Odd Fellows has an image issue that can be easily addressed. We seem to be confused about the difference between secrecy in an Odd Fellows lodge meeting versus secrecy at large. We treat our order as if it is not supposed to exist; and, in fact, I have seen the public refer to us as a cult. Then, when there is an issue within our order that goes public, the public becomes confused as well, and tends to view our order in a negative light.
100 years ago, this confusion did not exist. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was one of the largest fraternal entities in America. Now, it is a shadow of its former self, and because of that, the public at large is left wondering about not only our right to exist but even confusion about who or what we are. In this age of instantaneous news, smartphones and ever increasing technological advances, we are quickly making ourselves not only obsolete but in fact open to speculation about our very right to carry on in such a secluded setting. One positive way to defend our order is to address negative publicity with positive publicity, but our normal inclination as an order is to say nothing, which is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Obviously, in the years and decades before us, technology will evolve rapidly, and what we prefer to hold secret should evolve accordingly. As it says in our guidebooks, when the lodge door closes all lodge functions will be held sacrosanct, but the premise that what we say or do has no outside ramifications, is not only a quaint idea but is also becoming increasingly dangerous. The public perception of a lodge is simply that of a cold exterior; having no idea whether the lodge contains members considered for sainthood, or staffed with convicted felons perpetuating an agenda of fear.
As mentioned, our installation ritual talks about the secrecy within a lodge and this is important for lodge sovereignty; however, it is not an undesirable thing to advertise our lodge to the public. For this simple reason, anything that announces our presence in a positive light serves a purpose. As many have noted, the order tends to maintain buildings in the center of downtowns, and yet, we are hidden in plain sight. Even more, we are mainly a group of elderly Anglo-Saxons whom are slow or unwilling to accept diversification, which adds to the public’s negative view of our order. Conversely, where we are at our strongest, we practice diversification, and are more open publicly. At successful lodges, the growth of the lodge is contingent upon its ability to portray a positive public image, the portrait of the lodge as painted by its many happy members, multiplying exponentially, so much so that growth becomes almost a non-issue, new members added to the mix without concentrated effort or distress. On the other hand, unsuccessful lodges, led by often disruptive, or disgruntled long-term members bent upon the persecution of their own members bullying to protect their own self-interests, or built-in prejudices, can easily fail just by merely continuing their fractured path. By simple examination of the differences between a successful and an unsuccessful lodge, we can see how we might consider the right way to progress into the future.
That begs the question what can we do if our own Odd Fellows lodge is failing, and can’t connect publicly in any substantial way? Simply put, we must alter our image. While it’s an admirable trait to talk about friendship, love, and truth, if we want new members, we need to project this publicly. This may seem difficult, but each lodge can do something to increase its own lodge visibility. Local newspapers often provide free or low-cost ways to advertise local events which we might try participating in. We must try to entice the world by emulating the world, an art exhibit, hosting a speech by a local figure, having committees that are open to new and exciting things, or other public displays that can add interest; some lodges have experienced growth by hosting charitable events or historical discussions. There is a myriad of things an Odd Fellows lodge can do, so that raises the question, why do so many lodges fail? In principal, most lodges fail, because they have either lost all public persona or they have become punitive with their own few remaining members. This can accentuate into a public perception of a practiced and closed atmosphere of fear, prejudice, or even public hatred if we are not careful. We must not be afraid of the public, we need to embrace them and show them our love and then perhaps we will lucky enough to be the recipient of theirs.
In F., L., & T., Rick Boyles
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Odd Fellowship in California had a very good year in 2016. The California Odd Fellows had a net GAIN in membership last year, not a net loss, which finally bucked the trend of steady net losses year after year for decades. The net gain was small, but welcomed. We may finally have seen the nadir of the net loss trajectory. And that’s a very good thing for our Order. I am particularly pleased that the year of growth – 2016 – occurred in the year that Peter Sellars and I served as Grand Masters. We are both original members of Dedicated Members for Change, and we both focused on membership.
