A Lodge’s Duty to its Apprentices -Robert Lomas
A strong, supportive relationship between an Apprentice and an Apprentice Master is the means by
which the traditional wisdom of The Craft has been passed on. In the present day when an
Apprentice joins a lodge, they have a proposer, a seconder and a mentor to look after them, but it
is the lodge, as a whole, that takes on the responsibility of becoming their Apprentice Master. For
over five hundred years Freemasonry has successfully educated its new members about the ways
and practices of our ancient order and helped them to benefit from its various activities in the areas
of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. However, in recent years the Craft has encountered two new
issues. These are interrelated problems of recruitment and retention.
Until the 1980’s we did not have much trouble finding Candidates. Young people took the
recommendation of their elders on trust. Lodges had waiting lists, and it could take twenty years to
reach the chair. In our modern information driven age that has changed. Now potential candidates
will google Freemasonry, and either be scared away by anti-masonic fright stories or attracted for
strange reasons. We do attract some Candidates through our peculiar form of Internet Dating, but
often the Candidates we keep for the rest of their lives join us through personal interaction.
If we are to survive for another five hundred years, we need to address the way society has
changed and think about the way we exercise the corporate responsibility of the lodge to implement
our duties of care to support new members and how we inform prospective Candidates about our
aims and purposes.
Social media, websites, books, newspaper article and documentaries all have a role in attracting
attention but by far the best way to secure life long masons is by lodge open nights where we
encourage interested individuals to visit one of our social events and use that opportunity to explain
who we are, and what we do. But that is not my topic today. Simply encouraging a potential new
member to ask for Initiation is only the beginning of inculcating a life long interest in our Craft.
And that is the purpose of my talk today.
In the fifteenth century, when Freemasonry began, there was no formal education of craftsmen.
But the Schaw statues of 1598 laid down the first duties of the apprentice master. Training took
place in working groups (lodges) where the apprentices received continuous supervision and
guidance. The Apprentice-Master would demonstrate and explain the task, and afterwards the
Apprentice would imitate the master’s skills whilst being guided and helped towards their own
understanding. The relationship took the form of a legal contract between Master and Apprentice.
Apprentices would first become Journeymen, who received Craftsmen’s wages for their work
whilst still under the employment and direction of their Master. When they developed sufficient
skill and had proved their understanding of the work, they would eventually become Masters in
their own right, empowered to pass on their knowledge of The Craft to the next generation.
This is the model that Freemasonry used to pass on its knowledge and understanding via
proposers and seconders, even as lately the 1980’s but in recent times it has fallen into disuse. There
have been many attempts to improve ‘Masonic Education’, but most of these seem to rely on the
provision of online material without emphasising the need for personal interaction between the
Apprentice-Master and their charges. The office of Mentor pays lip service to this tradition but is
often just an administrative collar office, not the intensely personal tutoring relationship of the
Master to their Apprentice. I have been working to address that deficit for the last twenty years.
My urge to help Freemasonry survive began when I wrote these words in a best-selling book,
entitled The Book of Hiram.
“Freemasonry is dying. For most people life is far more complicated than it was just a
generation ago. We work harder and we have more disposable income. Long-term
A Lodge’s Duty to its Apprentices
commitments are usually avoided at all costs. In an age when employment comes packaged as a
series of renewable contracts and even marriage is out of vogue, it is not surprising that men no
longer queue up to sign on for a lifetime of acting out odd-ball rituals in a local hall with no
windows. A candidate for the Craft is expected to enter a life-long relationship with a lodge
before learning what Freemasonry is. They are given no advance warning of what they will be
expected to do, or what benefit it will be to them. It is little wonder if the Grand Lodges that
govern Freemasonry around the world are having difficulty in selling a proposition that does not
meet any of the normal criteria of a marketable product.
Whilst most Freemasons are happy to admit their membership, some prefer to keep the
whole subject private and, in the face of prejudice in the workplace, others find it
necessary to sometimes deny that they are members. The impression of secrecy that
surrounds individual Freemasons is brought about by their embarrassment in talking
about the nature of our rituals that, in the cold light of day, sound odd in the extreme. If
asked what such strange rituals are all about, they often must confess that they do not
I have come to believe that the compelling reason for silence amongst Masons is not so
much a compulsion to adhere to their sacred vows or a fear of macabre retribution from
their fellows; it is more the fact that they do not understand a word of the ceremonies
they participate in, and their main fear is that people will laugh at the bizarre rituals they
continue to perform.”
If Freemasonry is to continue to survive let alone to thrive, it is important that new members
learn about all aspects of Freemasonry, including the one thing that makes it unique among fraternal
associations, its study of Truth.
