Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The Constitution of the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Chapter 1, Article 1, Section 1. A. states in pertinent part that our Order “is, and shall forever continue to be, bound to charitable and beneficent works, in visiting the sick, relieving the distressed, burying the dead, and educating the orphan . . . .” This seems to be the highest calling of our Order as it is stated right in the very first chapter, first article, first section and first paragraph of our Constitution. Yet, if ever there were an example of why Odd Fellowship is linked to a 19th Century view that is at odds with a 21st Century world – this “admonition” certainly reveals it. And the decline of our membership in Lodges and jurisdictions is inevitable to the extent that we continue to parrot anachronistic phrases such as this one. They just don’t ring true to men and women in 2020.
This is not to say that “visiting the sick, relieving the distressed, burying the dead, and educating the orphan” were not worthy enterprises for Odd Fellowship in the sunrise of our Order. The 19th Century was surely a terrible place to be if one were poor. There were no social services to speak of. Hence, the rise of fraternal orders. Fraternal Orders, like Odd Fellows, helped take care of members when they were sick. It was the responsibility of the Noble Grand and the Visiting Committee to actually visit the home of a sick member, and bring friendship, companionship, food, some money or whatever was needed to help. When members died, the fraternity was there to provide Odd Fellow death services, including death benefits and burials at Odd Fellows cemeteries. And, in the days when Odd Fellowship included only men, the fraternity was also there to help the widows and the orphans of deceased members. Odd Fellows even ran orphanages in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
We live in quite a different time now. People in the 21st Century generally have insurance. Government provides an array of social services to help folks who are old or sick or infirm. The phrase “educating the orphan” has little resonance today. We don’t really have many “orphans” in 2020 in North America. We certainly have foster children, but there is an entire array of government protections and services for them. Education for children in the 21st Century is free. And phrases like “burying the dead” seem macabre, at best, to young men and women who might be contemplating joining Odd Fellows. Odd Fellows Cemeteries are few and far between today.
When was the last time that your Lodge Visiting Committee actually visited an ill member? When was the last time the Lodge buried a member in an Odd Fellows Cemetery? When was the last time the Lodge cared for the widow of a deceased member or sent the child of a such a member to an orphanage?
The continued repetition of admonitions like “burying the dead” and “educating the orphan” makes no sense in today’s world. It speaks of the age of barn raising, buggy building, and butter churning. If Odd Fellowship doesn’t wish to go the way of hundreds of other fraternal orders that emerged, thrived and then faded away, we need to modernize and move on from historical platitudes. We need to bring 21st Century men and women into our Order. Our ancient admonitions need to be transformed to admonitions that will resonate today. How about helping the homeless? Or standing against discrimination? Or protecting the environment? Or combating child abuse? Or feeding the hungry? There is no lack of modern needs, modern causes, and modern challenges for this Order to consider.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Odd Fellows and Odd Fellows Lodges in North America go back to the Nineteenth Century. We certainly lived in a different world and a different society in that century. There were no cars, or airplanes, or radio, or television, or computers, or social media. In the 1800’s fraternal orders like the Odd Fellows were a growing – in fact, booming – phenomenon. Everyone who was anyone wanted to be a member of the Odd Fellows, or Masons, or Knights of Pythias, or Moose, or Foresters, or Hibernians, or a pantheon of other fraternities. Odd Fellowship was growing by dramatic leaps and expanding across North America, to every state and province. There were thousands of Lodges with hundreds of thousands of members.
We live in quite a different time now in the 21st Century. So, is Odd Fellowship still relevant to the men and women of this new century?
I believe that it is.
How can I say this when there are Lodges that are are consolidating or giving up their charters year after year? How can I say this when there are Lodges and jurisdictions that are losing members? I base my belief on the fact that in spite of the declines, there are Lodges around the United States and Canada that are growing and expanding, and have been for years. I understand that most of our Lodges are declining in membership, and that is a sad state of affairs. But the fact that some Lodges are burgeoning says to me that Odd Fellowship remains relevant and vibrant if we can only collect and bottle the ingredients that make for success in those growing Lodges. Those bottle of ingredients must be made available to all Lodges.
So, what are the ingredients of success in the 21st Century?
I’ve studied this issue for the past decade, and I have come to the conclusion that there are five vital ingredients to the successful Lodge.
Leadership. One cannot escape the truth that every successful Lodge, ultimately, has at least one dynamic leader who has shaped the culture of that Lodge. To thrive, a Lodge needs direction, organization, and follow-through. Only strong leadership can provide that. And as important as leadership is to a Lodge, equally important is the need for that Lodge leader to develop the next generation of leadership. Without passing the torch to that next generation, all good plans and intentions will inevitably come to an end.
