By Wor∴ Bro∴ Chad Simpson
Arts & Sciences Lodge No. 792, in Hilliard, Ohio uses what might be called an expanded form of candidate education which begins as soon as a man expresses an interest in becoming a Freemason.
A man who expresses an interest in Masonry is invited to dine with the lodge. These dinners are held at a restaurant conveniently located near the lodge and are held prior to every meeting.
Attending the dinners provides the prospect with a chance to meet the members and vice versa. He is invited to attend the dinners each month. While the mechanics of seeking membership are explained by his potential sponsor either at or before the first dinner, becoming a Freemason is never mentioned again until the prospect raises the issue himself. He then follows the usual petitioning process but will continue to attend the dinners during this time. In fact, he will attend the dinners throughout the rest of his time with the lodge - first as an prospect, then as a petitioner, and finally as a candidate and member.
Breaking bread together before the meetings is an essential part of the lodge’s culture and not only provides an opportunity for conviviality and fellowship but also provides a break from the concerns and stress of the profane world before entering the sanctuary of the lodge.
Once a petitioner has been elected to receive the degrees but before he is initiated, he attends what is called a “School for the Profane,” which is a one-on-one discussion session between the petitioner and a member of the lodge with the goal of preparing the candidate intellectually for his initiation. The School meets monthly at a convenient place other than the lodge hall in recognition that the petitioner is truly profanum – “outside the temple."
The first session of the School focuses on why the candidate chose to become a Mason and a general discussion of the concept of Masonic brotherhood. The second reviews operative masonry and the operatives’ use of tools as symbols for life, culminating with the petitioner brainstorming his own symbolism for a standard set of Masonic working tools. The third session is a discussion of King Solomon’s Temple and the symbolism of the spiritual temple. The fourth session is a discussion of Plato’s allegory of the cave, which he reads in advance. This session introduces or reintroduces him to the powerful symbolism of an allegory. The final session takes place the day before conferral of the Entered Apprentice Degree, at which time the candidate reads Carl Claudy’s thoughtful essay, “Preparation.”
Once a candidate is initiated, he is apprenticed to a Master Mason, whose responsibility it is to make sure he learns the traditional catechism examination lecture, attends lodge when it is open on the EA degree, and visits another lodge or two, if possible, to see the degree again.
Having graduated, as it were, from the School for the Profane, the new brother now attends a Lodge of Instruction for Entered Apprentices. His Master Mason attends with him.
The Lodge of Instruction system is used all over the world as a method of teaching ritual and keeping the Work at a high level of quality. At Arts & Sciences, Lodges of Instruction are used as a venue for a progressive system of candidate education in the nature of informal, small group discussions or, rather, conversations held at the lodge hall each month on the first Thursday.
The object of each session is to expand the candidate’s knowledge of the lessons, history, and symbolism of the degree he recently received—and it is no coincidence that the others who participate revisit these same topics as well. The participants in each Lodge of Instruction include a discussion leader, two additional Master Masons, the candidate or candidates holding that degree, and more often than not one or two additional brethren. The Junior Warden leads the Lodge of Instruction for Entered Apprentices, the Senior Warden leads the Lodge of Instruction for Fellow Crafts, and the Worshipful Master leads the Lodge of Instruction for Master Masons.
We use Introduction to Freemasonry by Bro. Carl H. Claudy as the basis for discussion in the Lodges of Instruction. The book separately discusses each of the three symbolic degrees and was approved for candidate teaching several years ago by the Grand Lodge of Ohio’s Committee on Education & Information.
Candidates generally remain an Apprentice for three to four months, and a Fellow Craft for the same period, attending six to nine Lodges of Instruction before being raised. The first Lodge of Instruction in a degree is dedicated to discussing the candidate’s impressions of the degree just received; the remaining sessions delve into Claudy’s book on that degree.
To demonstrate his official proficiency in a degree, the candidate presents the usual examination “lecture” to the lodge, but Arts & Sciences doesn’t stop there. The fellowship at table before lodge, the conversations and “back and forth” at the Lodges of Instruction, and attendance at lodge itself are all part of the candidate experience and are seen as essential to the lodge’s future.
Furthermore, the goal of Arts & Sciences Lodge is to encourage its members and candidates to practice applied Masonry. Accordingly each candidate is additionally encouraged to write a short essay about some aspect of each degree that he found personally meaningful and applicable to his own life. The purpose of the essay is not to assess a man’s grammatical, spelling or other skills as a writer, but to provide him an explicit opportunity to internalize some lesson of the degree. Though the lessons of operative and speculative Masonry are interesting, they are of little value if they are not applied in daily life.
By the time the new member becomes a proficient Master Mason, he has worked closely with ten or more members of the lodge (his Master and three different Master Masons in each of the three Lodges of Instruction). This experience intentionally weaves him into the social fabric of the lodge. It also prepares him to participate fully in the discussions which take place in every tyled meeting of the lodge. And, as already mentioned, the Master Masons who participate in the lodges of Instruction enjoy a further opportunity to engage their thinking on an aspect or two of Masonry they had perhaps neglected. Thus, they too re-weave themselves back into the fabric of the lodge, and of Masonry.
Just as Apprentices and Fellows in Arts & Sciences are not left to themselves outside of lodge, so also are they given special seating within the lodge. Embracing a Masonic tradition adopted by lodges of the 18th century, Entered Apprentices are seated in the Northeast, near the Rough Ashlar, and Fellow Crafts are seated in the Southeast, near the Perfect Ashlar. This ensures that every new member has his own place in the lodge, and he notes this tangible change as he advances through the degrees.
Arts & Sciences Lodge was formed by dispensation in 2009 and chartered in 2010. The Lodge raised two Masters last year, and both are active. As of this writing (November, 2011), the lodge has three Apprentices and one petitioner. In order not to overburden the lodge, it cannot accept any more petitions this year but will allow interested prospects to attend dinners.
Limiting the number of candidates each year is unusual in American Masonry, but when a candidate requires the attention of ten members of the lodge, particularly in a lodge of only 26, the lodge cannot credibly work more than three or four candidates in a twelve month period. However, the old adage of “working smarter, not harder” would seem to apply here. Why work as many as 15 candidates only to retain one or two active new members? Would it not make more sense to work two and keep two?
Ideally, a man approaches the door of Masonry with the sentiment that “something special” may be found within. While it is true that Masonry owes a petitioner nothing, an alarm at the door of the preparation room tells the attentive ear that outside stands a candidate to whom we have given an IOU for our future. Our responsibility is to redeem that IOU at full value, and Arts & Sciences Lodge’s candidate education program is directed exclusively toward that end.