We once had over 500 Odd Fellow Lodges in California. We now have 116. Regrettably, some of those 116 Lodges will not be in existence in 10 years. The membership of those expiring Lodges is sleepwalking, and have been somnolent for years. They have failed to add new members, and the existing members are growing older. It’s just a matter of time before they lose a quorum and will either give up their charters or consolidate with another Lodge.
On a more positive vein, there are Odd Fellow Lodges in this jurisdiction that are awake – they “get it” and they are growing. These are Lodges with members who understand that an Odd Fellows Lodge must do more than just meet once or twice a month. To survive in the 21st Century, Odd Fellows must reach out into the community to do good works, and must organize enjoyable events for the members, their families and potential members. You can’t just sit around within the four walls of the Lodge reciting ritual and expect to flourish. In this regard, I am often asked – particularly by newer members of the Order – how to start the process of growing their Lodges. And it occurred to me that it would be useful to share that information more broadly. So, based on my own experiences in my own Lodge, and my observations of a few other successful Lodges, here is a “primer” on how to start growing your Lodge:
1. First and foremost, you have to work to change the culture of the Lodge. You have to move from an Odd Fellows Lodge that does little more than hold meetings, to become a Lodge that is involved in the community and that plans enjoyable social events for the members. The way to start this process is to have a meeting or two dedicated to setting goals. Talk it through and resolve to set three to five goals for the coming year. These goals should be in the nature of projects for the Lodge. There is hardly any limit to the projects you can consider: Lodge repainting, downtown clean-up, adopt a highway, form a hiking committee, organize a spaghetti feed with a community beneficiary, plan a trivia night at the Lodge, etc.
2. It is important that the Lodge members be ready to say “yes”, rather than “no”. Don’t let one or two members, or even a small group of naysayers, hold you back. The majority must rule. It is very important that your Lodge of brothers and sisters be welcoming, positive and supportive of suggestions and new ideas. The fastest way to discourage a new member is to shut down that member’s suggestions.
3. Try to establish some committees, and give them some authority, some direction (and a budget if necessary), and then give them the reins to carry on – reporting progress back to the Lodge.
4. Be inviting to husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends. Odd Fellows Lodges opened to women members in 1999 – it is incredibly short-sighted for any Lodge in the 21st Century to still be an all-male Lodge. Why should we turn our backs on 50% of the population?
5. Think outside the box. Just because it hasn’t been done in the past, doesn’t mean that it’s not a good idea today. Be willing to try new things. Years ago, at my suggestion, my Lodge started having a second Saturday breakfast social meeting. No other Lodge in California did this at the time. It became incredibly popular and continues to this day, with great success and remarkable attendance. This is just one example of thinking outside the box.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Davis Odd Fellows Lodge #169
Grand Master Installation Message — May 20, 2017
Sometimes dealing with lodges and hearing their conflicts reminds of traffic court. Years ago, I presided over Traffic Court. You hear the wildest stories in Traffic Court. Let me tell you one.
A female business executive was pulled over for speeding. 65 in a 40 mph zone. The officer approaches her and asks for her license. She tells him that her license was revoked two years ago for drunk driving. The officer asks her for her registration. She says “I stole the car and killed the driver. He’s in the trunk”.
The officer backed off and told her not to move and called for backup. Several other officers arrive and a lieutenant approaches her. He says “Ma’am, can I see your license?” She says “Of course. It’s in my purse” and she pulls it out.
The officer says “Can I see your registration?” She says “It’s in the glove compartment.” The officer looks and pulls the registration out of the glove compartment.
The lieutenant says “Stand back” and goes back to the trunk and bangs it open and flinches. It’s empty. The officer stands back and looks at the officer who pulled her over and says “I don’t understand?”
The woman points at the first cop and says: “That liar probably told you I was speeding too!”
I want to tell you a little about my vision and my goals. First, I recognize that some of our lodges have problems that cannot be solved in one year. I believe that any solution to their problems must come from within their lodges. I can help. Grand Lodge can help. We can make suggestions. We can offer assistance. But struggling lodges must be willing seek out help. They must be willing to accept help. That probably means they must be willing to change.
