Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Recently, I saw a photograph on Facebook of Lodge members celebrating a major anniversary of their Lodge’s institution and charter. The members were lined up with smiles on their faces, obviously pleased with the achievement. And, indeed, it was an achievement. The Lodge had sustained itself. The message of Odd Fellowship had been passed down from generation to generation to generation.
Yet, as I looked at the happy faces in that photograph, I was struck by something more ominous. Every person in the picture was over 65 years of age. To me, the emerging reality of this photo was that this Lodge had skipped two generations of members. The members of this Lodge had grown complacent over the years, and they had not brought in new members, or the members they had brought in were of the same generation as existing members. That is a recipe for the slow death of a Lodge. That Lodge will slowly fade away as members move away or pass away. All the hard work of all those prior generations that had brought the Lodge to this anniversary will have been for nought, and in the foreseeable future that Lodge will become an historical footnote. Regrettably, that is the state of many Lodges in this jurisdiction and around North America.
So, how do we attract younger members to join our Lodges?
This is not only an important question for every Lodge, but indeed it is an existential question for the Lodge and our Order. If a Lodge has virtually all members in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s – that is a Lodge that has skipped two generations of members, and that is a Lodge that will inevitably be in trouble as the generation of current members “ages out”. There will be no one left to replace members who move away or pass away. And that is a Lodge on a track to oblivion.
But that begs the question. If you are in a Lodge composed almost entirely of older members, how do you attract the younger generations of new members? Easier said than done, of course, as we all tend to sponsor new members who are our peers. So, we find that the 60-year-old members tend to sponsor applicants in their 60’s, and the 70-year old members tend to sponsor applicants in their 70’s, and so on. There is, however, a path forward. The immediate goal for the older members should be to bring in applicants who are a decade younger – that is, a member who is in his/her 60’s should make efforts to bring in applicants in their 50’s, and a member who is in his/her 50’s should do their best to bring in applicants in their 40’s, etc. At the very least, if a Lodge has members in their 40’s and 50’s, that Lodge has established the next generation of leaders, and that Lodge has a path to the future.
The more difficult question is how does a Lodge bring in new members in their 30’s and 20’s? To be brutally frank, it’s probably not feasible for a Lodge of Septuagenarians to bring in young adults in this age range. After all, it is unlikely that a member of the Millennial generation has many shared interests with a member in his/her 80’s. And a member in his or her 20’s is unlikely to want to spend time in the Lodge Hall with their “grandma” and “grandpa”. So, what about Odd Fellowship is, or can be, of interest to the Millennial?
I ran across a recent article promulgated by CNN which talked about the issue of “rising loneliness in young adults – specifically young men and women under the age of 25″. Based on my own observations, I am confident that this rising level of loneliness applies as a modern social phenomenon to young adults even up to the age of 30. This disconnection and loneliness is a tragedy in today’s society, yet at the same time, it presents an opportunity to our fraternal order.
We tend to think of loneliness as a symptom of aging. Yet one study cited by CNN found that 40% of young people in the 16-24 age range felt lonely “often or very often,” compared to 27% of adults over 75. Young people may have their faces glued to their computer screens, iPads and iPhones, but their social integration may very well be lacking. Facebook and Snapchat may be popular among the young, but they are no substitute for actual flesh-and-blood human interaction. Lodges will be well-served if their future plans involve opportunities for younger men and women to find social interaction in the Lodge Hall such as dances, music venues, game nights, and also outside of the Hall in Lodge trips, hikes, bike rides, wine tasting, highway and community clean-up efforts.
F – L -T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
An Observation Piece
Have you ever felt that there were aspects of the Order that you were missing? For the newer members, terms like “Grand Lodge” or “Sovereign Grand Lodge” or even titles or events, can be foreign.
Let’s put all of this to rest and ease your concerns. Of course, there are mysteries of the Order that reveal themselves over time, but these are really never hidden or that far away. Discovering the answers to your questions can come more quickly depending who you ask.