Freemasonry’s approach to the study of Truth uses, Ritual, Myth and Symbolism and it is an
understanding of these topics which a lodge must impart, and I know from many years of
experience as a university lecturer who pioneered internet teaching, that it cannot be done by
relying completely on the processes distance learning which the Internet personifies. Apprentice
guidance must be done face to face, with a Masonic Tutor demonstrating, explaining and
advocating the various aspects of ritual, myth and symbolism in such a way as to enthuse and
motivate their new brother. Personal interaction and a willingness to spontaneously answer
questions are the basis of this approach.
Since 2003, I have been giving lectures of Masonic Instruction to new apprentices with a fair
measure of success. I began this work at the instigation of W. Bro Sandy Macmillan of St Lawrence
Lodge in Pudsey, Yorkshire West Riding, when he asked me to help a new group of six entered
apprentices understand the Order they had just joined.
Let me outline how I approach this task.
Freemasonry is based on Three Grand Principles. Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. The Lodge,
with its formal meetings and social events, demonstrates and teaches Brotherly Love. The Charity
Stewards, with their Covenant forms and regular promotions, show how to carry out the duty of
Relief, but it is down to each individual lodge to demonstrate how to approach and understand
To become a Mason, an Apprentice has got to be ready to seek knowledge, and that urge for
knowledge begins in their heart. They will find, through the degrees, that it ends there as well,
because that knowledge is deep inside themselves.
The chisel is a symbol of the process of education and instruction in the ways of our Ancient
Craft. You are told as an Entered Apprentice that you should make daily steps in Masonic
knowledge. You should study the objects of research in each degree.
Education shapes your intellect, it expands your mind, it broadens your perspective, and it makes
you a far more civilized human being. The discipline of study and learning is a good habit to
acquire. Masons encourage all their Entered Apprentices to make their own daily step in Masonic
knowledge. But the Masonic method of squaring and shaping a rough ashlar is necessarily slow.
You need to learn caution. You must measure and check before you use the hammer. Once the chisel bites into the stone it is changed forever. The key to success is to develop craftsmanship, take pridein your work and appreciate that each stone in the plan of Freemasonry, no matter how small, or how apparently oddly shaped, is needed and is vital to complete the structure.
Daily use of your chisel of education cannot be over emphasized. Stones are not shaped by
emotion or good intentions. Without the sharp cutting edge of a highly honed education you cannot
hope to cut the stone cleanly and beautifully. If you think the cost of instruction and education is
expensive, then consider for a moment of the immense cost and consequences of ignorance.
This is where the personal engagement of an Apprentice Master or Masonic Tutor is needed to
explain and demonstrate the philosophical methods of Freemasonry and to encourage their
Apprentices to develop knowledge and understanding. This involves three areas.
1. How to memorize and deliver ritual
2. The duties of each office in the lodge
3. Understanding how to study Truth
Always remember it is better to apply skill and knowledge in small cutting steps rather than to
wreck the stone with ill-considered random blows which crack and destroy it. This is where the
face to face interaction of Master with their Apprentice is vital. Simply reading material online is
There is a simple sequence of four steps which, if followed soon after the Candidate’s Initiation
Ceremony, ensure that the apprentice is informed about what is happening and inspired to want to
continue to take daily steps in Masonic knowledge.
1. At the end of the ceremony make sure a senior member of the lodge, i.e. proposer,
mentor, Worshipful Master, or someone known to the Candidate gives an explanatory
welcome to them. This can be done in lodge, or at the festive board, possibly as part of
the ritual of the Apprentice Chain and the singing of the Apprentice’s Song.
2. At the next practice, or lodge meeting, deliver a lecture explaining the symbolism of the
ceremony to your new apprentice. Do this soon after the ceremony while the Candidate
is a rough ashlar fresh with the quarry dew and keen to learn. I wrote such a lecture in
2003 and have given in countless times since. I use a PowerPoint presentation, but other
brethren who wanted to deliver it did not always have access to computers, screens and
projectors, so I also created a reading version which takes about thirty minutes to
deliver and can be recited directly from the page. When I give the lecture, I always
follow it with a question-and-answer session for the apprentice/s before throwing the
queries open to any other brother who is present.
This lecture needs to be delivered as soon as practical after the Initiation ceremony. It
can be boring for the lodge to continually hear the same lecture, but we need to
remember that for the Candidate it is completely new. With that in mind, I usually ask
the lodge to decide if they want to devote a meeting to the lecture or if they would
prefer it to be delivered at a practice night, or lodge of instruction, for the apprentice
and those of his more experienced brethren who would like to support him.
