Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Odd Fellows and Odd Fellows Lodges in North America go back to the Nineteenth Century. We certainly lived in a different world and a different society in that century. There were no cars, or airplanes, or radio, or television, or computers, or social media. In the 1800’s fraternal orders like the Odd Fellows were a growing – in fact, booming – phenomenon. Everyone who was anyone wanted to be a member of the Odd Fellows, or Masons, or Knights of Pythias, or Moose, or Foresters, or Hibernians, or a pantheon of other fraternities. Odd Fellowship was growing by dramatic leaps and expanding across North America, to every state and province. There were thousands of Lodges with hundreds of thousands of members.
We live in quite a different time now in the 21st Century. So, is Odd Fellowship still relevant to the men and women of this new century?
I believe that it is.
How can I say this when there are Lodges that are are consolidating or giving up their charters year after year? How can I say this when there are Lodges and jurisdictions that are losing members? I base my belief on the fact that in spite of the declines, there are Lodges around the United States and Canada that are growing and expanding, and have been for years. I understand that most of our Lodges are declining in membership, and that is a sad state of affairs. But the fact that some Lodges are burgeoning says to me that Odd Fellowship remains relevant and vibrant if we can only collect and bottle the ingredients that make for success in those growing Lodges. Those bottle of ingredients must be made available to all Lodges.
So, what are the ingredients of success in the 21st Century?
I’ve studied this issue for the past decade, and I have come to the conclusion that there are five vital ingredients to the successful Lodge.
Leadership. One cannot escape the truth that every successful Lodge, ultimately, has at least one dynamic leader who has shaped the culture of that Lodge. To thrive, a Lodge needs direction, organization, and follow-through. Only strong leadership can provide that. And as important as leadership is to a Lodge, equally important is the need for that Lodge leader to develop the next generation of leadership. Without passing the torch to that next generation, all good plans and intentions will inevitably come to an end.
Friendship, Love and Truth. There are many things in Odd Fellowship that are a throwback to another age and simply do not resonate in the 21st Century. For example, the admonition to “educate the orphan” is ingrained in our psyche, but has little relevance in this Century. The same is true with “bury the dead” – while this was a primal responsibility of Lodges in the 1800’s, there are few Odd Fellows Cemeteries in existence today, and the funding of burials by Lodges is a rarity. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the one thing that continues to shine through the decades and centuries is the concept of “Friendship, Love and Truth.” If Lodge members truly put these words into practice, the Lodge experience will be dramatically enhanced.
Community Involvement. There was a time in the history of our Order that the fraternal experience encompassed attendance at closed, secret, ritual meetings. The quest was to memorize the ritual, and conduct the perfect by-the-book meeting. (Of course, memorizing the ritual was a necessity for most Lodges during a time when many members could not read.) In the 21st Century, new members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s (the future of this Order) disdain a fraternity that does little more than sit in a closed room reading in rote from a little red book. Folks in this new Century are interested in reaching out into the community and trying to do good works. And every community has needs, ranging from the environment to homelessness and everything in between. Doing good works in the community can be a huge draw for new members and can enhance the fraternal experience for all members.
Social Activities. Simply put: it’s important to just have fun. When Odd Fellowship originated in the pubs of England, much of the fraternal experience involved having a good meal, enjoying a libation, and having some quality social time. Somehow, many Lodges have lost that. There is nothing wrong with polling the membership to determine what good fellowship activities they wish to have during their Lodge experience. Such social events can run a wide gamut, depending on the community – and what is right for Lodge X may not work for Lodge Z. But if a Lodge fails to provide a fun social environment for members, it is leaving out an important component of fraternal life. It is also ignoring the desires of new and younger members.
Dress for Success. It is unlikely that a Lodge will attract a new generation of applicants in the 2020’s when the Lodge members are pictured in the attire of the 1920’s. How many potential members in their 20’s and 30’s and 40’s will be interested in joining a fraternal order where the septuagenarian women are cloaked in long white dresses and the octogenarian men are wearing tuxedos and cummerbunds? When many offices (including government offices) allow employees to wear jeans and sweatshirts, it makes little sense to require a formality of dress in the Lodge Hall that makes folks uncomfortable. I still remember the days when female Lodge members were castigated for wearing slacks or dresses that didn’t go mid-calf, and male Lodge members were criticized for wearing jeans. We are a fraternal order, not the fashion police.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California