The natural process of an Odd Fellows lodge includes many dynamics, from who we admit as a member to how we decide to interpret the rituals and our codes. The decisions of an Odd Fellow lodge could be perceived as controversial to members of other lodges.
In my years as a member of this Order and having served in numerous capacities, from a lodge officer in every seat, a district deputy, and trustee and director of two Grand Bodies, a grand instructor three times, a Grand Patriarch and Grand Master, to being a well-read historian of the Order and writer of numerous pieces of legislation, I have never seen a universal way a lodge conducts its affairs. As much as a parent Grand Lodge would like to see all lodges be the same, they are not, nor shall they ever be the same. I write this piece because members must have an understanding of the differences occurring in our Order.
There are many factors which effect the personality of an Odd Fellows lodge, including the geography, the demographics of a community, the beliefs by our members, the education levels, financial availability, and others. We are definitely a diverse group, which sets us apart from other organizations, which is a positive factor in today’s social climate.
For example, on the one hand we may have a lodge belonging to a more liberal city, where the members may be more inclusive of who they admit and how they interpret the rituals and codes. Larger cities, mostly, offer our lodges prospective applicants from all social and ethnic backgrounds, whereas, a small rural town may have only one demographic. Or we may see a lodge in the middle of an agricultural setting – literally – where the workers come straight from the fields to the lodge, which would be almost, if not all, men. This happens. The same goes for geographical regions, where many of the residents are poorer, and another region where residents may be wealthier. These are some of the factors, which give our lodges different make-ups of members. They are not necessarily blended, but still all Odd Fellows.
Some of the differences I have seen over the years: Some members believe this is a Christian organization and its members should be Christian, where others admit all faiths and beliefs. Some members believe a “Creator and Preserver of the Universe” is “God”, but others do not, primarily because of their own backgrounds and upbringing. We have atheist and non-believers and people of varied religious beliefs in this Order. Some members believe this is an Order of non-LBGT members, whereas in larger cities, lodges admit members of the LBGT community. We have lodges with homeless and poor members, and we see lodges with wealthy and well-to-do members. Often, other lodge members will step up and pay another member’s dues.
In older Odd Fellow lodges, there are many lodges that maintain the alter in the center of the floor, as a matter of tradition and to preserve the integrity of the sacred area between the center of the floor and the station of the Noble Grand. Most lodges do not; the meaning of the aforementioned is lost to these lodges, which is their right.
The code instructs Vice Grands and Noble Grands to be able to recite the unwritten work before being allowed to serve in those capacities. This is rarely done, so lodges forgo this requirement. As a past grand instructor on multiple occasions, I saw very few who could recite the unwritten work from memory. Some lodges use the digital video recordings for their degree work and others, if they have the desire and the adequate number of members, may confer the degrees live instead of using the “DVD.” Some members frown on the use of digital degrees, which others praise it as a faster means of bringing in members.
During the opening of a lodge meeting some members read their responsibilities and duties with enthusiasm, some by memory, some not at all; some lodges skip the reading of the duties. Some skip the prayer. Some have a moment of silence during the prayer, out of respect for members of other faiths, who shall not repeat the Lord’s Prayer, as it is viewed strictly as from the New Testament (Bible).
It is a fact, that in many cities, rather than small towns, we find lodges having more members, where they are diverse, where the code and rituals are more likely going to meet challenges and adjustments to be socially acceptable to all their members. In this regard, it becomes a difficult process for an unyielding leader from another lodge or locality to impose a different interpretation of the ritual or code, without the risk of alienation, fracturing, or eliminating an entire group of members.
There are so many different ways our lodges do their business and conduct their meetings, they cannot all be conveyed in this writing. The point of this is to educate those who can read, that our lodges are different whether we like it or not. To become overly concerned or indifferent or even enraged at a lodge where you are not a member, is probably not going to work in the interest of all parties. In fact, a lodge being taken to task because of its practices may ignore outside suggestions to the point of creating a challenge.
Brothers and sisters, we find our common bond in the obligation we all took upon joining this Order, and we all call ourselves “Odd Fellows.” And, we have a rich history.
In Friendship, Love, & Truth,
Peter V. Sellars
Have fun is one of my favorite expressions. I say it all the time. I believe it’s integral to our survival. So much of what we do appears painful or at the very least perfunctory. But the question of how our group attracts new members should be integral to all that we say or do. The simple answer is to make our order as attractive as possible to people looking in. Many of our members and Odd Fellow lodges fall into a comfortable rut. Reciting ritual work or chanting something else from memory. While it may seem impressive to have committed something to memory, it is not attractive to someone looking in – on the contrary, it may seem belittling to someone new.
