You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, goes the old saying.
Sometimes I think that’s exactly what we are trying to do. Many of us look at charity work to somehow make us progress and grow membership, but it’s not clear that this is how charity works. Charity is admirable, to be sure, and we should all practice it, but does it help us gain members? Many will quote the Shriners and their children’s hospitals, or other fraternal groups which do acts similarly inspiring, but if you delve into the numbers in all fraternities, you will see that all groups are losing members.
Why is this? A mix of reasons, of course, but neither the rise in membership nor the decline are influenced much by charity work, unless it is, wait for it, of a directed poignancy. Why is this? Several reasons, of course, but this may be easiest borne out by looking at our history, or, in fact, almost all fraternal histories. Our order was at its biggest when it had its most direct relevance upon its own members. The problem with most modern groups, not just our fraternity, but almost all groups, is that they fail to retain relevancy. Over time, many lodges have, essentially, become groups of one socio-economic level. The lodges that retain relevance have a clear amount of influence on their members lives and are capable of growth. Lodges that fail have lost any relevance to their own members. If you the reader have never been to a failing lodge, I implore you to visit one and see for yourself. Lodges that are failing, are skeletal, full of artifacts, perhaps, but lacking in any trend in modernity. In fact, often failing lodges are a window on our past; they show photos of eras long gone and tell of groupings much larger than their composition today. Successful lodges, such as Davis, Yerba Buena, and others are practicing events modeled around today’s world. The Davis Lodge, for example, does community and charitable work based upon today, such as environmental cleaning of roadways and helping foster children who have “aged out” of the foster care system. Yerba Buena Odd Fellows Lodge, along with several other Bay Area Odd Fellows Lodges, such as Alameda and Berkeley sponsored appearances in the largest parades in the Bay Area, including, to the horror of some regressive members, the Gay Pride Parade, never mind the fact that hundreds of veterans traditionally march in the Gay Pride Parade. Many successful lodges have experienced at least a leveling of their membership by practicing diversity, not charity directly, of course, but practice of a charitable spirit.
We see that we can sustain growth by having some influence with our members. If a member among us is tired, hungry, homeless, depressed, we should feel compelled to help in some way. If we do not, how are we practicing our own mandates? Almost out of a work by Dickens, we can’t house all the homeless, feed all the hungry, lighten the load of all those depressed but those among us who are in need, physically or spiritually, should be the recipient of something relevant from our own lodge. Isn’t it tiresome to hear that another failing lodge closed without even a sign of relevance? To grow, requirement one should be to assist one’s own members in their times of need. Show a sign that we care. To me, lodges close, because first, they have made the conscious decision to fail to care. Lastly, some members look at their lodges as a profit center. This was never the point of the Odd Fellows. We must maintain our lodges, but we are also compelled by no less than the IRS code to assist our members. We are all brothers and sisters, theoretically, at least that is the pronouncement we make at every occasion.
Do any of us go home hungry, or lonely, or embittered? Then we have failed at a basic lodge level. This is not just a gesture to be extended at Christmas time, but every day within every year. Either we practice what we preach or what we preach is a lie. Membership growth is fostered by an exhibition of the human heart, nothing less. Lodges fail, and we all fail, when we fail to care about our own members. I remember when I was still new in the order and riding with another member to visit a distant lodge passing a member who had broken down in her car. We didn’t stop and help her and that has haunted me to this very day. I have no recollection why we didn’t stop, but if we fail to help a member in their moment of need, what does that say about all of us and our precepts? We are all mortal, and particularly those who profess deep religious beliefs are truly fooling themselves if they are looking for a spot in heaven while denying a crust of bread to someone we encounter on this earth.
In F., L., & T., Rick Boyles
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Last week I gave you 9 red flags which can serve as warning signs that an Odd Fellows Lodge (perhaps your own Lodge) is in trouble, and is in danger of expiring. This is serious stuff. Your Odd Fellows Lodge has been around for decades, in many cases for generations, and in some cases for over a century. Odd Fellows over the years have developed, have nurtured, and have grown your Lodge. They tended to the Lodge as if it were a garden. And now, your Lodge is trouble on YOUR watch. Are you going to sweep aside all that hard work of your predecessors over all those years, and just let your Lodge fade away? Of course you aren’t. But how do you even start the process of resuscitating your Lodge?