Second, I hope to inspire and challenge lodges to continue to do more and to do better.
Third, I hope that by the end of the year that I still have some hair and that I still have more hair than Dave Rosenberg.
I have chosen a motto and watchwords and symbols that reflect my vision. When I see things or read things, I think about how they may apply to the Odd Fellows either directly or symbolically.
I believe Odd Fellows and Rebekahs are fundamentally good people. But I think sometimes we get distracted from what we should be.
The motto I have chosen is “All Rise!” Every morning when I enter my courtroom, my bailiff says “All Rise”. Those words demand that everyone in the courtroom come to attention. Those words create order amidst chaos.
There are specialty court programs for drug addicts and homeless people and mental health patients and veterans. For these people, “All Rise” has even greater meaning. These court programs provide hope and support for those who may have been considered hopeless. When these people rise about their challenges, we, society, ALL RISE. When a cycle of dysfunctional behavior is broken, we ALL RISE. In that context, ALL RISE is a challenge to summon our collective strength. A challenge to help lighten the load on the shoulders of those who cannot carry it alone. That sounds like Odd Fellow territory to me.
For my term as Grand Master, I challenge us to ALL RISE. When one of us does something good for another member or for our community, we ALL RISE. Our lodges rise and the Order rises.
When our lodges do something good for our members or our community, we ALL RISE. When we give our brothers and sisters support and encouragement to try new and different things to help our members or our community, we ALL RISE.
The more we rise, the stronger we get. The more we offer our members, the stronger we get. The more we give to our communities, the stronger we get. We ALL RISE. Think of our bundle of sticks symbol. We are stronger as a group than as individuals.
There used to be a comic strip called Pogo. How many of you remember Pogo? One line from Pogo has become timeless. That line is “We have met the enemy and he is us”. Think about it. “We have met the enemy and he is us”. In the lodges that have few members, we have let ourselves become the enemy. In the lodges trying to grow with conflicts between old members and new members, we have let ourselves be the enemy. Those lodges can and must ALL RISE to survive.
One of my emblems are the Eyes of Wisdom. I chose the Eyes of Wisdom to symbolize three things. First, we should be looking out for our brothers and sisters. Help them when in need. Treat each other with respect and kindness.
Second, we should look out for our community. We should use our group resources and energy to help our communities.
And finally, we should look at ourselves. Who are we? Who do we want to be? What are we willing to do to help our brothers and sisters or our lodge or our community? How can we do better?
That leads me to one of my watch phrases: Actions speak louder than words. Quite frankly, there’s too much talking and not enough doing in our Order. The Odd Fellows did not become leaders in their community by talking about good things or by talking about how good they are because they believe in Friendship, Love and Truth. We became leaders by doing. Pursuing those goals is our journey. It is our journey that gives meaning. It is the journey that helps our brothers and sisters and lodges. It is the journey that builds that bundle of sticks. It is the journey that enables us to ALL RISE. If our words are not coupled with action, there is no progress on our journey.
My other watch phrase is “Do it”. “Do It” is intended to have an exclamation point. This watch phrase adds emphasis to “Actions speak louder than words”. “Do It!” is a challenge to all of us. We do something (other than talk). We do something together. We work together. We make goals together. We are willing to do things that may be new and different if our brothers or sisters want to try it. We let our brothers and sisters lead our lodges doing new and different things. We never, never say “we’ve never done that before, so we can’t do that”. If you don’t want to participate in an activity, that is fine. But don’t obstruct it because you don’t want to do it. Let them run with it.
There is no “me” in Odd Fellowship. Odd Fellowship is not about “me”. Odd Fellowship is about “us”. A friend once told me that “You can accomplish a lot if everyone isn’t to trying get the credit”. Think about it. We ALL RISE! It is good when you rise or when I rise, but Odd Fellowship is not about you and me. It is about us. Us rising together.
My other emblem is the Lightning Bolt. The lightning bolt symbolizes action. Doing things that will engage your lodge. Doing things that your members want to try. Doing things will benefit your community. Doing things that will make your lodge an organization others will want to join. Doing things. Period. Do it!
