Odd Fellows in 10 Years – Part 2

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

This is the second in a trilogy of articles predicting the future of Odd Fellowship. What will our fraternity look like in 10 years – 2029? The first article dealt with the future at the Sovereign Grand Lodge level. This second article focuses on the state/province level of our Order. I’m entitling it: “Grand Lodges – Not So Grand Anymore.”

My mentor in Odd Fellowship was Brother Don Smith. Don served as Grand Master of California and also as Sovereign Grand Master of Odd Fellowship. Don was my Fraternal Brother and a dear friend, and always gave me good advice. He also was a remarkable historian of our Order. Don would tell me about the days he attended the Grand Lodge gatherings in California some 40-50 years ago when literally thousands would attend the week-long event. Huge halls had to be rented, and large dining rooms had to be reserved for the throngs of Odd Fellows, Rebekahs, and guests who would attend. Hundreds would go to sessions, and thousands would gather at opening ceremonies and closing installations.

Today, in 2019, it’s quite different. Because of the sharp drop in our membership rolls, quite a few Grand Lodges have less than 500 members in their entire jurisdiction, and a remarkable number of Grand Lodges have less than 300 members. (I once looked at a chart which showed that my one Lodge in little Davis California, had more members than the entire membership of 17 different jurisdictions.) Yet, notwithstanding the dramatic drop in membership, most Grand Lodges continue to operate as if it were 1959, instead of 2019. The annual gatherings still encompass five days (or more) and the attendees do the same things that were done 40-50 years ago. When the attendance at Grand Lodge sessions is less than 30 members, it frankly becomes the theater of the absurd.

Absent a remarkable turnaround in growth of this Order, it makes no sense to continue Grand Sessions of jurisdictions that fall below a certain number of members. Everyone will agree with this concept at some point – the devil is in the detail. Should the threshold number be 300? 200? 100? I predict that those ultra-small jurisdictions below the threshold will simply do away with their Grand Lodge, and the Lodges in that state or province would become jurisdictional Lodges under the umbrella of Sovereign; or alternatively, Sovereign could create regional districts that would encompass the jurisdictional Lodges in that region.

A major impediment to attendance and participation at Grand Lodge sessions is the length of those sessions. Virtually all Grand Lodge (and Rebekah Assembly) sessions last five days, if not longer. That is another bizarre throwback to the past. Now, I completely understand that as the average age of our membership ratchets upwards into the late 70’s, most of the members who attend sessions are semi-retired or retired. And I understand that sessions have become, essentially, an annual reunion – a homecoming of sorts – where members re-connect with brothers and sisters from other Lodges. I get that, and I understand that. However, if we truly want our Order to be attractive to folks in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, we must modify sessions to span no more than three days, with two of those days being over a weekend. Working men and women, and members with small children find it extremely challenging to attend a session of five or six days. However, a session of two or three days, over a weekend is absolutely doable. And in my experience, the actual business at sessions can be accomplished in two days. Accordingly, as we strive to attract the next generation of leaders to this Order, I predict that Grand Lodge Sessions in 2029 will be shorter and leaner – with more emphasis on the business of the Grand Lodge.

Next week, I will publish the third of these articles about Odd Fellowship in 2029 by looking at the future at the Lodge level. The article will be entitled: “The Lodge: Glum or Glad”?

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

Odd Fellows in 10 Years – Part 1

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

This newsletter is the first of a three-part series, predicting the future of Odd Fellowship. What will this fraternal order look like in 2029 – 10 years from now? In this first part, we will look at the changes that can be expected at the Sovereign Grand Lodge level. I entitle this segment: “Sovereign Grand Lodge – Resolve to Evolve.”

I will not repeat the statistics that have brought us to this point, other than to remind everyone that membership in our fraternal order has been dropping pretty steadily for over half a century – it is an unsustainable mathematical calculation. Simply put: If we continue to operate in the same way as we have over the past 50 years, we will cease to be a viable fraternity. Either we change, or we diminish.

