Recently, I visited an Odd Fellows Lodge and watched the members go through the nomination process of potential officers. Granted, a lodge has every right and it is their own business, to nominate whomever they wish. But, having been around this Order and knowing something about productive and successful lodges, as well as failing lodges, I feel compelled to point out what I have come to experience as a death knell.
Firstly, the nomination of a member to the position of Noble Grand or Vice Grand who has already served as such, is a sure sign of a failing lodge. This tells us a thing or two, that the Off Fellows Lodge has no new members or there is a controlling faction of the lodge trying to stay in control. 1.) By nominating a member to eventually become the Noble Grand, for a second or subsequent times, deprives other members from advancing, and becoming eligible to attend Grand Lodge and receive the Grand Lodge Degree. 2.) It prevents them from becoming a representative at Grand Lodge, where changes are made.
Secondly, the nomination of a member to the position of a desk officer, who has never previously served as Noble Grand, prevents that member from becoming a Noble Grand anytime soon. And, it prevents that member from ever becoming a voice and vote at the Grand Lodge level. I find that most members have something to say and often voice their concerns about the Order. The Grand Lodge of California is where such concerns are brought to the floor. By putting members into positions of desk officers, who have never been Noble Grand, prevents them from ever having their opinions heard.
Then, there are times when we find a Treasurer who has been in that position for years, and seems to never want to move on. You find there is no chance for another Past Grand to move into that chair, as members have come to feel comfortable with the same person serving as Treasurer year after year. This means no one else gets the opportunity to serve or to learn the job. I have seen this in very small lodge memberships where the Treasurer passes away and no one knows where the money is kept or where the statements are sent or how to complete the occasional paperwork, etc. The lodge is at a loss because no one else ever sat in that position.
It probably does not apply to your lodge, but I have seen Treasurers who actually believe the money is theirs to decide how to spend it or not spend it at all. They sometimes shout out, “We can’t spend it on that!” or “We have a budget, and I won’t write that check” Of course, we all know that the membership can vote to spent money when it wishes and for what it wishes. Unless, it is in the bylaws of the lodges that the funds require some greater standard than a simple majority or such an expenditure must layover, then, it may have to meet a higher standard. This is true. But, if these provisions are not in the bylaws, then the membership may decide how to spend the money, not the Treasurer. The Treasurer keeps the account balance and drafts the checks, which have been ordered drawn.
The position of Secretary should also be occupied by a Past Grand, as this person should be aware of the activities of the Grand Lodge and know what things mean when they are sent from Grand Lodge. The per capita report is the primary responsibility of the Noble Grand, but the task of completing this important report every January, is more easily accomplished with an experienced Secretary. The Secretary should be assisting the Noble Grand, each time the Noble Grand gets to a step in the Order of Business during the meeting. The Secretary is the first person to open all of the mail. The Secretary is the person who shares the communications and reads them in the lodge (or may display all the communications on a table prior to the meeting, so every members has an opportunity to read). The Secretary and the Treasurer, along with the Finance Committee, and others (Trustees and Financial Secretary) should all view the Bank Statement(s) and Investment Reports/Statements. This must occur to ensure a lodge’s “Checks and Balances” are being maintained.
The importance of bringing new members through the chairs is paramount to having a successful lodge. Rotating the chairs, is important to the Odd Fellows Lodge, as a lodge is only as successful as the number of voices and votes it has at the Grand Lodge level.
Peter V. Sellars
Past Grand Master/Past Grand Patriarch
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Just the other day I was walking along G Street in downtown Davis. A new coffee shop had recently opened at the corner of G Street and 3rd Street and it was distinguished by an expanse of windows so that most everything in the shop was visible from outside the shop. I could clearly see the patrons with their coffee cups. And glancing through the floor-to-ceiling windows, I was struck by the fact that every single person in that coffee shop – and there were over a dozen patrons – was sitting alone with his or her cup of brew, looking down to their laptop or cell phone. Every single person was engrossed in their electronic window on the world. No one looked up, and no one was engaged in conversation with anyone else.
And then it hit me.
