Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Grand College of Rites

It is very easy to explain why the Grand College of Rites is one of my favorite groups of Masons: It is focused on a single, important job, and it performs that task perfectly. I imagine the work behind the scenes is sometimes a bit like making sausages, but the work gets done, and without the usual fanfare of Masonry. Let those who have ears hear.

Last year, there was an inconvenient shortage of American flags in the meeting rooms of Masonic Week, and the Magpie Mason had to appeal to the front desk to ensure one was delivered to the AMD’s meeting place. No such problem arose this year when, in fact, several of the events had color guards present the Stars and Stripes. At the GCR’s meeting, the color guard included none other than M.I. Urban T. Peters, the Grand Chancellor himself. He was accompanied by a delegation from Washington Council No. 3 of the National Sojourners.

One of the Sojourners then gave “A Toast to the Flag.” (If you’re tempted to think this a little hokey, remember that Masonic Week takes place on the weekend before Washington’s birthday, and that we’re in Virginia, having left the Hotel Washington, our home for nearly 80 years. It was the bicentennial year of Washington’s birth that coincided with the creation of the original AMD Weekend participants.)

It being the annual meeting, the officers for 2008-09 were installed. Our new M.I. Grand Chancellor is David D. Goodwin of New York. “I’m going to rely on Art de Hoyos for direction, and do nothing that Thurman says!” he joked about his plans for the year.

And there were a few surprises too. R.I. Gary D. Hermann, our long-serving Grand Registrar, announced his retirement. “Due to my advanced age and approaching senility,” he said to sympathetic laughter, “I do not wish to be re-elected.”

R.I. Billy Koon rose to pay tribute to this valued officer, recounting the circumstances of 12 years ago that led Gary to the Grand Registrar’s desk. Apparently, his predecessor was less than diligent in getting the work done, maintaining proper records, etc. The College’s funds were not accounted. The computer purchased for him to discharge these duties was instead put to other uses. Archives were stored in boxes on a wet concrete floor. With an administrative performance like that, it’s a wonder the GCR remained functioning. So R.I. Hermann restored order and helped guide the College through more than a decade of stability and growth. (In fact, it was mentioned later that this year saw the largest expansion of GCR membership in its history.) After a round of applause, Billy introduced a motion, seconded by Thurman Pace, to make Hermann our Grand Registrar Emeritus. Passed unanimously of course.

Remember that mysterious briefcase from Pulp Fiction? Yeah, it belongs to the GCR. Here, R.I. Gary Hermann announces his retirement as its guardian.

While those of us in the ranks of the GCR were surprised by Hermann’s retirement, I bet no one was at all shocked by the decision to aptly reward both Dan Pushee and Paul Newhall, the two coordinators of events at Masonic Week, with the GCR’s Knight Grand Cross, a badge of distinction given in thanks to those few who labor especially hard for the College.

Paul Newhall, left, and Dan “As Below, So Below” Pushee, right, were honored with the GCR’s Knight Grand Cross.

These two men are responsible for executing all the plans – not just for the GCR – set by the Masonic Week organizers, and for “herding the grand masters,” as one phrased it, ensuring that everyone is properly registered for their events. In short, Dan and Paul make everything happen, and if you’ve ever attempted to arrange a single event anywhere in Freemasonry, you should appreciate what these poor souls suffer, yet they make it look easy.

Anyway, the purpose of the Grand College of Rites is embodied by its Publications Committee, quarterbacked by Grand Archivist Arturo de Hoyos. The GCR has three aims:

• The study of the history and ritual of all Rites, Systems and Orders of Freemasonry not under the control, jurisdiction and/or stewardship or regularly existing and recognized Masonic bodies.

• The elimination of sporadic efforts to resuscitate or perpetuate Rites, Systems and Orders of Freemasonry in the United States, except to bring them under control of the Grand College of Rites.

• The collection and preservation of rituals of various Rites, Systems and Orders of Freemasonry ordinarily not available to Masonic students.

These goals culminate every year in the publication of “Collectanea,” the transactions of the GCR. Each book consists of a body of rituals from defunct Masonic fraternities, and sometimes the constitutions and other defining literature. For the past decade, “Collectanea” has explored the many variations and permutations of what used to be the Rite of Memphis. Since 1999 we’ve read:

• Ritual of the Ancient and Accepted Egyptian Rite of Memphis 96º, also Constitution and By-Laws of the Sovereign Sanctuary, Valley of Canada.

• Lectures of a Chapter, Senate & Council: according to the forms of the Antient and Primitive Rite, but embracing all systems of High Grade Masonry. Translated from the French by John Yarker, 33-96º.

• Rituals of Calvin C. Burt’s Egyptian Masonic Rite of Memphis, Sovereign Sanctuary (95º) of the Valley of Chicago.

• Statutes, Public Ceremonials and History of the Antient & Primitive Rite of Masonry … for the United Kingdom [by John Yarker].

• Constitution and General Statutes for the Government of the Antient & Primitive Rite of Masonry … for the Continent of America [by Alexander B. Mott].

• Manual of the Degrees of the Antient & Primitive Rite of Masonry … for Great Britain and Ireland [by John Yarker], Part 1, 4º–33º.

The Magpie Mason doesn’t mind admitting that he’s a little Memphis’ed out after all that reading. But to be fair, this is pretty important information to some of us, not just for the historic and educational values, but because there have been con artists in recent years who sold degrees and regalia of the Memphis Rite. Some of you know who I mean, but it must also be understood that there are sincere workings of Memphis in America, albeit in organizations that go unrecognized by the mainstream. And then there are jurisdictions abroad that are recognized by the mainstream that work the Memphis degrees, so it gets pretty confusing. (David, feel free to jump in here.)

The history of the GCR is intertwined with that of Memphis Masonry.

In 1931, J. Raymond Shute II, of Monroe, North Carolina, obtained information from Harold V. B. Voorhis, of Red Bank, New Jersey, that the Right Reverend Henry V. A. Parsell of New York, New York, was a surviving member of the defunct Egyptian Rite of Memphis in the United States.

Following some correspondence between Brothers Shute and Parsell, and talks with a few other interested brethren, it was decided and agreed to revive this Rite and thus gain control of it, together with its rituals and archives. The purpose of such action was to give a body to be subsequently formed—a Grand College Rites—some material to publish, namely rituals. The idea of forming of a Grand Body to print rituals of dormant Masonic bodies having been already planned by Brother Shute and a few brethren interested in such a project.

I guess it could be said that the GCR itself is a Memphis spin-off.

Admittedly, it – like a lot of Freemasonry – could sound frivolous to an outsider, but the doings of the Grand College of Rites are hugely significant to the efforts to conserve Masonic heritage. No one was really shocked by the discussion of another group in the United States that is busy encroaching on the GCR’s identity and mission, resulting in the College now having to spend its money on lawyers to safeguard its intellectual property. Who says Freemasonry is a sacred retreat from the concerns and employments of the world?

Look well to the briefcase! – R.I. Martin Starr and Grand Archivist Art de Hoyos keep an eye on things.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Bro. Jay -- Great article! I have added a link to this post on the Grand College of Rites website under "Current News".