By T.S. Akers
Spring is fast approaching in Oklahoma and Sir Knights all across the state are preparing to receive their Right Eminent Grand Commander. Proficiency in ritual work is one of the keys to ensuring the future of Masonry. It is the ritual that not only impresses the candidates in their journey for Light; it is also the means of teaching the lessons of our Fraternity. A tradition as old as Templary in this State, the annual Commandery Inspection perpetuates the conferral of the Order of the Temple and brings Sir Knights together in fellowship.
The Twin Territories that would become the State of Oklahoma were by all accounts an untamed region that attracted many wild and wooly characters from the corners of the Nation. One could also say the Masonic ritual being practiced in the region was a bit “wild and wooly” and that carried over into the Appendent Orders that would come to comprise the Masonic family. When the first Commanderies of Knights Templar were formed in the region, they were no exception to the variation in ritual. The Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States had officially standardized the ritual of the Order by the late 1800s, but the tactics used for opening a Commandery meeting varied from one Grand Jurisdiction to the next. This variance was so great in Indian Territory that it was said the tactics varied amongst the local Commanderies.[i] To curb this, the Grand Commandery of Indian Territory chose James A. Scott as the first Drill Master and Inspector.[ii] Scott was a Confederate veteran of the American Civil War and well versed in military matters.[iii]
To the powers that be, it was becoming quite clear that these vast differences in ritual and regalia were exhibiting a “serious lack of military discipline.”[iv] This led Grand Commander Edmond H. Doyle of Indian Territory to issue General Order No. 4 in 1898 calling for annual inspections of the constituent Commanderies.[v] The early inspections that occurred were not truly inspections in today’s sense of the word. These were essentially visits by an assigned Grand Officer to see that all was functioning as it should. The inspection reports for Oklahoma Territory in 1910 paint a vivid image of what the Sir Knights were facing at the time. Weatherford No. 11 noted that many of their Sir Knights did not reside close enough to attend meetings regularly. The report of Lawton No. 12 also mentioned a lack of attendance but stated that they had the best arranged and finest equipped Asylum (meeting room) in the state. Hobart No. 10 recorded twenty-six Sir Knights in attendance with all but two in uniform. The Sir Knights at Ascension No. 3 in El Reno were meeting in their newly completed Temple which had accommodations expressly for the Order of the Temple. The inspection report notes the following:
A novel feature in the construction of the Asylum was the Chamber of Reflection which was placed in an adjoining room west of the Asylum and perhaps five feet above the floor of the Asylum. There was an adjustable door connecting the Chamber of Reflection and the Asylum which at the proper time could be opened after the lights in the Asylum had been extinguished. Thus enabling the Sir Knights within the Asylum to view the actions of the candidate while he in turn could see nothing in the Asylum.
Interestingly enough, Oklahoma No. 2 was noted as the largest Commandery but due to a number of Sir Knights who had affiliated from other Jurisdictions, their ritual and uniforms were “not quite regular.”[vi] Grand Commander Angus Gillis found the inspection process in 1916 to be very advantageous to Templary in Oklahoma. He noted that it encouraged enthusiasm among Commanderies and allowed the Grand Commander to become acquainted with each Commandery.[vii]
With the outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1914, the tactics and precision movements executed by Knights Templar on parade no doubt served those Sir Knights who entered military service well. It was in 1916 that Asylum Drill competitions were established.[viii] These allowed for competition amongst the Sir Knights in the performance of opening a Commandery and conferring the Order of the Temple. It is to the Asylum Drill that the modern Commandery Inspection can trace it roots. The year 1921 would see Field Drill competitions added to the annual conclave of the Grand Commandery with three Commanderies fielding teams that first year; those being Oklahoma No. 3, Enid No. 13, and Trinity No. 20.[ix] A Templar drill team in motion is certainly a site to see as they execute the intricate movements such as forming the cross and as the drill competitions grew in size, the public turned out to enjoy the spectacle. In time, the Sir Knights of Oklahoma would excel in drill competition on the national level. At the 38th Triennial Conclave of the Grand Encampment in 1931, Gethsemane Commandery No. 25 of Okmulgee took Third Place in the field drill competition.[x] Lawton Commandery No. 18 would also earn national honors in 1940 by taking Fourth Place in field drills.[xi]
Today a team of inspectors descend upon the Commanderies of Oklahoma under the direction of the Work and Tactics Committee. The Commanderies are inspected in three distinct divisions: Class A, Class A Inspected as Class B, and Class B. In addition to scoring the opening tactics of a Commandery and the Order of the Temple, Commanderies are scored on the condition of their records, having the necessary paraphernalia to perform ritual work, and knightly courtesies. The highest scoring Commanderies inspected in the Class B divisions are awarded the W.A. Perry and James A. Lathim traveling trophies.[xii]
Just as it did in the beginning, the Commandery Inspection continues to bring Sir Knights together for fellowship and encourages dedication to Templary. The Inspection has truly become one of the great Templar traditions of Oklahoma.
[i] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Indian Territory, Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Conclave (Indian Territory: 1896).
[ii] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Indian Territory, Proceedings of the 1st Annual Conclave (Indian Territory: 1895).
[iii] Charles E. Creager, History of Freemasonry in Oklahoma (Muskogee, Oklahoma: Muskogee Print Shop, 1935), 188.
[iv] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Indian Territory, Proceedings of the 9th Annual Conclave (Indian Territory: 1903).
[v] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Indian Territory, Proceedings of the 4th Annual Conclave (Indian Territory: 1898).
[vi] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 15th Annual Conclave (Oklahoma: 1910).
[vii] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 20th Annual Conclave (Oklahoma: 1915).
[viii] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 21st Annual Conclave (Oklahoma: 1916).
[ix] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 26th Annual Conclave (Oklahoma: 1921).
[x] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 37th Annual Conclave (Oklahoma: 1932).
[xi] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 46th Annual Conclave (Oklahoma: 1941).
[xii] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 116th Annual Conclave (Oklahoma: 2011).