Breaking the Paradigm of Knights Templar: Setting Sun or A New Dawn?  

Time to read: 12 min | 26 April, 2021 | Kevin Homan

A lot of Templar Knights may not like or appreciate my next statement. However, with the continued importance placed on it by the Grand Encampment and various Grand Commanderies, and given the current state of Templary I feel it's an important topic to discuss;

The Masonic Knights Templar needs to completely get rid of drill teams.

There, I said it.

Please keep in mind, this is my statement, my opinion. I in no way officially represent my Commandery, Grand Commandery or the Grand Encampment on this blog. I’m not however the first Mason to make this observation, in an article he wrote several years ago, Chris Hodapp identifies it as well;

"After each Triennial Conclave, it is usually obvious that more and more Commandaries continue to lose their drill teams to attrition."

"While drilling was the national fad in the 1870s, simply because 75 per cent of the adult male population had previously been in the military, over 140 years later it holds little fascination. This is in no way is meant to denigrate the dedication of the men in the drill teams."

As with Chris, I’m not saying this to take a pot-shot at Templary and our Sir Knights who drill, far from it. The Templar Orders are among the most beautiful Orders/Degrees you will receive in ALL of Freemasonry. In this Mason's humble opinion, the Order of the Temple is THE most beautiful in ALL of Freemasonry. When done properly, it is absolutely awe inspiring.

However, Freemasonry is dying, Templarism even moreso because of its requirements. Men are not becoming Freemasons as they did in the past. Additionally, Masons are dying off at increasing rates further precipitating our decline. To join the Knights Templar one must be a member of the Blue Lodge, Royal Arch Chapter and Cryptic Council. If membership is shrinking within the Blue Lodge, numbers certainly aren’t any better within the appendant bodies, in fact it’s a situation that’s largely worse as you climb that ladder. Additionally, Knights Templar is “limited” (albeit overlooked just about everywhere) to Christian Freemasons only. This additional requirement can further restrict the numbers that Commanderies can draw from.

Additionally, and we’ll get into this a bit more later in the article, is that the cost to acquire the proper regalia of the Commandery is quite simply, cost-prohibitive for some Brethren. So, in actuality, it’s more than just drill teams and drill that is at issue here for Templary, however something needs to be done if we want to survive as an organization.

The earliest records we have of a Masonic Knights Templar organization is from the mid-1700’s in Scotland and Ireland. While those records are rather limited, it appears that their formation is related to a speech by Michael Ramsay, who purported that the Templar Knights of the Crusades era had Masonic influence.

In America, the first recorded conferral of the Order of the Temple is in 1769, on a Masonic Brother named William Davis. It appears that the Order of the Temple was conferred as a part of the Royal Arch Chapter, as the fourth and final of their Degrees and Orders conferred in that era. But it’s safe to say that some form of Templary existed in the American Colonies before Brother Davis was Knighted. For a more detailed history, please see both the linked article above, as well as the Grand Encampment’s own Our Templar Heritage in the United States.

Templary though grew rather slowly, and for some time was loosely, or not organized at all. The oldest “Encampment” (what we would now call a Commandery) we have record of existed in Charleston South Carolina. It’s not until 1853, just eight short years before our Civil War that the General Grand Encampment was formed. Eventually this is shortened to the Grand Encampment, and state level Grand Encampments become referred to as Grand Commanderies and our existing organizational form comes into place. Like Freemasonry, membership numbers in Templary have had their peaks, and valleys. Some of the earliest numbers, in the early 1800’s peg it at about 500 Sir Knights, about 50 years later, just after the formation of the General Grand Encampment, 4,710. Following Masonic trends during the World War I, and World War II eras, in 1927 we see the highest number of Sir Knights ever recorded at 453,836, dropping to 219,368 in 1943 and then increasing again to 398,564 in 1960. From that date however, Templary has seen a steady decline in its membership since.

I attempted to find a recorded history on drill teams, and competitions within American Templary, but the records are rather sparse. In a recent letter sent out by my Grand Commandery though, history of drill in general and a history of drill in my home state is discussed. As Brother Hodapp identifies in the article I reference above, drill likely worked its way in because it was the faddish thing to do at the time Templary was going through one of its initial growth periods, and somebody thought it was a good thing to work into “what we do as an organization”.

In terms of general drill, my Grand Commandery refers back to drill, or a “regular marching step” going back to the Roman legions, which carried over to European armies and of course our American military to this day. We then go on to talk about how in the late 1990’s my particular Grand Commandery resurrected our drill team and has “continued to grow” since this resurgence. We close off our history of drill in general with this statement;

"New research shows that when groups march in unison, it not only intimidates enemies (if that is the desire), but also gives the marching group a confidence boost."

