THE HISTORY OF THE I.O.O.F. IS IMPORTANT
History is as important to the success of an organization as any other aspect considered. Sometimes, the history could be more important than anything else. I have wondered why other jurisdictions have not attempted to teach the historical background of the Odd Fellows to their members. Not only is the history of the Odd Fellows being neglected, it is being forgotten.
For years, in a quest for recording and sharing the history of certain events or matters of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, via articles, speeches, or books, I have found that most of the information I had sought, had to be discovered and rediscovered by a concerted effort (meaning a strenuous effort). So few members actually know the history of the Order, because those before them were never taught the history. Perhaps this lack of information sharing and teaching of our members, started about the same time the decline in membership began.
Could this be from lack of interest or lack of access to books and other materials? Could it be attributed to other causes, such as the types of members who join the Order or ideas and activities being sold to the members upon joining? I don’t have the answers as to why our rich and full and interesting history is not being shared with all of the members.
Make no mistake, the history of the Odd Fellowsr and what each lodge experienced during their operations and meetings is interesting and very much coincides with the events outside of the lodge doors. Our members are part of the civilization outside of the Order!
Have you ever walked into an older lodge room and picked out items that were over 100 years old and wondered what it was like when the lodge purchased such items or what the outside world looked like when the lodge was instituted? What is the oldest items inside your lodge? Do you know the value of these items? Sometimes the value of the antiques inside our lodge – especially those related to a historical event or important historical figure – are worth more than most anything else inside your hall and perhaps more than the real estate the lodge sits on.
Artifacts are “history”; and the stories around the artifacts are history. Coincide that history with the figures in the lodge at the time the items were acquired, and you shall have yourself worthy history to be shared with members and non-members.
Have you ever thought about sharing your lodge’s history with the local historical society or even donating an item or two? This is an excellent method to share the Order with those who do not know the Odd Fellows.
Your lodge may have an attic or a basement. Does your lodge have a few items stored in such spaces. Attics get incredibly hot. Basements sometimes flood. Most of these kinds of spaces, including those “secret” spaces in the old building, contain older items and property. I would suggest you pull all of those items out and establish a museum and share everything with the public. Preserve those items! Do you know how to preserve the valuables you have inside your lodge? Historical societies, and other historical groups can give you good advice. If you have access to the internet and youtube, you can query a great deal of subjects. Preservation of historical items is important to maintaining your lodge’s history. Local libraries can assist you as well. Do you have any old books? These should be protected as well.
Take a look at your old minute books sometime. You may learn interesting facts about the members and the events of your lodge. Your lodge may have done things you never imagined. Your lodge may have had a popular figure as a member. Go ahead, take a look.
It may inspire you to start writing short articles and to start sharing your lodge’s history and interesting facts. You may even want to write a book. You may have a yearning to speak about your lodge’s history at a historical society event. Your lodge may want to have an open house to share items with the public.
Over the years, in a quest to write about this Order’s history, I have contacted other jurisdictions and found that the members don’t have an idea about the Order’s history or even their own lodge history. Some valuable items have been stolen or thrown out or sold with the properties of defunct lodges. This history is important not only to the jurisdiction of where such neglect occurs, but to all of us. We should all take an active approach to preserve ALL of the history. If such a situation presents itself, make an attempt to acquire everything for your own lodge and for your own museum and for your own lodge’s historical project. Don’t let your Order’s history slip out your hands. It is all valuable in either tangible terms or documented terms.
As a historian, I can tell you, the history of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows is as important as any other historical perspective.
Should you have any questions or concerns, feel free to email me and share your ideas.
Peter V. Sellars
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
How the mighty have fallen. Once upon a time in America, Odd Fellows was the largest fraternal order boasting over 1 million members in North America. However, since those halcyon days, Odd Fellowship, year after year, and decade after decade, has hemorrhaged members. The decline in membership has been steady and debilitating and has continued for over three generations.
Today, the numbers will shock you.