Our society has changed in a dramatic way. We have become – to a great extent – a society of loners. And this effect is most pronounced in the new generations of our society – those men and women generally under the age of 40. This has been a sea change in our sociology. The only comparable event in our American history is the advent of the car and train – which took us out of the horse-and-buggy era and made people mobile. But even that enormous change did not come on as rapidly as the change we are seeing today. We are in midst of it, and the change seems to be evolving and morphing almost daily. The Internet, computers, laptops, iPads, iPhones, Twitter, Facebook, the Cloud, email, texting, YouTube, Linkedin, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumbir, Google, WeChat, and a plethora of other components of social media – these innovations have fundamentally changed the way we interact with each other and communicate with the world. A member of Sycamore Odd Fellows Lodge #129 sent me an email with a remarkable quote and statistic from the New York Times: “Social isolation is a growing epidemic – one that’s increasingly recognized as having dire physical, mental and emotional consequences. Since the 1980’s, the percentage or American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent.” Forty percent! Understand this: We have a large percentage of the population who are isolated, and who could gain from a connection to other human beings.
Recognition of this modern reality is important at many levels. It has direct relevance to fraternal orders in general, and Odd Fellowship in particular. There is a population of men and women who would greatly benefit from membership in our fraternity; and of course, our fraternity would greatly benefit from their membership.
Here are the simple facts:
(1) If an Odd Fellows Lodge does not add new members, that Lodge is in trouble. We need only look at the recent history of our Order in North America. Over the past 50 years, hundreds of our Lodges have withered and passed away. In virtually every case it was the result of lack of members. (And make no mistake about it, a “consolidation” of Lodges is simply a genteel way of saying that a Lodge has died.) Without the addition of new members on a regular basis, the Lodge will diminish and die in time.
(2) The majority of our Odd Fellow Lodges have not added new members in sufficient numbers to replace the existing members who pass away, move away, or let their memberships lapse. This has been going on for decades, and the numbers of members keep shrinking in those Lodges. Only a few Lodges have actually shown net gains in members. There is no question that a Lodge that continues to show a net loss in members will diminish and die in time.
(3) Most Odd Fellow Lodges that add new members, add members who are in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s. It’s wonderful to add these new members, but without adding members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, that Lodge will create an age gap that – in time – can’t be filled. A Lodge where the average age is in the 60’s or 70’s is destined to diminish and die in time.
So, our fraternal order has a great opportunity to tap into a new generation of men and women in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. We need to do so in the interest of our fraternity and our Lodge. And, frankly, many of these potential younger members want the social interaction and community involvement that a Lodge can offer. Many of them do not want to be isolated all the time. How do we tap into the younger generation? One thing is certain, we cannot do so if we continue to behave like we are a fraternal order from 1917. We have to reinvigorate and reinvent our Lodges to make them relevant not only to Baby Boomers, but also to Millennials. This means, for example, that our Lodges must have Facebook pages and we must be present on social media. More importantly, we have to offer activities in the Lodge and in the community that interest and attract younger members. Just having baring meetings where we read the minutes of the last meeting, talk about repairing the roof, and spend most of our time talking about who is sick and in distress will not be a recipe for success with the new generations. On the other hand, focusing our meetings on socially responsible activities in the community (for example, helping foster families, feeding the hungry, helping frail seniors in town, cleaning up highways, etc.) and fun activities for Lodge members (for example, a New Year’s Eve event, or an Oktoberfest, taking hikes, poker night at the Lodge, a family potluck, etc.) – these are things that will interest all members – and in particular the younger generations that we need to grow and flourish.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
As so many of us were, I was deeply concerned by the recent alarming article by Brother Dave Rosenberg, our Past Grand Master, describing the precipitous decline of our beloved Order – Independent Order of Odd Fellows, giving us the picture and the numbers showing the sharp reduction in Odd Fellows Membership and Lodges over the past few decades. I trust that his thoughtful letter is a wake-up call to all who love our Fellowship, by implicitly, but firmly pointing out that THE IOOF MAY BE DYING ON OUR WATCH!
At the risk of being labeled as Rita and her 3 Rs, I must say that are some things that all of us who are committed to the Odd Fellows and its Mission must understand and vigorously undertake in response.
Recognition – Although we may be warmed and comforted by the fellowship and camaraderie we experience in our respective Lodges, we must recognize the overall trend for the IOOF is pointing us toward irrelevance in our communities and possible extinction. Put another way, that while we may be relaxed and cozy on a cruise in our individual state rooms, the ship is taking on water at an alarming rate! And we must recognize and accept that each of us must energetically take part in turning this dreadful trend around.