After years of prodding by my grandfather, I became a member of the Odd Fellows. It was not really a benefit for me, as the men in my lodge were all in their seventies and eighties. Within a few years, they were all dead and I found myself being the leader within the lodge. At least I didn’t see it as a benefit. Turned out, their passing was really a passing of the torch. Much of what I learned came from immersing myself in books.
I became, what they called the Degree Master within my lodge and led the degree work for several years, initiating the new members. I was in a situation where I was forced to learn as much as possible if I was going to be successful in the Order. I memorized the roles of the Past Noble Grand, Warden, Chaplain, and Conductor, that really enhanced the presentation of the degrees. Other lodges asked for my help, which I gladly accepted.
Of course, the experience of attending Grand Lodge and Sovereign Grand Lodge were part of the answers to my own questions of the Order. I had the benefit of attending district meetings, where all the lodges of one district gather and teach all that can be taught in a day. These were helpful. This is where we also learned roles of the degrees, procedures, unwritten work, and other information of the lodge and the Order. Unfortunately, these district meetings have all but disappeared. Our avenue – the newer member’s opportunity – to learn was reduced to almost nil.
As these district meetings fell out of favor with the membership, the Annual Educational Seminar in California became the focus for learning. What started as the Noble Grand Vice Grand Seminar, then the Noble Grand, Vice Grand and Officers Seminar, then the Educational Membership Seminar, to what it is today, the primary source of learning for the members in California. Are there secret groups of the Odd Fellows? Sure, but these have diminished or have been watered down over the years. With the attitudes of the members coming into the Order today, secrecy is not an ideal.
In recent years, interesting gatherings have been taking place across the country. There is the Middle Atlantic States Conclave (MASC), which is comprised of eight states, NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, VA, WV, and DC (these are held in alternate jurisdictions each year). There is the Mid South Conclave, which is held in July, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi. There is also a Great Lakes Conference that includes all of the jurisdictions in the Great Lakes area. The North East Conclave includes the New England states and Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces. Then, there is the North West, that has been coming together since 1945, held every six months, which includes Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia. These gatherings of jurisdictions sound fraternal and educational. They solidify the memberships of those regions. It also explains a great deal when California attempts to present new ideas or propose change. Not being part of any of these conclaves or gatherings has left this jurisdiction swinging in the wind by itself. At the start of this piece I posed the question if there were aspects of this Order you were missing.
These gatherings or groupings could be viewed as divisions, which play out socially when the representatives gather at the session of the Sovereign Grand Lodge. This divisiveness may be in the subconscious of those members who participate in these bonding-conclaves and inter-jurisdictional meetings, as it is evident and as it plays out whenever California presents legislation or nominates a candidate at Sovereign Grand Lodge. California is isolated by its absence in any of these groupings of jurisdictions.
Until the invitation and welcoming hand of fraternalism is extended, the opportunity for establishing and understanding of social differences and other matters between the members of these jurisdictions and California is lost.
The education of our membership includes learning the about the social attitudes of a region as much as learning what is contained within our Rituals or codes. I look forward to continuing the socializing with other jurisdictions.
Peter V. Sellars
Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”.
The DMC has quoted this line several times, and yet there are lodges throughout California and the United States that are losing members, yet persist in bland repetition until their ultimate demise. In my years as Grand Master and then Sovereign Grand Representative I was told many times how the DMC was somehow anathema to the Odd Fellows, that we were too jovial, too public, too accustomed to having fun. I spoke to a gentleman in Baltimore, who with a straight face, lectured me on the seriousness of our Order. He told me how bad the DMC was, how disruptive, but when I pressed him for specifics, he turned and walked away. At Sovereign Grand Lodge, they pass out member counts for each state in the U.S. and I noticed that his state had less than 200 members remaining. The thing that appears startling is that he apparently hopes for more members by doing the same things he has always done. And yet, I spoke to one of the bigwigs at Sovereign Grand Lodge and was told that he was widely admired. I have no doubt of his value to his state, but the fact of the matter is, the Order in his state is failing. Whether you are liked or disliked at Sovereign Grand Lodge is of little import if at the end of the day your own jurisdiction is failing.
