The other day, I saw a blog post shared by a Companion on Facebook. Sure, there’s a lot of B.S. on Facebook and who wants to see what someone is having for dinner (me, me!). But, in general, our Masonic scholars and authors are pretty good at research, contemplation, and sharing of innovative ideas. Maybe it’s that feedback and criticism can be better controlled online.

Anyway, over the next ten days, I’m going to feature one of the ideas of Texan Mason, Brother Lance Kennedy and the observations he has brought up in his article, “10 Propositions for Texan Freemasonry.” You can read the whole article here.

The first point Brother Kennedy brings up is the concept, as he calls it, of “Guarding the West Gate,” or addressing the need for new members. Brother Lance makes the point that we have been far too lenient in who we are letting into our fraternity. We generally do a good job of weeding out those that would be downright detrimental, but when it comes to bringing in members who will participate, see and build on the value of the fraternity, and live up to their responsibilities — time, financial, etc. — we often fall short.

His advice is to seek quality over quantity. To live with the realization that we will not return to the times where men come knocking on our doors en mass to become members. It is our right to determine the kind of man we want in our lodges (and Chapters!). He further makes the point that maybe the top line signer should be the man’s mentor; what better person, I would ask, to help guide this new Mason (or Companion) on his path?

I wanted to expand a bit on this last point about mentoring. To me, our Masonic mentoring process is flawed here in Illinois. We put an overwhelming amount of emphasis (at least in my Lodge District) on the mentor simply helping the new brother with his catechism. But aren’t we missing the point here?

One of the greatest benefits of our fraternity is the collective wisdom, knowledge, and experience our older members offer our newer — and younger — ones. Why shouldn’t we capitalize on the outright realization that we have the chance to partner a salty, experienced Mason with a young, eager, and impressionable one?

In the State of Michigan, they have an interesting “mentoring” process, which to me should be adopted by every Masonic Body. There, a prospective brother goes through a year-long process where he meets with brother monthly, participates in lodge activities, is exposed to brothers at all levels (dinners out, meet and greets with the brethren and their spouses, etc.), and generally undertakes a year-long course of conversation and realization as to what it means to be a Mason, what his responsibilities are, and how he will fit into the lodge that is contemplating taking him on as a member.

It is only after a year of experiencing this one-on-one with this Mason that the candidate may petition the lodge. Can you wonder what the participation rate must be for a man who goes through this process? And you can imagine that this man’s mentor NOT ONLY helps him with his catechism, but explains the intricacies and curiosities of Freemasonry, makes sure the new Mason knows about meetings and events, and generally keeps a close eye on his interest, attendance and participation — likely for life.

Oh, and the best thing? That mentor — of course — becomes the new Mason’s top line signer. And if the new Mason ever falls behind on paying his dues, that top line signer is responsible for them as well!

So what’s this all mean for our Chapters?

Yes, we are having a hard time attracting new members — and keeping the ones we have active. But that means we need to do a better job on a few fronts:

Is now the right time? Does your Chapter actually interview candidates? Do you know what their expectations and reasons for joining the Chapter are? Do they align with the Chapter’s expectations for new members? What can the new Companion bring to the Chapter? Will be a leader or a participant or just someone looking to make the step into the Commandery, never to be seen again? Is he interested in truly more light or is he just getting pressure to join? 

What does your Chapter offer? Why should anyone want to join your Chapter? Are your meetings simply business meetings with no plans, no agenda, and no hope? Are you fulfilling the promise that Chapter provides more light to its members? Is your Chapter meeting simply another “bad” lodge meeting?

Can this man help things? Is he a sparkplug that might help turn the Chapter around? Will your Chapter’s members allow him to take you in a new, better direction? Will you put all of the Chapter’s focus on meeting this new Companion’s expectations? Why not?

There are many questions a prospective candidate will have about the Chapter he is considering. Those may not be evident right at the beginning and that’s why “guarding the west gate” may be a prudent course of action. Do not be so quick to bring in every Master Mason you can. Take time to make sure he is right for the Chapter, the Chapter is right for him, and — most importantly — you are ready to give him a rewarding and fulfilling experience that he is not finding elsewhere.