Recruitment – Every Odd Fellows Lodge that is to survive must have a high-priority Recruitment Program led by a high-energy, can-do, Member who has the full support of the Lodge. This Recruitment Program will encompass a Plan with Goals, Schedule, Events, Budget, and adequate staffing. The recruiting effort should target specific high-potential targets, individuals in life transitions, such as recent retirees, recent military discharges, recent graduates, new Americans, the newly divorced, newly bereaved, and newly arrived residents. Potential members will only seldom walk through our doors unbidden. No, we must go out and get them.
Retention – Obviously, energetic recruitment alone will not save us if we do not retain the members, their presence and active participation, by those members we have obtained from recruitment as well as those Brothers and Sisters that we already have. That means that those of us that are pledged to work for the survival of our Home Lodge and our international Order must work to make our Lodges inviting, comfortable and relevant to newcomers and old-timers alike. This may include up-grading and up-dating our Halls and their facilities, revising our programs and procedures, perhaps refreshing the look, feel, and content of the Lodge and its activities. Possibly of even greater importance, each of us must make a particular effort, perhaps just as a one-person welcoming committee, if required, to engage and embrace new members or candidates, to integrate them into the life and spirit of the Lodge, so that our words of FRIENDSHIP and LOVE are seen to be our TRUTH, and so that quickly our Fellowship, becomes their Fellowship too. This assertive out-reach should apply to members that are drifting away, who no longer seem to need the fellowship of the Lodge. Find out how we can make the Odd Fellows relevant and rewarding to them again, and see what we can do about it.
The Odd Fellows organization must be saved, and can be saved, but it will require the well-considered collective effort of the individual members of our endangered Fellowship. Who wants to be part of this noble effort to keep alive the message of Friendship, Love and Truth ?
Many years ago, if one wanted to join the Odd Fellows, one had to show many traits: first, of course, one had to be male; even further one had to be a white male; one had to profess one’s religious preference; and lastly, an aspect fewer members know, one had to be gainfully employed or own one’s own business. Yet, curiously, our order was much more populous at that time than it is now. Of course, the world at large has changed. Racism, Sexism, Religious Bigotry are no longer accepted practices by rational individuals. But, what about the last point, the part about being gainfully employed? What caused that to change? We often attribute the diminishing of all fraternal groups to a few factors, specifically; radio, television and other electronic media, more established communities with better security for its population, and more modern ways to occupy oneself in a diminishing space for relaxation, but there is another one we rarely discuss. Namely, Social Security.
Because the age of our average member has increased, to over 70 years of age, almost all our members now receive Social Security. It is so important to the aged, that in politics, it is known as the “Third Rail” of debate, in other words, undebatable, unassailable, intrinsic to retirement of 90% of all American citizens. What this tells you, then, is several factors: first, that most people live receiving a fixed income, second, that living on a fixed income forces one to realize that one must live paying what is hopefully a fixed expense, and lastly, that the correlation between one’s income and one’s expense must have a correlation that is positive to that person’s retirement.
Thanks to Social Security and other government programs such as disability insurance, unemployment compensation, and more, our citizens enjoy a safety net to some extent. Inadequate, to be sure, but it is a net that did not exist 100 years ago when our order was larger. One of the well-known reasons our order was so big at that time, was that the ordinary lodge, particularly, lodges that resided in hard and challenging areas such as gold country, were the sustenance in almost the entirety of a member’s existence, not only did it educate them (many lodges had lending libraries), feed them (many also served daily breakfasts), offer security (most prominent citizens were members), house many of the children (Rebekah Children’s Services was originally an orphanage), and bury them (bury the dead). The times have made fraternal groups less central to people’s lives. We have some lodges, that I feel are on the precipice of closure (after being open for over 150 years) mainly because they now do nothing whatsoever for their members. Even the IRS with their description of fraternal groups would agree that lodges that now do nothing whatsoever for their members have ceased to be functioning fraternal groups. Conversely, it can be easily illustrated that a member who once benefited from a lodge setting in one way or another, and now gets nothing for being a member, and lives on a fixed income sees nothing but expense in being a member that now shows that member nothing but contempt.