I mean, that's all well and good, but Freemasonry isn't Tony Robbins, we're looking to make men better, not be their life coach. When you look at Templar descriptions of Drill Teams, you often see words and phrases such as; development of teamwork, pride in themselves and their unit, confidence, alter ness, attention to detail, esprit de corps, discipline, etc. Now, these are all good terms, don’t get me wrong. But again, what does any of that have to do with Freemasonry, or Christianity?

The answer is nothing. Freemasonry as a spiritual organization is supposed to unite men of faith, and aide them in strengthening those spiritual bonds and ties. One would think as a Christian oriented Masonic organization, the Knights Templar would unite men of the Christian faith and aide them in doing the same, albeit within the confines of their Christian faith and our belief in Christ. This is not the experience we get these days though.

If you were to go to the average monthly Templar Conclave, you would see a meeting opening that takes roughly 30 minutes, quite often with mediocre work. If you’re lucky, you’ll see some of the Past Commanders fighting over what constitutes proper drill Like every other Masonic meeting we then get our business, pay the bills, complain about something, then close the meeting. On RARE occasions do you get a program of substance. More often than not though, the program will be on Jacques de Molay, the fall of the Templars or something tangentially related. I can’t say I’ve ever sat through an actual Christian program in a Knights Templar Conclave.

Now, our Grand Commanderies and the Grand Encampment are well aware of the issues facing us; the question is, what are they doing to combat it, and are those efforts working? At both levels, strategic plans are formulated to engage the membership, recruit the next generation, yada, yada, yada. The reality is, it's all just a rehashing of the same old ideas this organization has been living and dying by for 200 years, one I can’t help but think is doomed to fail.

In 2019 I was Eminent Commander of my Commandery. One of the efforts our Grand Commandery pushed, one they continue to push was the idea of having each of the constituent Commanderies register six Sir Knights with Grand Commandery as “the Commandery drill team”. More recently, an email with a series of propositions, resolutions, and informational sheets was sent out to all Commanderies. In our “The Drill Corps: Drill Team Activity Recognition Manual”, the introduction and purpose section of the document opens with the following statements;

"Membership is the most critical issue to all bodies within Masonry, which includes the Knights Templar. Drill Team activities support both membership recruiting and membership retention efforts."

"Drill Team activities support both membership recruiting and membership retention efforts."

How?

Where is your data to back this up? Because I respectfully disagree with this.

As I mentioned, our Grand Commandery mandates we report a group of Sir Knights to them as our “official drill team” but then later in this document make the following statement; “drill team and drill related activities are not mandatory. Nor should they be.” It sure seems to me that they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too. We claim interest in drill continues to grow, we commission new badges for our Templar uniform as incentive for Sir Knights to join the drill corps, but none of it is working.

The reality is, the new Sir Knights who ARE looking to join aren’t interested in drilling or a military aspect to their Freemasonry. Yet over and over, year after year Commanderies, Grand Commanderies and the Grand Encampment continue to ignore that reality and instead throw “solutions” at the problem that are the Masonic equivalent of slapping a Band-Aide on an injury that requires amputation. Knights Templar is woefully out of touch with present conditions. IF men were truly interested in drill, well they'd be knocking on our doors asking about it, and we wouldn't have an issue filling our drill teams. But, that's just not happening. I can’t tell if our ignorance is true ignorance, or just a stubbornness born out of not wanting to change and adapt to the times. I suspect it’s the latter.

But drill isn’t the only issue we face, if you were to ask Masons what the biggest obstacle to them joining the Knights Templar the two popular answers you’ll hear back are either with regards to our uniform, or the Christian requirement (more on this shortly). The current Templar uniform is a quite expensive uniform to put together, and for those Masons of modest means potentially just out of their reach financially. Now, some of you may say “but Commanderies are supposed to have an Armorer and outfit their Sir Knights”. Yes, some do, most don’t, and those that do have armories likely date back to the 1960’s or so, with gear largely unfit for use. As with our “grand” Masonic edifices we’ve built, little to no effort went into the maintenance of this equipment so it shouldn’t be a wonder that it’s in a condition unfit for use. We brought in members, filled up our coffers, spent money because we had it to burn, then did nothing from there on out.

The uniform itself looks nice, albeit a little silly because of the chapeaux we wear. In my case, I spent about $400 on my uniform, which is the US Navy dress blues double breasted black suit, and about the same on my chapeaux. That’s $800 right there, not an insignificant sum of money. My Commandery is lucky in that we have a nice set of swords for the Sir Knights to use, as well as a beautiful sword that each Eminent Commander gets to wear during his year in office. However, for a Past Commander such as myself, if I’d like a sword to wear as a Past Commander, since they are of course different and often customized, that’s about another $500. With a Masonic experience that is…lacking (as most Masonic experiences are these days), plus an estimated $1,300 in purchases to participate in, and be an Officer of your Commandery; is it any wonder that men aren’t joining our Commanderies these days?