Well, I’ll be frank. It won’t be easy. If you and your Lodge mates have ignored your Lodge for years (perhaps decades) and let it fall on hard times with diminished membership, the resuscitation of your Lodge will not be accomplished easily or quickly. But it can happen. And to bring your Lodge back from the gates of oblivion is worth it. So, to help you on your journey of resuscitation, here are 9 steps to follow. They are proven methodologies which will bring your Lodge back from the brink.
1. The Lodge Retreat. A retreat is the important first step. To be successful, you must contact each and every member of your Lodge and do your best to ensure their presence at the retreat. If some members can’t attend, follow up and talk with them either personally or on the phone – and get their input. Find an appropriate place for the retreat (perhaps the home of a member), and set it up to last for at least two hours, preferably more. Invite a facilitator – if you request one, DMC will provide an appropriate facilitator to your Lodge subject to working out the details of time, date and place. The key to a Lodge retreat is to make sure that all suggestions are considered, and no one is put down or criticized. Write down the points of agreement going forward, create a “Revitalization Committee”, put someone in charge of the committee who has some clout (like the Noble Grand or the Vice Grand or a very respected member) and have this committee monitor your progress.
2. Collectively Decide the Character of Your Odd Fellows Lodge. The value of a retreat is as a starting point to determine the character and culture of your Lodge, going forward. You can’t change the past. The retreat is the present. What you can do is plan your future. Trying to plan 10 years ahead is usually not too productive; but planning for the next 3 years is realistic and achievable. Questions to answer include: What do you want your Lodge Hall to look like in 3 years? How will you encourage current members to more actively participate? How many new members do you plan to bring in over the next 3 years, and what are your strategies to do so? Other questions might involve: How to increase Lodge visibility in the community? How to improve signage at the Lodge? How to do a better job handling Lodge finances.
3. Plan on Having Some Good Times. If a boring Lodge is a dying Lodge, then an active Lodge is a thriving Lodge. We are, after all, a fraternal order. Odd Fellowship originated in the pubs and taverns of England where members could enjoy a good social life with their Lodge mates. That old-fashioned and old time connection is valuable today in our disconnected society. If your Lodge doesn’t plan some fun activities for members, and potential members, then you will be a diminished Lodge. So, plan some fun activities. And don’t be afraid to fail once or twice. Better to have failed than never to have tried.
4. Plan to Be Involved in the Community. Every Lodge must have a purpose. And that purpose has got to be more than merely reading from a red book and obtaining degrees. Virtually no one will want to join your Lodge because they can sit and recite from a book. In particular, young men and women in the 21st Century want to be active to help others in the community. If your Lodge doesn’t have at least ONE community-serving project each year, then shame on you. This is not as difficult as you may think. There are dozens of community projects your Lodge can choose from – just decide on one and do it.
5. Designate a Membership Committee. Crucial to the continued viability (if not the very existence) of a Lodge is the need to bring in new members. Without new blood – new members – to continue the work of the Lodge, the Lodge will wither away and die in time. Bringing in new members is a responsibility of every Lodge member, but every Lodge should have a Membership Committee to ensure that membership development is always a focus of the Lodge.
6. Eliminate the Bickering. Do your Lodge meetings often devolve into bickering and arguing between two or three individuals? Such meetings cause members to be uncomfortable, and eventually to stop attending. This will lead to the downfall of your Lodge, and must stopped. The best way to halt the bickering is for the Noble Grand or a respected, long-time member, to privately speak to the bickering members and ask them – kindly but forcefully – to stop the bickering or to stop attending. If this is not feasible, then the DDGM or DDP must be notified and called in to intervene.
7. Upgrade Your Gene Pool. Some Lodges have shrunk to a point where only one or two handfuls of members remain to attend meetings. This has ramifications. One of the ramifications is that the “gene pool” of talent within the Lodge has shrunk. There was a time in the past when Lodge members were the leading citizens of the community – bankers, attorneys, accountants, ranchers, business owners, mayors, even judges. There were plenty of people of talent to handle the important financial and administrative matters of the Lodge. Today, we find Lodges where that talent pool is diminished or even non-existent. This can lead to lots of problems as Lodge members cope with budgets, leases, financial statements and bank accounts. An immediate target of such a Lodge must be to bring in one or two leading citizens of the community to re-charge that gene pool of talent.
