DMC – -10th Anniversary

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

This month of December marks an Odd anniversary of sorts.

It was early in the month of December 2009 that Dedicated Members for Change (DMC) was born. So, in this month of December 2019, we recognize the 10th anniversary of DMC.

DMC was the “brainchild” of three dedicated Odd Fellows – Don Smith, Rick Boyles and me. Don Smith – who has passed on – was a legendary Odd Fellow. Not only did Don serve a distinguished term as Grand Master of California, he was one of the very few Odd Fellows from this state of California who achieved the office of Sovereign Grand Master. Amazingly, Don was elected Grand Master in his 20’s and Sovereign Grand Master in his 30’s. Don possessed an incredible storehouse of knowledge of all things related to our Order, and he was a prolific and able writer, having composed a number of books and treatises regarding Odd Fellowship. Don was everyone’s friend and brother, and was beloved by all who knew him. Rick Boyles was an up-and-comer in Odd Fellows in 2009. Rick was and is a humble man with a refined sense of humor. In 2009, he was serving as a Grand Lodge Officer and would soon be elected on a track to serve as Grand Master of California. He served as Grand Master with an emphasis in making sure we all “have fun” in our Odd Fellowship experience. Rick was and is a writer of some mark, and in his easy-going way continues to serve the Order to this very day, chairing the important “Three Links Camp Committee” which is in the process of proposing a plan for its future. I was a relative newcomer in 2009, having just joined the Order in 2004, but – in an effort to change the culture of my Lodge – I had already served four successive terms as Noble Grand of my Lodge and was serving as a District Deputy Grand Master at the time of DMC’s formation. I started using my own Lodge (Davis #169) as a kind of laboratory, showing what a Lodge could do to and must do to increase membership. And we did: increasing our membership from less than 30 in 2004 to over 300 today – clearly proving that Odd Fellowship is alive and well and relevant in the 21st Century. Like Don, I was a journalist by trade. Subsequently, I have written and published three books about the future of Odd Fellowship, have served as both Grand Master and Grand Patriarch of California, and currently serve as Chairman of the California Grand Lodge Board of Directors.

The three of us had one overriding concern about the Order in 2009, and we decided to do something about it. Our overriding concern was the steady decline in our fraternal membership – a decline virtually unchecked for over 50 years (more than two generations). We recognized that such a decline was absolutely unsustainable, and if not frankly recognized and honestly addressed, spelled the diminution and ultimate demise of an ancient and worthy fraternity. So, we formed DMC with three goals in mind: 1. Membership. 2. Membership. 3. Membership. We knew that the track we were on was fatal. We recognized that our Order had to evolve and change to attract new members from the current generations.

Many progressive and distinguished members of the Order immediately joined up with us, and our email list grew from a few dozen in California, to hundreds far beyond the borders of our state. Charter members of DMC included leaders and thinkers like Peter Sellars, John and Carol Fraher, Brian Riehl, Rod Metoyer, Dave Reed, Lea Rosenberg, and Donna Morrison, and many others.

But it was by no means easy. At first, we met resistance – we were mocked and criticized by folks who (I imagine) thought we were some sort of insidious cabal of change. I still recall the voice of a leading, but conservative member who told me, straight up, “I would rather Odd Fellows die, than change.” One Grand Master refused to recognize DMC and would not even let us have our meeting at the hotel where Grand Lodge sessions met. We had to meet in a Mexican restaurant several blocks away from the hotel. But we continued on with laser-like focus: Our goal was simple – recognize the problem of declining membership, start talking about it, and (most importantly) start implementing changes to increase membership. We recognized that at the same time that most Lodges were showing repetitive net losses of members, there were a few Lodges showing steady net gains of members. If we could just bottle the formula those growing Lodges had achieved, we could stem the drain of our membership. And that formula for success and growth was remarkably simple. We called it the three-legged stool: (1) recognition of the unique history and ritual of our Order; (2) emerge from the four-walls of our Lodge to engage in good community service; and (3) engage in some fun social activities with our Lodge brothers and sisters.

How times have changed. Now, the DMC Committee is a recognized committee of California’s Grand Lodge. Now, DMC hosts an evening event during Grand Lodge Sessions – last session well over 150 Odd Fellows and Rebekahs attended our evening dinner, listened to music and had a great time. Now, DMC publishes a weekly “DMC Newsletter” that is distributed via email to hundreds – and those hundreds pass it along to hundreds of others on their email lists. Most importantly, our Order now clearly recognizes the need to attack the declining-membership gremlin. We are starting to see Lodges stem the riptide of declines. And we are starting to see small net gains popping up here and there, rather than net losses.

