Tuesday, February 16, 2010

‘Scottish Rite, PHA style’

Tuesday night was a memorable one for Northern New Jersey Chapter of Rose Croix on the occasion of the visit of Ill. John Bettis, 33º, Grand Inspector General and 2nd Lt. Commander of the Council of Deliberation, Orient of New Jersey, A&ASR, PHA. But don’t let the lengthy titles fool you; John is one of the most down to earth men in Freemasonry.

He spoke for about 90 minutes on history, customs, usages, and other aspects of Prince Hall Scottish Rite Masonry. I wish it could have gone on a little bit longer because I wanted to ask him to describe his jurisdiction’s methods of working degrees. I think there is a lot that our PHA brethren can teach us. But what he did reveal was, I trust, enlightening to his audience. For example, the rituals and the degree structure of the Prince Hall United Supreme Council Northern Jurisdiction closely resemble those of the Mother Supreme Council. In fact, the PHA brethren are closer to the original model than we are.

And while this might be an apt time to quip about our Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s “George Washington Degree,” and the often lamented absence of orthodoxy it represents, allow me to share Ill. Bettis’ explanation of his jurisdiction’s 20º, which he said includes a section titled “The Light of Patriotism,” with ritual that places Bro. Washington and Bro. Prince Hall together in discussion on the rights of free men of color to bear arms and fight in the Revolutionary War which, in turn, led to a historical point. In 1812, when British forces were preparing to assault Philadelphia, approximately 3,000 men of color assembled at the port to defend their city. A reporter asked if former slaves really were going to defend the nation, to which W. Bro. Richard Allen said “This land, which is made by our tears and our blood, is our mother land.”

Bettis opened some eyes with his talk of W. Allen. He is the father of the African Methodist Episcopal Church movement, as well as a founding father of Prince Hall Masonry. “In the African-American community, the two oldest institutions are the AME church and Prince Hall Masonry,” Bettis said. “Wherever an AME church was founded, a Masonic lodge went with it.”

He covered a lot in an hour and a half, more than can be repeated here. But he does want everyone to know that on May 13, the Prince Hall Conference of Grand Masters will meet in Boston, at which time the Prince Hall Monument at Cambridge Common will be dedicated, and where the original charter of African Lodge No. 459 will be temporarily removed from its home in a bank vault, and placed on display.

The Magpie News Service hopes to cover that event.

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