The first change that has to occur is, perhaps, the most important. We must ensure that women are treated equally in this Order. This only makes sense as women comprise one-half of the population of the world. The Order had taken its first critical step in this direction when it opened Odd Fellows Lodge membership to women in 1999. Twenty years later, in 2019, the Order took a further important step when it elected the first woman to serve as Sovereign Grand Warden. This member will become Sovereign Grand Master – a first in the 200-year history of Odd Fellowship in North America. These are important steps – but the Order has a long way to go. Men continue to overwhelmingly dominate the ranks of voting representatives at Sovereign Grand Lodge.

The second major change that must occur has, gratefully, already started with the adoption of a five year plan at Sovereign. The days of “separate-but-equal” branches of our Order are remnants of another age, and need to be phased out. To be very frank, in the 21st Century, separate branches and units that are set up for “men” and for “women” are a relic. The five year plan is a critical aspect of the evolution of this Order.

Third, some of the Branches simply do not resonate with the young men and women in the coming generations. As an example, the LEA and LAPM find their memberships dropping like stones – young women of today do not want to wear World War I nurses uniforms, nor do they want to wear long white dresses. It’s a throwback to the early 20th Century. Young men and women of the 21st Century want to join organizations that work to protect the environment, educate children, reduce poverty and commit a wide range of social needs. Less important to them is sitting in a room in designated chairs reciting ritual.

Fourth, the voting representation at Sovereign Grand Lodge is dominated by small jurisdictions to the detriment of large jurisdictions. A jurisdiction with 200 or 300 members is afforded virtually the same voting power as a jurisdiction with thousands of members. This is both undemocratic and unfair. Voting representation at Sovereign Grand Lodge should more closely reflect the number of members in a jurisdiction.

Fifth, the Order must become truly non-secular. For Odd Fellowship to reach worldwide and to be inclusive of all humankind, it must revise its ritual to not put one faith over another. This secularization of the Order can be very nuanced and subtle, but it is there and it is an impediment to growth of the Order.

Finally, discussions at Sovereign must be brought to the light of day. Too many bills and resolutions never emerge from committees. New ideas are shuttled to committees and, essentially, die in committees. Very little debate occurs on the floor of Grand Lodge Sessions. This gives power to a very small number of committee chairs, to the detriment of the body of representatives, as a whole.

Next week, the focus goes to Grand Lodges – the subject: “Grand Lodges – Not So Grand Anymore.”

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

DMC – Change in the Odd Fellows is inevitable

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

A week does not go by that I don’t get an email from a new member of a Odd Fellows Lodge, voicing a mighty level of frustration. These new Odd Fellows express a level of dismay that ranges from bafflement at one end to virtual defeat at the other extreme. As members of an Odd Fellows Lodge, they are not happy, and they feel thwarted and stymied by other members. The goals of friendship, love and truth are stretched thin in their particular situations.

The frustration almost always boils down to one root cause: The new member (along with other newer members) wants to try some new things, but there is another long-time member (along with other long-time members) who does not. This is the yin and yang in some Lodges. It’s the disconnect between generations. This conflict can take several forms.

One boiling point happens when the new member suggests a new concept. The new member might have an idea for a social function at the Lodge or a charitable project in the community. But no matter what is suggested, the new member is shut down and sometimes put down. The words might be, “We can’t do that,” or “We tried that before and it doesn’t work,” or “That’s not permitted by the Code”, or simply “That’s a dumb idea.” The members who so readily shut down or put down the new idea seem to forget that EVERYTHING we do as Odd Fellows was once a new idea suggested by a member.

Another flash point is sparked when long-time members hold onto certain Lodge positions as if their very lives depended on it, and never let go. No one should have life-time tenure in an office in the Lodge. No one is indispensable. We elect officers; we don’t crown royalty. It’s healthy to have many people serve over time. And it’s perfectly all right for the newer members to make mistakes – that’s how we grow and learn. Long-time members should – in the spirit of FLT – assume the role of mentors when newer members are ready to step up.

Some long-time, old-time members will stop at nothing to prevent change – to the point of changing the rules, even to the point of using those changed rules to keep new members out of the Lodge. I recently became aware of a Lodge which was ball balloting on new initiates. The long-time members argued strenuously that just black cubes cast against an initiate means that the applicant is rejected and could not be initiated. Trouble with that is that the three black cube rejection model was thrown out many years ago – that is no longer the rule in Odd Fellowship. A simple majority of white balls is all that is required to admit a new member. The old days – when three “no-change-on-my-watch” members could reject a new member – are long gone. But that didn’t stop them from trying.