Of course, we have a ways to go. But for now, we can recognize that DMC is a positive force in the evolution of Odd Fellowship.

Happy anniversary, Dedicated Members for Change.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

DMC – Living in Interesting Times

As male members of the Odd Fellows, we take a lot of things for granted, and are sometimes, frankly, unaware of the impact of the words used in the Lodge Hall on members of other genders.

I recently received an email from an Odd Fellow who is not male, who said the following: “Having been initiated into the world where people only exist as members of the male gender, how does one find gender equality? In the case of current Odd Fellowship, the Ritual demands that all players (male and female) play only male roles from the Old Testament. It’s interesting enough to participate, but as a member of the audience, I get uneasy, even with all the dialogue about having a good character.” The member concludes as follows: “The source of all the problems (and solutions) will be found with the Ritual. We live in interesting times.”

Indeed, male members of the Order may not have focused on this, but the Ritual of an Odd Fellows Lodge is heavily male oriented. The characters and players in the Degrees are all male. That might be perfectly dandy if you are a man, but put yourself in the shoes of a woman member of the Odd Fellows Lodge – how uncomfortable is that? The stories of friendship, brotherly love, and truth are all male-oriented. (Sure, some may say that in the Rebekah Degree, the focus is on women. But in reality, that focus is very diffused. Again, even in the Rebekah Degree the male characters dominate. And what of Rebekah, herself? It’s a story of a young woman who kindly provides water to a traveler and his camels. And then, when the traveler, a servant, tells Rebekah that he wants her to accompany him back to a far-away city to wed the son of his master – a person she does not know and has never met – she humbly and dutifully follows him. What message does that convey to women in the 21st Century?)

But let’s take a moment and go beyond the male and female genders. How does Odd Fellowship treat persons who have a different orientation? This is an absolutely valid question as we enter the third century of our Order. Today’s DMC Newsletter article is written by a relatively new and young member of Mountain View Lodge #244, in California. I commend it for your review – it definitely provides food for thought.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Pasts Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

The Queer Generation

Arike van de Water

27 October 2019

My father hates neckties. He only ever wore one to his own wedding. To him, they are part and parcel of the traditional masculinity his father exuded and he rejected. To me, they are a favoured tool in my wardrobe, helping me elbow open the full breadth of masculinity and femininity I wish to perform as I go about my business. I am working on the trinity knot, which seems to me to be eminently suited for wearing at Odd Fellow get-togethers, such as the membership education seminar in 2020.

How do we reach the young people? is a question my Dutch church asked, when it was three-quarters silver-haired. I now see it on the agenda for the seminar, how do we reach the 20- and 30-year-olds? That Dutch church found its answer in a combination of re-inventing tradition, doing ministry in community and connecting with the local neighbourhood. I do not know what the answer will be for you, for us, but perhaps I can give you a piece of the puzzle by explaining one reason that helped me join the Mountain View Lodge #244.

I want to help people. I like to be at ease when I do. I can spend all my energy on helping, that way. I could not be, where I served before. When I helped organise a course on evangelism, this spring, I felt I had to censor my clothes, my words, my opinions and even filter my small talk for the topics I discussed. I was welcome, because I passed for a sufficiently normal woman, but I was too conscious that persons of other genders felt they could not enter a church at all. And that as a woman there was a limit to what I could do, without being censured.

Since I had had the ability to serve as elder or deacon since my confirmation at seventeen, such limits felt unnatural at the age of 31. I started looking for places where I could be fully myself as I served. I knew Mountain View Lodge #244 were at least allies, since they hosted the Oddizens.

This fall I have gone to meetings in dress and suit and tie. I have not had to filter myself in talking to other people. I have met other queer people. I have met people of various religions and backgrounds, with a wide variety of beliefs and opinions. I have not had to question if I was welcome.

So if you are wondering how to make members out of Millenials, the part of the answer I can offer is: welcome the queer who do not feel at home in their church or mosque or temple and who are looking for a place to do some good in the world. I hope that will be taken under consideration when we meet for the seminar in the new year.

Off Fellows in 10 Years – Part 3

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

This is the third of a series of three articles looking at Odd Fellowship 10 years in the future – in 2029. Let me start this tale with a story:

A young man visited his doctor and told the doctor, “What’s wrong with me? Everywhere I touch, it hurts.” The doctor said, “Show me what you mean.” So the young man touched his knee lightly with his finger and said “ouch”. Then he touched his shoulder and said “ouch”. Then he touched his chest and said “ouch”. The young man looked at the doctor and asked, “Doc, what’s wrong with me?” “Well,” said the doctor, “your finger is broken.”