Friendship, Love and Truth. There are many things in Odd Fellowship that are a throwback to another age and simply do not resonate in the 21st Century. For example, the admonition to “educate the orphan” is ingrained in our psyche, but has little relevance in this Century. The same is true with “bury the dead” – while this was a primal responsibility of Lodges in the 1800’s, there are few Odd Fellows Cemeteries in existence today, and the funding of burials by Lodges is a rarity. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the one thing that continues to shine through the decades and centuries is the concept of “Friendship, Love and Truth.” If Lodge members truly put these words into practice, the Lodge experience will be dramatically enhanced.
Community Involvement. There was a time in the history of our Order that the fraternal experience encompassed attendance at closed, secret, ritual meetings. The quest was to memorize the ritual, and conduct the perfect by-the-book meeting. (Of course, memorizing the ritual was a necessity for most Lodges during a time when many members could not read.) In the 21st Century, new members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s (the future of this Order) disdain a fraternity that does little more than sit in a closed room reading in rote from a little red book. Folks in this new Century are interested in reaching out into the community and trying to do good works. And every community has needs, ranging from the environment to homelessness and everything in between. Doing good works in the community can be a huge draw for new members and can enhance the fraternal experience for all members.
Social Activities. Simply put: it’s important to just have fun. When Odd Fellowship originated in the pubs of England, much of the fraternal experience involved having a good meal, enjoying a libation, and having some quality social time. Somehow, many Lodges have lost that. There is nothing wrong with polling the membership to determine what good fellowship activities they wish to have during their Lodge experience. Such social events can run a wide gamut, depending on the community – and what is right for Lodge X may not work for Lodge Z. But if a Lodge fails to provide a fun social environment for members, it is leaving out an important component of fraternal life. It is also ignoring the desires of new and younger members.
Dress for Success. It is unlikely that a Lodge will attract a new generation of applicants in the 2020’s when the Lodge members are pictured in the attire of the 1920’s. How many potential members in their 20’s and 30’s and 40’s will be interested in joining a fraternal order where the septuagenarian women are cloaked in long white dresses and the octogenarian men are wearing tuxedos and cummerbunds? When many offices (including government offices) allow employees to wear jeans and sweatshirts, it makes little sense to require a formality of dress in the Lodge Hall that makes folks uncomfortable. I still remember the days when female Lodge members were castigated for wearing slacks or dresses that didn’t go mid-calf, and male Lodge members were criticized for wearing jeans. We are a fraternal order, not the fashion police.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
What Membership Problem?
Two-fifths. Where I come from two-fifths is almost half. What does two-fifths signify in our order? Simply this – two-fifths of the U.S. jurisdictions (states and provinces in North America) have less than 200 members! Below the proverbial Mendoza line, a 200 average, the level of futility in baseball, where even if your defense is great, the batting average is too low to be acceptable in the Major Leagues. Yet these jurisdictions all get 2 voting reps each. Of course, these jurisdictions weren’t always comprised of just 200 members. They have sunk to this level. Obviously, a state that has lost members for many years will not level off at 200 members, it will surely decline to zero. No membership problem there.
Three-Fifths. Almost 60% of the U.S. Jurisdictions are below 300 members. These states also have sunk to new lows. No state in the Union even 20 years ago was at these levels. The general perception is that this membership decline is just a slow ebbing, but obviously that is not true when membership is undergoing such a precipitous decline. We are nearing a fatal tipping point. Some may say that we are already there. And yet, many resist discussing membership issues even now, or the popular answer is to set up the 337th five-year committee to study the issue. Many states may not have five years left.
Four-Fifths. 80% of the membership within the U.S. are now over the age of 65. In many jurisdictions the average age is much higher. Herein is the basic issue. If all your jurisdiction’s members are over 65, and life expectancy is 75, then your jurisdiction is already on a quickly deteriorating slide. Of course, the goal should be to attract the young, and the working class, but many jurisdictions seem to resist this. Some lodges meet during working hours, others spend much more time discussing the sick and distressed than anything else. Others devote their time to having events and other ritual behaviors seemingly based in the 1800s! To verify this, look at the outfits many still wear, period costumes from the 1920’s, formal wear now only rarely worn outside our order (although to paraphrase Billy Crystal – “you all look mahvelous!”), and pushing ideas that are abhorrent to much of the public who otherwise might consider joining.