To handle any possible questions requires a wide background knowledge of the degree
and its history, and I soon found that, although individuals were happy to deliver the
content, either with slides or by reading, they were not always confident about
To help them I set up an online message board where interesting questions could be
posed which I would answer. I have made this Frequently Asked Question section
available on my Masonic Tutor Support Website, and new questions are answered for
any interested Masonic Tutor who registers for support.
It is my experience that once an individual has given the lecture a few times, either using
slides or reading, they quickly become more confident in answering questions. It is a
truism that the best way to learn a subject is to teach it to someone else.
The lecture can be used in several different ways. If there are a group of apprentices in
different lodges in the same hall, it can be given in a meeting organized just for that
group and any interested supporters, or mentors. Each means of delivery works, but
there are advantages in bringing together groups of apprentices in a shared venue as it
can encourage visiting.
3. An important area of Masonic instruction is a formal description of the Tracing Board of
the First Degree. There is a ritual for this, which can be found in the various ritual books,
but it is a long and complex piece to memorize. If you have a brother who can deliver
the ritual from memory, then treasure him. As such individuals are rare, it often means
that the tracing board description is not delivered to the apprentice before they are
passed to the next degree, and sometimes it is never delivered in lodge.
Just as I found that it was easier for a tutor or proposer to read a set piece of instruction
rather than deliver a lecture from memory, so I found a need for a simple reading
version of the First-Degree Tracing Board which covers all the landmarks needed to
guide the apprentice’s progress. For that purpose, I wrote a version of The Description of
the First-Degree Tracing Board to read directly from the page. It is a composite
rendering which draws on the best descriptions I know of the landmarks of the degree,
taken from a number of different versions of the ritual.
When delivering this reading it is useful to display the lodge’s tracing board to the
apprentice/s and to point out each of the landmarks as they are mentioned in the text.
I also recommend the creation of a good quality photograph of the lodge’s board in
order to give an electronic copy to the apprentice to place in a hidden folder on their
phone to encourage them to study it when they have a quiet moment. This delivery of
the ritual of the Tracing Board should be ideally be done as the centre piece of a lodge
ceremony, as this shows the apprentice the importance that the lodge attaches to this
formal teaching. If that is not possible then it should be given as the centre piece of a
lodge of instruction. After the delivery, time should be allowed for the Apprentice/s to
ask any questions which may have occurred to them. If you are not confident in
answering questions, then my Frequently Asked Question forum is available.
4. Finally, it is important to make sure that a new apprentice meets the rest of his lodge
and quickly learns who is who and what they all do.
My suggestion expands on the idea that Freemasonry teaches by asking its candidates to
carry out tasks during the ceremonies, i.e. learning test questions to progress, or taking
part in rituals as they move up the ladder of officers. To that end I have created a series
of simple tasks for a new apprentice to carry out, which will help them learn about their
own lodge. The sequence needs to be overseen by a tutor but is essentially a self-
marking exercise. The apprentice is asked to write a short account of what they have
learned during each task, and the tutor either reads it and comments or discusses it. All
the tutor needs to check is that the apprentice did the task, understands what they have
learned and answers any questions that might arise.
The tutor’s role is to be supportive, encouraging and helpful as the new apprentice meets all the
main characters who form their new lodge. The tasks are divided into four separate categories.
An important feature of Freemasonry is visiting. The first, and most basic, task is to visit another
This is followed by three additional tasks which cover the Three Great Principles of
Each significant step along this path should marked by a certificate of approval by the officers of
These tasks do not all necessarily have to be completed before the Apprentice is passed to a
Fellowcraft. But the sooner the new mason completes them the better equipped they will be to
become a long-term active Freemason.
For completing the introductory task and a single task of their choice from each of the three areas
they should earn a Certificate of Achievement from the Junior Warden.
For completing the introductory task and two tasks of their choice from each of the key areas
they should earn a Certificate of Achievement from the Senior Warden.
For completing the introductory task and all the other tasks they should earn a Certificate of
Achievement from the Worshipful Master.
In this way each step of integration into the lodge is marked and formally acknowledged by the
These, brethren, are my thoughts on how we approach the critical issue of how we pass our love
of Freemasonry on to the next generation and to help with that process I have begun to write a
series of Masonic Tutor’s Handbooks to provide the teaching material, and guidance on its personal
delivery, to any lodge which wants to learn how to support and encourage its new members.
The long-established Web of Hiram ( www.webofhiram.org )website has agreed to provide
online support to aspiring Masonic Tutors and Lewis Masonic will be distributing The Masonic
Tutor’s Handbooks, including the subject of this presentation Volume 1 – The Duties of an
Watch this space for the launch of the first book in the The Masonic Tutor’s Handbooks –
Volume 1 The Duties of the Apprentice Master.