Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The year 2019 is a momentous year in the history of Odd Fellowship. Our fraternal order celebrates its 200th anniversary in North America. Truly an incredible achievement. But, can the Odd Fellows sustain our Order for another 200 years?
Odd Fellowship once had a million members in the United States. Now, the membership numbers in the tens of thousands. Odd Fellowship once boosted tens of thousands of Lodges in every town and hamlet. Now, we see jurisdictions where the number of Lodges can be counted on the fingers of two hands.
I am a member of the largest North American jurisdiction in Odd Fellowship – California. I have had the rare honor and privilege to serve as both Grand Master and as Grand Patriarch in this jurisdiction. I have visited dozens of Lodges throughout the jurisdiction. I provide this in preface to support my comments in this article. We, in Odd Fellowship, are at a crossroads. One path – the road of status quo – will inevitably lead to the diminution and probable demise of our Order in one, or at most, two generations. The other path – the road of evolution and change – can lead to the resurgence of our Order and cement our future for another 200 years.
I have come to the conclusion that we can embrace the path of evolution and change, vitality and growth if we, as an Order, do three things:
1. Active Lodges are Healthy Lodges. There is no sustained future for Lodges where members do little more than sit in the Lodge rooms at meetings, reading rote passages from little red books. While in a strange way this may be soothing and comfortable to long-time members, it simply does not resonate with the newer generations. No one really wants to join a Lodge where little more is accomplished than going to meetings once or twice a month, paying the utility bills, reporting on each other’s illnesses, electing each other to office, and awarding each other longevity jewels. Potential members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s do not find that sort of “Lodge” attractive or interesting. To thrive and grow in the 21st Century, a Lodge must be active. Lodges that provide an active social life for members show vitality and will resonate with the new generations of members we must attract. Lodges that reach out into the community, to do good charitable and community works, will also become beacons for new members. A lodge, in this Century, that has no purpose or mission, cannot long survive.
2. New Blood is Vital to Our Future. The lifespan of a human being, with good health and good genes, hovers around 100 years. A fraternal Lodge, however, has a lifespan that can last for centuries. Fraternities can “live” for remarkably long periods of time, but only if they bring in new members. And those new members must span the years and the generations. A Lodge composed only of septuagenarians and octogenarians will inevitably diminish and expire as the health of those elderly members fail and they pass away. A healthy Lodge has members representing every decade and every generation. It is, frankly, selfish for Lodge members to refuse to seek out new members and to maintain the status quo. It may be comfortable for those aged members, but it is deleterious to the Order.
3. Our Order Must Unify. The numbers show us that the branches of our Order are withering. The old separation of “men” and “women” simply does not apply in the 21st Century, and does not work. We can no longer maintain separate branches of Patriarchs Militant, Ladies Auxiliary Patriarchs Militant, Encampment, Ladies Encampment Auxiliary, Odd Fellows and Rebekahs. The future of our Order must be in one strong, diverse Lodge, with many degrees – not six separate branches. We all know in our heart-of-hearts that the merger of our branches is inevitable. It is not aided by delay.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California