A great man once said: “The future depends on what we do in the present”. What we do in the present. Think Actions. Think Do It! I challenge each lodge to do more!
My colors are orange and blue. Orange symbolizes sunrise and the promise of a new day. The opportunity to accomplish something, anything. Awakening with energy and inspiration with goals and plans. Blue symbolizes the clear blue sky and the endless possibilities of what we can accomplish together. Orange also symbolizes sunset. A time to reflect on what we have accomplished during the day. A time to think about what more we can do. What we can do better.
I also chose orange and blue because of Oskee-wow wow. Does anyone know what that is? It’s my secret.
One of my goals is find ways for our lodges and Grand Lodge to connect better. That need was clearly visible this week. One step towards that goal is the new Odd Event Library. This is a new page on the Grand Lodge website. To find it, click on the Odd Fellows Resources tab. The Odd Event Library is a source of information about activities and events that lodges have tried. My hope is that lodges that have tried different events will post details to share with other lodges. My hope is that lodges looking for ideas to try will looking at the Odd Event Library for ideas to try. The entries have brief details of events and a contact person if more information is needed. I hope that the Odd Event Library will be one small way for members and lodges to connect with Grand Lodge and with other lodges.
I chose With a Little Help From My Friends and Margaritaville as my songs. With a Little Help From My Friends has the chorus: I get by with a little help from my friends, I get high with a little help from my friends, I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends. For me, the beauty of Odd Fellowship is the friends I have gained and the things we have done together. The high you feel when you have accomplished something together.
Although I like margaritas and am practiced at making them, that’s not why I chose Margaritaville.
In Margaritaville, the chorus says: “Wasted away in Margaritaville/Searching for my lost shaker of salt/Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame/But I know it’s nobody’s fault.” The second chorus is the same but ends with: “It could be my fault.” The third chorus ends with: “It’s my own damn fault.” And it won’t be because there’s a woman to blame!
My point is this. Our Order has been struggling for a long time to stop the decline in membership. To stop the bleeding. We may have finally started to turn the corner. Our membership grew slightly last year. But we can do better. We can survive. And if we don’t, it is our own damn fault.
I have a pin that I am selling for $5. All proceeds from the sale will be shared with the Cave Degree Fund to help them replace the stairs and deck of the cave and with the Rebekahs Children’s Services Culinary Institute.
The Cave Degree is a wonderful annual event in Yreka where all four degrees are given to new and rising members. If you have never been to it, you should go sometime. During the second degree, you can look out the cave and see the full moon rising over Mt. Shasta. They are always looking for members to help with the degree teams. This year the Cave Degree will be held the first weekend in August.
Respect. Always. We must show more respect for each other. It OK to disagree with each other. But we must continue to remind ourselves and each other that we deserve to be treated with respect. And, we must strive to always treat our brothers and sisters with respect. Even if they do not show you respect. We should strive to rise above pettiness. If you are treated with disrespect, ask them: “Why must you treat me disrespectfully?”
I pledge to treat everyone with respect. You may not always agree with what I say or do. I do not claim to know everything. But I pledge to look for the answers to things I do not know. And treat you with respect.
Knowledge is learning something new every day. Wisdom is letting go of something every day. There will be times when we individually or we as a lodge or we as an Order must let go of things. Albert Einstein supposedly defined “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Does this sound familiar? We should move away from insanity, seek knowledge and show wisdom.
It has been said that “Everyone has the power for greatness, not fame but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.” We all have power for greatness.
There is a saying that “The best leaders of all, the people know not they exist. They turn to each other and say, “We did it ourselves.”” That would be the ultimate compliment for me to be here with you next year and hear about the good things that have happened and to hear it said “we did it ourselves”. Let’s ALL RISE together.
Thank you for allowing me to be your Grand Master.
Grand Master, Dave Reed
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
This article deals with one of those “sensitive subjects”. It is a difficult subject for a discussion because it deals with people’s faith and people’s beliefs. But it is a subject that goes to the very heart of Odd Fellowship. Further, it is a subject that doesn’t get any easier just because we choose to ignore it.