This little story reminds us that sometimes the obvious answer to a question is overlooked, but is usually the right answer. What was true for the young man in the doctor’s office is true for Odd Fellowship. Obviously, the greatest challenge facing our Order is our diminishing membership – for decades now we have lost more members than we have gained, virtually year after year. Losing more members than we gain is unsustainable. The system is broken. We know that growth of membership doesn’t happen at the Sovereign level, and it doesn’t occur at the Grand Lodge level. If there will be growth, it has to happen at the Lodge level.

So, what’s the obvious solution to the obvious challenge? I entitle this article: “The Lodge – Glum or Glad.”

The primal question for Odd Fellowship is: How do we increase membership in our Order? And, to me, the answer is obvious. We need only look around at our Lodges. Because while the great majority Lodges experience net losses in membership, there are a few Lodges that are not only experiencing net gains in membership, they do so year after year. After all, Odd Fellows Lodges are each little laboratories of membership. If a Lodge is gaining members, we should analyze what’s working. If we can bottle that formula, we can replicate it in other Lodges.

In my experience, there are two types of Lodges. Some are what I call “glad” Lodges; and some are “glum” Lodges. In the glum lodge, members do very little other than come to a meeting, sit in a room in a certain order of seats, go through a set agenda, read passages from a ritual book, and adjourn to the next meeting. Typically, the meeting format envisions reading the minutes of the last meeting verbatim, paying for a utility or repair bill or two, spending a lot of time talking about members who are sick or in distress, and having little or no committee reports, old business or new business. It’s an exercise in tedium and boredom. There is nothing here to attract the next generation of members. On the other hand, in the glad Lodge, the meetings are full of reports of committees planning events, are interesting and informative – but the meetings don’t drive the Lodge. What drives the Lodge is good fellowship – the members plan and execute community events and social events for the members. The Lodge is visible in the community and offers new and long-time members interesting options to supplement their Lodge experience. These events can be as simple as organizing a community blood drive, or organizing a Thanksgiving potluck dinner for members and friends, or planning a Lodge visit to a local winery, or collecting food for a local food bank, or having a poker night at the Lodge Hall. The events can be as varied as the community and the Lodge. The building of such a glad fellowship is attractive to the younger and potential new members that our Order needs to sustain it.

And the answer to a successful future is as obvious as the fingers on our hands.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

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

Lodge 49- A Show about Friendship, Love and Truth

This month, the second season of Lodge 49 wrapped up with a stunning finale. This show on AMC follows Sean “Dud” Dudley as he navigates the world of a fraternal order known as The Order of the Lynx. Dud is a burn-out surfer, an unemployed pool boy and is generally without purpose or meaning. He spends his days talking to his friends at the local donut shop in Long Beach, trying to figure out what life is about. Until one day when his car breaks down in front of a struggling Lynx Lodge. Dud pledges and is initiated into the order and then he begins to experience his life anew through the signs and wonders of the Lodge.

I began watching this show right around the same time I started pledging with the Odd Fellows. I laughed with recognition of what it felt like to join a lodge. The characters were familiar. As Dud began to learn the secrets of the Order of the Lynx, I too began to learn the secrets of the Odd Fellows. While the Lynx Lodge is a made-up order, loosely based on the Rosicrucians and the Knights of Pythias, there was a lot of it that is familiar. The Lynxes have a social space where folks get together to play games and drink beer. They have philanthropic work in the community. And the members legitimately love each other. With a few different symbols, rituals and titles, this show could easily be about an Odd Fellows lodge. Even with all the quests for hidden scrolls and alchemical rituals, the heart of the show is found in the teachings of the Odd Fellows: Friendship, Love and Truth.

By the end of the second season, the characters of the Lodge and Long Beach have begun to find their way. Their meaning and purpose have developed to put each person on a path. And there is still a bit of mystery and wonder involved. While AMC has not picked up a third season of the show yet, I hope they do. It is great to see fraternal orders and secret societies so accurately and sympathetically depicted on TV. I wonder what new mysteries will arise and how the teachings of the Lynx Lodge 49 will help us understand them. Most importantly, I look forward to finding out what happens to Dud and his lodgemates.

Lodge 49 is available for streaming on the AMC website, hulu and other services online.

Alex Haider-Winnett

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