Purification? Vandalism? Pagan ritual rooted in superstition? Take your pick.
These appear to be the three main attitudes toward a local memorial garden in
Virginia. In late April, five members of Westwood Hill Baptist Church of
Kempsville, near Virginia Beach, Virginia, believed there was a powerful evil on
the grounds of their church. They consulted with their pastor, the Reverend Jess
Jackson, two associate pastors, and several other church members. It was agreed
that the evil lurked in a garden area between the old and new sanctuaries.
Telltale clues, they thought, were a large cross fashioned from old basketball
goal stanchions, a rose bush planted beneath the cross, and a cobblestone path
with unusual patterns. Most incriminating of all, a stone carried a plaque
dedicating the garden to "The loving memory of our teacher and friend, Arthur S.
There was the key! Arthur Sedrick Ward, a Mason. Worse yet, the cross and
rose in the garden suggested he could have been a Scottish Rite Mason. Clearly,
the garden had to go.
What are the facts? First, when he died of a heart attack on April 28, 1979,
Arthur S. Ward was a member of Corinthian Lodge No. 266 in Norfolk, Virginia.
There is no record, however, of any Scottish Rite membership, be it in the
Southern or Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. Arthur Ward's widow, Donna Ward
Meekins, said, "There was never an evil bone in Arthur Ward's body. Yes, he was
a Mason, but after our two sons, well, he got so involved in their sports and
school and things, he just didn't have the time."
Ward's younger son, Gary, a Virginia Beach schoolteacher, said, "I don't
recall him being in it [Masonry], going to meetings and that type of thing. He
never spoke of it much. And It certainly wasn't an important part of his
By all descriptions, Ward was a devout man, his life centered on his family
and church. A retired supervisor for the Norfolk & Western Railway Company,
he was a founding member of the Westwood Hill Baptist Church and turned the
first spade of earth for the new sanctuary which was under construction when he
died at the age of 64. The Sunday School class he taught for many years
dedicated their donations and labor to creating the garden in his memory.
Yet on April 23, 1996, 17 years after Ward's death, ten members of the
Westwood Hill Baptist Church, believing the garden was endowed with Masonic
symbols, tore up every plant, removed every cobblestone (each a collector's item
over 100 years old from streets in Norfolk), burned the wooden cross, and broke
the stone on which the garden's memorial plaque was mounted.
What could not be burned was hauled away as trash. "Then, according to church
members, they reconsecrated the ground by sprinkling it with holy water."
William Forbes, charter member and longtime deacon of the church, said, "It
sounds so ridiculous. It sounds like something out of the Dark Ages."(99)
Some 200 church members were as outraged and heartsick as the Ward family at
this demolition of the memorial garden and protested the action at a Sunday
evening "family meeting" on Mothers Day, May 12. The Rev. Mr. Jackson held
steadfast and presented a slide lecture to explain the "pivotal issue," "the
presence of a rose cross, an occult symbol" of Freemasonry in the garden.(100) One
wonders if the rose bush in question were part of the original garden, planted
nearly two decades ago, a later replacement of an original planting of another
plant which was not a rose or, in any case, an aesthetic decision that favored
roses over marigolds or other flowers. The choice of plant probably was based on
horticultural taste and only coincidentally related to any possible Masonic
significance. Undoubtedly, the Rev. Mr. Jackson is confusing the emblem of the
Scottish Rite Eighteenth Degree, Knight Rose Croix, with an emblem from
Rosicrucianism, "an intellectual and mystical phase in Germany between the
Renaissance and the scientific revolution of the 17th century."(101) One
of Masonry's well-known scholars, Henry Wilson Coil, notes: "Great confusion has
prevailed as to the name Rose Croix and its variations...from which
Rosicrucianism is presumably derived. This confusion has enabled some writers
[and others, like the Rev. Mr. Jackson] to connect Masonry with Rosicrucianism... and has produced a considerable volume of literature
principally notable for its imaginative qualities."(102)
True, the rose and cross are central to the Scottish Rite's Eighteenth
Degree, but here they maintain the traditional symbolism of western culture,
i.e., "the cross in Masonry represents a statement of infinity"(103) with
allusions in the Degree to suffering, a redeemer, and God's unlimited love.
Likewise, "in Masonry, the rose has taken on the meaning of immortality"(104) and,
as sometimes in Christian symbology, the blood of Christ or the beauty of "the
Rose of Sharon" in the Bible's Song of Solomon, 2:1. Also, Jesus wore a crown of
thorns during His passion, thus relating Him to a rose's thorns. The merger of
the rose with the cross was inevitable in western civilization and,
consequently, it is a symbol shared by Christianity and Freemasonry. The seal
and coat of arms adopted by Martin Luther as a publishing trademark, for
instance, is a cross rising out of a heart at the center of which is a
Thus, in Freemasonry, as in all western culture, the cross and rose have
retained their traditional meanings. To see these shared symbols as "occult" in
Freemasonry (or Christianity) and, in particular, in the Scottish Rite of
Freemasonry is illogical. This absurdity is even more pronounced when a dubious
"occult" interpretation of the cross and rose is used to attack Arthur S. Ward
who was not a Scottish Rite Mason.