8. Clean Up Your Lodge. A Lodge that has little or no signage, is not clean, or has shabby paint, sends the image of an old and dying entity, or a place where the members don’t really care. It is uninviting. And an uninviting Lodge tells members of the public: Don’t apply here. An important step to bringing a Lodge back to life is to invest time, money and effort to cleaning up, and brightening up the Lodge.
9. Review and Evaluate. It is very important that you evaluate how your efforts are doing. Adjust and modify as needed. This evaluation should occur once a quarter, as well as annually. Your Revitalization Committee can monitor and report on progress of your Odd Fellows Lodge.
Good luck! We are rooting for you.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
1. Membership has fallen to less than 15. This is a pretty big red flag. We all know that only about half the members on the books really show up for meetings. Accordingly, if your Lodge has 14 members on the books, it’s likely you really only have 6 or 7 active members – and it goes down from there. A bare quorum to have a Lodge is 5. Frankly, that number is more of an historical paean (Thomas Wildey started his Lodge with 5) than a realistic number for a functional Lodge. To have 5 members means you can go through the charade of a meeting. Having 6 or 7 isn’t much better. If your Lodge has not brought in a new member in years, you are in trouble.
2. No member under 65 years of age. If your Lodge’s members are all 65 and older, your Lodge is flirting with disaster. Believe me, there is nothing wrong with members in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond (I’m in my 70’s myself). But if ALL your members are in that age bracket, it means your Lodge has been asleep for at least a generation – more likely two generations – in the quest to bring in new members. A healthy Lodge has members of all ages. As older members move on or pass on, there has to always be another generation available to learn the ropes and take over. That’s what allows a fraternity to survive for centuries.
3. Meetings in the afternoon. I find this next to incredible, but there are actually Lodges that schedule their Lodge meetings in the middle of the afternoon. I scratch my head in wonder at this. If your Lodge has done this, then the Lodge has hung up a virtual sign that says: “No young people and no working people need apply.”
4. Inadequate signage. There are Odd Fellows Lodges – many of them located in the heart of the downtown – that are almost invisible because they have grossly inadequate signage. An old sign that says IOOF that is next to the roof line is inadequate. A small sign over or next to a doorway doesn’t do it. You have to tell the community who you are and where you are. Lodges without adequate signage are subtly saying to the community: “Don’t bother us. Keep away.”
5. Lodge supported by associate members. I have visited Lodges that are, in reality, out of business, but they continue to function through associate members. In fact, many of these Lodges function because the members have reciprocal associate member status. Rather than bring in new members, these revolving associate members prop up a Lodge that would collapse on its own. This may keep the Lodge afloat for a few years, but inevitably, the Lodge is just a facade, supported by the kindness of brothers and sisters from other Lodges. Rather than recruit new members from the community, they just rely on associates.
6. Officers holding long terms in office. A sure way to stifle a Lodge is for one or two members to keep a death grip on Lodge offices. There is certainly something to be said for desk officers serving longer terms, perhaps up to 3 or 5 years, and sometimes Noble Grands must serve more than one term. But this should be the exception, not the rule. It is not healthy for a Lodge to be controlled by one or two members.
7. Lodge lacks accessibility. Most Lodges have two stories, sometimes three. If access is limited, the Lodge cannot be open to all members of the community – in particular members who are disabled in some way. A primal goal of every Lodge is to make all its facilities accessible. When facilities are accessible, the Lodge can schedule community events and rent out the Hall when not in Lodge use. Without access, the Lodge is not being fully utilized. When you open the Lodge to the community, you encourage members of the community to join.
8. No community events or projects. If a Lodge has no community outreach, and not even one project to benefit the community, it is a Lodge with no visibility, and little purpose. Virtually no one wants to join a Lodge where all the members do is sit around and recite from a small red book. Every Lodge should be visible in the community, and every Lodge should have at least one community project. Failure to do so will make it pretty hard to bring in new members, particularly younger members.
