Prepared for Presentation before Coordinate Councils during Term as Sovereign Grand Master
Although the Grand Council, Allied Masonic Degrees of the USA has spread though many Grand jurisdictions, too many of the Brethren belonging to the Coordinate Councils know little of its formation.
In the later part of the 1920s and early 1930s, a Masonic study group met Sunday afternoons in Monroe, NC. Sometimes they met in the Masonic Temple, but most often in that of J. Raymond Shute, II, one of Masonry's foremost students at the time. In the year 1930, Bro. Shute began correspondence with R. E. Comp. George A. Howell, Grand Scribe, Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland, relative to the Excellent Master Degree which was worked by the Royal Arch Chapters of that country. The correspondence resulted in a Dispensation being issued by His Lordship, the Earl of Cassillis, First Grand Principal, Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland, permitting the Degree to be conferred within the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of NC, on May 12, 1931, at Asheville. The Degree was conferred on about 200 Royal Arch Masons. It was where the idea originated which resulted in founding the Grand Council, Allied Masonic Degrees.
The enthusiastic reception of the Degrees caused the Companions involved to seek a method to retain it in this country, together with other Degrees controlled by the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland, without interfering with established Royal Arch customs. After much correspondence, including the precaution of securing permission from the Grand High Priest of North Carolina, and the General Grand High Priest of the General Grand Chapter, R. E. Comp. Howell agreed to entertain applications from three groups which had been formed in North Carolina. Charters were to be issued to them with the understanding that they would form a Grand Council as soon as possible after receiving them. The groups were located in Monroe, Charlotte, and Raleigh. They were later named St. Andrews in America No. 1A, Howell No. 3A, and Cassillis No. 2A.
At the Annual Meeting of the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland, March 21, 1932, the Charters were granted. When the Charters arrived, the Councils were consecrated, and a call issued to form the Grand Council, Allied Masonic Degrees of the USA, in Salisbury, NC, April 16, 1932. The Grand Council was formed with R. E. Comp. J. Raymond Shute, II as the first Sovereign Grand Master.
In the course of the Salisbury meeting, a call was issued for a Special Communication to be convened at the Raleigh Hotel, Washington, DC, during the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Masonic birthday of our great and beloved Bro. George Washington on May 12, 1932. Less than a month had passed since the formation of the Grand Council when this meeting was held in Washington, yet charters were issued to five new councils.
The first Annual Communication of the Grand Council was held in Charlotte, May 8, 1933, at which three more charters were issued. At this Communication, the establishment of the bulletin Miscellanea was authorized for the publication of research papers of lasting interest. This Communication also established the honorary rank, Knight Grand Cross, upon the twenty-one founders, together with such brethren as the Board of General Purposes might nominate and the Grand Council approve. There may never be more than ninety-nine living Knights Grand Cross at any time. The Constitution and By-laws offered at Washington were adopted at this communication.
Shortly after the Charlotte Communication, it was discovered that some of the Degrees assigned to the Grand Council had been worked previously by the Sovereign Grand College of Allied and Christian Degrees of Norway, Maine. This organization had been formed in Richmond, VA, in 1882 by the Rev. Hartley Carmichael, an Episcopal Rector and Masonic leader of his time, Josiah Drummond, Charles A. Nesbitt, and others. After the death of Carmichael and Nesbitt, the records and activities of the Allied and Christian Degrees were moved to Maine, where it became defunct in all but name. However, its previous working of some of these Degrees put a dubious light on the authority of the Grand Council to take over the same Degrees.
In July 1933, a committee consisting of J. Raymond Shute, II and William Mosely Brown journeyed to Norway, Maine, where arrangements were made to absorb the Allied and Christian Degrees into the Grand Council. Articles of Union were drawn up and offered for adoption at a Special Communication of Grand Council in Raleigh, July 22,1933.
The Second Annual Communication of Grand Council, held at Alexandria, VA, February 20,1934, ratified the Articles of Union with Grand College, Allied and Christian Degrees presented in Raleigh, which gave Grand Council clear title to each of the Degrees controlled by Grand College. In addition to those Degrees which were in doubt, Grand Council acquired a number of Degrees controlled by Grand College pertaining to Christian philosophy which it had not previously possessed. These Degrees were grouped together and formally transferred to control of a new organization, formed for the purpose and named Ordo Sacerdotalis Templi. This body later became the Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests.
Such is a brief outline of the beginning of Grand Council, Allied Masonic Degrees of the USA, and a resume of some of the highlights of the first two years of its existence. The account is incomplete and sketchy, but does cover salient points.
The purposes of the Allied Masonic Degrees are beneficial to all aspects of Masonry, whether they be Symbolic, York, or Scottish Rite. Though we control a number of Degrees by incontestable authority, we are not primarily a degree-working organization. Our chief interest is a return to the conviviality and good fellowship, an indispensable part of Masonic gatherings in former times, lost in the pressure of degree work now found highly prevalent. This good fellowship is to be followed by research papers or talks on various Masonic subjects. With this aim-an effort to throw more light from the Sanctuary upon us all-we can but foresee even greater growth ahead for Grand Council as these principles become more widely known.
Every man should study, interpret, and develop the symbols of Masonry to best suit his own experiences, for Masonry is a vast and almost limitless subject, with numerous facets to explore. It is more than a parrot-like recitation of the ritual-far more than that. Not to underestimate the value of good ritualistic work, for it is by this means that we welcome our devotees. But the ritual is only the vehicle by which we bring them to the open door of the wonders which lie in store for the sincere student of our art. Beyond its portals lie exciting treasures untold, limited only by the individual's own capacity to discover them. Just as each man's conception of his God may vary as much as the individual man himself; just as one man may be completely satisfied with a concept of a God in human form who sits on a golden throne high in the heavens, dealing out fire and brimstone to those who displease him, while others may believe Him to be to be kind and merciful, One who pervades all things, sustaining His children with an ever-present help in time of trouble, a God who is universal, eternal Divine Love, which changes not, and causes no evil, disease, or death. Who am I to say that my concept of God is right and the others are wrong. Even so, each man's concept of Masonry and its allegorical lessons must be essentially personal and individualistic.