I have recently reviewed the 2017 “Advance Reports” of the Sovereign Grand Lodge, and here are some statistics that will be of interest to every true Odd Fellow and Rebekah:
1. Total Membership as of December 31, 2016. Worldwide, there were 103,116 Odd Fellows. Worldwide, there were 64,184 Rebekahs. Worldwide, the Encampment had 31,861 members. Worldwide, the Patriarchs Militant had 3,076 members. And L.E.A. had 12,944 members worldwide; L.A.P.M. had 828 members. Junior Odd Fellows Lodges had 38 members; Theta Rho Girls’ Clubs had 214 members; and United Youth Groups had 90 members – again, worldwide.
2. Total Decreases in Membership. Worldwide, there were losses in membership year over year. Odd Fellows decreased by 2,392; Rebekahs decreased by 1,975; Encampment decreased by 597; L.E.A. decreased by 897; Patriarchs Militant decreased by 71; and L.A.P.M. decreased by 84.
3. Odd Fellows Membership in North America. In the States of the United States and the Provinces of Canada, December 31, 2016, Odd Fellows membership stood at 33,745, in 1,236 Lodges (down from 1,270 Lodges in the previous year). The largest jurisdiction was California, with 4,449, followed by Pennsylvania at 2,173 members. Interestingly, 1,172 of the California members are women, but only 143 of the Pennsylvania members are women. Only seven other jurisdictions have more than 1,000 members: Illinois, New York, Ohio, Ontario, Oregon, Texas and West Virginia. Juxtaposed to that, there are 19 jurisdictions each with less than 300 members.
4. Rebekah Membership in North America. In the States of the United States and the Provinces of Canada, December 31, 2016, Rebekah membership stood at 20,454, in 835 Lodges (down from 899 Lodges in the previous year). The largest jurisdiction was Ontario, with 1,799, followed by California at 1,549 members. Only one other jurisdiction has more than 1,000 members – Oregon. On the other hand, there are 30 jurisdictions each with less than 300 members.
5. Encampment Membership in North America. In the States of the United States and the Provinces of Canada, December 31, 2016, Encampment membership stood at 3,531, in 276 Encampments (down from 290 Encampments in the previous year). The largest jurisdiction was Pennsylvania with 288, followed by California at 214 members. No other jurisdiction had more than 200 members. In fact, 36 jurisdictions each had less than 100 members. It’s further noteworthy that 15 jurisdictions each had less than 50 members.
6. Percentage Declines in Membership. Across the Order, it appears that the decline of membership, worldwide, in all Branches totaled 6,000 persons from 2015 to 2016, a rate of about 2.70%. Odd Fellows membership declined at a rate of 2.27%; Rebekah membership declined at a rate of 2.99%; Encampment membership declined at a rate of 1.84%; Patriarchs Militant membership declined at a rate of 2.26%; L.E.A. membership declined at a rate of 6.48%; L.A.P.M. membership declined at a rate of 9.21%.
What conclusions can we draw from these statistics?
Here is the problem: The Order continues on a decades-long downward spiral in North America that is not sustainable. In particular, the L.E.A. and the L.A.P.M. are not viable. New and younger members are not joining these Branches in sufficient numbers to sustain them as older members withdraw or pass away. This affliction troubling the L.E.A and L.A.P.M. is starting to affect the P.M. and the Encampment. Inevitably, the decline will become unsustainable for the Rebekahs and the Odd Fellows, as well. A organization declining at the rate of 3% per year will be in ruins in a generation.
Here is the solution: The Order is, frankly, doomed to oblivion, unless major adjustments are made to make it relevant in the 21st Century. If those adjustments are made, the Order can sustain itself and can grow. The Order must, in short, reinvent itself. Here is what the Order needs to do to reinvent, rejuvenate, restructure and rebuild IOOF in North America.
1. Membership growth is not achieved at Sovereign Grand Lodge, nor is it achieved at Grand Lodge. Membership growth is uniquely the child of each Lodge and the members of each Lodge. And each Lodge is a potential laboratory for membership development. During the years of the Order’s decline, a small number of Lodges have bucked the trend and have actually shown net increases in membership. For example, my own Lodge – Davis #169 in California – has shown steady net increases over the past 12 years, typically 10% per year. Therefore, if SGL studies the Lodges that show growth, SGL will learn what it takes to sustain and grow our Order. And what it takes is pretty simple: Members must enjoy the fraternal experience inside the Lodge with an active social life; and members must enjoy the fraternal experience outside of the Lodge with active involvement to better the community at large.