9. No fun for members. A Lodge of Odd Fellows is not a church, synagogue or temple. A Lodge is part of a fraternal order. And an important element of fraternal life is a social life. Lodges that have no little or social life are boring Lodges. Who wants to remain a member of a boring Lodge? Who wants to apply to join a boring Lodge?
If you see one or two of these warning signs in your Lodge, it’s time to take some action. If you see three or four of these warning signs, the time to take some action is urgent. Five or six of these signs should be a flashing red light of an emergency. And if your Lodge displays more than six of these signs, it may already be too late for your ship to avoid the iceberg.
But I won’t leave you without recourse. It’s not the intent of DMC to simply alert you to danger. We wish to also give you some tools to steer away from danger, save your Lodge, and give you some ideas to grow your Lodge in your community. So, next week’s DMC Newsletter will be dedicated to the following subject: How to Resuscitate a Dying Lodge.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
It’s almost that time.
Believe it or not, the annual Grand Lodge and Rebekah Assembly Sessions is coming up in just three months – May 16-19 in Visalia. A fair amount of business will be transacted, elections will be held, appointments will be made, acquaintances will be renewed, and there may even be some time for a bit of fun. And one of those fun activities will be the annual DMC “Tacos and Tunes” evening. Please mark your calendars. That evening will be Thursday, May 17 at the Convention Center next to the Visalia Marriott Hotel. Details regarding the specific room location at the Convention Center and start time will be announced in the coming weeks. I can tell you that there will be a sumptuous taco bar buffet, a no-host bar, and lots of live entertainment. It’s the place to be on Thursday evening.
We keep the price tag on this event quite low 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 reduced. The actual “admission fee” will be announced in the next few weeks as soon as we determine how much the sponsoring Lodges have contributed.
I’m pleased to announce that the following Lodges have already stepped up and agreed to be Sponsors of the DMC “Tacos and Tunes”:
Alameda #3 $500
Yerba Buena #15 $250
Davis #169 $250
Morse #257 $25
If YOUR Lodge wishes to be listed and recognized as a Sponsor of this fun event, and help reduce the cost for your brothers and sisters, please let me know in response to this e-mail. And mail your Lodge’s sponsorship check, payable to “Grand Lodge of California” to:
Dave Rosenberg, PGM
Odd Fellows Lodge
415 2nd Street
Davis CA 95616
We welcome the sponsorship of your Lodge.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
You must have long-range goals to keep you from being frustrated by short-range failures.
It’s a new year. Our lodges are adjusting to their new officers. Some officers have been there before. Others are newcomers.
Hopefully, you are thinking about what your lodge will do this year. What are they going to do this year that they haven’t done before? Some lodges have certain events that they repeat every year. They are fun. They are successful. They uplift their members. Or they uplift their community too.
I have visited a lot of lodges over the past few years. It is interesting to see how the lodges are similar and how they are unique. I wondered about how many lodges have a mission. How many lodges have a mission that identifies their lodge? A mission that make them unique? A mission that draws people to accomplish its goals? What is the mission of your lodge?
We all remember that the historic mission of the Odd Fellows is to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.” The Sovereign Grand Lodge website describes our mission. It says we are “dedicated to the following purposes:
- To improve and elevate the character of mankind by promoting the principles of friendship, love, truth, faith, hope, charity and universal justice.
- To help make the world a better place to live by aiding each other, the community, the less fortunate, the youth, the elderly, the environment and the community in every way possible.
- To promote good will and harmony amongst peoples and nations through the principle of universal fraternity, holding the belief that all men and women regardless of race, nationality, religion, social status, gender, rank and station are brothers and sisters.”
That’s a pretty good set of goals. But how does that translate into my lodge and your lodge today? How do our lodges measure up in pursuing those ideals? Some do pretty well. Others, not so well. Lodges do a pretty good job of social, fraternal activities. These types of events are good. They are even better if they are events that will interest newcomers. Events that will make newcomers want to be part of your lodge and its activities.
Some lodges have missions to raise funds for a particular charity or local event. They may have more than one event to promote the target. Their fundraisers are designed to raise money for that beneficiary.
One lodge is dedicated to music. Many members are musicians. They play together. They have house bands. Music events are held for both members and the public. The music is for both the members and the community.