The question that eventually must be asked is what, if anything, Sovereign Grand Lodge does for the individual jurisdiction? This is not a reflection on a single person, state, or idea, but rather, the premise of some inanimate object holding sway over failing jurisdictions. If you owned an appliance, for example, and the company you purchased it from had sold 50 similar appliances, but one third of all of them were failing, would you not question the design of said appliance? The reality is that our order needs a massive overhaul. Every member in the United States pays money to Sovereign Grand Lodge. What is the return on our investment? The response I often hear is that the dues are not much, and evidently you get what you pay for, but sooner or later the internal mechanism must be called into question. Whether or not some one is liked by Sovereign Grand Lodge is irrelevant; rather it is the vantage point that must be called into question – in other words, do you like Sovereign Grand Lodge?
Of course, as many have pointed out, Sovereign Grand Lodge can only do so much, but in my short time there what I noticed with great abundance is the ponderous nature of things. Legislation to implement change is held over and generally dismissed, and certain individuals not only control the events, but squelch any new ideas. One constantly hears of five-year plans, that are eventually diluted and discarded since each Sovereign Grand Master only serves for one year. Sovereign Grand Lodge Central Committees are often run by the same members (yes, they are well liked too) for decades, and if you serve on these committees you tend to have very little input on the basic functionality of the committee. Of course, Representatives, particularly in the larger states, are by design, belittled, since if you are a Representative in California, for example, you represent 2,000 members each, while in some states you may represent only fifty. Many states are failing, and all debate aside, it doesn’t matter again whether you are liked or not, simple longevity factors, will force the absolute vanishing of at least one third of the U.S. within 10 years. This is a simple, non-debatable fact, if the average age in a state is 65, and the life expectancy is 75, the state will be gone in probably less than 10 years. The fact that the DMC is disliked by states with less than 200 members is like being healthy and hated by those with an incurable disease. The state of California is twice as large as any other state. The DMC is just one reason for this simple fact.
So, what is the answer? I agree that Sovereign Grand Lodge can’t solve everything, but they can attempt to clear the logjam. Also, any legislation that is more restrictive rather than less restrictive should be by its own nature objectionable. Membership should be our one and only goal. Supposedly, we are trying to be non-discriminatory, and yet legislation is still being circulated recommending discrimination. Whether it’s a matter of religious discrimination or racial discrimination is irrelevant. Discrimination should not be tolerated in any degree. Is discrimination tolerated or is it not? If membership is not now the focus of Sovereign Grand Lodge, why is that the case? Any onlooker would note that a state with 200 members is failing – why don’t we? A major portion of the United States has jurisdictions with less than 200 members! In my year running for Sovereign Grand Warden I pointed out that no one who ran for office even broached the subject of membership. In fact, several Past Sovereign Grand Masters told me that no one wanted to hear about membership. Supposedly, that’s the kiss of death for candidates, but if we don’t conquer the problem of dwindling membership, when do we do it? Shall we wait a few years until a third of the Order in the United States has vanished? Sisters and Brothers, it’s up to all of us, whether we are liked by Sovereign Grand Lodge is irrelevant. Let’s stop setting up committees to study the problem. Let’s start to make integral changes right now.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles.
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
This month of December marks an Odd anniversary of sorts.
It was early in the month of December 2009 that Dedicated Members for Change (DMC) was born. So, in this month of December 2019, we recognize the 10th anniversary of DMC.