2. Sovereign Grand Lodge must be restructured. The current configuration allows every jurisdiction to have, essentially, the same voting power – much like a Senate. This stagnates the development of our Order, is an impediment to change, and is inherently unfair and unjust. Why should a jurisdiction of 100 members have the same or similar voting power as a jurisdiction with 1,000 members? The SGL must be restructured so that it is more like a House of Representatives, allowing members to vote in some proportion to their numbers in the Order.
3. Major changes must be made in the ritual of the Order. Ancient homilies like “bury the dead” or “educate the orphan” had great historical significance in our Order, but have little relevance to young men and women in 2017. Continued rote recitation of these sorts of words, or the singing of odes, or parading around the room in a certain order, or wearing tuxedos or long dresses in matching patterns – these sorts of things are out of step with modern society and do not resonate with the new eneration of members we need. Progress was made in this regard at the last SGL session when alternative Initiatory Degree works were approved. This is a step forward. But it has to occur with all degree work in all Branches. The ritual must be simplified and modernized.
4. We must inevitably face the reality that we will be more stable and stronger if we create one Lodge with many degrees, rather than continue being diffused in different Branches. We must fully integrate men and women, and all ethnic groups into our Order. And we must be truly non-sectarian. For the past three generations, while the membership in our Order has declined like a rock, Lodges and Grand Lodges and individual Lodges have – for the most part – continued to operate as usual. They continue to elect each other to office, they continue to “Grand Masters” with a full slate of officers, and District Deputy Grand Masters, and Grand Lodge Sessions spanning several days, and all the other trappings of the past – even when the membership in the jurisdiction has dropped to 300, 200, 100, or less.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again – yet expecting to have a different result. To survive in the 21st Century, Odd Fellowship must evolve and change.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Perhaps the most intriguing observation one can take away from a visit to Sovereign Grand Lodge Sessions is how different it is from our own California Grand Lodge Sessions.
At our own sessions, for example, legislation is not only discussed prior to sessions, but also during sessions, whereas at SGL sessions, it is discussed primarily at SGL committee meetings and then presented and generally rubber-stamped by the voting representatives at sessions. The impression one might get at SGL then is that legislation is more adequately analyzed by appropriate committees when in fact the problem is that almost all committees meet at the same times, therefore, for example, it is impossible for a representative to meet at one committee meeting when he may serve on another that meets simultaneously. It is not uncommon to hear representatives complain that they can’t visit the committees they want to make their views clear.
Of course, this year the controversial legislation was an increase in the per capita for Odd Fellows and Rebekahs. Outside of the legislation itself, there was no apparent reason for the called for increase. The budget appeared balanced, there was no discussion of a specific need for an increase, and a close examination of the Sovereign Grand Treasurer’s report even showed a surplus in committee funds where there seemed to be professed need. A $5.00 increase per person may seem insignificant, however multiplied by all Odd Fellows and Rebekahs this amounts to a $270,995 yearly!
Yet there was little or no specific explanation for the increase beyond a vague mention of “programs”. Based upon these facts, I felt the only sensible reaction was to vote against any increase whatsoever. The increase, by the way, initially called for an increase of $5.00 for 5 consecutive years, which failed to carry the vote, but then it was amended to be a $5.00 increase for 2 consecutive years. Of course, this means that there is nothing preventing a revisit of the legislation next year. The idea that an increase may be called for yearly without any substantive rationality should seem onerous to any sensible member. As brothers Rosenberg and Sellars have noted, increasing the per capita, particularly an annual increase, does nothing but discourage any increase in membership.
Then, our primary legislation emanating from the California Grand Lodge was the idea that we readjust representation to be more attuned to membership counts. I took it upon myself to speak upon this legislation at SGL, and to garner support from other jurisdictions who would also benefit from the representative alignment. I did get the support of at least 5 other jurisdictions. I will work on more for next year. Also, I spoke with Brother Terry Barrett, Sovereign Grand Secretary, and he has written legislation to be presented next year that addresses this matter, although I asked if we might amend it slightly to possibly include as many other jurisdictions as possible, which would obviously make the legislation more tenable. I offered my services to assist with this change.
