Setting the Bar Low

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson

"Congratulations on your first degree!", we tell the candidate. A round of hearty handshakes ensues. By the end of the meeting, the Worshipful Master delivers the line we know he'll give, "Well, Brother...You've just heard us talk for two hours. The floor is yours if you have any thoughts or observations on what you've just experienced." The funny guy sitting in the North yells out, "Keep it under an hour, okay?!"

Alright, wipe all that away...that's just me griping on the same old same old. I was chatting with my Sr. Warden, Spencer the other day and it came up again--setting the bar low from the get go. What does that top paragraph have to do with this short essay? Well, it's what leads up to the next part of the story. The Worshipful Master assigns the new candidate an Intender or a coach to learn his catechism. Let me stop here for a quick moment and address the readers. I know there are jurisdictions that do not have catechisms. The candidate simply waits a month in between degrees. You're all nuts, and this piece isn't for you. (I would insert an emoji of a face sticking his tongue out here if I could.)

So here we are, the coach comes to the new Entered Apprentice and says, "Here is what you need to memorize. I will work with you, don't worry." Awesome right? Then, in the same breath says, "But if you can't, there's a short form. And if you can't do that, I just need to make sure you understand it."

Whoa, buddy! Put on the breaks. Are we just assuming out of the gate our candidate isn't adept enough to memorize this thing? Isn't this the candidate that ran through the entire dialogue of the latest Marvel installment? Yes there are men who have legitimate issues. Let's not get hung up here.

Something else Spencer and I talked about was when before the man ever even petitions, we say things like, "Yeah, the meetings are once a month, but don't worry if you can't make it." Or one of Spencer's favorites, "Oh, the dues? Yeah don't worry, they're cheap."

Spencer told me, "We want good men right? You might just characterize a “good” man as someone engaged, bright, curious, dependable, and eager to work. In short, someone who values and understands hard work and investment leading to achievement and satisfaction. So why then do we make it a point to tell our new “good” men that in this Masonry thing, there’s really no challenge, no personal investment, and actually we’ll go out of our way to make it as simple and non-committal as possible?"

Spencer continued, "That will really have them knocking down our door, bic pen-filled glossy petition barely dry. If we’re actually honest with ourselves, we know what the proverbial membership riddle is and how to crack it, but we're either too proud to admit we jumped the shark from the initial candidate investigation, or too lethargic to change our practices and attitudes."

What in the world are we doing? Why are we always looking to cut the obligation of being a Freemason to the lowest possible difficulty?

This is my question. Let's start a dialogue. What have you witnessed? Why do we do this? Comment below!

In my opinion, this is done to ensure we don't lose a man. But honestly, when someone tells me how cool something is and then immediately follows it all up with how unimportant showing up is, how cheap it is and how easy it will be...I'm left asking myself, "Who the hell wants that?"

"What we attain too cheap, we esteem too lightly." - Thomas Paine


RWB, Robert Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183 UD. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatrewhich focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.


  1. do I hear and AMEN! Our candidates are told from the beginning that they are expected to be at our practice meetings each week and that they are required to become proficient in the "work" before advancing to the next degree. But even in the ritual is the line: "unless prevented by sickness of some other unavoidable occurrence", so they're provided an "out" from the beginning. We recently held a candidate back from receiving his 3rd degree because we felt he was no ready or serious enough. Place little value on something and those receiving it place no value on it.

  2. I was shocked when I became WM and dicovered how many EAs we had as a Lodge.
    Yes, as an organization we must be better at preparing our potential Brothers for the journey ahead. But we need a better 21st century to do that. A 15 minute video that outlines not how easy it is to be a Mason, but the rewards that come from the effort.
    Who wouldn't want to eat dinner or participate in refreshment? We 'sell' the social, not the work. Great cathedrals and temples are not built during lunch or happy hour.

  3. I think I agree that we don't want to set the bar too low, but I'm not as sure I agree with your points. I agree that we want a candidate to do the memorization. (Although I feel a little hypocritical on that score as that wasn't a requirement when I went through the degrees in '93.) However, I also don't want to set a candidate up for failure, or self-recrimination. I don't want a candidate beating themselves up for not being able to do the memorization (for valid reasons), and then feeling as though they aren't equal to the other Brethren in lodge.

  4. Great piece, I have a presentation station to I spire a lodge to define their identity, to try and answer those questions, why are we here, why should you be a member. I based it off of a corporate leadership project I prese t on at my company. As Masons, we k ow why we join, but as lodges, can they answer, why they exist?

  5. I agree wholeheartedly, I just scolded (with brotherly love) one of our Fellow Crafts for not investing the time to learn the information for his proficiency. I explained to him that if we could dedicate the time to memorize the ritual to give him the best initiation experience possible he could consecrate time to learn the required information. We have to set the bar high from the beginning and lead by example which is work but that is what we are here to do!

  6. The Grand Jurisdiction of New York recently adopted the NorthStar program, which is a mentorship program that guides a man from his initial contact with the lodge until after he has done his 3rd degree proficiency. It is a great program...except that they made it optional. Many lodges refused to use it because it slows the progress of candidate advancement significantly and they feel it will scare away prospects. My lodge embraced the program fully and we have seen remarkable results. Before NorthStar we would hand a man apetition as soon as he contacted us, vote on it as soon as he turned it in, ran him through the 3 degrees 1 per month. About 3 years later we are sitting in lodge wondering where all the new Brothers are. With NorthStar, we have several meetings with the prospect AND his family before we ever ask him if he wants a petition. We get to know him and he gets to know us. We have had a few drop out during this process. They were the ones who would have disappeared 3 years down the road. Those that have stayed are active, show up and participate in our discussions and help out in our activities because they are vested into the lodge not only as a Brother, but as a friend.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.