It’s a new Year in a new Century, and Odd Fellowship has to find new ways to be modern and relevant in a rapidly changing society.
The old ways are not working so well, and our Order in North America continues to lose members. Running our Lodges and our Order in the same old ways will render the same old results; and that’s just unacceptable – we cannot sustain these losses indefinitely. We have to be open to new ideas and new ways. Lodges that are evolving and changing the way they do business in this new Century have shown that they can flourish and increase membership.
Regrettably, there are too many Lodges that haven’t added new members in years. There are also too many Lodges that have added some new members, but those new members are in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Unless Lodges start bringing in new members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, they are inevitably going to go out of business as members age and no new members in sufficient numbers are available to take their places. While the human lifespan may typically be 80-90 years, a fraternity has the potential to live for centuries. We have Odd Fellows Lodges in California that have been around for over 150 years, and have the potential to continue for many more years. But that potential can only be realized if there is a fairly constant flow of new members. The caveat to all this is that the new members cannot be of the same age range as existing members. If we have a Lodge where all the members are in their 70’s, it will not do for the Lodge to initiate a dozen new members who are also in their 70’s. In ten years, that Lodge will have a bunch of members who are all in their 80’s, and who wants to join a Lodge of great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers? It’s vitally important that the Lodge bring in members from all generations. Otherwise, the Lodge will have generational gaps that are very difficult, if not impossible, to fill in.
Generation X is that generation of people who were born in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Millennial Generation is that generation of people who were born in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The younger members of Generation X are in their 40’s. The Millennials are in their 30’s and 20’s. These are the folks who we must bring into our Lodges to sustain us through the 21st Century. If Lodges only bring in new members who were from the Baby Boom Generation, we are bringing in folks in their 60’s and 70’s.
And we should not make it too easy for people to join our fraternal order. Some Lodges are so happy to find a warm body who submits an application that they rush them to initiation. It does us no good to initiate a new member only to have that member leave the order after a few months or a year because they are disillusioned or disappointed. It is far better that we develop a process by which a potential new member can learn about Odd Fellowship and the Lodge before they are permitted to join by way of initiation. They need to know what they are getting into, and the Lodge members need to know who this new member really is.
Davis Lodge #169 (my Home Lodge), at my urging, developed and instituted a special process for applicants, and we have been using this process for the past decade. It’s worked pretty well. Over that past decade, my Lodge has shown a net increase every year. In 2017 alone, we initiated 39 new members into the Lodge. We have so many applicants for membership that we break them into three groups and hold three initiations every year. The new members we bring in range in age from the 20’s to the 80’s, and are enthusiastic about being Odd Fellows. Over 90% of the new members obtain their three degrees within months of initiation. The process we use is interesting (perhaps counter-intuitive) but it works. You see, we don’t make it easy on applicants. We give each applicant a “Pledge Book” and we expect them to read it. The Pledge Book tells them about Odd Fellowship and the Davis Lodge. We encourage applicants to join one or more of our Lodge’s 57 committees. We also expect the applicants to attend a minimum of 8 Lodge social meetings or events, and to interview a minimum of 13 Lodge members (the Pledge Book contains one-page interview forms). The interviews, in particular, are useful as they allow the applicants to get to know the members, and they also allow the members to get to know the applicants. The process takes at least 4 months, and often 6 months, before the applicant is interviewed, voted on, and initiated. We lose some applicants along the way. But the ones who make it through the process are better informed, and are more committed to becoming Odd Fellows and staying the course.
My own Lodge doesn’t recruit new members any more. We haven’t done so for years. Some of our applicants contact us through our website, or stop by the Lodge Hall because our doors are typically open and our signage invites people in. But most of our applicants come to us because of our Lodge’s visibility in the community through our contributions to the town, and the community events that we host. Members of the public are invited by Lodge members to attend our numerous Lodge events (e.g. live music once a month open to the public, monthly bingo for the community, breakfast with Santa, Taste of Davis, the Davis Chocolate Festival, the Davis Classic Film Festival, the annual New Year’s Eve Party, and many more), and they want to learn more about Odd Fellowship and the Lodge. I imagine this is the way Odd Fellowship was in the 19th Century – when the Odd Fellows Lodge was the place to be and the best show in town.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
The modern business author Patrick Lencioni entitled one of his books “Death by Meeting” to illustrate that oftentimes in business and life at large we tend to talk things to death. He explains that there is a time for talk and a time for action. Our lodges can serve to illustrate this fact; many of our lodge meetings drag on interminably. I have attended quite a few meetings that last more than 2 hours. Why is this, exactly? Sometimes these are the same lodges that are shrinking in attendance. Is that any surprise, really? In today’s world, there is no earthly reason for a meeting to go over 45 minutes unless it is filled with rancor, endless debate, or some other trivial rationality. Some members just like to hear themselves talk. Others are just plain upset about every aspect of the order. But this is no excuse to punish everyone else in a lodge. Unless your lodge is doing something of interest to each attending member, you might reconsider your 2-hour meeting. I often sit and watch lodges diminish in attendance month after month simply due to the length and often the solemnity of the meeting. Is it any wonder that these are the lodges that diminish in attendance? And I find that the non-attending members find every excuse not to attend. Most are too polite to say, “I find our meeting more boring than chopping wood”.