It was great to witness our Brother Mel Astrahan filming the sessions, and naturally our best way to move for change at SGL in the future will be to become more involved in all facets of their sessions, and make them more our own.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles
The direction of our Order is dependent upon those who represent us at the Sovereign Grand Lodge, our Grand Representatives. We often overlook the importance of these members. But, we can no longer take these important members for granted or believe they are automatically working in the same interests of our membership.
For example, we may consider California Odd Fellows to be a less conservative version of Odd Fellowship, while another jurisdiction may be very conservative. This is regards to change within the Order; this is not in the context of politics. This progressive attitude has to do with finding positive change to modernize and make the Order become attractive to people.
Some of us have figured out how to expand a lodge, how to have larger memberships, and how to work together to make something worthwhile for our members. Even with differences during a lodge meeting, the members still work toward the “Good of the Order.”
If a member recognizes that a change should occur in the lodge or have a good suggestion, then such a change must be proposed. This is where the experience and knowledge must be learned and shared with every member in the lodge. If it is a Ritual change, then the process is lengthy. If it is a change to the bylaws, then that can be much easier, per se. To make a change in the Ritual is much more lengthy and difficult, and yes – political. Anyone who tells you that changing the Ritual is not political, is badly misinformed.
To make changes to the Ritual, one must have support on the lodge level, the Grand Lodge or jurisdictional level, and the Sovereign Grand Lodge level, in that order. At the Sovereign Grand Lodge level, it must be presented in a timely manner by a submission by the Grand Secretary of the given jurisdiction. Then, it gets assigned to a Ritualistic committee at Sovereign, where representatives who are assigned to that committee hail from different jurisdictions (and different beliefs).
And, this my fellow brothers and sisters, is where the importance of having a good representative for your jurisdiction matters. Sometimes, those committees want to hear from the representative about where a certain piece of legislation or suggestion originates. If your idea didn’t appeal to the representative of your jurisdiction, then your idea shall not be enthusiastically presented. Or, if your representative does not respond to the inquiry of such legislation, then it shall most likely fail. This speaks to the importance of those whom we elect to represent us as Grand Representatives.
Also, procedurally, items brought before the Sovereign Grand Lodge Body are laid over for one year. The Ritual changes, as well as proposals to change the Code of General Laws (Sovereign Grand Lodge) work pretty much the same. Changes to our jurisdictional codes is a little easier. Changes to local bylaws is about the easiest. All must be approved by Grand Lodge at one point in the process.
Why do I write about this process and the importance of having reliable Grand Representatives to Sovereign Grand Lodge? It is because this Order needs to be saved and changes must be accepted to avoid death of this organization. There are many of us who believe we have the correct ideas to save this Order. But, we are often discouraged – or our ideas shot down at one level or another. We must unite and start watching those who represent every jurisdiction across the Order. Who accepts positive change? Who rejects any change? We must learn the values and beliefs of those whom we ask to accept our ideas for positive change. Will your ideas be supported?
At the most recent session of the SGL in St. Louis, MO., I sat in attendance as a visitor, I witnessed representatives of my own jurisdiction vote differently on the issue of increasing dues. This was only after I was informed that representatives from the same jurisdiction should vote in unison. In our jurisdiction we have opposed the increase of dues for the past few years, since that last increase in dues by SGL, which by the way, proved detrimental to the growth of the Order. Again, I was only a visitor with no right to speak on the floor. As like all of the members of my jurisdiction, I must trust those who represent us at SGL.
When I saw the split vote on increasing the dues, I was surprised, given the Finance Committee could not explain what the use of the funds would be used for in the future. In fact, there was no explanation of how the money would be used. I thought, surely it could not be for the representatives’ mileage reimbursement, as the representatives are now at a low of 113 – a decline.
Well, the decision on a dues increase went a direction many did not wish it to go, as was evident by the vote. A majority wished to have the dues increased. This new increase applies to Rebekahs and Odd Fellows, to which many of us belong. It applies to our fixed income, non-working and disabled, and poorer members. In my opinion, this was an insensitive and unjustified increase, without the real reason behind the increase being placed in public.