It’s the immovable object meeting the irresistible force. But the immovable object ultimately cannot prevail because it is limited by the human lifespan. The irresistible force will eventually prevail because change is natural and inevitable. Even in Odd Fellowship.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

DMC – Can the Odd Fellows Survive 200 More Years?

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

The year 2019 is a momentous year in the history of Odd Fellowship. Our fraternal order celebrates its 200th anniversary in North America. Truly an incredible achievement. But, can the Odd Fellows sustain our Order for another 200 years?

Odd Fellowship once had a million members in the United States. Now, the membership numbers in the tens of thousands. Odd Fellowship once boosted tens of thousands of Lodges in every town and hamlet. Now, we see jurisdictions where the number of Lodges can be counted on the fingers of two hands.

I am a member of the largest North American jurisdiction in Odd Fellowship – California. I have had the rare honor and privilege to serve as both Grand Master and as Grand Patriarch in this jurisdiction. I have visited dozens of Lodges throughout the jurisdiction. I provide this in preface to support my comments in this article. We, in Odd Fellowship, are at a crossroads. One path – the road of status quo – will inevitably lead to the diminution and probable demise of our Order in one, or at most, two generations. The other path – the road of evolution and change – can lead to the resurgence of our Order and cement our future for another 200 years.

I have come to the conclusion that we can embrace the path of evolution and change, vitality and growth if we, as an Order, do three things:

1. Active Lodges are Healthy Lodges. There is no sustained future for Lodges where members do little more than sit in the Lodge rooms at meetings, reading rote passages from little red books. While in a strange way this may be soothing and comfortable to long-time members, it simply does not resonate with the newer generations. No one really wants to join a Lodge where little more is accomplished than going to meetings once or twice a month, paying the utility bills, reporting on each other’s illnesses, electing each other to office, and awarding each other longevity jewels. Potential members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s do not find that sort of “Lodge” attractive or interesting. To thrive and grow in the 21st Century, a Lodge must be active. Lodges that provide an active social life for members show vitality and will resonate with the new generations of members we must attract. Lodges that reach out into the community, to do good charitable and community works, will also become beacons for new members. A lodge, in this Century, that has no purpose or mission, cannot long survive.

2. New Blood is Vital to Our Future. The lifespan of a human being, with good health and good genes, hovers around 100 years. A fraternal Lodge, however, has a lifespan that can last for centuries. Fraternities can “live” for remarkably long periods of time, but only if they bring in new members. And those new members must span the years and the generations. A Lodge composed only of septuagenarians and octogenarians will inevitably diminish and expire as the health of those elderly members fail and they pass away. A healthy Lodge has members representing every decade and every generation. It is, frankly, selfish for Lodge members to refuse to seek out new members and to maintain the status quo. It may be comfortable for those aged members, but it is deleterious to the Order.

3. Our Order Must Unify. The numbers show us that the branches of our Order are withering. The old separation of “men” and “women” simply does not apply in the 21st Century, and does not work. We can no longer maintain separate branches of Patriarchs Militant, Ladies Auxiliary Patriarchs Militant, Encampment, Ladies Encampment Auxiliary, Odd Fellows and Rebekahs. The future of our Order must be in one strong, diverse Lodge, with many degrees – not six separate branches. We all know in our heart-of-hearts that the merger of our branches is inevitable. It is not aided by delay.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

DMC – The Odd Fellows Code

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

If you ever doubted that the Independent Order of Odd Fellows has evolved and changed over the years, you need only look on the back of the Encampment membership card (the dues card) and your doubt will be dissipated.

There, on the back of the card, in extremely tiny letters, you will find a throw-back to another age, another time, another generation.