Still, on June 9, 1996, in a formal meeting of the Westwood Hill Baptist
Church to consider by vote whether or not to dismiss the Reverend Jess Jackson,
a strong majority stood in his defense, and he was not dismissed. Why? In recent
years, Westwood Hill Baptist Church, like many congregations in the Southern
Baptist Convention, has become dominated by newer members and a bolder
leadership intent on establishing and defending what it considers fundamental
principles of the Baptist faith.
For instance, of the ten people who tore up the Arthur S. Ward garden, only
one or two, if any, had ever met Ward, and some had been with the church for two
years or less.
Disconnected from the long tradition of toleration within the Baptist faith
(Baptists were once a persecuted minority) and, probably, only tenuously
connected to a larger view of religious faith in the world, past and present,
these new church members and leaders are likely to embrace ideas and actions
which set them apart, in their view, as purer and better and truer to their
faith than others.
To attain this exclusionary singleness of character, extreme stances and
interpretations of doctrine are embraced, and those who will not toe the new
line are sidelined or expelled. When the Rev. Mr. Jackson became pastor of
Westwood Hill Baptist Church, for instance, average church attendance was 500.
Before the Arthur S. Ward Garden incident, attendance had fallen to about 300.
Since the incident, another 140 members of the church have left. Most of the
people who left are not Masons. There were very few Masons in the church.(106)
Who, after all, would wish to stay? As news of the garden's destruction
spread, a near hysteria, reminiscent of the Salem witch trials of 1791, gripped
the congregation. Church members reported nightmarish visions welling up from
the garden's soil. Sunday School children, hearing the adults, began stories
that bones or bodies were buried in the garden. These reactions following the
garden's destruction only seemed to validate the actions of the perpetrators who
believed a cloud of evil threatened the church's purity. Clearly, something
drastic had to be done to reestablish the church on its primitive principles.
Despite the action's macabre aura of resurrected corpses and howling werewolves,
the memorial garden was destroyed.
The Reverend Richard D. Marks, a Baptist minister who teaches at Regent
University, founded by Pat Robertson, spoke at the May 12, 1996, meeting of
Westwood Hill Baptist Church. It was hoped he could help heal the growing
divisions within the church. His words form a fitting close to this story:
"I don't think it [the garden with its cross and rose] has any evil import.
Evil is in the meaning you attach to something. There are a lot of Masons who
are good Christians.... To say this whole organization is made up of thousands
of men who are evil, out there practicing as satanist, I don't believe it."
Don't you believe it, either.
PART TWO - STONES OF EVIL
Background: The October 1996 Scottish Rite Journal carried the
article "Garden of Evil?" about several members of the Westwood Hill Baptist
Church, Virginia Beach (Kempsville Borough), Virginia, who joined their pastor,
the Reverend Jess Jackson, in destroying a memorial garden dedicated to Arthur
Sedrick Ward, a Mason and former member of Corinthian Lodge No. 266, Norfolk,
Virginia. Brother Ward died in 1979, and the garden, with its memorial plaque
dedicated in loving memory to Ward, was a joint project of about 20 members of
the church's Sunday School Class that Bro. Ward had taught for many years. Two
of the members who worked on the garden were Masons.
In April 1996, 17 years after Bro. Ward's death, certain members of the
Westwood Hill Baptist Church, reflecting a spiritual malaise in the
congregation, came to believe an evil force lurked in the garden and was
affecting the church. To them, the garden's cobblestone walk appeared to contain
curious, possibly "occult," symbols; someone remembered that Ward was a Mason;
others believed the garden's cross, entwined by a rose bush, was a Masonic
symbol and evidence that Freemasonry was the malevolent force they were
Without consulting the church's general congregation, the Reverend Jess
Jackson, two associate pastors of the church (the Reverend Allan Riley and the
Reverend Randy Goode), and seven other church members destroyed the garden on
April 23, 1996.
Very shortly, as rumors of the destruction spread, the incident came to the
attention of a journalist. According to Brother Ward's widow, the story did not
appear in the Virginia-Pilot of Norfolk until June 16, 1996, because of a
pending business meeting of the church on June 9th for the purpose of
terminating Rev. Jess Jackson.
When the Virginia-Pilot article came to the attention of Dr. John W.