Many of us who have been in the Odd Fellows for years have a lot of mileage and experience to contend with, perhaps not all of it positive, but of course, negativity does not attract anyone, as the rules of attraction are simple. Remember when you were young, the most popular kids were generally the kids who sent a message of happiness. In my youth, the popular kids had the biggest parties, and tended to be having an exciting time every opportunity I had to interact with them. Of course, therefore they were popular, because they were greatly admired, and in many cases, emulated.
It’s common sense, really. Negativity, prejudice, hatred, despair, all succeed only in driving people away. Happiness is an attraction without qualification. I’ve always been surprised by many who run for office in our order, because they often descend into name-calling, obsessive hatred, pettiness, and yet are shocked when they fail to get elected. People are generally smarter than we give them credit for. Most people want happiness, pleasant interactions, truth, and yes, love. After all, it is the implication our order sends. Those of us who want to lead by fear, or punitive behavior, are only kidding ourselves. Leadership means to lead by example, not by wielding a club, but extending an open hand and heart.
Of course, it’s a trend of those of us who have been in the order for a while to look at the newest among us with suspicion, but this distrust is generally borne out of ignorance. Most people, young or old, want mainly to be known as good human beings; it’s hard to imagine anyone wishing it any other way. The older members are used to tradition, while the younger members seek innovation, and neither direction is bad, so somehow both must be encouraged with the same level of energy.
Finally, my deeply wondrous theory of “have fun” has some basis in fact, since the Odd Fellow lodges that tend to grow are those with the most events and occasions. It’s hard to imagine a lodge with very few active members, no events, no refreshments, and punitive behavior growing. It will not happen. The straightest line is the most direct and easiest path. Both smiles and frowns are infectious, but smiles attract, while frowns repel. If we want growth, a smile is what will bring them in and keep them happy.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles
The Davis Odd Fellows Charities, Inc. today announced two scholarship recipients for 2018. Samuel Snelson, an incoming student at the University of California at Davis has been awarded a $10,000 scholarship for his freshman year at UCD, and Diamond Xochitl Irene Echevarria, an incoming student at American River College has been awarded a $5,000 scholarship for her freshman year at ARC.
“Both Sam and Diamond had challenging childhoods, growing up in the foster care system,” said Davis Odd Fellows Charities, Inc. President Dave Rosenberg. “Both overcame many significant obstacles. Sam and Diamond excelled in high school with extremely high GPA’s. We are delighted to make these awards to deserving, energetic young men and woman who intend to help others overcome adversity.”
To be eligible for consideration for this scholarship, persons must have grown up as orphans or foster youth, must be at least 18 years of age at the time they enter college/university, must be U.S. citizens, must have attained at least a B+ average upon high school graduation, and must be accepted to an accredited institution.
The Davis Odd Fellows Charities, Inc. scholarship fund was established to remember and honor Triffle P. and Annie G. Ivancovich. Triffle was a long-time active Odd Fellow and Annie was a long-time active Rebekah. They both worked hard to help orphans and foster youth, and this fund carries on their good works.
Application and nomination forms for the 2014 scholarships will be available on the home page of the Davis Lodge at http://davislodge.org/lodge-programs/orphan-scholarship-fund/.
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
In 1853, the Grand Lodge of California began to record statistics on the number of members in our Order. The number of members in 1853 was 985. Next to that number was the number 780, showing the net gain from the prior year. So, apparently, the starting point for statistic compilation was actually 1852 when the Order counted 205 members in California. The Grand Lodge has continued compiling these statistics for every year from 1853 to the present, showing either a “net gain” or a “net loss” for every year. A “net gain” is the increase in membership year-to-year when the Order has admitted more members than have been lost; a “net loss” is the decrease in membership year-to-year when the Order has lost more members than it has admitted.
The view of these statistics is nothing less than fascinating. And it shows certain cycles.
In the first cycle – which stretched from 1853 until 1893 – a period of some 40 years – the Order grew rapidly, year after year showing a net gain on occasion as high as 10%. In 1893 the membership number statewide was 30,741. In 1894 there was a momentary retrenchment for four years – showing net losses in those years, but then the Order snapped right back to show a steady stream of net gains from 1898 until 1913. In 1913, the membership stood at 46,099. The years of World War I showed an unsurprising shrinkage in membership as young men went to war. The years 1914 to 1918 showed net losses, except for a small net gain in 1917 (presumably as some young men started coming back home). From 1919 to 1928, with the exception of just one year, the Order had net gains every year. In 1928, the membership was 58,820. That number of 58,820, by the way, is the high-water mark of Odd Fellowship in California – a very large number considering the entire population of California at the time was just a shade over 5 million.
And then the Great Depression hit.