Five-Fifths. 100% of our jurisdictions are tiny. Even California, which is double the populace of every other jurisdiction, is small, with only 4,200 members, yet, it is larger than the smallest 20 states combined! But ye in the smaller jurisdictions fear not, because your votes are 20 times more powerful than ours in California! Conversely, the Masons, who also have a membership decline but on a different scale, are many times larger. This is the other question. At one time, the Odd Fellows were doing at least as well as the Masons, what has made The Odd Fellows, in particular, decline so quickly? Let me suggest a few reasons for our decline:
- We are all elderly therefore we only attract the elderly. Attracting the young means we should try and be attractive to the young. My younger daughter, a psychology major, has attended only once and couldn’t stop giggling.
- We act as though we are a secret order, yet when we were a big group, everyone knew about us. We need to announce ourselves every way we can. Oddly enough, cold dark buildings look the same to everyone. Lighten up!
- We still think we are philosophically based in 1840. Many deny that anyone non-Christian can join. Why is this, exactly? Do we really think this is logical in today’s world?
- We run our meetings basically by reading tired documents littered with idiotic questions! The Noble Grand feels belittled if he/she has not read every word as mandated by SGL. Here again, time to lighten up! Of course, there are still 12 purists left in our order that demand rote memory recitals, but this truly looks and sounds insipid. Ask any new member or watch our videos. Truly onerous deadly boring flat speech. No wonder half the membership nods off at our meetings. I have seen many members in my own jurisdiction attend one or two meetings at their lodge, and never attend again. Why is this?
- Plenty of mean people in our order. Protecting their turf. Turning off outsiders. Earning their livings within the order without regard of the order at large. This is not what the order originally meant. Friendship, Love, and Truth, remember?
- Guilt Trippers. Many of us like to guilt trip our fellow members. Many lodges demand you keep up with each other. Of course, this is ludicrous. Every person is different! Some people even have jobs! Remember when you had a job?
- Tired events done to death. Some lodges have had the same tired events for 20 years and more. Yet, if you study attendance logs, the attendance sooner or later begins dropping. Time to shake things up. No one bobs for apples or pins the tail on the donkey, anymore, or maybe your lodge still does.
Just a few ideas. But something must be done and soon, or the states with 200 members will be gone, and the premise of ignoring membership issues believing they will go away will no longer hold water. If you’re angered by these ideas, let’s try the approach as suggested by SGL – first let’s verify everyone’s religious beliefs, second let’s circulate hate speech that may have been acceptable in 1840, third let’s promote droning on and on reciting 200 year old mantras, fourth let’s ignore new ideas, and lastly let’s set up five year plans to study issues that are already crystal clear to those who care to see them…
In F., L., & T., Rick Boyles
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
It’s always a pleasure to receive emails from Lodges that have become three-dimensional Lodges, progressing and thriving in the modern world, and not simply reciting passages from a ritual book in a darkened room with shades drawn against the outside world. Here is a message from one of our Brothers in Victoria, Canada, which shows the sorts of things Lodges can do to be relevant to their members and their communities.
It’s a good way to say goodbye to 2019, and hello to 2020.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Members all, I guess because it is December I can wish you all the best for the Christmas Season and into the New Year.
On Wednesday evening I went to my Lodge meeting in Victoria. Columbia #2 is my home Lodge. I don’t attend too often for a variety of reasons. First off Wednesdays just don’t seem to work with me because I live up Island. Secondly there are so many new Brothers that I can’t begin to know them all. Most of them basically know who I am because of me recently being the Grand Master. Brenda and I just bought a rental house in Victoria and I think in the new year I am going to start attending Lodge far more often.
So what was so special about last Wednesday evening? Well, we had some problems. There weren’t enough collars for all the Brothers! We had 54 Brothers in attendance and one Sister! The incoming Noble Grand of Bastion #4 (Tawnya) was in attendance too. With 54 Brothers you start looking around the room to find empty seats! It was truly amazing. First off we opened the meeting to give a cheque to the Companion Dog Society. Their manager had traveled to Victoria to receive the cheque and spoke for a few moments on what their dogs do. He brought with him a retired Canadian Military man and his companion dog. These dogs are somewhat associated with eye seeing dogs. The military man spoke of how this dog got him out of his depression and made his life meaningful again. I do not know the cheque amount, but it was enough to come over from Vancouver for.
Our next problem was that we had three Brothers vying for the Vice Grand position. Each Brother spoke for three minutes on his vision for our Lodge. We then voted on which Brother that we thought would best suit the position. I don’t think I can ever recall having to vote for Vice Grand, and definitely not three candidates.
