I picked up on a bit of somewhat startling Masonic news last evening in the same manner that I usually do, via Chris Hodapp's Freemasons For Dummies blog. The Grand Master of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar has shut down the RER. I’m going to do my best to comment on this without it sounding like sour grapes although I may not succeed. I have mixed emotions about this decision. I was glad to see the Grand Encampment obtain this charter from the Grand Priory of Occitania that authorized them to confer the Templar degrees of the RER. I have nothing but respect and friendship for the Past Grand Master of the Grand Encampment Bill Koon, who spearheaded the effort. I don’t believe he had the slightest intent of starting a food fight over recognition or who has a right to confer the degrees. I’m entirely convinced that he wanted nothing more than to see these highly sought after degrees actually conferred on worthy brethren.
Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe the Chevaliers Bienfasants de la Cite Sainte (CBCS), who also hold a charter permitting them to confer these same degrees, actually confer the degrees on anyone. The CBCS has essentially functioned as little more than a dinner club for a few dozen elitists, who were highly offended by PGM Koon’s, and consequently the Grand Encampment’s, audacity in encroaching upon what they consider their exclusive territory. The CBCS, demonstrating all the maturity of a nine-year-old, has no apparent interest in conferring the degrees themselves, but they don’t want anyone else to confer them either. Sadly, this entire affair disintegrated into a donnybrook with both people and organizations, including a few grand lodges and grand commanderies, lining up on opposite sides of the fence. The unfortunate result of this little spat involving fewer than one hundred Freemasons is that it took twists and turns that ultimately began to affect many thousands of brethren, their visitation rights, and a number of Masonic gatherings. The newly-elected (in August, 2012) Grand Master of the Grand Encampment, Most Eminent David Goodwin, found himself in the midst of a hornet’s nest and came rather quickly to the only logical, if perhaps temporary, solution that he could and ordered that the charter be returned to the Great Priory of Occitania.
As I’ve noted above, I believe the motives of the Grand Encampment and the fledgling RER body were pure, but I had some issues with their methods. I have to lay a little groundwork first. I was not a member of the RER and no invitation was ever extended to me. I have a few close friends who were members and, while I’m highly envious of them, it’s not a matter of me being distraught over their receiving an honor that I didn’t. It’s very rare that any two active Freemasons’ journeys travel the same course. Besides, I could not have accepted had I been invited, which I’ll explain in more detail later. It all boils down to my interest in the degrees the RER conferred.
I have had an abiding interest in those degrees for a long time although I have no clue as to the content of any of them apart from knowing they are Templar degrees. I have owned a copy of the three craft degrees of the Rectified Scottish Rite for a number of years. I’ve read and studied them diligently. I’ve made presentations in a few lodges on the craft degrees and led a study group on the topic at the Scottish Rite. I’m not alone. There is broad interest in these degrees all around the world. Lots of Freemasons would give their eyeteeth to see them conferred and have an opportunity to study them. Similar battles to the one just waged over these degrees here in the
U.S. have been fought in and elsewhere. England
Here is where I take issue with the RER. First of all, it was an invitational body that, from what I was led to understand, was going to be only slightly less exclusive than the CBCS. Fair enough. At least they were going to confer the degrees. I do believe, however, that this was a contributing factor in GM Goodwin’s decision to return the charter. Although I believe the Grand Encampment was on solid ground in obtaining the charter, there was little point in going through all the gyrations necessary to keep the group afloat when it benefitted so very few and left many brethren who are interested in the RER degrees out in the cold. Secondly, the initiation fee for the degrees was $700.00, way more than most men of modest means could ever justify spending to see three hours or so of ritual performed. I could never have afforded it. It’s difficult for me to conclude that the cost was set this high for any reason beyond keeping the riff-raff out. It pretty much ignores the concept of meeting on the level and the lack of regard for a man’s worldly wealth and honors.
One thing that I want to make crystal clear is that I don’t believe for a minute that any of my friends or anyone else who was initiated into the RER are anything close to elitists or that they demonstrated disdain for timeless Masonic principles. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe they joined because they had a sincere desire to see the degrees and I feel badly about the money they have now lost. Had I been invited and the $700.00 to spare, I’d have forked it over as quickly as anyone. I am suggesting that if you looked at the organization as a monolith, it sent a message that I’m not entirely comfortable with.
I have what I consider to be a very simple solution to this entire matter that would seemingly make everyone happy. Since the CBCS doesn’t appear to have any interest in the actual degrees, why don’t they simply hand their charter over to the Grand Encampment? I realize it would be a little more complicated than that, but it could be accomplished. Let the current membership of the CBCS affiliate with some other obscure group and anoint themselves with some other exalted title. Hell, they wouldn’t have to be mere knights anymore. Knights get dirty and sweaty and bloody and ride smelly horses. No, these guys should be barons, lords, dukes, earls, or even kings. I believe, by God, I’ve got it. The Most Puissant Society of Excellent Sovereign Masonic Kings of
North America. They wouldn’t have to change a thing but their name. They could remain as exclusive and elitist as they are now. They could continue to have their dinners.
This would allow the Grand Encampment to form an invitational RER body that confers the three Templar degrees once per year in every state. Invitations would be extended to petitioners who could demonstrate a sincere interest in the RER degrees via some means of examination and required proficiency. The initiation fee would be set high enough that the members would feel like they have some skin in the game, but remain affordable to the average man. The potential for something similar to this to ultimately come to fruition is the only positive aspect of this whole ordeal. The only problem with my solution is that it would require the CBCS to act like mature adults. From all appearances, that won’t happen anytime soon.
This fight isn't over. The recognition issues and the feuding between grand bodies is over for now, but the effort to make the RER degrees available to U.S. Freemasons will continue. The saddest part of the entire affair is that the RER Templar degrees, which, based on what I've seen in the craft degrees, have as much beauty, pageantry, symbolism, and as powerful a message as any in Freemasonry, are no longer being conferred anywhere in the country. And that’s a damned shame.