is this man sufficiently literate to be able to grasp and retain the precepts of Freemasonry?
• Are his motives for becoming a Mason good?
Remember, an organization is only as strong as it’s weakest member. As Freemasons, we should concern ourselves with the quality of our members rather than the quantity.
The brothers on the investigation committee serve as the first guards a petitioner will meet on his journey through the West Gate and it’s absolutely essential that each of us take our duties to our fraternity seriously so that future generations may come to know and love it as well.
Please also keep in mind that if the committee is favorable on a petitioner, that doesn’t mean that every member should simply drop a white ball and vote him into the lodge. Every step of the process serves a purpose and shouldn’t be overlooked!
If a Texas brother wishes to access the “Petition Investigations Manual”, he may obtain it from his secretary.
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