Wednesday, March 12, 2008

We all shine on: Jeff Peace

Longtime Freemason Bro. Jeff Peace tells us about himself in this our 16th glimpse into the lives of our readers in the series "This is Who I Am." Thanks for writing, Bro. Peace.

I was entered into the brotherhood of Free-Masons on August 3rd of 1987 after having Petitioned my father and grandfather’s lodge on my 21st birthday three months earlier. The Masonic Temple was a rather stately old building with a limestone fa├žade. It was a little worse for the wear but still quite serviceable. To me it was a magical placed filled with all sorts of secrets awaiting discovery. It had trap doors in the floor and a large walk-in vault filled with books, files and papers.

I memorized the first catechism after sitting with the Master of the lodge three or four times and was then passed to the degree of Fellow-Craft. In March of the following year I was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason and was immediately put in the position of Senior Deacon. Sadly, my mother lodge’s membership had declined to the point that only Past Masters filled the chairs. Within a few months I was promoted to Junior Warden and performed the first degree on a new candidate.

At the next reunion of the Scottish Rite I received my 32nd degree. It was a unique and confusing experience. The day began around 7 A.M. and lasted until 8 P.M.. I had expected the degrees to be similar to what I had witnessed in my lodge but they were very different. I remember the darkness of the fourth degree coming as quite a shock. This experience left me filled with curiosity.

I was attending the university when I became a Mason and started searching through the library for books about Free-Masonry. Unfortunately, the university had few books on the subject. I then discovered that the Scottish Rite had a large Masonic library, and I began borrowing large quantities of books. The books left me asking even more questions to which no one seemed to have any answers.

My senior term paper was about the history of Free-Masonry. Looking back at this paper today I realize how weak my understanding of the subject had been.

Upon graduating from school I took a job with a company in Texas and moved away from my mother lodge. I joined a lodge in Texas but never attended. I spent most of my time reading and researching. Eventually I moved to Georgia and became active in a local lodge serving as Secretary. As I visited other lodges I began to realize that membership in the fraternity was declining rapidly. There had been about ninety brothers at my Scottish Rite reunion but Atlanta was lucky to get thirty.

I began thinking more seriously about the problem and started speaking with other younger brothers about it. We all felt the same: lodge meetings were boring, Scottish Rite meetings were even more boring, and the Knights Templar was similar to attending a funeral. Making changes to anything within the system was difficult and usually resulted in someone saying “we’ve always done it this way!”

The lodge I had been attending was very old-fashioned so I moved my membership closer to the city and a more progressive lodge. Sandy Springs Lodge was a truly inspirational Masonic experience. It gave me hope in the future of the Craft in Georgia. Here was a group of older brothers who saw the need for change and were willing to work with the younger members to make Masonry enjoyable for all.

At this time I was also a member of the Scottish Rite Membership Committee and was traveling around to all of the Districts with Grand Master Simmons giving talks and PowerPoint presentations about membership and lodge management. The Grand Master has asked me if I would give these talks in hopes that some of the lodges would see the wisdom in what I had to say about the different wants and needs of older and younger brothers. I felt these were quite productive because afterwards I would spend hours talking to the lodge Masters that had attended. It was clear that they were equally concerned but didn’t know how to help resolve the problems.

As a result of these presentations I was invited to a couple of lodges that were in serious financial trouble. I remember the lodge down at Griffin, GA specifically because of how many brothers showed up for the meeting. We didn’t even meet in the lodge room but the dining hall. It was a mixed group of older and younger brothers who truly wanted to save their lodge but had trouble agreeing on the proper course of action. After a few hours of discussing the issues and getting everyone to open-up and reveal their thoughts, they all realized the same thing: they would have to raise the dues and make changes in the way they ran the lodge. I spoke with the Past Master who had invited me to the lodge a few years later and he was very happy with the progress they had made. They were no longer going out of business but growing.

I met with the Scottish Rite Membership Committee weekly but we never really accomplished anything. Everything we presented to the Personal Representative of the S.G.I.G. was dismissed out of hand but we continued to meet anyways. Eventually, I grew frustrated with this and suggested that we write a detailed report showing the impact of membership decline on the finances of the Valley, along with a detailed plan of renewal. This took several weeks of hard work. We began by getting a list of all the members who had been suspended for non=payment of dues over the past ten years. Each of the were contacted by letter. Roughly 1/3 of the letters were returned as non-deliverable so I started searching through the phone records at AT&T. In the end I was able to contact about 80% of them. Next we gathered the statistical data and created pie charts and graphs predicting the impact of continued decline on the finances of the valley. In the end we came up with a “magic” number; when the membership dropped to this level a death spiral would begin. The magic number indicated the point at which dues would rise to over $100 per year in order to balance the budget.