I have heard many members complain, as I have as well. Here are the responses I have received, when asking for the REASON for the increase:
1. 1. “The increase is the price of doing business.”
2. 2. “If you love the Order, you will pay it.”
3. 3. “It only means giving up a Big Mac.”
4. 4. “All you have to do is eat more hotdogs.”
5. 5. “You only need to save .45 cents a month.”
6. 6. “You are rude and ignorant and don’t live by our principles if you disagree.”
Yes, these are the actual responses I received, when I asked for the REASON for the dues increase. As you can see these are vague solutions and defensive remarks, FOR ONLY ASKING THE QUESTION! Do any of these look like justified reasons for raising the dues? They didn’t to me either. We do have a right to question the action of our members when it increases our dues. The increase in dues, and the responses I received, do not strike me as fraternal.
Peter Sellars, PGM
This is the third in a series of articles on the recent dues increase which will impact Odd Fellows and Rebekahs. It won’t be the last.
Since Sovereign Grand Lodge (SGL) voted to raise dues for all Odd Fellows and all Rebekahs, my mailbox has been filling with messages of consternation and concern. Members believe that those SGL representatives who voted in favor of the dues increase have failed to hear their members. Many have written to me indicating that raising dues in a time of declining membership is simply the wrong message to send, particularly as it relates to the next generation of potential members. For example, here is what one Odd Fellow recently wrote to me in an e-mail: “Our younger generation cannot afford to pay dues as it is. My children are all members and i pay their dues. Their friends want to join but are deterred by the dues, so I pay theirs, too . . . . . We have had people apply for membership but withdraw because of the dues.”
The dues increase subject will not go away. Members have asked what they can do. There are several things you can do. First, you should ask the SGL representatives from your state or province how THEY voted and ask them to explain why they voted that way. Second, you can write a personal letter (or ask your Lodge to write a letter on behalf of the Lodge) directed to the Sovereign Grand Master and the Sovereign Grand Secretary, indicating your concerns about the dues increase. Third, and most importantly, you can ask your SGL reps to introduce legislation in 2018 – specifically, an urgency bill – to repeal the dues increase.
Below is an article just written by California Deputy Grand Master Mel Astrahan, who highlights yet another problem with the dues increase legislation that just passed at SGL. Mel highlights the fact that the legislation creates a logistical nightmare because of its in-artfully drafted wording. I commend his article to you.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Sovereign Grand Lodge threatens dues increase unless membership increases.
At the recent Sovereign Grand Lodge (SGL) meeting in St. Louis, a holdover bill from 2016 was enacted which threatens to raise the dues of Odd Fellows and Rebekahs by $5 per year for the next two years. This increase will apply only to Odd Fellow and Rebekah lodges, not to the other branches of the Order. The text of the bill is appended at the end of this article.
Others have recently opined about the wisdom of, and the actual need for a dues increase at the Sovereign level. Whether it is needed or not, in this report I will be dealing only with how the bill might be implemented.
So, just how can this bill be implemented? In practice, we are supposed to file our annual lodge per capita reports no later than March, with the reported data being retroactive to the prior calendar year. Therefore, according to the analysis in the last paragraph of the bill, the 1st opportunity for SGL to actually increase dues (by $5) will occur in payments due April 1st of 2019 when the reports for the calendar year ending December 31st, 2018 are submitted.
Of particular note in this bill, is an escape clause which states “The yearly increase shall not be assessed when in any year the dues paying membership from all branches of the Order shows a net gain from the previous year.” Of particular interest here is that this dues increase applies only to Odd Fellow and Rebekah lodge members, while the census count referred to in the escape clause applies across all branches of the Order. Thus, for example, even if Odd Fellow lodges were to show a net gain, that gain could be nullified, in regards to the dues increase, by net losses in the other branches. I don’t support a dues increase at the Sovereign level, but, in my opinion, if the intent of this escape clause was to encourage lodges to increase membership, it would have been fairer if the clause were applied to each branch individually. If Odd Fellow lodges gain membership then Odd Fellow dues should not be raised and if Rebekah lodges gain membership then Rebekah dues should not be raised, and the membership of the smaller branches should not be factored in because they are not subject to the potential dues increase.