What you find back there is the “Telegraphic Cipher and Key” used by Odd Fellows Lodges throughout North America in times past. Of course, no one uses a telegraph anymore in this age of email, text, face time, and fax. But back then, with the use of those ubiquitous telegraph lines that stretched across the continent, Lodges could communicate with one another about folks who showed up on their Lodge doorsteps claiming to be members and asking for assistance. Yes, in those days, people would travel from town to town knocking on Odd Fellow Lodge doors, looking for work, seeking financial help, showing up ill, or sometimes even passing away in the visited city. And, apparently, some folks would pass themselves off as members of the Order (when they really weren’t), or widows and orphans of members, to try to get a meal, medical assistance, a handout of money, or even help in finding a job in a new community.

So, Odd Fellows developed a code which could be used by telegraph wire to check on the veracity of the person at the door. The code was useful because it was comprised of one word “ciphers” – which was a cheaper way to communicate in that telegraph operators charged by the word – and it also allowed for secret communication of a question and an answer between lodges from different venues. There were 22 words (or ciphers) in this special code. Here they are for your reading pleasure:

Benefit – What sick and funeral benefits do you pay?
Black – He is a fraud, and if he has a card or other papers from this lodge, they are forgeries.
Boat – He is an expelled member, and has not been in good standing for _____.
Cash – Is in our city asking financial assistance, and claims membership in your lodge in good standing.
Caution – Look out for a fraud named _____.
Doubt – Identity in doubt. Wire description.
Final – A member of your lodge died here.
Funds – Shall we aid him and draw on you to the extent of $_____.
Green – Wire instructions to us at once as to the disposition of his remains.
Grip – Draw on us for the amount of expenses incurred.
Help – Will your lodge pay nurse hire, and how much per day?
House – Is in our city, holding a visiting card from your lodge and asking of us financial assistance.
Lodge – Forward remains to this place by _____.
Purple – We think best to bury him there.
Red – Holding a visiting card from your lodge died here.
Regalia – Assist him and we will honor draft to the extent of $_____.
River – Has your lodge a member in good standing by the name of _____.
Rock – A member of our lodge is in your city needing assistance. His name and address are _____.
Secretary – He has a fraudulent card.
White – We don’t know any such party, and he does not belong to our lodge.
Widow – Wife or child of a deceased member of your lodge is in our city asking assistance. Shall we draw on you to the extent of $_____.
Yellow – Is in our city and very sick. Claims membership in your lodge. Shall we give him attendance on your account?

Ah, yes. Those were certainly different times.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

DMC – How to tell if your Lodge is in decline

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

How can you tell if your Lodge is in decline?  Often it’s not easy to tell if you are right in the middle of it.   But there are warning signs.  In this regard, I have devised a list of 19 “warning signs” to assist you in determining if your Lodge is operating in the yellow “caution” zone, or the red zone of “danger.”   However, this will only work if you honestly assess your own Lodge.

Here are the 19 warning signs.   Ascribe one point for each of the following signs if they apply to your Lodge:

1.  The Lodge has 20 or fewer dues-paying members.

2.  The Lodge has 10 or fewer dues-paying members.

3.  The Lodge has had to cancel at least one meeting over the past 12 months due to lack of quorum.

4.  Without the attendance of associate members, the Lodge would not have a quorum at some meetings during the last 12 months.

5.  The Lodge has no members under the age of 50.

6.  The Lodge has no members under the age of 60.

7.  The Lodge has no members under the age of 70.

8.   The Lodge has no female members.

9.  The Lodge has not initiated a new member over the past 12 months.

10.  The Lodge has not initiated a new member over the past 24 months.

11.  The Lodge has not initiated a new member over the past 36 months.

12.  The Lodge has not sponsored a community project over the past 12 months.

13.   The Lodge has not sent a representative to the last Grand Lodge Session.

14.  The Lodge has not sent a representative to Grand Lodge Session over the past two years.

15.  Over the past 5 years, members of the Lodge get recycled into the office of Noble Grand because no one else is available who can or will serve.

16.  Over the past 12 months there has been bickering and raised voices at Lodge meetings.

17.  The Lodge has no tenants paying rent.

18.  The Lodge does not own its Lodge Hall.

19.  The Lodge typically submits a late annual per capita report to Grand Lodge.

If your Lodge has 9 or more points on this list of 19, the yellow caution light is blinking.   If your Lodge as 13 or more of these 19 items, be aware of the red danger signal.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

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