Lastly, as if to plunge the knife in to the hilt, our order in its wisdom has decided to request more dues from its members who live on fixed incomes. I have spoken to some affluent members who say, what is $5.00 per year? Sure, it does not seem like much, at first, but SGL is looking for a $5.00 increase yearly for five years for both the Odd Fellows and the Rebekahs, so that figuring many belong to both, in five years, this would be a $50 increase yearly, and for what, exactly? What benefit does a member receive for being a member, when sustenance, security, burial, education, and even the modicum of care recedes from one’s view? In the normal world, when one is offered something one must question what benefit will I personally receive? If we have failed to even answer this simple question, our order is surely not going to last much longer.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
An article on the front page of the September 27, 2017, edition of the Wall Street Journal caught my eye. You might find it interesting. It was all about the slow diminishing in membership of the American Legion (an organization for veterans of the armed forces) and how some of the newer members of American Legion Post 43 are changing the perception of the legion. Here are some of the salient parts of the article:
“Here are words not often seen together in a sentence: American Legion and cool.
The young guns who have seized control of American Legion Post 43 are trying to fuse them together in the minds of a new generation of combat veterans . . . .
The American Legion has an image problem. Though the group is immersed in good works, its name summons visions of crotchety vets nursing beers in linoleum-floored posts. An ‘old-timey funny-hat club.’
At one California Legion convention, [one of the new members stated that he] was aghast the program mostly featured ads for hospices and cemeteries. [The member stated that the message was] ‘Welcome to the American Legion – prepare to die.’
There was little effort to make the Post a social center.”
Well, it should. This article could very well be talking about Odd Fellowship. There are Odd Fellows and Rebekah Lodges where the average age of members hovers around 70, and where a major item of discussion is the ubiquitous agenda item: Members Sick and in Distress. The Masons run hospitals for children. Odd Fellowship is an organization which, at the Sovereign Grand Lodge level, favors the Arthritis Foundation and Visual Research. We own cemeteries.
The new members of American Legion Post 43 set a goal of doubling membership. The meeting hall was completely renovated. They ratcheted up the social aspects – trying new things like Karaoke nights and comedy nights, forming running clubs and shooting clubs. They started a website so that vets could join by clicking any paying dues by credit card. The results were amazing. The number of new members who joined did not just double – it increased ten-fold.
Declining membership is a challenge faced not just by the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, but by most lodges, organizations and clubs. Men and women in 2017 have different challenges than men and women in 1917. Organizations that recognize this simple fact, and reinvent themselves, will thrive in the new Century. Organizations that fail to recognize this will continue the steady decline in membership. And a steady decline can only end one way . . . .
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
This past August, many of us from the state of California made the trip to our Sovereign Grand Lodge, meeting in St. Louis, MO. One of the remarkable things about our order is the constant renewal of friendship with those we know, and new members we meet. Sovereign Grand Lodge Sessions are full of get togethers for various committees and branches of the order. The proceedings handbook is very informative as to membership counts, assets, liabilities, and many other facets of our order. One of the first steps we all must take in revising our order and moving forward is to not do so blindly. When a member is present at a convention, it is difficult if not impossible to imagine the scope of a jurisdiction. Of course, this can be a good thing, because no jurisdiction should be treated less than any other.
On the negative side, there are several things almost all in attendance take note of, but is difficult to change without universal support. For example, unlike our own Grand Lodge Sessions, at Sovereign Grand Lodge, all legislation is discussed primarily in committees outside of sessions, and then only voted on in sessions. The problem with this is that the Sovereign Grand Representatives often have an incomplete and generally inaccurate view of the legislation. Of course, the glaring example of this fact came this year in the form of the increase of our Per Capita. The finance committee did give a report on the need for the raise, but many felt that the premise for the raise was not explained sufficiently. Sadly, although the initial request of a $5.00 increase yearly for 5 years was voted down, the amended request for a $5.00 increase yearly for 2 years passed. Some representatives seemed to feel that this was apparently an acceptable modification, but I personally felt that in a way we were being fed the same slow poison, just because it could easily be amended next year.