Regardless of the intent of the threatened dues increase, this escape clause remains confusing. Just what does “in any year” actually mean? I submit that “in any year” could be interpreted literally such that if there has ever been any year in which membership has ever increased that all yearly increases are voided… but what I think what the makers intended was “when in either of the next 2 years the ….”
So, what could trigger the escape clause? Well, all that has to happen is for there to be a year-to-year net gain of just 1 dues paying member in the total membership census. Theoretically, that could be accomplished in many, many ways. For example, however improbably, if the current membership across all branches were to simply remain constant except for just one current Encampment member joining a Canton and paying PM dues, then there would be a net gain of dues paying members. Is it likely that the escape clause will be triggered? Based on recent history, probably not, but it is not impossible.
Since this bill takes effect Jan 1st 2018, I suspect the makers were thinking that the escape clause would apply to the net 2018 vs 2017 calendar year membership numbers, but the 2018 membership wont be known until after April 1st 2019 when the 2018 reports are submitted. Therefore, the SGL can’t know with certainty what to charge for 2018 dues until some time after the 2018 reports are submitted in 2019, and should they speculate in advance that 2018 membership will decrease compared to 2017, and then membership actually increases, the SGL might have to refund $5 per member back to the jurisdictional grand lodges, who, in turn, would probably be expected to pass those refunds back to the local lodges, who would refund the $5 back to their members. What a reverse logistical nightmare!
The way the escape clause is written means that we won’t know with certainty what our dues to Sovereign will be until after we are scheduled to pay them, which in turn makes calculating our upcoming jurisdictional and local lodge dues and budgets very difficult. It will be interesting to see just how the SGL ultimately interprets and implements this bill.
A matter that has been voted on can be brought back again through a motion to amend or even to repeal the adopted language. We should urge our Sovereign Grand Lodge representatives to fix the problem by simply repealing the bill. To take this action at the 2018 SGL session is not too late.
Melvin Astrahan, 2017-18 DGM of CA
Bill No. 15 – 2016 – Lay Over to 2017
Reps. Harris of District of Columbia, Lynch of Delaware, and Miller of Connecticut from the Committees on Finance, Legislation and State of the Order, and the Executive Committee presented the following Bill.
Title: A Bill to amend Chapter XXIV, Section 1 A (3), restating annual per capita dues to The Sovereign Grand Lodge.
Be it enacted by The Sovereign Grand Lodge, I.O.O.F.:
That Chapter XXIV, Section 1 A (3) be amended as follows:
Sec. 1. General.
(3) 04Dues. Each Odd Fellow and Rebekah currently shall pays to The Sovereign Grand Lodge annual dues of eighteen and fifty one hundredths ($18.50) twenty-foureight and fifty one-hundredths United States dollars (U.S. $24.00 $8.50).
Each Patriarch, Chevalier, L.E.A. and L.A.P.M. member currently shall pays to The Sovereign Grand Lodge annual dues of sixteen six United States dollars (U.S. $16.00$6.00).
05Each of the dues amounts for Odd Fellow and Rebekah members shall be increased by five ($5.00) six ($6.00) two United States dollars (US $2.00) for each year, for two (2) five (5) years beginning at the close of the 2017 2005 session of The Sovereign Grand Lodge. The yearly increase shall not be assessed when in any year the dues paying membership from all branches of the Order shows a net gain from the previous year.
Each Grand Body shall collect the dues as of December 31 annually and pay to The Sovereign Grand Lodge with their Annual Report due April 1. Non-contributing and Associate members are exempt from these dues. Any proposal to increase these dues shall be laid over for one (1) year and the Sovereign Grand Secretary shall inform the Grand Bodies of the intent, amount and reason for raising said dues.
(As Bills do not become effective until January 1st, and no one came forward to move that this bill become effective at the close of the session – it therefor becomes effective January 1, 2018; and the dues will increase with the reports of 31 December 2018, which was agreed to on Thursday 24th August 2017 notwithstanding the year stated in the Bill.)