DMC was the “brainchild” of three dedicated Odd Fellows – Don Smith, Rick Boyles and me. Don Smith – who has passed on – was a legendary Odd Fellow. Not only did Don serve a distinguished term as Grand Master of California, he was one of the very few Odd Fellows from this state of California who achieved the office of Sovereign Grand Master. Amazingly, Don was elected Grand Master in his 20’s and Sovereign Grand Master in his 30’s. Don possessed an incredible storehouse of knowledge of all things related to our Order, and he was a prolific and able writer, having composed a number of books and treatises regarding Odd Fellowship. Don was everyone’s friend and brother, and was beloved by all who knew him. Rick Boyles was an up-and-comer in Odd Fellows in 2009. Rick was and is a humble man with a refined sense of humor. In 2009, he was serving as a Grand Lodge Officer and would soon be elected on a track to serve as Grand Master of California. He served as Grand Master with an emphasis in making sure we all “have fun” in our Odd Fellowship experience. Rick was and is a writer of some mark, and in his easy-going way continues to serve the Order to this very day, chairing the important “Three Links Camp Committee” which is in the process of proposing a plan for its future. I was a relative newcomer in 2009, having just joined the Order in 2004, but – in an effort to change the culture of my Lodge – I had already served four successive terms as Noble Grand of my Lodge and was serving as a District Deputy Grand Master at the time of DMC’s formation. I started using my own Lodge (Davis #169) as a kind of laboratory, showing what a Lodge could do to and must do to increase membership. And we did: increasing our membership from less than 30 in 2004 to over 300 today – clearly proving that Odd Fellowship is alive and well and relevant in the 21st Century. Like Don, I was a journalist by trade. Subsequently, I have written and published three books about the future of Odd Fellowship, have served as both Grand Master and Grand Patriarch of California, and currently serve as Chairman of the California Grand Lodge Board of Directors.
The three of us had one overriding concern about the Order in 2009, and we decided to do something about it. Our overriding concern was the steady decline in our fraternal membership – a decline virtually unchecked for over 50 years (more than two generations). We recognized that such a decline was absolutely unsustainable, and if not frankly recognized and honestly addressed, spelled the diminution and ultimate demise of an ancient and worthy fraternity. So, we formed DMC with three goals in mind: 1. Membership. 2. Membership. 3. Membership. We knew that the track we were on was fatal. We recognized that our Order had to evolve and change to attract new members from the current generations.
Many progressive and distinguished members of the Order immediately joined up with us, and our email list grew from a few dozen in California, to hundreds far beyond the borders of our state. Charter members of DMC included leaders and thinkers like Peter Sellars, John and Carol Fraher, Brian Riehl, Rod Metoyer, Dave Reed, Lea Rosenberg, and Donna Morrison, and many others.
But it was by no means easy. At first, we met resistance – we were mocked and criticized by folks who (I imagine) thought we were some sort of insidious cabal of change. I still recall the voice of a leading, but conservative member who told me, straight up, “I would rather Odd Fellows die, than change.” One Grand Master refused to recognize DMC and would not even let us have our meeting at the hotel where Grand Lodge sessions met. We had to meet in a Mexican restaurant several blocks away from the hotel. But we continued on with laser-like focus: Our goal was simple – recognize the problem of declining membership, start talking about it, and (most importantly) start implementing changes to increase membership. We recognized that at the same time that most Lodges were showing repetitive net losses of members, there were a few Lodges showing steady net gains of members. If we could just bottle the formula those growing Lodges had achieved, we could stem the drain of our membership. And that formula for success and growth was remarkably simple. We called it the three-legged stool: (1) recognition of the unique history and ritual of our Order; (2) emerge from the four-walls of our Lodge to engage in good community service; and (3) engage in some fun social activities with our Lodge brothers and sisters.
How times have changed. Now, the DMC Committee is a recognized committee of California’s Grand Lodge. Now, DMC hosts an evening event during Grand Lodge Sessions – last session well over 150 Odd Fellows and Rebekahs attended our evening dinner, listened to music and had a great time. Now, DMC publishes a weekly “DMC Newsletter” that is distributed via email to hundreds – and those hundreds pass it along to hundreds of others on their email lists. Most importantly, our Order now clearly recognizes the need to attack the declining-membership gremlin. We are starting to see Lodges stem the riptide of declines. And we are starting to see small net gains popping up here and there, rather than net losses.
