Non-Discrimination for All…
Recently, due to a misunderstanding that grew into a sequence of unfortunate events, our order was compelled to adopt a non-discrimination policy. This was a good move and a crucial step in becoming part of modern society. No one in their right mind should seriously believe discriminatory views of any type are permissible. Whatever one’s political or personal beliefs, we as an order have chosen to banish discrimination from our lodges and public venues, and must expect the same from those who chose to represent us. No one among us are perfect. None of us should discriminate against anyone else, nor should we find ourselves the subject of discrimination. This, of course, is the implied meaning of a non-discrimination statement. Some of us seem to think that the idea of non-discrimination is merely symbolic, a token response to a series of unfortunate events. Hardly. If anything, prejudice, sexism, hatred of any variety is anathema to today’s world and must be expunged from our thoughts and deeds.
Of course, all of us have heard discriminatory statements many times, and from many members, but just because some poor souls are still harboring hatred in a world that claims to be about friendship, love and truth, because they secretly believe their race, sex, religious beliefs are somehow superior to anyone else’s is so ludicrous and has become so incongruous that it calls into question the sanity of the person bearing such hatred. In truth, many of us grew up in an era when hatred, or suspicion of another culture or physical stature was somehow accepted behavior. For years I personally received racist cartoons sent thru Facebook by one misguided long-term member who thought it was fine to laugh at others while being unable to see the absurdity of his own point of view. If we can’t succeed in letting go of our hatred, prejudicial statements, slurs, stupid off-hand comments, and other random behaviors that are the products of unthinking moments may in fact doom our order forever. We should look around us. Many orders, cultures, and even countries have been decimated by stupid or inane statements and subsequent decisions. It is truly time to stop it. Personally, I have decided to try and gently remind anyone who tries to imply their white Anglo-Saxon attitude is the only one permissible the patent absurdity of this belief. I am not perfect. I am trying to battle my own demons within and attempting to banish hatred and ill-feeling towards anyone. This should be a prime endeavor for all of us. When we talk about friendship, love, and truth, that should mean for all those we encounter, not just some splinter of the whole spectrum.
Our order, like almost all fraternal groups, has a history of what one might call, congenial discrimination, in other words, a discrimination that mirrored societal precepts at the same place in time. Women were not allowed in the Odd Fellows until the turn of this century. In the 1800’s, almost all members were white Anglo-Saxon Christian men. Many would defend this by stating that society at large at that time shared the same prejudicial bent. But, of course, that is true only from our own vantage point, since even at that time, other cultures, races, sexual orientations existed as well, but were banned from our lodges. Clearly, times have changed. No person who enters our environs should be subject to derision, no religion, no sexual orientation, no race, no physical disability, no political belief. If we continue to say things publicly that deride any personality trait, belief, sexual orientation, disability, or race, we endanger our own right to co-exist with society at large. Clearly, we have made progress, but there are still miles to go before we can be equal to our own idealistic precepts. Lastly, while I applaud the idea of a non-discrimination statement, the act of non-discrimination itself should be ingrained upon our very hearts and minds. We should not have to refer to a piece of paper to know what is proper human behavior.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth,
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Several years ago I had a discussion with a long-time, respected member of our fraternal Order. The subject was the decline in membership and the concomitant collapse of Lodges. I suggested that change in our approach was necessary to save this Order. He contended that we must stay the course and that change was not welcomed. He was against any change to the ritual or the way we do business. I responded that this Order would surely die unless we modernize, become relevant to 21st Century men and women, and change our ways. Ultimately, he said the words that I found truly remarkable at the time, and which have stayed with me to this day. He said: “I would rather this Order die, than change.”
And even today I talk to members who seem to equate any change as sacrilege. These anti-change members are wrong at two levels.
First, a more modern approach to Odd Fellowship works. I have proven it. In this regard, I have used my own Lodge – Davis #169 – as a sort of “laboratory” of change in Odd Fellowship. In the past 10 years my Lodge has grown from less than 30 members to close to 300. We have 23 current applicants for membership. Because of our visibility in the community, we no longer “recruit” new members. Potential members contact us expressing an interest in joining the Lodge. I imagine this is what Odd Fellowship was like in its heyday in the late 19th Century. For the past decade, my Lodge has experienced a net gain in members year after year. We have 55 committees covering a wide range of endeavors, aligned with the interest of members. Some of the committees are active in the community, providing support at many levels. Other committees are all about fraternal interaction and social fun for the members. Our Lodge Hall is busy about 20 days every month with some meeting or activity or event. We have done all this by re-focusing our Lodge. Yes, we hold meetings and follow the ritual of the Order like every other Lodge. But if we did only that, we would be a one-dimensional Lodge. We also provide two other dimensions: Our members (and applicants) reach out into the community and are very visible doing good community works. And we plan a plethora of fun activities for our members, family and applicants for membership. This is the viable future for Odd Fellowship. Lodges that are three-dimensional Lodges have adjusted to the 21st Century – they will flourish.
Second, “change” is the one constant in the history of Odd Fellowship. It is part-and-parcel of the Odd Fellows experience, and we have seen it from the very beginnings of our Order. Originally, Odd Fellowship in England was little more than a gathering of men in pubs, drinking, eating, and telling tales. It was all about having a good time in fellowship. But the organization morphed. It became a “beneficial society” which tried to render aid to every brother who applied, through sickness, distress or otherwise. When Thomas Wildey originated Odd Fellowship in the United States, its main objects were to “relieve the brethren, bury the dead, and care for the widow and orphan”. And then, a huge change occurred. Brother Wildey and the American Lodges simply broke away from the English Lodges and went their own “independent” way. In time, however, the Order changed again. Initially, Wildey was all about the social and physical needs of the brothers and their family members. But over the years, the Order became much more “moral and spiritual” and the teachings evolved to emphasize the “elevation of the character of man.” Notwithstanding this noble purpose, the old books and records of the Order revealed that there were times in our history when Odd Fellowship was absolutely denied to women, people with certain disabilities, men with chronic diseases, “an infirmity which may prevent a man’s gaining a livelihood”, and people of color. Thankfully, that has all changed, but it took many years – in fact, women were only admitted into Odd Fellows Lodges in 1999-2000. There was a time when members had to memorize the ritual or they were not able to advance; such memorization requirements eventually went the way of the horse and buggy. At one time, just three black cubes could exclude any candidate from admission. That has changed – now only a majority vote can exclude a candidate from membership. I could go on and on, but the point is that “change” is a hallmark of the Odd Fellows experience and history.
As we approach the Bi-Centennial of Odd Fellowship in North America, we must come to the realization that we are in the 21st Century and the next evolution of our Order is necessary and inevitable. We must become relevant to men and women of this 21st Century. Those who battle the inevitable will surely falter (the trail of failing and closed Lodges proves the point). Those who embrace the change, will survive and flourish, and will ensure that our great Order can continue beyond our lifetimes into the future of our children and grandchildren.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
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