Membership dropped in 1929 and then continued to drop until 1942, with steady declines year after year. In some years, the net loss exceeded 10%. In 1942, the number of Odd Fellows in California had fallen to 25,567. From 1943 to 1947 – around the time of World War II – the membership increased with net gains every year. This was the last period of sustained growth in our Order in California. In 1947, the membership had increased to 30,739 as young men came back from war searching to reintegrate into society. Then, in 1948 the Order saw a net loss, and those net losses continued for 67 years (with the exception of 2002 when there was a small net gain) until 2015. This sustained period of net losses brought our membership down to 4,075 dues paying members in 2015. A statewide membership number of 4,075 is anemic in light of the overall population of the state which had skyrocketed to 40 million. There are several high schools in California which have more students than Odd Fellows have members.
The drop is breathtaking. In 1928 we had 58,820 members and in 2015 we had plummeted to 4,075 members – a descent of some 93% in our membership. Statistically, if this trend were to continue, the Order in California would number only in the hundreds in less than 20 years. These net losses are especially troubling in light of the fact that California, from 1850 until the present day, has experienced rather huge net gains in population. In some decades (particularly the 1950’s and 1960’s) California’s net population gains exceeded 5% per year. So, while California’s population was increasing, the population of Odd Fellows was in steady decline.
But then, in 2016, a remarkable thing happened. Statistics for Calendar Year 2016 showed a small net gain in the membership in California. And then for Calendar Year 2017 the statistics showed a small net gain for the second year in a row. The fact that the net gains for those years was small is of little consequence. The fact that California has finally stopped the tide of year-after-year net losses is of consequence. Because reversing a trend takes two steps: First you have to put the brakes on it, and second you have to move in a different direction on a consistent basis. We have entered phase one of this important process. We have finally put the brakes on decades of net losses. As if in a fraternal stupor, we had seemingly grown accustomed to year after year after year of membership losses. And now – in 2016 and again in 2017 – we are hopefully starting a new paradigm of membership gains. If it continues in 2018, we can truthfully say that we have reversed the trend and are starting a new trend of net gains.
How did this happen?
May I suggest that the creation of Dedicated Members for Change (DMC) at the end of 2010 was a significant factor in reversing the trend of declining membership. For the last eight years, DMC has focused the Order in California on the reality of membership losses, and more importantly, has suggested proven ways that Lodges can reverse the trend. While most Lodges continue to lose members, there are some Lodges that continue to show net gains in membership. So, by analyzing what the membership-gaining Lodges are doing, we can provide suggestions of “what works” to all Lodges. And more and more Lodges are starting to get it. A focus on ritual alone will not grow Lodges. To grow in the 21st Century, a Lodge cannot be so one-dimensional. Instead, growing Lodges expand their focus on good works in the community, and also on fun social activities for the members.
Without question, Odd Fellowship is relevant in the 21st Century and Odd Fellows Lodges can grow and prosper. We have proven it in California.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
California Grand Lodge Sessions and Rebekah Assembly in Visalia begin in two weeks.
Please mark your calendars for a fun event coming up during California Grand Lodge and Rebekah Assembly Sessions. It’s the annual “Tacos, Tunes & Tales” on Thursday, May 17, organized and hosted by
“Dedicated Members for Change”. As in past years, we expect 125-150 attendees. You won’t want to miss it. Please see the attached updated flier for all the details. “Tacos, Tunes & Tales” will be the place to be on Thursday evening. We will have a wonderful taco bar buffet, there will be live music, there will be plenty of time to socialize with your brothers and and sisters from around the state, and we will hear brief comments from leaders of our order.
The taco bar buffet alone costs us $32 per person, BUT we are able to keep the price tag for this event quite low (only $20 per person) because a number of generous Lodges contribute money as Sponsors of the event. Because of their sponsorship the expenses are subsidized and the cost to individual Odd Fellows, Rebekahs and their guests is substantially reduced. There are no advanced reservations or RSVP – we are keeping it simple – just pay at the door. If you plan to write checks, please make the checks payable to “Grand Lodge”.
I’m pleased to identify FIFTEEN generous Lodges that are subsidizing and sponsoring this event. Thank you! Here they are:
GOLD LEVEL SPONSORS
Odd Fellows District #47
SILVER LEVEL SPONSORS
America Lodge # 385
Berkeley Lodge # 270
Franco-American Lodge #207
Yerba Buena Lodge #15
BRONZE LEVEL SPONSORS
Garcia Lodge #240
Los Angeles – Golden Rule Lodge #35
Mountain View Lodge #244
Saratoga Lodge #428
Apollo Lodge #123
Bay City Lodge #71
See you in Visalia.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California