Also, the ugly reality of our order, is that while our own state is now growing, other states are shrinking, and some are shrinking fast. There are a multitude of reasons for this; specifically, a largely elderly membership, adherence to tired ritual dress and behaviors, ignorance of an outside changing world, and many other easily proven facts, but the results bear the facts out just by the virtue of the membership lists. The real problem with this is the order is becoming a convoluted quagmire, guided just as much by representatives of failing states as those in successful ones. The state of California, with some 4,000 members, has the same representation at SGL as states with less than 200 members! California presented legislation that would remedy this, but unfortunately, this failed, even though I felt it was imperative to speak on this issue. To be blunt (and I did seem to get agreement on this from many) without change representation will soon sink even more. We need to revamp this but also need to realize that no one wants to lose representation, while ensuring that larger jurisdictions receive at least more equal representation. I did take the opportunity to discuss this with Brother Terry Barrett, Sovereign Grand Secretary, and I am happy that he also is in favor of a modification of representation. He has written a new piece of legislation for next year, that may pass. What will help it pass will be to include other larger jurisdictions receiving more representation as well.
In August, there was seemingly very smart legislation presented via the jurisdiction of California to the representatives of SGL, to increase the number of representatives for every jurisdiction, but it was defeated. This would have been at no additional cost to SGL, and each jurisdiction would have had the option of adding more representatives to SGL, thus reducing the workload on the same existing representatives. Either they believed the workload was getting lighter each year and there was no need to have additional reps or they were happy with the year-by-year reduced numbers. In 2016, there were 119 reps. In 2017, there were only 113 reps and Sovereign Grand Lodge predicted further decreases.
The number has steadily declined and is on the same pace as the rest of the Order. Twenty minutes after the representatives voted not to increase the number of representatives, a gentleman (a rep), whom I shall not name, came to the mic and stated that each committee was so busy they could not find the time to attend other committee meetings and collaborate in discussing legislation which is assigned to multiple committees. He stated they lacked the time available because the committees were too busy. Here’s a thought! Perhaps with the added reps, the workload would have been reduced. What a concept!
As I have written in previous messages, the idea of having legislation sit dormant for nearly two years because it deals “with the almighty code” or the “sacred Ritual” is ridiculous. It is an outdated scheme to affect needed change and to keep up – I mean CATCH UP – with what changes we must make to save this Order. There have been plenty of suggestions and presented legislation to modernize and to move forward to grow this Order, but it gets killed primarily because of the delaying mechanism utilized to present items for a vote. Why this self-imposed “laying over of bills”? Why not an immediate, same session approval or disapproval? These methods of delaying allow prejudicial influences to kill important legislation and rarely works in favor of passing any changes.
The recent dues increase, which every member has a right to speak against or in favor, as it personally affects our pocket books, is one of the worst votes by a misinformed group of representatives we have ever seen. If one reads the legislation, the dues increase is nothing but a punishment on the membership, for not growing the Order. It is also a steep increase to many members, a total of $10.00 for two years. Then, the Rebekahs were included in this retaliatory measure as well, as they must pay $10.00 over a two-year period, too! Furthermore, no Rebekahs were given an opportunity to come to the mic and speak on the matter. They probably didn’t even know that it was on for a vote. But, their dues were arbitrarily increased as well. If a member belongs to both the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, which many do, that equates to a $20.00 increase. For our members who are retired or on limited incomes or those simply having a tough time financially, this can be a burden. The fact that the Finance Committee for the SGL could not respond to what the money would be used for, when called upon during the discussion of the increase, should have been a red-flag to anyone and everyone in the room. The fact that SGL did not need the money, as is evident in the bill, should have been a red-flag. So, what happens to the money? Who does it go to? How is it going to be spent? We can’t believe most of the reps voted on something without knowing where the money was going or where it was going to be used. Well, perhaps given the method in which legislation is discussed behind closed doors, presented in a slight of hand manner, and then passed without adequate discussion, we can believe it.
Brothers and sisters, we must open our eyes and be aware of what is going on around us. We must be more progressive in our thoughts and ideas to save this wonderful Order. Some of us have been working for the Order for a very long time. We want to see it go on for another 200 years. If we are not more attentive to bad legislation, backroom dealings, and fiscal irresponsibility this Order may not survive.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Peter Sellars and Rick Boyles