Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
As you know, I reflect from time to time, on the future of Odd Fellowship. And each time that I venture into that zone of reflection I am led, inescapably, to the same conclusion: Some of the older, long-time members of this Order do everything in their power to maintain the status quo, and to keep out younger members (from the Millennial Generation and Generation X) who might wish to join.
Yes, I know, that’s a harsh statement. But it is the reality of our Order today. Here is why I say this.
I have attended meetings in some Lodges that I can only describe as stultifying. The meetings have no new business, no committee reports of activities. Half the meeting is taken up with “reports of members sick and in distress” and the painstaking reading, verbatim, of all correspondence and the minutes of the last session. Imagine the new member (perhaps in his or her 20’s or 30’s) , who has just been initiated into the Lodge, coming to his or her first meeting and experiencing only this. Now, it’s perfectly appropriate to report on members who are sick and in distress – that is fraternal – but brief updates are acceptable; lengthy, detailed medical reports are not. Boredom is the surest way to keep young members from joining our Order, and to quickly lose them once they join.
And negativity at meetings is the surest turn-off to new members. Negativity can take two forms. One form of negativity is the sniping, arguments, criticisms and put-downs we hear at some meetings when members disagree with one another. It is perfectly acceptable to disagree, but it is not acceptable to be disagreeable. This sort of conduct makes folks uncomfortable and they will surely find the exit doors if this persists and is not immediately stopped in its tracks. The other form of negativity is the shut down of ideas proposed by new members. When we hear the long-time members say “we tried that before – and it doesn’t work”, or “we can’t do that”, or even “that’s a really stupid idea” – what we are really saying to new members is, “we know what is best for our Lodge – just sit back and be quiet.” Once again, new members who propose new ideas will find the exits if that is what they face at meetings. Far better to listen to the proposals, and to try to encourage them. Just because the Lodge has tried a garage sale 10 years ago that didn’t work out to everyone’s satisfaction, does not mean that the Lodge can’t try it again with new ideas, new energy and new blood.
It is apparent that the new generations are computer-savvy, and social media is a way of life for them. Lodges where there is no presence on Facebook, where members don’t use email to communicate, where events are not advertised on social media, where some members refuse to touch a computer or an iPhone, and where minutes and newsletters are only produced on paper, send a message to new members that the Lodge has never progressed beyond the thinking of the 1940’s-1950’s.
And another thing is the display of pride in Odd Fellowship. How clean is the Lodge Hall? What is the condition of the restrooms and the kitchen? Does it smell old and musty? Is the paint fresh and clean? Is the IOOF sign in good repair? Do the members wear shirts with Odd Fellows’ logos? If the Lodge displays an image of faded glory, it can hardly be expected to attract interest from potential younger members.
But, you say, there are older members who work very hard to support Theta Rho and Junior Odd Fellows, professing that these young men and women “are the future of Odd Fellowship.” Well, their enthusiasm is commendable, and it’s wonderful that we can engage and encourage these teenagers. But the idea that six teenage boys or eight teenage girls will fill the ranks of our membership, and are going to save this Order is a chimera. Far better that we expend our energy to bring young men and women from the Millennial Generation, or Generation X, into our Lodges.
And as I start packing for my annual journey to the Grand Lodge Session which begins in just a few days, I am struck by the fact that even our sessions are structured against younger men and women. Our sessions in California – and many sessions around North America – start on a Wednesday and continue through Saturday night – four full days. In fact, some representatives arrive on Tuesday (for various meetings and training) and depart on Sunday (for more meetings) – so more like six days. Young men and women who work for a living, or have small children, simply cannot afford to attend four, five, or six day sessions. The Grand Lodge Sessions (and Rebekah Assemblies) are structured to accommodate retired folks, not younger members.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California