Onboarding with Solomon

Monday, 06 December 2021

The Learning and Development Team’s Worshipful Brother John Roscoe describes how Solomon satisfies the expectations of new Freemasons, while teaching them about Freemasonry’s history, traditions and symbolism

People often talk about life as a journey. These obviously have a start point and usually a destination in mind, too. In Freemasonry, we frequently describe people as having a Masonic journey. Each of us who is a Freemason knows the reason we decided to join. These vary, although interviews with many Freemasons reveal surprising commonalities across individuals as to why they wish to become a Freemason. At core, these include a desire to be with like-minded people with an underlying altruistic or charitable disposition; to become a ‘better man’ – motivated by curiosity to explore and understand the moral lessons contained in Masonic ritual, tradition, history, allegory and symbolism; to belong to an organisation that has enduring values over time and provides a sense of tradition that gives meaning, as part of something that puts your own life in the context of existing before and after your own life.

What is that meaning that people seek? Perhaps to achieve a sense that their life has been meaningful and that they have been able to contribute. For many, it is because they were inspired by a family member or someone else they respect who is a Freemason and wanted to join because of a desire to emulate them as an individual. Others join because of an innate curiosity about the Order. For some, it’s to recapture that sense of camaraderie and fraternity that they may have experienced in the forces. All of these are the kind of motivations that lead an individual towards becoming a Freemason. Perhaps the generic qualities in men attracted to Freemasonry include an empathic concern for others and a heightened sense of altruism.

This journey starts with an approach to a friend or perhaps through the internet and visiting a Masonic website. The next step is to meet people who are Freemasons and members of a Lodge that the individual may wish to join. Traditionally, a candidate would be interviewed and then initiated into the Lodge. Their first experience is perhaps likely to be one of bewilderment at what they have been through, but also a sense of being made to feel special, particularly at the Festive Board sitting next the Worshipful Master at dinner, being the centre of attention and guest of honour for the evening. 

The sense of being included and valued at that point is very strong. However, after that experience, the new initiate may sometimes begin to experience small disappointments, such as being told to learn the answers to questions for subsequent degrees, but otherwise not being told very much and being asked to leave the Lodge room when other ceremonies are being conducted. Nowadays, it is expected and good practice that someone who is more experienced sits out with them to keep them company, but this does not always happen.

Similarly, at the bar and Festive Board, they may sometimes feel a little left out unless their proposer or others ensure that they are looked after. Sometimes the new Freemason experiences the responsibility of having to integrate themselves into the pre-established social network of the Lodge rather than being brought in and included.

Research shows that reciprocity is a key factor in sound, enduring relationships. Therefore, those who hold the values that attract them to Freemasonry also expect those values to be demonstrated towards them. Surveys conducted for FMT in 2015-16 indicated that the most important areas of concern for members were mutual respect for each other, together with the sense of feeling personally valued, being with like-minded people, meeting people from different backgrounds to their own and pride in their membership of the Craft. Equally important to the social relationships was the desire to learn about Masonic symbolism and history and their relation to the ethical and moral ethos of Freemasonry.

In business, people joining new companies often go through a process called onboarding – what used to be called induction. This is also a concept that is increasingly being used to describe the journey that the new Freemason makes through their initiation and subsequent ceremonies of Passing and Raising.

In many Provinces and Districts, the importance of social relationships is well recognised and people seeking to become Freemasons are often invited to informal social events or white table nights in order to get to know members of the Lodge before they join. Equally, the importance of family support is well recognised, and initial interviews often take place with the partner, as well as with the man seeking to become a Freemason, to ensure that the commitment and expectations are clear.

Similarly, after initiation in many Provinces, care is taken to invite the new Freemason to other Lodges to watch people being initiated and have the opportunity to see this important moment from another perspective. This step is repeated after they’ve been passed and raised. All of this cements the nature of the reciprocal relationship, based on the mutual respect and friendship that binds us into this fraternity.

What perhaps has been missing is the need to satisfy the curiosity for understanding the Craft, which is embedded in the ritual and symbolism of Freemasonry as well as in the traditional history. However, exploring and understandingthe ritual needs the bedrock of that sense of fraternity described above if it is to flourish.

Recently, the Learning and Development Team at the United Grand Lodge of England have introduced onboarding courses for new Freemasons, covering all three degrees and soon to include companions new to the Royal Arch. Enrolment is straightforward. Each course comprises a number of sections, with quizzes to test your knowledge. Feedback suggests that people value the sessions and enjoy the interactive nature of the way they are presented. Each course is structured in a way that helps to develop and expand on the lessons and symbolism of the degree through which they have just passed. The courses can be completed at your own pace and they help you explore the symbolism in order to find ways that assist you in your own personal journey towards becoming a better person. 

Although this takes place on the Solomon platform, in an ideal world such opportunity should also be available within Provinces via the internet or locally at Masonic centres rather than at Lodge meetings. Also, they should be supported with learning circles and discussion groups, either online or in person.

Much valuable learning can take place in informal discussion groups, perhaps meeting over a drink given that, originally, Lodges of instruction were established for exactly that purpose – to instruct and develop understanding, rather than just to practice ritual.

If you are interested in these modules, whether you have just completed a particular degree or even if you are a more experienced Freemason, log in to Solomon (www.solomon.ugle.org.uk) and links to all the onboarding modules are available from the home page.

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