Of course, there are reasons for some meetings to take longer than others. Some lodges have extensive committee reports, but if this is the only reason for a longer meeting, there are ways to shorten these reports as well. Many lodges now print or post their event listings and minutes for all members, which shortens the secretary’s report, but also serves to notify all members of all pertinent news. If your lodge is having personal issues between members, consider if it is proper to have arguments within the lodge at large or whether these issues can be resolved by meeting privately before or after a meeting. Some lodges have turmoil because members simply don’t talk with each other enough. Unfortunately, lodge meetings in and by themselves often don’t resolve personal disputes since they are more public than the disputing members may prefer. Many of the lodge meetings I attend seem to have members who arrive at the exact time of the meeting, and seem to have an issue to deal with. If this is the case, why not appear earlier than meeting time, and discuss it with your fellow members in a more casual setting prior to the meeting? I have seen many seemingly prickly issues alleviated simply because the members discussed the nuts and bolts of an issue prior to bringing it up in lodge.
A funny story involving my own lodge happened a couple years ago. The movie theater in my town shows classic movies the same night as our lodge meeting. A friend of mine from lodge called me and said he was under the weather and would not attend lodge since he did not feel well. I said, no problem, since I was sick also. That same night we ran into each other at the classic movie showing which had “Double Indemnity” running the same time as lodge. When we saw each other, we laughed and agreed that the movie was much better time spent then a similar expense of time at lodge. This is what we as an order are up against. We must compete for people’s time, and it’s not easy. We should ask ourselves how can we hold our members’ interest?
If we have a sincere desire to get and retain new members, we must look at our members as an entertainer or public speaker would view an audience. Would you sit and listen to someone drone on interminably without some rationale for doing so? Conversely, if you are a leader in your own lodge, why do you expect other members to sit and watch paint dry endlessly? And, if you do, is it any wonder that eventually all members refuse to do so? Lastly, lighten up. What to one person may seem to be a life and death issue may be trivial to another. To get along, we need to empathize with each other, and not just punish someone for a difference of opinion. A smile and a friendly word can make a world of difference, and perhaps keep your lodge from dozing off.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles
Breakfast with Santa was held today, December 16 at the Upper Hall of the Davis Lodge. This is our 12th year of hosting this popular community event. We have 360 children and adults who attend the event, in 3 seatings of 120 each. This is a photo of Santa (Odd Fellow Doug Hatton) and his elves, entering the Lodge Hall for the 2nd seating. Always an exciting time for the children.
Every child gets a chance to sit on Santa’s lap and chat with him. A professional photographer takes some photos for the family, and the family is also encouraged to take their own photos. Of course, a delicious pancake breakfast is served, and every child gets a “goodie bag” and stuffed animal, compliments of the Davis Lodge.
Special thanks to Lea Rosenberg who has chaired and organized this event for the past 12 years, and Janis Rosenberg who built the beautifully decorated stage display for Santa’s chair. Over 40 Davis Odd Fellows volunteered to work various shifts at Breakfast with Santa.
This is not to say that we should turn our backs on basic tenets that make us uniquely “Odd Fellows”. Friendship, love and truth will never go out of style and we should do our best to live up to these ideals. If we are real and honest friends to the members of our Odd Fellows Lodge and fraternal Order, if we truly love other human beings and treat them as we wish to be treated, and if live our lives with truth and honesty – we will be true Odd Fellows and proud of it.
However, beyond the principles inherent in our three links, there are many aspects of the Odd Fellows that have important historical context in Odd Fellowship, but little if any relevance to the 21st Century. A prime example are the admonitions emphasized by Thomas Wildey when he brought Odd Fellowship to North America and spurred its growth across the continent. In the early 1800’s we were “commanded” to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.” These were certainly worthy admonitions for the 19th Century. That was a time when many cities were engulfed in illness, and few medical facilities were available; when people would pass away with no person or agency available to bury the remains, and when widows and orphans (and orphanages) were prevalent – particularly during the wars that swept the continent during those early years. But in the 21st century, men and women scratch their heads in puzzlement when hearing these ancient admonitions. A more relevant set of admonitions might be to “feed the hungry, help the homeless, protect the environment, and educate the children.”