This lengthy document met with no better results. Unfortunately, the predictions it contained have come true.

Back at Sandy Springs things were progressing rapidly. The lodge building was being renovated by the brothers and we installed a new JBL sound system along with a digital projector as a part of the effort. After much debate it was decided to put in a black and white tiled marble floor in the lodge room. Pride in the lodge and Free-Masonry was beginning to blossom.

For all of my efforts I was offered membership in the Royal Order of Scotland. I felt honored by this but not truly worthy. While I had worked very hard there was so little to show for it. It was like running up a sand dune; one step forward, tow steps back.

While all this was going on I was working with brothers across the country on a radical new idea. This has been discussed with the Grand Master who felt that the idea could work. We would create a new appendant body that was designed to help get and retain Generation-X Masons. It would be a lodge-oriented body that would help local lodges. After two years of research we created the Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold (RRCG) and began testing it at Sandy Springs. Within a few months we had doubled the number of young Masons at the lodge and I showed the results to the Grand Master.

The following year Bro. Brian Roper was elected as the leader of the Rite and he petitioned the Grand Lodge of Georgia for official recognition. Unfortunately, this was met with obfuscation and ultimately resulted in all of us being expelled without charges or even a trial.

While this was not the most positive thing that could have happened, it was not the worst either. This provided me with the opportunity to explore other forms of Free-Masonry around the globe. It was then that I discovered Grand Orient of France. They were far more progressive and open to new ideas than the American Grand Lodges. I began serious discussions with them about the possibility of the creating a new Grand Orient in the United States and eventually we began working on the Grand Orient of the United States.

Creating a new Grand Orient has kept my occupied for the last couple of years but the results have been very rewarding. I don’t know what the future holds for me in Free-Masonry but I’m sure that it will be equally exciting as the past.

— Bro. Jeff Peace

You are invited to tell the Masonic world about yourself. To submit your own "This is Who I Am" essay, please read this.

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6 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing Bro.Peace. Bro.Baldwin here of Halcyon #2. We've spoken a few times and I very much look forward to meeting you soon.
    I know the Brethren here have benefited from your industrious nature. Long live the Grand Orient of the United States. What has been done here should run like wild fire across the Masonic community and purge the deadwood. Clearing the way for new growth. It flies in the face of the "I can do nothing" mentality.
    It's worth mentioning, the fact that systems of governance are rarely change "from the inside". Hell, half the Senators and Congress men in office now were idealistic hippies, no change. Just more jaded politicians.But I digress...
    I was aware that your expulsion was illegal(that is putting it mildly) but I had no idea the previous GM had given his blessing to the very thing which caused the travesty. Really pretty incredible in it's audacity. But then ignorance is rarely a pretty thing.
    Be well Brother, and thank you for your continuing hard work and dedication to spirit of Freemasonry. You truly make a difference.
    Keep hope alive.

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  2. I have been a Georgia Mason for 15 years and am still very active. I would like to hear more about the Rite that was created and the resulting expulsion. I never heard about this. I am aware of a Grand Lodge edict concerning the Rite of Memphis a few years ago, but I have never heard about the one you are referring to. If it was working well, I would like to get information in order to present it again to see if it is possible to resurrect it for the good of Masonry.

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  3. Dear Bro. Peace,

    I´m a spanish freemason working under a the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Spain ( member of CLIPSAS and therefore one akin to the Grand Orient de France´s liberal approach to masonry).
    I was thrilled to find out about the UGLofA (congratulations on such writings as "A peculiar system of morality") and I´m all the more thrilled with this Grand Orient of the United States.
    I have a blog (http://franc-masoneria.org) and I´d love to be able to interview you: do you think it could be done?
    I´m sure all my spanish-speaking readers would love to know about this revival of liberal masonry in the States.
    If so, you can get in touch with me at hiram.acacia@gmail.com.
    Thanks in advance and keep up the good work!
    Chris V.

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  4. thanks for the post. I had only heard of the Rite thru references here, and didn't understand the full story. I thought them a new appendent body, and didn't understand why their site talked of degrees 1-3, etc, or why they were forbidden.

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