Recently, the tragic death of George Floyd illuminated an aspect of our group that sometimes we all ignore. This is not about that incident specifically, but rather the quick decline of our Odd Fellow lodges in the inner cities throughout the United States.
Why did this come to mind at this time?
Because if one looks closely at the photos of the bar in which Mr. Floyd was employed, it was in an old IOOF building. But this is not endemic to Minneapolis, alone. It is a widespread issue throughout our country. Many of the inner-city lodges are quickly vanishing. If one looks throughout our proud country one would find that the inner cities are where the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) has diminished most. In only a few of the large cities throughout the United States are the Odd Fellows still a vibrant and necessary addition. Of course, this was not always the case. Many of the largest cities for years had the biggest collections of members. A study of why this occurred is clearly called for.
We all know that the member counts throughout our order have plummeted. Of course, there have been discussed many reasons for this, and certainly, many factors do not address the Odd Fellows alone. Many speak about the ever-widening scope of mass communication: radio, television, the Internet. All these play a factor in our fading counts, but if it does not affect us solely, why has our group lost a larger percent of our members than other groups? It comes down to more of a question of relevance.
How we maintain relevance as a group is most important. Again, this is not endemic to the Odd Fellows alone, but the Odd Fellows are the group we all belong to, and we need to try and be relevant to the community around us. In California, oddly enough, many of our largest lodges are now in medium to small communities. This means that somehow each of these still essential lodges are relevant in their specific areas. The Davis Lodge, for example, in Davis CA, with a population of about 70,00 people, is now one of the biggest lodges in the United States, with more members than many whole states, clearly because they retain relevance to their community. How do they retain relevance? They have many events, and tailor their events to their members interests. Brother Dave Rosenberg has ensured that no member join without addressing their specific interests or hobbies. Want to retain a member? Share an interest in what they like.
Conversely, our San Francisco lodges are still active and vibrant, and yet were virtually dying out about 15 years ago. What made them spring back to life? The tireless efforts of one excellent Odd Fellow, Peter Sellars, who has ensured that they become more diverse, and address the needs of the community around them. One can study the membership charts of San Francisco, and easily see that the memberships of all their lodges have climbed considerably. Also, the membership has become much more diverse than ever before.
So, in closing, it can be done. Inner cities can have vibrant lodges just as smaller communities, but the trick is to retain relevance. Once relevance is lost, so too is the membership. We all want relevance in our lives. Just reciting the ritual will not do the trick, but seeing each member whatever race, creed, nationality, or cultural belief as relevant to the lodge will. The IOOF has got to stop hiding in plain sight, and go into our communities, and say we care about them, each one.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Ancient Order of the Pyramids. Loyal Mystic Legion of America. Modern Order of Chaldeans. Order of Aegis. United Order of Hope.
Have you heard of these fraternal orders? I imagine not. They were orders that sprang up in the United States, grew and flourished, and “like tears in the rain” their membership diminished and they vanished from the fraternal landscape. They are a few of the hundreds of fraternities that functioned in this country, with members, lodge halls, initiations, rituals, rules, and secret words. They had leadership positions like Grand Illuminator and three or four descriptive words forming mottoes like Friendship, Benevolence, Love, Charity, Truth, Trust, Justice, etc. They flourished and then they evaporated.
Well, the answer is both simple and complex. The simple part is easy to understand and digest. They disappeared because they failed to bring in sufficient new members to replace existing members who moved away, moved on, or passed away.
It’s just simple math. If you lose 10 members a year, and you add five members a year, the organization will wither and die in time. The complexity comes into play when trying to determine “why” the fraternity failed to bring in sufficient new members. It can be summarized in two concepts: (1) change, and (2) failure to evolve with change.
Society does not remain stagnant. We once communicated by handwritten letters, posted and then delivered days (sometimes weeks) later. Then we used telegraph lines to send simple messages using Morse Code. Then telegraphs. Telephones hung on walls and we spoke to operators. Society became enamored with radio, until television burst on the scene. All superceded by social media. Even social media changed. Once Facebook was all the rage with people in their teens and 20’s – until they realized that Facebook was being used by their parents and grandparents. So they moved on to Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Vimeo, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumbir, TikTok, and other forms of sharing, discussion and communication.
And the same can be said of Odd Fellows. There was a time that Odd Fellowship – like all other fraternal orders and most of American society – shamefully did not admit people of color or women. That has thankfully and appropriately changed. Odd Fellowship, in fact, recently adopted a strong anti-discrimination clause and insisted that it be included in Lodge Bylaws. The ritual of our Order has changed and is changing – too slowly in the opinion of some – but it is changing. We now encourage social meetings – there was a time not too long ago, when social meetings were abhorred.
Yet some Lodges fail to evolve with the changes in society. Some Lodges, for example, communicate to members with paper notices, and announce events only in the local newspaper. They fail to use email or social media to communicate and to reach out to their communities. And this failure essentially places the Lodge on an island accessible primarily to people in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and cuts them off from younger generations. Yet, it is those younger generations – folks in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s – which are the future of their Lodge.
Sad to say, there are some Odd Fellows (and you know who they are) that like things just the way they are and reject change. Change invades their comfort zones. This attitude is understandable, yet it is in conflict with the future of the their Lodge. In a sense, it is a selfish attitude which looks only to the member’s personal comfort, but ignores the needs of the Lodge to bring in new members who are younger, who have varying interests, and who come from communities that are not identical to the current membership of that Lodge. Inevitably, this resistant attitude will cause the demise of that Lodge.
Don’t believe me? Think of this. There was once over 400 Lodges in the Jurisdiction of California. Today, we have barely 100 Lodges, and a significant number of those Lodges have less than 15 active members. This is a story replicated throughout North America.
Everything changes. Nothing stays the same.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Dear brothers, sisters, and siblings,
I am a queer Odd Fellow. Mountain View Lodge (#244) has been tolerant of members such as myself, but we have reached a new milestone. Tonight we decide whether to hang the Philadelphia pride flag and trans flag in the windows overlooking Castro Street, downtown, just as Shelter-in-Place will go into the second phase. With all June events for the 50th anniversary of Pride canceled, there is little celebration to be had. So Past Grand Jessica Dickinson Goodman decided a show of support for our fellow human beings was in order to lift some spirits during this time of plague.
As I wait, I wonder: what sort of Odd Fellows are we?
Instead of writing this after tonight’s meeting, I challenge you now, full of anticipation, with this question: what sort of Odd Fellow or Rebekah are you? We have some crucial choices ahead of us, as an organisation. This will be one of them. We come from a wide variety of religions and backgrounds that may inform how we live our lives. I trust we may find a common ground in our determination to make a better world.
The existence of queer persons is not a political matter, nor a sectarian one, either of which would remove it from the lodge’s purview. Rather, we exist as part of the community. One, I like to believe, that can count on some show of support of my brothers and sisters and siblings, as surely as they support their country and church or temple. While I appreciate a group who will tolerate me, I adore a warm and explicit welcome.
I also call this a milestone because this is a road, not a battlefield. I have come out in the lodge as asexual and queer, because a healthy discussion requires representatives. If you’re uncertain why we need to have a discussion at all, well… I would appreciate being able to have my gender accurately filled out on the annual report. I want to know if will be safe to bring a partner or children to pancake breakfasts in a fellow lodge, five years from now. I’m wondering whether you’ll ignore or include me at grand lodge, ten years from now.
What may be a philosophical matter to you is a practical matter to me.
Sister Dickinson Goodman will ask tonight whether the lodge will hang pride flags as a show of support. In anticipation, she polled community leaders to check that this would be locally supported, which was rewarded with some heart-warming responses. Now it remains for our members to discuss and vote. Thanks to the support of other lodges who are meeting online, we discovered we are able to meet safely from our houses over zoom, during this time.
Arike van de Water – 21 May 2020
P.S. After a long discussion, the lodge voted in favor of putting up the flags. – 22/5/20
P.P.S the Philadelphia pride flag (the rainbow with brown and black bands) was created to explicitly include people of color, a way to show racial unity in this time. – 29/5/20
By Peter Sellars, PGM
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows has been on a collision course to self-destruct for nearly a century, since reaching its impressive heights in membership.
It’s obvious the membership as a whole has failed to heed the warnings that its membership has been in a steep decline. The membership actually becomes defensive and even argumentative whenever someone writes or speaks about the decline or the inevitable collapse should things not change.
This is written as a matter of fact and not to be defended or argued about in any way. Plainly, if members – every single member in this Order – doesn’t become actively involved in inducing people to join the Order, then the Order disappears, as many other groups have left us. Those members who do actively work hard to just keep the lodge alive by seeking new applicants have every right to hold contempt and abhorrence for their fellow lazy useless members who idly sit back and do nothing to save the Order. How else would one describe those members who have not taken the warnings and articles seriously?
Social irregularity, this membership ignorance, is fighting those who carry the messages and implore necessity of growth. Envy of the member who achieves success by those who lack interpersonal relationship skills, is a major problem. The inability of members to empathize with others or allow someone to gain recognition by achievement is a problem as well in this Order. Too many members purposely hold back other members by sabotaging them or undermining them behind their backs. That is a pretty accurate description of one segment of members. Intelligent people who have not yet joined the Order pick up on this petty childish behavior; this is why they don’t join or don’t stay long. Many potential leaders leave the Odd Fellows after their first year. I wonder what an exit interview would reveal? I wonder what our current disgruntled members could share if everything was placed on the table?
The membership must be honest with itself before any level of growth may be achieved. Imagine the unrestricted and non-obstructive supporting membership. Imagine all members praising other members for bringing applicants into the lodge. Imagine no envious backstabbing by jealous members.
The fastest way to turnoff an applicant is having a loudmouth or bully-type member either speak beyond the applicant or make them feel they are unwelcome. Members must work and continue to work and work even more to help this Order grow. At the same time, they must work and continue to work and work more to rid this Order of the naysayers and barrier makers. The membership must stand up to those few bad apples and hold them accountable for their actions.
Every member must always be seeking to add members. If they feel this is too difficult, then at the very least be in a supportive role in bringing in new people. And, the membership should never tolerate those members who don’t have anything respectful or nice to say to those who are working to grow the lodge. We are at a critical point where the survival of this Order depends on each new applicant. It is that simple.
We read wonderful messages written by leaders or past officers in this Order in this Dedicated Members for Change, but also hear disrespectful comments in response to positive messages.
We hear members selfishly complain about these messages of “decline” or “we need members” or about ideas of growth. Frankly, these comments are made by those longtime members who have never brought in a new member or have never appreciated those who have tried new ideas or who have plainly told the truth to those who are responsible for the decline. The truth hurts.
It is time for every member to find their replacement and bring them into the Order.
Email: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Fifty years ago, there were almost no computers. People communicated in person or with telephone calls or letters sent by U.S. mail. Our phones had no caller ID. We answered our phones when anyone called. There was no internet. There were no cell phones. There was no such thing as email – electronic messages delivered between computers and cell phones.
Now, nearly everyone has a cell phone and a computer. Our cells phones are mobile computers. More and more, people communicate by text messages and email. But, not everyone – yet.
Email is a tremendous tool to communicate information. With emails, you can communicate with large groups of people quickly. Emails can replace regular (snail) mail for many communications. Organizations can provide important information about what is going on and when meetings are scheduled by email. They can announce events and provide details. Through emails, readers can buy tickets for events or pay dues.
Many Odd Fellows and Lodges use email regularly to communication important information to members and friends. Some lodges send out minutes for review by email. Noble Grands send out emails every week or so to their lodge members. Grand Lodge communications are forwarded to members by email. Board members and committees share information by email. It is easy. It is natural. It is common and routine.
Emails can be annoying. Emails can be overwhelming. Emails can be poorly written. Emails can be fake. They can be a tool to hack into your computer.
The best emails are carefully written. They are written like a letter where words are spelled correctly and sentences are written cleanly. Messages are clearly communicated. It is important to take the time to proofread an email message before sending it. It is surprising how many emails I receive with misspelled words and poor grammar or sentences with errors that clearly don’t say what is intended.
Nearly all computer programs have a “spell check” feature. It is very easy to use. It identifies and helps the writer correct misspelled words and poor grammar. For example, with the Microsoft Word program there is a reference button on the top line of the screen called “Review”. When you click on “Review”, another button called “Spelling & Grammar” appears. Click on that button and you are on your way,
Be careful how many emails you send to a person or a group. Most of us receive many unwanted emails. It can be time-consuming and annoying to sift through them to get to the important emails. The more emails you send to a person or group, the more likely it will be ignored.
Choose a catchy subject title. A dull subject title may cause the reader to skip your email entirely.
Emails can be impersonal. A well-written email can be as inviting as a personal letter or conversation. But most are not. All too often, writers rush to send their emails. They may be poorly written. They may be unclear. On the other hand, well-written emails can be very personal and uplifting. They can encourage thought and responses. Just like letters, meaningful, personal exchanges can happen with emails.
Caution! Be very careful when you receive an email with just a link to another website, with little or no other message. These emails are often an attempt to get access into your computer. Do not click on these links unless you are sure it is legitimate. Sometimes, these emails come from “friends” – a person you know. All too often, your friend’s email account and/or computer has been hacked and the hacker is sending emails to all of the contacts of your friend.
There are times when communication by email must stop. Sometimes, routine emails prompt responses where disagreement is shown. Be very, very careful if this occurs. Choose your words carefully get if you decide to respond.
Never, ever, ever get into an argument with email. Never say things by email that you would not say to someone face-to-face. If you have ever argued by email, almost certainly it did not end well – probably the opposite. Remember, anything you say by email is out there forever!
When you let yourself get sucked into an email argument, it is too easy to sit back and craft a counter-argument and send it off. But if you are truthful, you know your message is not likely to persuade the other person to change their views. Rather, it is likely to make them more unhappy. So, they will send back an email that will make you feel the same way. Pretty soon, you have exchanged two or three emails back and forth and the disagreement has grown.
I have received emails that are clearly intended to start an argument. My routine response is that “I choose not to discuss this issue via email”. I invite them to talk with me on the telephone. Emails are not a substitute for all communications.
Email is with us to stay. New Odd Fellow members will expect it. There will be a time in the foreseeable future that all Odd Fellows and Rebekahs will need to use email to stay in touch (other than a pandemic). We should all learn how to use it wisely.
Email is a very useful and a valuable tool for our Odd Fellows Lodge. But email has its limitations. Use it when you can. But use it effectively. Beware of when it is not effective. Remember that there may be times that you cannot beat in-person or telephone contact.
Davis Lodge #169
Past Grand Master
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The “Proceedings of the 167th Annual Session of the Grand Lodge of California” (the “Journal”) has (finally) been published and distributed, memorializing the May 15-18, 2019 Session of the Grand Lodge. The Journal contains a heartening statistic for California, showing that Odd Fellows membership totals continue to rise in this jurisdiction, increasing by a net gain of 61 members in between January 1, 2018, to December 31, 2018. It’s a modest net gain, but net gains are always better than net losses. Kudos, all around, California!
However, all is not wine and roses. If one does a little digging to the numbers beneath the numbers, the full revealed picture has both encouraging signs as well as cautionary signs.
Who gained, who lost, and who stayed the same?
The Odd Fellows Lodge statistics showed that 38 Lodges had a “net gain” of members in 2018; 41 Lodges showed a “net loss”; and 34 Lodges held steady, showing neither a net gain nor a net loss for the year. So, on balance slightly more Lodges actually lost members than Lodges that gained members. And even the “net gain” numbers are a bit deceiving: even though 38 Lodges showed net gains, fully 9 of those Lodge eked out only a tiny net gain of 1.
There are at least two cautionary signs in these statistics.
First, having fully 41 Odd Fellow Lodges that actually lost members during 2018 is a concerning sign. There may be some very good reasons why these Lodges showed a net loss: it might be an off-year, or the net loss may be small (perhaps only 1 or 2 members). On the other hand, it may be a sign that the Lodge is troubled. The fact that 41 Lodges – about 36% of the total number of Lodges – were showing declining membership totals should be flag of warning for the Grand Lodge, and for each of those Lodges. Some attention should be dedicated to understanding why this has happened. Leaders of these Lodges ought to encourage a conversation on the topic at a Lodge meeting.
Second, there were 34 Odd Fellow Lodges that showed a steady state of membership – no change in membership. This could also be a sign of concern that needs to be analyzed. Look, let’s face it. The life-blood of a fraternal order is new members. If a Lodge fails to bring it new members, it will wither and die in time. A steady-state may very well still show a healthy Lodge, if that Lodge is in fact bringing in new members to replace those members who move away or pass away. But if no new members are brought in to that Lodge over a period of years, while the membership continues to age – well, the ultimate result is obvious.
What is the optimum size for an Odd Fellow Lodge?
There is no optimum size for a Lodge. It really depends on the community and the culture.
But, statistically, the Journal shows us the relative sizes of Lodge membership in California as of the end of 2018. Here is the breakdown in terms of membership numbers:
9 or fewer members: 7 Lodges
10-19 members: 28 Lodges
20-29 members: 38 Lodges
30-39 members: 9 Lodges
40-49 members: 5 Lodges
50-59 members: 9 Lodges
60-69 members: 2 Lodges
70-79 members: 4 Lodges
80-89 members: 1 Lodge
90-99 members: 2 Lodges
100 or more members: 3 Lodges
200 or more members: 4 Lodges
What do these numbers show us? First, we can see that almost 60% of our Lodges fall in the range of 10 to 29 members. That seems to be our median. Accordingly, we are a fraternity of relatively modest-sized Lodges. Second, a cautionary tale is shown by the fact that 30% of our Order in California belong to Lodges with 19 or fewer members – that is a fairly small number. For example, if typically only 50% of members show up for meetings, a Lodge of 15 members might find itself in difficult straits making a quorum. Further, such a Lodge will have challenges organizing and staffing events. Third, while small might be beautiful in Odd Fellowship, the largest of our Lodges have a disproportionate impact on our Order. Lodges with 100 or more members number only 7 (that’s only 6% of the total number of Lodges) – but those 7 Lodges make up 30% of our total membership in California. Fourth, at the other end of the spectrum, we have 7 Lodges with 9 or fewer members on their rolls. Nobles Grand of those 7 Lodges need to carefully evaluate why the numbers are so small, and what can be done about it. A Lodge composed of 9 or fewer members is going to have challenges sustaining itself year-after-year. That Lodge may be heavily dependent on associate members. At a minimum, District Deputy Grand Masters and the Grand Master of California should do a fraternal analysis of those Lodges – is there something that can be done to help those Lodges increase their membership.
What is the most interesting statistic?
Lots of interesting information can be gleaned from the statistics, but perhaps the most interesting statistic is the continued numeric ascendancy of women in the Odd Fellows. The statistics continue a trend that started two decades ago when women were finally permitted to join as members of Odd Fellows Lodges. The latest stats show that 286 brothers were added to our rolls in 2018 while 324 brothers were deducted from our rolls in that year. In other words, the number of men in Odd Fellows Lodges declined in 2018. At the same time, 230 sisters were added while 131 were deducted. The number of women in Odd Fellowship increased in 2018. Women now comprise 30.4% of Odd Fellows in California, while men make up 69.6%. If this trend – which started many years ago – continues, women will comprise 50% of Odd Fellows Lodges in time.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California