Further, we are an Order that professes to be “non-sectarian”, yet our ritual is replete with Judeo-Christian teachings which make it difficult for persons who are Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh, and numerous other religions and beliefs to feel comfortable in the Lodge. Clearly, we are anything but “non-sectarian”. Why would we turn our backs on a majority of humans living on the planet?
Additionally we are an Order that professes to be equally open to both men and women, yet there are Odd Fellows Lodges today that have no women in their membership. It’s been almost two decades since Odd Fellows Lodges were opened to women. How can any Lodge today justify not ever having had any women in its membership rolls?
And as we take the tally of our Lodges, we see that most of them are slowing withering as a result of declining membership. At the very same time, however, there are a few Lodges that are growing and prospering. How can that be? We are all in the same Order? Why are many Lodges diminishing and failing, while other Lodges – sometimes just a few miles apart – are active and increasing in membership?
The answer is pretty plain., if you take the time to look at it. The successful Lodges are the progressive and modern Lodges. Those successful Lodges do the following:
1. Successful Lodges open their membership to the community, in all its ethnic, racial and gender splendor. A Lodge composed exclusively of older Caucasian men is unsustainable.
2. Successful Lodges make sure that Lodge members enjoy an active social and fraternal life. The Lodge has events, activities and functions that the members (and families of members), as well as potential members, can enjoy.
3. Successful Lodges reach out into the community to do good works. Doing such good works is good for the community and is very satisfying to members, and potential members.
4. Successful Lodges have social meetings. Not every meeting of the Lodge must follow the ritual with formal openings and closing and the use of unwritten work. A Lodge need only have one such formal meeting each month. There is no prohibition to having a social meeting once a month as well.
5. Successful Lodges have a person in charge of publicity. We have all heard the interesting philosophical question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” It applies to fraternal orders. If a Lodge does not inform the community of its activities, then the Lodge is invisible in that community.
6. Successful Lodges have a dedicated Membership Committee. Successful Lodges find that one member (perhaps even two or three) who are membership “rainmakers” and have them focus on membership development.
7. Successful Lodges put a damper on negativity, bickering, and rumors. The fastest way to create Lodge dissension, bad feelings and turmoil, is to allow members to be negative, to bicker or to spread rumors. This sort of negativity is toxic to a Lodge and will result in members not attending meetings and events, or even leaving the Lodge. It is important for Lodge leaders to step in immediately to but a stop to it.
8. Successful Lodges find a way to say “yes” rather than always saying “no”. The fastest way to discourage and turn-off new members is to always say “no” to their ideas, or “that won’t work”, or “we tried that in the past and it didn’t work”, or “that’s a dumb idea.” Successful Lodges find a way to channel that new member energy into positive outcomes.
9. Successful Lodges take pride in the Lodge Hall. Many of our Lodge buildings are old, often historical. Just because a building is old, doesn’t mean that it has to be musty or dirty or shabby. Successful Lodges clean up and spruce up their Lodge Halls. The Lodge building, after all, conveys a message to the community. And successful Lodges make sure that the building signage clearly identifies the building to the world as a Lodge of Odd Fellows.
10. Successful Lodges open their Lodge Halls to the community for community use. These buildings are an asset to the community (often in the very center of the town), and should not be locked away to be used only once or twice a month for a meeting. Whether the Hall is provided free or as a rental, successful Lodges open their doors and windows to the town. And successful Lodges do their best to make their Halls accessible – if the funds are available for an elevator, this creates a new dimension in public accessibility and Lodge visibility.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
When the Rebekah Degree was authorized by Odd Fellowship in the 19th Century, it was a huge breakthrough for women. Odd Fellows became the first fraternal order to admit women. Well, initially Odd Fellowship didn’t exactly admit women on the same par with men. The Rebekah Degree was created as an “honorary degree” than men could confer on their wives and daughters. Women were still not admitted into Lodges of Odd Fellows. But eventually, the honorary degree evolved and became a full-fledged degree, and Rebekah Lodges were formed. But while men could join a Rebekah Lodge (and some, particularly husbands, did) women were still prohibited from joining Odd Fellows Lodges. Essentially, the Odd Fellows Lodge became known as the “man’s Lodge” and the Rebekah Lodge became known as the “woman’s Lodge.” In fact, even today, some of the most senior members of the Order still refer to the Lodges in this fashion. That changed (thankfully) around the turn of the 21st Century, when membership in Odd Fellows Lodges was finally opened to women.