The evening was punctuated with request after request for funds. One was for a local teacher wanting better conditions for her grade two class. ($500). Another was for a Brother who with his wife gives out baskets to seniors without families. ($500) There was a discussion about how we usually put on functions to raise funds rather than just giving away money. Vancouver 90 Lodge gave $1,500 for our Tonne of Love food drive. Thank you Van90. There was a discussion about how much our Lodge should donate. It was decided $1,000 at Christmas and an additional $1,000 in the summer Tonne of Love campaign. I believe the Halloween event raised $21,000 and the Poker Tournament raised $15,000. Serious money but serious events too. At the Spaghetti Social a week earlier, cheques were given to the various charities. Spaghetti Social admission was either new socks or underwear for the needy. I remember when Bro Jim and I joined, a spaghetti evening would have been a bucket of spaghetti with Chef Boyardee sauce and some Safeway garlic bread cut on an angle and slathered with butter. Not nowadays. The Bastion women with Columbia guys knock it out of the park. There wasn’t enough room in the dining room to seat everyone. Not only a great meal but a open meeting afterwards. I was introduced to a young women to explain what Odd Fellows was all about. After I finished she said “I think I have found the group that I want to be part of.” Brother Jim brought a woman from his work and she wants to join Bastion too. Jim’s daughter recently showed interest having seen a Bastion photo on the wall. She knew four Sisters already!
Someone asked if you could be Noble Grand without first being Vice Grand. Brother Gordie Moffat and I looked at each other and said no. Sitting beside us, Junior Past Grand Dave Pettenuzzo spoke up and said the elders beside him said you have to be Vice Grand first. Gordie and I took offence too being called “old guys” and I let the Noble Grand know. Everyone laughed. (We definitely are the old guys.)
They say Odd Fellows reached it’s peak membership in the 1920’s. Well, last Wednesday evening must have been how it was like 100 years ago. Imagine your problems not having enough collars and who to vote for Vice Grand.
Sisters and Brothers, In Fraternal Love I wish you all a Merry Christmas and the best for the New Year.
Bro Bill Murphy
Now in its 13th year, the Davis Odd Fellows Bingo Committee announced today that it contributed $11,080 to 11 beneficiaries in 2019.
On the second Sunday of each month (except for May when the second Sunday falls on Mother’s Day), the Davis Odd Fellows open the Lodge Hall to the community to play Bingo. In 2019, the following 11 community and charitable agencies received donations of Bingo proceeds:
In 2007, the Davis Odd Fellows Lodge applied to the City Council and received permission to operate Bingo in Davis under state law. Since 2007, the Davis Odd Fellows have contributed over $100,000 to dozens of community and charitable groups through these Bingo games. In addition, hundreds of local residents have enjoyed playing Bingo at the Odd Fellows Lodge Hall on 415 2nd Street. On the second Sunday, doors open at 12 noon, and Bingo begins at 1 p.m. Fifteen games are played, and winners receive payouts in cash, including $250 for the final “Blackout Bingo” Game. Every month, a local beneficiary receives the proceeds from Bingo, after payment of Bingo winners. The beneficiary amounts have ranged up as high as $1,400 per month.
“Second Sunday Bingo at the Lodge has become a fun tradition for the Odd Fellows and for the community,” said Diana Schmiegel, one of the leaders of the Bingo Committee. “We have regular players who look forward to Bingo every month and have been loyal customers for years. And we always get newcomers, usually in support of the community beneficiary of the month. It’s really a win-win-win all around.”
2019 Co-chairs of Odd Fellows Bingo were Diana Schmiegel and Dawn Coder. 2020 Co-chairs of Odd Fellows Bingo will be Alice Stewart and Matthew Elliott.
Members of the public over the age of 18 can purchase Bingo packets for $20 (or economy packets at $12) which provide the Bingo sheets for all 15 games. Players can also purchase instant winner scratchers during the afternoon. The Odd Fellows operate a snack bar during the games, offering hot dogs, nachos, snacks, candy, beer, wine and soft drinks.
Next Bingo will be held on Sunday, January 12, benefiting Team Davis. Doors open at 12 noon and Bingo begins at 1 p.m. The public is invited.
The Davis Odd Fellows were chartered in Davis in 1870 (even before there was a City of Davis), and will be celebrating their 150th anniversary in April 2020. Currently, there are 302 members of the Lodge, almost equally divided between men and women. The Davis Odd Fellows Lodge is the largest Odd Fellows Lodge in North America. For more information on the Davis Odd Fellows, visit www.davislodge.org.