One lodge helps foster children and foster families. They have a dinner party. They participate in a shopping spree with foster children. They send foster kids to summer camp. They help foster kids transition from foster care to adulthood. They fundraise to do these things.
You can see that all of these things would appeal to some people. Every lodge should find their own mission. They should choose a mission that interests their members. It can be unlike any other lodge or it can be very similar to another lodge’s mission, or somewhere in between.
A mission does not have to last forever. It can change as the interest and energy of the lodge shifts. A lodge can have more than one mission. The important part is having a long term direction. Then, find ways to fulfill that mission. Find ways that will interest your brothers and sisters. Find ways that will interest a newcomer.
What is the mission of your lodge? If you don’t have an answer, what does that tell you? It’s time to start the conversation in your lodge. It’s time to do something. Can you find a way to help make the world a better place to live? Can you find a way to promote good will and harmony in your lodge and in your community? If you do, you will have improved and elevated the character of mankind.
Every lodge can do it! It’s possible. Mission: Possible!
In Friendship, Love and Truth,
The Unwritten Work, a Memento of a Distant Past
“Don’t you get tired of it all?” a member asked me. “What?” I responded. “People who chant things no longer relevant just because in the distant past it still had meaning” he said. I laughed a little. “Some people find comfort in the past”. I said. “Not me,” he replied, “I only find that it’s in the past.”
That’s how I, and the member I was speaking to, feel about the unwritten work. I know to some this may seem integral to the Odd Fellows, but to me it has faded to a tradition only now practiced by a very few of us. To those who don’t know, which is probably many of our new members, the unwritten work is a lengthy document that all members at one time were tasked to memorize and recite at our annual sessions. Members were given degrees of proficiency for their ability to recite this. I have a real problem in grasping the significance of anything wherein we are forced to recite anything by memory. In fact, if anything, this is indicative of the symbolism people see when they think of any group as being cult-like. If we are forced to recite something, and rewarded for our ability to recite in loud and clear voices passages and texts written far before our births, there is not much disparity between our order and a cult. This begs the question how do we progress, or, are we really interested in progress? Some feel that our history is not only sacrosanct but also inviolate; in other words, impossible to change or adapt. If this is truly the case, then we as an order are dead already, since failure repeated will not suddenly turn around and build into success. The deeper question is how do we advance our order – could it be that committing lengthy passages to memory may somehow by themselves rejuvenate an antiquated order? I personally don’t believe so, since if this were the case, the unwritten work would have done so by now, and the other indicator would be where else in life are you tasked in today’s world to reel off passages from memory without truly understanding the words’ relevance? The simple response is nowhere else. Only in fading fraternities, religions, or cults do you still find members chanting words without meaning. If we prefer ourselves to be a cult, let’s regress totally and at least do it perfectly, and if we are not a cult, let’s change enough to be the first generation of our group to do something new and different.
This begs the question, what is the “unwritten work”? 150 years ago, many of our members were illiterate, working people. Committing passages to memory was the way to conduct oneself in lodge without appearing illiterate. Rote memory was impressive to fellow members, who also would memorize their parts in our ritual to prove themselves efficient in their positions. So, if memorizing passages was common, the clarity with which one could recite them was to be admired. The substance of the unwritten work was admirable but why keep anything admirable hidden? Because they felt part of a secret fraternity, somewhat more inviolate because of shared secrecy.
Of course, this is not a statement deriding history. History is important, integral to any group, institution, company, or religion. Yet, we know from sheer reality that history can’t repeat itself. Ford Motor Company came out with the Model T car, but if they never progressed from there, they would have died an early death. Gold mining, prevalent in 1849, would be close to useless today. Even religious doctrine has adapted to merge with today. History must assume a place in our world but can’t become our entire world. Those of us who try to repeat history are only trying to sanitize history, for those times were much harder than today, rampant with sexism, racism, hatred of wide variety. Chanting an old axiom may seem soothing, such as a Gregorian chant, but it surely can come as close to mindless as we can get. If we want to attract the young, we can show them history, but let’s show how we can improve upon history.
I, for one, would rather the unwritten work evolve to be known as “the historic classic work”, a passage we can all enjoy and share and no longer sequester in cryptic notes and phrases.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles