I have just returned from the California Grand Lodge Sessions held, for the first time, in Visalia – deep in the Central Valley. About 200 voting representatives attended as delegates from their Lodges from throughout California, including 11 Past Grand Masters. This was the 165th annual gathering, and as usual, it was interesting, energetic and vibrant. I would like to sketch for you some of the highlights and low-lights of the session:
* Dave Reed, from my own Lodge Davis #169, was elected as Grand Master of California for the coming term. We congratulate Dave and wish him – on behalf of all of us – a productive and active term. Also, we congratulate Mel Astrahan in his election as Deputy Grand Master, and Jamie Jepson, the newly elected Grand Warden. Three strong candidates ran for the position of Grand Warden, and Jamie was elected.
* Once again, we had a good turnout of representatives from throughout California, but on the other hand 46 of our 116 Lodges did not send even one representative. That’s 40% of our Lodges not represented. Not a good sign, and not a good trend. How can a member complain about actions of the Grand Lodge when the member’s Lodge doesn’t send a delegate to the decision-making entity? These 46 Lodges seem disconnected from the greater Order, and seem to be focused just on their own Lodge. We hope that many of these unrepresented Lodges start sending representatives in the future.
* Some great news was revealed in the report of the Grand Secretary. According to the 2016 annual reports submitted by Lodges, in 2016 Odd Fellowship in California showed a net GAIN in membership. Specifically, on January 1, 2016, our records showed 4,449 members, and on December 31, 2016, our records showed membership at 4,539. That is a net GAIN of 90 members. While 90 is not a huge number, it is an increase of about 2%, and more importantly, it is an INCREASE in membership, not a decline. Our Order has shown, since World War II, an almost constant net loss in membership. In 2016, we broke that downward spiral to show a net gain. We hope this path continues upward in the coming years. I am especially proud of this new path because it occurred in the year when I served as Grand Master for the first half and Peter Sellars served as Grand Master in the second half. My main goal as GM was focused on membership, and certainly all the work we invested in DMC was directed toward increasing membership.
* This Grand Lodge was Peter Sellars’ final act as Grand Master. He was a strong GM and he ran a fair and productive session. It was a remarkably busy session with the largest number of bills and resolutions that I have ever seen. We got through them all. I served as Parliamentarian for the session, and I was busy throughout. I have never seen so many motions to table, motions to reconsider, motions to postpone indefinitely, etc., in my life. And was the vote to be a majority vote, 2/3 vote, 3/4 vote or 4/5 vote? Notwithstanding all the parliamentary maneuvering, we got through it all. I am sure all delegates were delighted that we used electronic voting, that I had suggested three years ago, and which we have implemented with success. Without the electronic voting, we would have been in sessions for an extra day!
* There were many controversial issues before the Grand Lodge, including the requests of several Lodges to have their loans forgiven. In the end, the grand body denied all the requests, but I predict that the Grand Lodge Board of Directors will make efforts over the next few months to work with these Lodges and find ways to give them financial relief.
* The Sovereign Grand Lodge representative to sessions was Sovereign Grand Warden Doug Pittman, a generous, gracious and well-spoken gentleman. He even got into the dunking booth (a good sport, indeed) during Friday fun night, to help raise money for Odd Fellows and Rebekahs. We wish him well in his continued travels and in the coming years as he moves up the ladder. In other news, the Grand Lodge coalesced around the candidacy of Barry Prock to be elected Sovereign Grand Warden this year. We wish Barry every success as Sovereign Grand Lodge Sessions.
* The DMC event at sessions was “Friendship Evening”, which was very popular on Thursday evening at the convention center. Over 150 Odd Fellows and Rebekahs attended. I remember back 5 years ago when DMC first formed, the Grand Master would not allow us on the program or even allow our event to take place at the convention site. We had to get the word out by word of mouth, and gathered at a local Mexican restaurant. How times have changed. The good news is that the goal of DMC has become the goal of the Order – increasing membership is our imperative.
* Finally, a personal word. When I first started attended Grand Lodge Sessions about 6 or 7 years ago, I was the only one from my own Lodge to attend as a representative. This year, my Odd Fellows Lodge had 7 representatives, and my Rebekah Lodge had 3 representatives. On the Odd Fellows side, my Lodge saw several of its members elected and appointed: Dave Reed as Grand Master, Bob Schelen as Grand Chaplain, Jean-Paul Montreuil as Grand Herald, myself elected to the Grand Lodge Board of Directors, Tony Pruitt elected to the Foundation Board. On the Rebekah side, Diana Schmiegel is the new Warden and Lea Rosenberg is the District Deputy President for District #14. This should stand as encouragement for every Lodge to start sending representatives to Grand Lodge. Much can be achieved. But, you gotta be there.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
In 2010, some seven years ago, PSGM and PGM Don Smith (now deceased), PGM Rick Boyles, and I launched “Dedicated Members for Change” (DMC) with about 30 charter members – all progressive leaders in their Lodges. I am very pleased to say that DMC has grown and prospered over the years, and now boasts an e-mail list of hundreds all across North America and even some in Europe.
We formed DMC in 2010 with one overriding purpose in mind: To focus on the need for Lodges to add members so that our Order can survive and grow. And in the seven years since it’s formation, DMC has had a laser-like focus on this subject. We have made numerous, positive and proven suggestions over the years on how Lodges can increase their membership. But ultimately, it’s not that complicated. I have often spoken about the subject and used the analogy of the three-legged stool. If all three legs are sturdy, the stool will be strong. If one leg is weak, the stool will be unsteady and will eventually topple. The three legs represent (1) the great history and ritual of IOOF; (2) good fellowship and fun activities for the members, family and potential members; (3) active outreach into the community, doing good local works. I have used my own Lodge – Davis #169 – as the “laboratory” for this concept. And it has worked. In the last ten years – while most other Lodges have declined in membership – my Lodge has grown 1,000%. From less than 30 members, my Lodge now has 275 members, with 22 pending applications for membership. And the age range covers everything from members in their 20’s to members in their 90’s, all ethnic groups, and about half our membership is female.
Significantly, it appears that our membership efforts are now beginning to bear some fruit in California. Preliminary figures show that in 2016 (the year in which I served as Grand Master for the first half of the year and Peter Sellars served as Grand Master in the second half) our Order in California – for the first time in a loooooooooong time – will show a net GAIN of members – led primarily by our largest Lodges. The most significant growth has been in the number of female members of the Odd Fellows. This net gain is a good omen, and we hope a harbinger for the future. Perhaps we have bottomed out after decades of net losses, and are showing the very glimmerings of net gains for years to come.
That said, we need to see growth in most (if not all) Lodges, not just some Lodges. In may ways, Odd Fellowship in California is a mile wide and an inch deep. We have 116 Odd Fellows Lodges in this State. Yet the largest 4 Lodges encompass almost 25% of the total membership, and the largest 10 Lodges comprise close to 40% of the membership.
Unfortunately, many Lodges have not followed our suggestions. They have become complacent, and are “satisfied” with the status quo, or they are rent by internal bickering and dissension. The sad truth is that most Lodges in our jurisdiction and around the country are continuing to diminish in membership. We see many Lodges where the membership has grown old, and they have not added a new member for five, or ten, or even more years. These Lodges are Zombie Lodges, just going through the motions of life. There is no long-range view for these Lodges. The members only focus on continuing to operate in their personal comfort zones, without regard to the future of their Lodge or the future of the Order. This is both selfish and fatal to their Lodge. They barely can muster a quorum, and often do so only with associate members from other Lodges. They do very little, if anything, other than hold a 20-minute monthly meeting to read the minutes, report on who is sick or distressed, and pay the bills – with no committee reports and no new business. A Lodge which is composed of members of just one generation cannot survive in the long run. A Lodge must encompass and include two or three generations to survive. There must always be a new generation of members and leaders who can continue the Order. That’s certainly the way it was in the 1700’s, 1800’s and early 1900’s. And it can be that way again.
There are those who point to societal changes which have changed the way the public views fraternal orders. They point to radio, television, movies, automobiles, airplanes, computers, cell phones, and lots of other innovations that have changed society. They point to social security, insurance, employment counseling and assistance, and other innovations which have stepped in areas where fraternities once functioned. This is all true. But, fraternal orders are still relevant today and can still grow and prosper, and be venues where the members feel welcomed, appreciated and engaged. I know this is true because I have seen it in my own Lodge. Burying the dead and visiting orphans may have little meaning to young men and women in 2017. But organizing a local music event to raise money to assist foster families, or adopting a highway to clean up, or organizing a community chocolate festival to benefit a local sexual assault center may have significant meaning for the current generation of members and potential members.
There is good news and there are success stories, and those success stories inspire us and give us hope for the future. In the coming weeks, we will detail a few of those success stories in this newsletter, and we welcome your input to spread this good news and show what Odd Fellowship can be in the 21st Century.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was designed many years ago with the premise that everyone likes a title. Look around the Odd Fellows and you will see that there are very few members who do not have a title of some kind. However, having a title is no guarantee of ability nor is it a license to pass judgment. Our Grand Masters in every state, along with the Sovereign Grand Master, are compelled to make fraternal decisions, but even our highest-ranking officers are fallible. Our order was also thoughtfully designed with an ending date to each position. These positions are basically positions of honor and reward, thus each person who attains these positions should feel compelled to accept these honors and then cheerfully relinquish them when their time has passed. This is one of the wonders of our order, just as in our great country, a peaceful exchange of leaders, no matter how divergent their ideas, no matter how different their backgrounds, acceptance of responsibility and acknowledgement of a peaceful change.
The Odd Fellows must do its best to eliminate the tendency to dictate to one another. No matter what one’s expertise may be, this is not a license to bully, but it happens far too often – in lodges, in Grand Lodge events, and even at the Sovereign Grand Lodge level. No one has the right to dictate to another his or her views at the expense of anyone else. There are many code passages that bear this out both in the California Roberts Code, and the Code of General Laws. However, it is one of the foibles of the human species that each of us tends to think we know the better way more than anyone else. We only know the way for ourselves. Recently, there have been repeated instances where someone made a wide-reaching decision that harmed someone else’s right to exist on the same level. In Odd Fellow parlance, this is conduct unbecoming of an Odd Fellow. The only reason we as a group allow this to continue to occur is because it happens all too often. We must discontinue hatred. We must discontinue prejudice. We must discontinue sexism. There is no time to waste. We either do it now or risk losing our order altogether This is not the avenue for bullies, and one person’s perception of the order is that person’s perception solely.
There have been various complaints about many things that affect our order, but no one in the Odd Fellows is infallible. Mistakes happen. Members may sometimes get offended. But we need to realize that even within our own family’s accidents and hurt feelings occur My own lodge may seem eccentric while your lodge may seem to run like a well-oiled machine but both exist, and we as an order must be most concerned in ensuring that they continue to exist. To be perfectly frank, other states have been almost completely decimated by turmoil. Let us rise above that. Let’s show Sovereign Grand Lodge that our state can behave in a congenial manner and perhaps we will end up having fun doing it.
In closing, remember that all of us are brothers and sisters, and try and show the same respect to each other that you would to your own families. We should try to not publicly deride anyone because it demeans our order in general. My worst memories of the order are where I heard one member demean another publicly. This should not be tolerated from anyone. We are all Odd Fellows, and joined with the premise that friendship, love and truth are our call signs. We need to act like we feel love and admiration for each other, and realize that the old are not like the young nor vice versa. All souls are welcome within our order, all are loved if you reciprocate love, and lastly, the most difficult and challenging fact, that all of us are human and fallible.
In Friendship, Love and Truth, Rick Boyles
One of the “Links” of our Three Link Plan is to embrace our rich history and heritage that guide our purpose.
In order to reach back to our roots, our history, and heritage, we examined an original blankmembership certificate that we have that was attached to our 1844 charter. If one examines IOOF documents from the Victorian period, you will see that they were very busy, ornate, and gaudy by today’s standards.
In today’s world, certificates are simple, not elegant, and really have no personalty. But, in the 1700’s and 1800’s they were very ornate and elegant. This was actually done, not only to impress the viewer, but to showcase the engraver’s talent. Remember, no Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator in those
days! Engravings were done meticulously by hand on a lead lithograph plate, or other media to be printed. Much like an ornate tattoo today, it not only captures meaning, it display’s the artist’s talent. If one examines our original membership certificate, you can see the symbols of the order, elaborate and varied fonts, and elements. The new member is also “caused” to sign the certificate in the margin…which was also common for Victorian times.
Now, transport yourself back to those days. Ceremonies were very formal, gentlemen and ladies attended in their finest attire. It was an “event”, something to look forward to, something to be reveled, something to be an honor to be a part of. Something that was meticulously planned and executed. Something mysterious and exciting. It captured the excitement and the honor of being an Odd Fellow. It was an event.
With all that said, our Lodge has decided, as part of our Three-Link Plan, to return to our roots, to make our initiations an event. How are we going to do that? It’s easy! But first, we must consider the new member who is being initiated. We are making a first impression on them. We only get ONE chance to do that. But, more important, we are creating a memory for them. Yes, a memory. Something that will be with them for life, and that’s what it’s all about. A memory.
We are in the process of partnering with a neighboring Lodge to perform initiations. This was not uncommon, back in the day. We have an advertisement from an Odd Fellows magazine in the early 1900’s where a local Lodge “specializes in the initiatory degree”. Our neighboring Lodge is beautiful, historic, and has the proper furnishings and regalia for the initiation. Additionally, this strengthens our alliance between Brothers and Sisters, and there will be more people at the initiation! Our members will attend the initiation in their suit jackets…not jeans. This adds formality and reverence to the occasion. We are returning to our roots.
We are also adding a very special and personal dramatic element to close the ceremony, and give the new member a token to cherish and display, and to remind them of that evening…a memory. Now, back to the discussion about our history and heritage…the Membership Certificate. Our original Certificate is simply too big for modern times, and would be too expensive to reproduce and frame, so, unfortunately, it is not practical for our purposes. We need to modify it. What our Lodge has done, is extract elements from the original 1844 Certificate, the wording, type fonts, symbols, actual elements, and made our own Membership Certificate. You will notice that, at the bottom of our Certificate, we used the actual two ladies from the original to surround our Lodge
seal. How cool is that? We are continuing our rich heritage!
At the end of the Initiatory Degree Ceremony, the Noble Grand and the Lodge Secretary will approach the new member, who is standing at a podium in the middle of the room. The Secretary will be carrying a platter. The Platter will contain: The Membership Certificate, a quill pen, and an inkwell.
The Noble Grand will read the certificate to the new member and will “cause” him to sign it in the margin. The Noble Grand and the Secretary will counter-sign with the quill pen and then retire to their stations where the Secretary will mount the Certificate in a frame and present to the new member.
Thus, we have added a very special and personal close to the Ceremony that carries forth our rich heritage and history, and we have given the new member a token of that evening that they can proudly display, just like in Victorian times. The return of investment is huge. But most important, we have given them a memory…every time they look at their Certificate, they will remember that evening and smile. That translates into excitement, and someone who will recruit new members.
For more information, please feel free to contact:
Lodge No. 96
Several times I have discussed ways in which to revitalize our order with different members who seem to hold totally divergent points of view. There have always been members who believe a traditional bent is the way forward, dressing in our traditional robes and regalia, holding lodge and official events pretty much identical to the way they were held 100 years ago, and upholding all customs. Others express the need to modernize, not only in dress but in our rituals and codes, a melding of today’s world with our order’s ideology. Still others see the way forward as a method to illustrate progression through evolving change. This may seem irrelevant to some but it is the purpose to many members’ disagreements with other members.
My own idea is a little more open than these debates which really don’t do much more than illustrate each person’s view. For example, there is nothing wrong in perpetuating old events and wearing older styles of clothing, if we acknowledge the world today within that event or piece of clothing. Of course, I’ve bored many with my views about formal dress, but formal dress in today’s fashion has changed, gotten less tired. My son, for example, in attending his prom, several years ago, wore a blue tuxedo, rented to him by the local clothier. We no longer sport top hats, but there are now fancy hats that are de rigueur. Times have changed, no matter how much we tend to want to avoid this fact. Some of our events may be enlivened in a similar fashion. Many lodges do dinners, pot lucks, or other social gatherings that they have done for many years, consider ways in which they may be made to appear new. The Davis Lodge, for example, might offer a contribution to a local charity or event for a modern cause. My own Fremont Lodge is planning a scenic train ride through the Mission Peak area, replete with touring antique stores, my own favorite book stores, and other local attractions. In other words, there is nothing wrong with longstanding members trying something new that may seem more attractive to a curious newcomer.
Our current Grand Master, Peter Sellars, wrote an excellent letter about the dress code for Grand Lodge sessions. In the letter, he pointed out that he does not care what the members wear, but only what he himself wears. An excellent point. To be frank, our order only seems tired if we continue to do things in the same tired manner. Peter has done many things to help invigorate our order. His popular event, A Day at the Races, now attracts 500 people annually, twice the number of members that attend Grand Lodge. Now, that is success. And yet, Peter works to improve this event yearly. So, in other words, while in a way, it is now a traditional event, he has done an excellent job making it seem fresh every time. So, traditionalism and modernism, may co-exist after all. Similarly, the San Francisco Lodges tend to participate in many social events, parades, and charitable gatherings. Perhaps not coincidentally, their group of lodges are the most populous in the state.
In summation, it is not a political or historical point of view that will invigorate our order, but rather a melding of tradition with modernism that moves us into a future less unknown than we have previously seen it. We can do our best to honor tradition by emulating it and embellishing it. Ritual work itself may appear new if we not only read the passages, but understand them, and even live by their ideals. Modernizing the ritual is not necessary en masse if we sculpt it to our own messages within our hearts. So, we win if we not only revisit our past, but make it better and more alive.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles
Frequently, I read things and think about how it could apply to the Odd Fellows. The late John Wooden, great basketball coach at UCLA, wrote a couple of books with vignettes describing his observations and reflections on life and living. One of the vignettes was called “Make Friendship a Fine Art.” It goes like this:
“Don’t take friendship for granted. Friendship is giving and sharing of yourself. If just one side works at it, it isn’t friendship. You must work at friendship. Make if a fine art. Go more than halfway. It is two-sided, just like marriage.
Someone is not a good friend because he or she does good things for you all the time. It’s friendship when you do good things for each other. It’s showing concern and consideration. Friendship is so valuable and so powerful. We take it for granted, but we shouldn’t.
The first and most important step in friendship is being a friend.”
As Odd Fellows, Friendship is one of our core principles. Yet, some of us give this principle lip service only and behave differently. Brothers and sisters are treated with disrespect and even hostility. Don’t be afraid to take a step back and think about what we are doing to discourage Friendship. What can we do to promote and improve Friendship within our lodges and within our Order. This is a lifelong goal and commitment. We are never done striving for that ideal. We are never done seeking to do more and do better. As Coach Wooden wrote, don’t take friendship for granted.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master