Boettjer, 33º, Grand Cross, Managing Editor of this magazine, he researched the
news story, wrote the October Scottish Rite Journal article, and attempted,
unsuccessfully, to locate Brother Ward's widow, Donna Ward-Meekins, before
publication. On September 27, Mrs. Ward-Meekins, having been shown the October
Journal article by a friend, telephoned Ill. Boettjer. The following statement
is condensed from that telephone call as well as one to Mrs. Ward-Meekins's
friends, John and Betty, and has been reviewed, rewritten, and approved for
publication by Donna Ward-Meekins.
When I became aware that the garden to the memory of my late husband, Arthur,
had been viciously and sadistically destroyed, I was in a state of shocked
disbelief. The pastor, Rev. Jess Jackson, would only answer my questions with,
"It has been done away with."
When I pressed for information about what had become of the garden's benches,
bricks, and cobblestones, I got the same answer, "They have been done away
with." I asked specifically about the stone with the memorial message, "In
Loving Memory of Our Teacher and Friend, ARTHUR S. WARD, 1979," you guessed it,
I got the same answer, "They have been done away with."
I finally got the truth from my friends Betty and John who told me the
following amazing story. Five members of the church supposedly had made a
"prayer walk" of the church grounds and had seen a "vision of evil" in the
garden. These people, along with the pastoral staff of the church, and two wives
of the staff members, without knowledge of the church membership, entered the
garden area on the afternoon of April 23, 1996, and began to dig up and destroy
every shrub and tree in the garden and break up every piece of brick and
concrete they could find. They removed a cross and burned it and removed every
plaque with the name of Arthur Ward on it. They disposed of the plaques
apparently in a truckload of brick and stones to the city garbage dump.
One week after the garden was destroyed, word reached Betty and John. They
contacted the Reverend Jess Jackson and had a meeting with him on Wednesday May
1, 1996, after the Wednesday night prayer service. John asked the pastor for an
explanation, and he was told the story about the five members having discovered
"evil in the garden." Rev. Jess Jackson said the garden had been destroyed and
that he was "comfortable" with that action.
Before the meeting with the pastor, Betty had observed two cobblestones in
the garden area during a brief look at the former garden's site, and she asked
the Rev. Jackson's permission to retrieve them. The pastor gave his permission,
and the next morning John and Betty went to the former garden's site with
digging tools and unearthed 12 cobblestones, placed them in the trunk of their
car and took them home, placing them in their yard.
The following evening, May 3, Betty and John's daughter returned home from
five weeks in St. Louis. Early the next morning, she suffered a cerebral
hemorrhage and was taken to the intensive care facility of a local hospital. On
Sunday night, May 5, Betty and John received a visit at the hospital from two
ladies from the church who had participated in the garden's destruction.
After all other visitors had left, one of the women informed Betty and John
that "We are here by divine appointment." She stated that John's and Betty's
daughter's illness was "not physical but spiritual" and was the result of their
possession of the stones. The women asked where the stones were and, after
learning they were at John's and Betty's residence, asked if they could go and
The same lady said the stones were "too dangerous to be picked up in one
vehicle." Six vehicles would be necessary to pick up the stones, she said,
because the evil forces in the stones would be increased if the stones were kept
together. She said that John and Betty and their daughter would be in great
danger as long as they had possession of the stones. The two women did not
receive their requested permission to remove the stones and left the hospital
John immediately called Rev. Jess Jackson expecting to receive spiritual
comfort, but got only scriptural references to read, references which appeared
to justify the destruction of the garden. After about 45 minutes in prayer in
the hospital chapel, John and Betty decided to call another pastor of their
This pastor came to the hospital in the middle of a very powerful and
drenching thunderstorm. He heard their story in amazement and anguish since he
was well acquainted with the Westwood Hill Church and its pastor. He gave them
much encouragement and prayer support and assured them that he did not believe
God worked in the manner in which the garden was destroyed and the way the two
women visited the hospital.
He said in his opinion God worked through order and unity rather than through
confusion and disorder. He agreed that this was a matter that should be brought
before the congregation of the church. This pastor ministered lovingly to John
and Betty for about three hours that night, ending at about 3:30 AM the
Happily, despite the fact that the stones were not surrendered to the women,
Betty and John's daughter recovered fully. Later, the stones were brought to my
son's home, and they are now in his garden. With grim humor, my son Gary said,
"Look Mom, they don't even glow in the dark."
My family and I continue to feel the pain and live under the shadow of this
incident. I grieve that my husband's memory has been tarnished. I was always
proud of his Masonic affiliations, and when I remarried, I was happy that my
second husband, now deceased, was a Mason who served as Master of his Lodge.
From my experience, Masons have been men of high caliber. Incidents such as
this should never happen. The destruction of the garden was unconscionable. To
assure this never happens again to the widow of any Mason, I have retained a
lawyer and have filed suit against the people who took part in this terrible