Now, there is also a very nice looking cap and mantle uniform option, which in my opinion looks very nice and is much more in keeping with what the actual Templar Knights would have worn. But again, why do we even need a uniform in the first place? Militarism isn’t a part of Freemasonry, why do we feel the need to add it here?

At the Grand Encampment level, on its website the phrase “Every Christian Mason should be a Knight Templar” is splashed across the page below our Mission and Vision Statements. As with the claim that drill aides in membership recruitment and retention, let me again ask;

Why? What is it that the Grand Encampment and Knights Templar as a whole offers Christian Masons that aides them in deepening and connecting further with their faith? Surely it’s not drill. Surely its not the opportunity to pay $1300 for a uniform in a body that offers men nothing to connect with their Christian faith.

I’m sure if I were to ask one of the Grand Encampment officers that same question, I’d get a similar response if I were to ask a Grand Lodge Officer what their plan on membership is. “Well, that’s on you as individual Sir Knights and Commanderies to figure out”. Plain and simple, they pass the buck...because there IS no plan other than ignoring the raging fire all around you. Apple didn’t get to be Apple because Steve Jobs allowed the individual business components of Apple have their own business plans. No, Steve Jobs had a unified vision for Apple, that each department followed to their current success. THAT is what the Grand Encampment and Grand Commanderies lack, a unified vision, and more importantly, a plan to implement that vision across the organization from the TOP down. All they’ve given us instead is a catchy phrase with no substance behind it.

The question I ultimately have is, where do we want to go from here? Does the Knights Templar want to survive? I mean, Freemasonry as a whole may not survive, so the peril for Templary is even greater. Assuming we do though, I’d start with a wholesale rebrand of the organization. Let’s drop the Christian requirement of membership, let’s make Templary a Masonic body of research for topics of ALL religions, not just Christianity. Freemasonry is a faith based organization, we unite men of all faiths, and we’re supposed to guide them on a journey to strengthen those bonds. What better than having an organization that allows us as men of faith in deeply researching ours, and other faiths to do just that. Now, I realize what I just said is quite likely a non-starter, and quite likely to make many Sir Knights uncomfortable. But drastic times often call for drastic measures. Those of us who came of age in the late 90’s and early 2000’s quite likely carried around a Nokia cell phone of some sort. Did you know that before Nokia produced cell phones, they were a producer of paper products…yes, PAPER products. Quite the pivot isn’t it?

If we absolutely can’t drop the Christian requirement, why not do the same for Christian Masons? Become the de facto Christian research body of Christian Masons? There’s SO much out there to be learned about Christianity that I feel like its a ripe topic for us to pick. Follow the Lodge of Research model, and set the Brethren loose!

What we can’t do however is what we continue to do, and that’s blindly throw solutions at a problem I don’t think our leadership understands. I’ve never seen one survey from my Grand Commandery or the Grand Encampment soliciting Sir Knight’s opinions on what THEY want to get out of Templary. Instead of commissioning a badge, or mandating compliance of drill rosters, perform that survey and find out why those drill team numbers are so low. Whatever we do, we must do something, anything different if we’re too at least stabilize. Again, drastic measures, drastic solutions.

I’m sure it was easy for Pepsi to come up with the marketing for Crystal Pepsi, however like any product release, the marketing is just half the battle. The true measure of success is how you implement that product. We all know how that worked out for Pepsi. This is where Masonic Templary is, great pitch line, but we’re giving our Sir Knights Crystal Pepsi. A Masonic friend of mine had an observation as I was writing this and discussing the article with him. The main draw initially of Crystal Pepsi was curiosity, but when buyers found out it tasted like regular Pepsi, well they just bought that. Masonic Templarism was very similar to him, if he wanted church, he'd just go to church. If he wanted Freemasonry he'd just go to Blue Lodge. After attending one Templar Conclave, he's never been back as the experience didn't match the marketing.

IF we want to survive as an organization, the same old story isn’t going to cut it anymore.What is it the young men who are looking to join get out of their Templar experience? As we currently exist as an organization, are we offering them that? If we don’t offer that, how ARE we going to offer that to entice them to join, and more importantly keep them in our Commanderies when they do join? I know what I’d do if I were running things, the question is do we as Sir Knights and an organization have the fortitude to ask those hard questions and implement those hard solutions? At this point, our survival depends on some drastic change.