Yet is Rebekah even an appropriate role model for women in the 21st Century? Rebekah is a character out of the Old Testament. And her claim to fame is the following: Abraham was looking for a wife for his son, Isaac. Abraham and his family were living in Canaan at the time, and he didn’t want Isaac to marry a Canaanite. So, Abraham sent Eliezer, his servant, to his own kinsmen in the town of Nahor to find a wife for Isaac. When the servant came to a well in Nahor he prayed that God would give him success, and in particular, he prayed that whichever young woman provided water for him and his camels would be God’s choice to be Isaac’s wife. As the servant was praying, a beautiful young virgin named Rebekah came to the well. She not only gave the servant some water, but she also watered his camels until they were sated. This was the sign for which the servant had prayed. The servant gave Rebekah a nose ring and two bracelets, spoke to her brother (Laban) and her father (Bethuel), and all was settled – the marriage was arranged. So, Rebekah traveled with the servant to a strange house in a strange land, to Abraham’s house and wed Isaac. A quaint story, but not exactly compelling to and inspiring for 21st Century women. Rebekah was beautiful and kind (giving water to a stranger and his camels) and obedient to men (she dropped everything to go with a stranger to marry a person she had never met). What message does this send to the modern woman?
The irony of all this is that both ancient and modern history is replete with stories of strong, influential, powerful, caring and kind women – including Cleopatra, Boudicca, Artemisia, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Catherine the Great, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Helen Keller, Florence Nightengale – these are women whose lives impart important lessons and who can be important role models to potential members in this new century.
Men and women in the 21st Century are quite different than men and women of the Bible, or for that matter, men and women of the 19th Century when the Rebekah Degree was launched. And in my opinion, the continuation of a separate Branch of Rebekahs is incompatible with modern society. I firmly believe that the Rebekah Degree should be retained, rewritten and modernized (and given a new name – perhaps the “Degree of Equality”), but that Rebekah Lodges and Odd Fellows Lodges should merge. The future of Odd Fellowship, in my view, is one Order with many advancing Degrees. I do not say this lightly, as I am active in my Odd Fellows Lodge, my Rebekah Lodge, my Encampment and my Canton.
I have raised this issue in some of my earliest writings. I joined the Order in 2004, and by 2005 had come to the realization that (1) we were shrinking as an Order, (2) to reverse the trend we needed to attract new members, (3) and the only way to attract new members was to change the way we operate. In 2006, I wrote my “Ten Principles” (which you can find at pages 6-8 of my first book “The Future of Odd Fellowship – To Be or Not To Be”). In those principles, I suggested that while the Rebekah Degree was trend-setting in the mid-1800’s when it was founded, in the 21st Century there is no need for “separate but equal” Lodges – and that a plan must be developed to unify Rebekah Lodges with Odd Fellows Lodges. I further suggested that the various Branches of the Order must be consolidated and unified as well.
This is, frankly, inevitable if our Order is to survive. If we truly believe in non-discrimination and equality, these separate units for men and women make no sense. The numbers of persons joining the Rebekah Lodges – and Ladies Encampment Auxiliaries, and Ladies Auxiliaries Patriarchs Militant – is shrinking. Per SGL statistics, our Order is collectively shrinking. Rebekah Lodge membership is diminishing by 2.99% per year; LEA membership is dropping at 6.48% per year; and LAPM membership is declining by an astonishing 9.21% per year. This is damaging, debilitating and demoralizing. There are 20 jurisdictions in North America that now have less than 300 members in the entirety of the jurisdiction. We are dying as an Order by the “death of a thousand cuts” – a slow, painful demise. While our numbers are decreasing, the average age of members is increasing. Very few young women (and even fewer young men) join the Rebekahs, or LEA or LAPM today. A long-time and respected member of the Odd Fellows, Rebekahs, Encampment and Canton recently said to me: “It’s ridiculous to have to carry four dues cards for the same organization, and to have to make four dues payments.” And it’s true. We are, as a fraternal order, much too diffused. We are shrinking in membership at unsustainable rates, and every year we close and consolidate Lodges, Encampments and Cantons. Even Sovereign Grand Lodge has discussed the need to merge our diffused branches. This discussion must be more focused and must proceed at a faster pace. We are running out of time. LAPM and PM need to merge. LEA and Encampments need to merge. Ultimately, Rebekahs and Odd Fellows need to merge. And then we can have one unified fraternal Order with nine degrees: The Initiatory Degree (or as it used to be called, the Degree of Trust), the Degree of Friendship, the Degree of Love, the Degree of Truth, the Rebekah Degree (or, as I suggest it be called, the Degree of Equality), the Degree of Faith, the Degree of Hope, the Degree of Charity, and the Degree of Universal Justice. All under one tent.
This, in my view, is the future of Odd Fellowship. And the sooner we come to grips with this reality, and deal with it in an intelligent and thoughtful way, the better and stronger our Order will be. The ball is in the court of Sovereign Grand Lodge.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California