The Most Important Meeting
by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners
It has been said that the First Meeting that an Entered Apprentice attends is the most important meeting of a Freemason’s career. I would argue that it's the first meeting after they've been raised as a Master Mason, because as an Entered Apprentice, honestly, you don't have the ability to fully participate in the Meeting. You don't have the right to vote. However, for the sake of argument, let's just discuss that first meeting.
I celebrated 10 years of being part of the Fraternity on September 19, 2021. I was initiated as an Entered Apprentice on that date. If you're like me, you probably have a difficult time remembering that first meeting that you attended. If I'm being honest, I'm guessing it was probably much like the meetings I currently attend. We probably were barely making quorum, we probably spent way too much time on trivial matters and not enough time on Masonic education (however you define that). As much as I abhor the trivial business handled in stated meetings now, I'm guessing I thought that it must be an aberration then. Surely that's not what Freemasonry is about I thought to myself.
I used to cringe when someone would say to a newly raised Master Mason: "You get out of Freemasonry what you put into it." I disagreed with the sentiment of the statement, and thought that we were setting a low bar for new Masons to meet; essentially giving them an excuse to not become engaged in Freemasonry. The whole idea to me was absurd until I realized that it was somewhat true. Essentially a better way to state the above would be to say: "In order to perform the transformative work of Freemasonry, you have to put in the effort." In fact, in the Entered Apprentice degree, we are taught: "By the rough ashlar we are reminded of our rude and imperfect state by nature; by the perfect ashlar, of that state of perfection at which we hope to arrive by a virtuous education, our own endeavors, and the blessing of God". Isn't this essentially saying the same thing?
That first meeting boils down to not how you conduct your business, but how you engage that Entered Apprentice. "By a virtuous education". What is a virtuous education? Virtue means "excellent" and usually refers to moral excellence or excellence of character. It is an education that at its root teaches an individual to learn, practice, and habituate the four cardinal virtues of Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice, along with Faith, Hope, and Charity; as well our tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. But most importantly, how does one get educated? For every student, there has to be a teacher. While Masonic Education plays an important role in doing this, not every lodge does a good job of this. For the new Entered Apprentice, there needs to be a mentor.
At this point, the Entered Apprentice is going to probably have an intender assigned to them (In Illinois, it is the brother who is assigned to the candidate that helps them learn their catechisms and about Freemasonry as they progress through the degrees), but is this person serving as a mentor? They can be the same thing, but in my experience when one is an intender, they only help that brother through their degrees, and when they are raised they stop helping. A mentor is someone that helps that Entered Apprentice throughout their life and encourages that person they are mentoring to become a mentor to another. The mentor sets an example of how to live according to the principles of Freemasonry by its application in their everyday life. When mentoring is done right, what develops over time is a mutual friendship and respect for one another on a deep emotional level. Essentially by the end of that first meeting (ideally before it); someone in that lodge needs to become the mentor for the new Entered Apprentice. In a perfect world, they will have several if not all of the brothers of the lodge wanting to be mentors. However, in many cases, it is one individual stepping up to the plate.
However, the mentor is only able to teach the student if they are willing to learn and participate in the relationship. "By our own endeavors" means that the Entered Apprentice is open and receptive to being mentored, taking the lessons that they are being taught in the degrees and exemplified by their mentor and that he applies them in their everyday life. This is where the real transformative work happens. Hopefully, it will be understood by the Entered Apprentice by this point, or taught to him by his mentor that this work is a lifelong endeavor. This is the labor we undertake as Freemasons in our personal quarry. This is the application of our Virtuous education. As the saying goes, you can bring a horse to water, but you can't make them drink. If that Entered Apprentice has no desire to practice Freemasonry, nothing you do as a mentor is going to matter. If the investigation committee has done their job, then you're going to have an Entered Apprentice that is willing to do this work, learn from a mentor, and at some point to become a mentor to others that are joining the Fraternity.
Lastly, "The blessing of God" is a reminder of that time when as Entered Apprentice, you were conducted to the center of the lodge, caused to kneel and attend prayer. It was here that we all were taught that no man should ever enter upon any great or important undertaking without first invoking the blessing of Deity. The transformative work we engage in as Freemasons is the greatest duty that we will ever undertake. It is therefore appropriate that we ask for the blessing of Deity while undertaking it. It is our hope that by undertaking this work, that we are making ourselves worthy enough to be declared worthy enough to gain admission into the celestial lodge where the Supreme Architect of the Universe presides.
I hope that I have conveyed to you that the goal of the first meeting should be to not put on a perfect Masonic experience for the Entered Apprentice. The goal should be to have someone in the lodge step up and mentor them. In my case, I was and continue to be extremely lucky and blessed to have Illus. Brother Greg Knott as my mentor. Through Greg, I have met other brothers, like Todd E. Creason, Robert Johnson, Bill Hosler, Steve Harrison, and all of the Midnight Freemasons past and present. I feel that we all inspire and mentor each other. I continue through these brothers to meet other brothers that inspire me and that I hopefully inspire as well. In turn, I have come to mentor other brothers, like Dustin Farris and Tyler Hall, who I hope in turn someday will mentor others. In fact, if you think about it, doesn't the title "Entered Apprentice" essentially invoke the idea of a mentorship? An apprentice is one that learns a craft from someone who is skilled in the application of that craft, ie: a mentor. In my mind, this is what we need to practice in order to ensure that our Craft survives.
WB Darin A. Lahners is our co-managing Editor. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.