Of course, the subject is the parameters of “religion” in Odd Fellowship. To be perfectly blunt, we are, in this Order, quite inconsistent about the subject of religion. We say things that simply don’t jibe. For example, the Sovereign Grand Lodge website states that we, as an organization, are “non-sectarian”. The term “non-sectarian” is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “not affiliated with or restricted to a particular religious group.” Yet, on that same Sovereign Grand Lodge website, our organization is identified as being “founded in the inspired word of God as revealed to man in the Holy Bible”. These concepts are inherently inconsistent.
The issue came to the fore for me when one of our applicants for membership had great difficulty completing the application form which called for the applicant to assert that he or she believed in “a Supreme Being, the Creator and Preserver of the Universe.” This phrase caused the applicant some pause. It turns out that she is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church, a religion that does not require its adherents to necessarily believe in a Supreme Being, although many of them do. There are over 600,000 members of Unitarian Universalist churches in the United States and Canada, attending some 1,000 congregations. This hesitation of the applicant caused me to consider the ramifications of the requirement to believe in a Supreme Being. Certainly, many great religions believe in a Supreme Being, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. However, there are other great religions that do not share that belief. Hinduism, for example, is considered one of the oldest of the world’s religions and is currently the third largest religion on the planet. Yet this is a religion with many deities, not just one Supreme Being. There are over 1 billion adherents to Hinduism, including almost 3 million in the United States and Canada. Buddhism has over 500 million followers, including 4 million in the United States and Canada. Although Buddha is revered, he is not considered a deity or a Supreme Being. Buddhists are less concerned with what you believe, and more concerned with how you practice your belief.
But there is more. Our organization, which professes to be “non-sectarian,” requires a religious text to be maintained in all Lodge meetings and specifically mandates that the text be the Holy Bible. While Christian members of Odd Fellows are, obviously, comfortable with the Holy Bible, would they be as comfortable mandating that the Torah, or the Koran, or the Book of Mormon be maintained in the Lodge room, or reciting passages from the Torah, or the Koran, or the Book of Mormon? Yet, why do we ignore the reality that members of non-Christian faiths might be just as uncomfortable with the use of the Christian Bible? Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Let me give you one example of the inconsistency. Our Odd Fellows ritual includes the Lord’s Prayer, which is a prayer attributed to the teachings of Jesus, found in the New Testament. As such, it is a Christian prayer. I know Odd Fellows who are Jewish who are uncomfortable reciting it. And can you appreciate how members of other faiths might feel when a Christian prayer is recited? Put the shoe on the other foot. If you’re a Christian, how would you feel if the Lodge ritual called for the recitation of prayers from the Koran, or the Vedas, or the Tripitaka?
What is the effect of all this? Well, on a purely pedestrian level, this affects our efforts to grow our membership. It compels us to turn our backs on a significant percentage of our community who are good and moral people and who could be productive members of our Order. That’s just wrong, and short-sighted. Do you ever wonder why we have no Lodges in most countries of the world?
And look at your own Lodge. How many members do you have in your Lodge who are non-Christian? Let’s face it, we as a fraternal order are inconsistent with our professed desire “to improve and elevate the character of man” and “to promote good will and harmony amongst people and nations” when we effectively exclude much of the world’s population. Our Sovereign Grand Lodge website says that we Odd Fellows hold “the belief that all men and women regardless of race, nationality, religion, social status, gender, rank and station are brothers and sisters.” [Emphasis added.] Yet we are not honest (notwithstanding our references to “Truth” as one of our virtues) when we say these things on the one hand, but elevate one religion and set of beliefs over all others. We can only achieve true understanding between peoples when we accept all good and moral men and women, regardless of their religion or beliefs.
By this article, I do not profess to diminish any person’s religion or belief. That is not my intent. Rather, I wish to open our eyes in this Order so that we practice true and honest “toleration” of all beliefs.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
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 Marshal 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