Of course, we have a ways to go. But for now, we can recognize that DMC is a positive force in the evolution of Odd Fellowship.
Happy anniversary, Dedicated Members for Change.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
As male members of the Odd Fellows, we take a lot of things for granted, and are sometimes, frankly, unaware of the impact of the words used in the Lodge Hall on members of other genders.
I recently received an email from an Odd Fellow who is not male, who said the following: “Having been initiated into the world where people only exist as members of the male gender, how does one find gender equality? In the case of current Odd Fellowship, the Ritual demands that all players (male and female) play only male roles from the Old Testament. It’s interesting enough to participate, but as a member of the audience, I get uneasy, even with all the dialogue about having a good character.” The member concludes as follows: “The source of all the problems (and solutions) will be found with the Ritual. We live in interesting times.”
Indeed, male members of the Order may not have focused on this, but the Ritual of an Odd Fellows Lodge is heavily male oriented. The characters and players in the Degrees are all male. That might be perfectly dandy if you are a man, but put yourself in the shoes of a woman member of the Odd Fellows Lodge – how uncomfortable is that? The stories of friendship, brotherly love, and truth are all male-oriented. (Sure, some may say that in the Rebekah Degree, the focus is on women. But in reality, that focus is very diffused. Again, even in the Rebekah Degree the male characters dominate. And what of Rebekah, herself? It’s a story of a young woman who kindly provides water to a traveler and his camels. And then, when the traveler, a servant, tells Rebekah that he wants her to accompany him back to a far-away city to wed the son of his master – a person she does not know and has never met – she humbly and dutifully follows him. What message does that convey to women in the 21st Century?)
But let’s take a moment and go beyond the male and female genders. How does Odd Fellowship treat persons who have a different orientation? This is an absolutely valid question as we enter the third century of our Order. Today’s DMC Newsletter article is written by a relatively new and young member of Mountain View Lodge #244, in California. I commend it for your review – it definitely provides food for thought.
F – L – T
Pasts Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
The Queer Generation
Arike van de Water
27 October 2019
My father hates neckties. He only ever wore one to his own wedding. To him, they are part and parcel of the traditional masculinity his father exuded and he rejected. To me, they are a favoured tool in my wardrobe, helping me elbow open the full breadth of masculinity and femininity I wish to perform as I go about my business. I am working on the trinity knot, which seems to me to be eminently suited for wearing at Odd Fellow get-togethers, such as the membership education seminar in 2020.
How do we reach the young people? is a question my Dutch church asked, when it was three-quarters silver-haired. I now see it on the agenda for the seminar, how do we reach the 20- and 30-year-olds? That Dutch church found its answer in a combination of re-inventing tradition, doing ministry in community and connecting with the local neighbourhood. I do not know what the answer will be for you, for us, but perhaps I can give you a piece of the puzzle by explaining one reason that helped me join the Mountain View Lodge #244.
I want to help people. I like to be at ease when I do. I can spend all my energy on helping, that way. I could not be, where I served before. When I helped organise a course on evangelism, this spring, I felt I had to censor my clothes, my words, my opinions and even filter my small talk for the topics I discussed. I was welcome, because I passed for a sufficiently normal woman, but I was too conscious that persons of other genders felt they could not enter a church at all. And that as a woman there was a limit to what I could do, without being censured.
Since I had had the ability to serve as elder or deacon since my confirmation at seventeen, such limits felt unnatural at the age of 31. I started looking for places where I could be fully myself as I served. I knew Mountain View Lodge #244 were at least allies, since they hosted the Oddizens.
This fall I have gone to meetings in dress and suit and tie. I have not had to filter myself in talking to other people. I have met other queer people. I have met people of various religions and backgrounds, with a wide variety of beliefs and opinions. I have not had to question if I was welcome.
So if you are wondering how to make members out of Millenials, the part of the answer I can offer is: welcome the queer who do not feel at home in their church or mosque or temple and who are looking for a place to do some good in the world. I hope that will be taken under consideration when we meet for the seminar in the new year.