Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Change is hard. I understand. But change is necessary to save this Order.
Fact: We have lost members in this fraternity, year after year, for the past three generations. Should we just repeat what we have been doing for the past 70 years and expect a different result? Hardly. We simply can’t continue the way we have done business for those past three generations and expect to suddenly gain members to this Order. Today, virtually everyone in a leadership position in this State understands that change is required to save Odd Fellowship. That hasn’t always been the case, so to the extent that Odd Fellows’ leadership accepts the fact that change is needed, we have made progress.
So, now the hard work begins.
What does “change” really mean? How do we “change”? And what do we “change”?
As Grand Master of the Jurisdiction of California, I have reflected on these three important questions, and have come to the following conclusions:
First, we can’t wait for change to come to us from the Sovereign Grand Lodge. While there is inspired leadership at the top of SGL, ultimately, that entity is too cumbersome, too imbedded in the status quo, too slow to react, and too much in the control of remarkably small jurisdictions. Change, if any, from SGL, will be slow in coming. Accordingly, change has to occur at the Lodge level, and has to be undertaken by Lodge members like you and me. Grand Lodge can help – for example, the membership development grant program can provide up to $1,000 to Lodges that submit membership development program proposals – but Grand Lodge can only play a supporting role. Real change must percolate upwards from Lodges and individual members.
Second, membership development is the responsibility of each of us. As Odd Fellows we can’t sit back complacent, thinking that “the other guy” is going to recruit new members and bring in applications. No, it’s YOUR job and MY job to bring in new members. But that statement comes with a caveat. All our labors in bringing in new members will not work (nor will new members stick around) if the Lodge, itself, is BORING. If Odd Fellowship dies, it will ultimately die of boredom, brothers and sisters. What do I mean by this? I have attended too many Lodge meetings of boring, do-little or do-nothing moribund Lodges. These Lodges do not energize the members – instead, they enervate their members. Lodge meetings are tedious with no committee reports, no old business, and no new business. No one wants to join a Lodge just to attend boring and lethargic meetings. Ennui is our enemy. Potential members – of all genders, sexual orientations, ages, economic levels, races, national origins, philosophies – in the 21st Century want to join Lodges that are involved in their communities and where members can have an active and enjoyable social life.
Third, the ultimate change is for Lodges to become what I call three-dimensional Lodges. Three dimensional Lodges emphasize all three aspects of an active fraternal life: (1) The ritual and regalia that make us unique as Odd Fellows; and (2) An active social life where members can enjoy each others’ company and have some fun; and (3) Outreach into our surrounding communities (and the world) to do good charitable and community works.
How do you get started?
Well, I suggest that you start slowly, and build up momentum year by year. My Lodge, for example, currently has 39 active committees. I do not suggest that you run out and form 39, or 29, or 19, or even 9 committees. BUT, any Lodge can brainstorm and form 2 or 3 new committees. That’s how you start. And that’s precisely what I did with my own Lodge a decade ago. Ten years ago, I took a survey of my Lodge members – and made sure everyone participated – and asked them to list the top three things THEY would like to see the Lodge undertake. I tabulated the responses and we actually implemented those top three. We formed three committees and followed through, satisfying the interests and desires of the membership. I recall one of the three was organizing a bus trip to visit wineries. It was fun, it helped us bond, and we continue to do that to this day. Another one of the three was organizing a complimentary dinner for families who took in foster children. We pulled off a very successful dinner which was much appreciated by the families and the community, and we replicated that foster family dinner for the next two years before moving on to other projects.
Even to this day our Lodge comes up with ideas to make fraternal life interesting and meaningful. A week ago we made arrangements with CalTrans to “Adopt-a-Highway” near our Lodge Hall. Already 16 of our members (and applicants for membership) have signed up to work this environmental clean-up project (and hopefully, wildflower planting in the future). We have another group of members who want to get together to play golf from time to time, so we just formed a “Golf Committee”. And yet another group are aspiring thespians who wanted to form a small performing arts or storytelling group – so we said go ahead, and we now have an “Odd Fellows Theater Company Committee”. And still another group of members (and applicants) wanted to help the people of Nepal after the devastating earthquake that hit that country. So, they worked with the local Nepalese and Indian communities to organize a dinner and music venue to raise money for a village in Nepal that had been hit hard. Over 250 community members attended the event and the net proceeds of well over $15,000 will be sent to rebuild a school in that village.
But the wine trip, the foster family dinner, and the dinner/music venue to help earthquake victims are just EXAMPLES of the kinds of things YOUR Lodge members and YOUR Lodge can undertake. You should choose your own path and your own committees. You have nothing to lose, and much to gain. These sorts of activities – whether you chose to go on hikes, help a ball team buy uniforms, rent a bus to visit a brewery, go bowling, bring in a square dance teacher, help out once a month at the local food bank, or WHATEVER you choose – will reduce the lethargy in your Lodge, will help your Lodge members enjoy their fraternal experience, will transform your Lodge into an active and dynamic place, and will help your Lodge bring in new members.
Why not try it? Helping other people and having an active social life should be (must be) part of the fabric of a successful Order. That’s the sort of “change” we need to maintain and to grow this Order in the 21st Century.
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California