Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
All of us understand that change is hard. Maintaining the status quo is much easier, and for most people is much more comfortable.
Applying these two “truths” to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, we crash headlong into the biggest single issue we face as an Order: The steady decline in our membership. And make no mistake about it. Our membership has been declining for over three generations, and continues to decline today notwithstanding the fact that a few Lodges have bucked this trend and are showing steady increases in membership. The overall statistics for Odd Fellows, Rebekahs, Encampment, Ladies Encampment Auxiliary, Patriarchs Militant, Ladies Auxiliary Patriarchs Militant do not lie – they show decline after decline in membership, year after year. It does not take a rocket scientist to predict that we shall see branches diminish and fade away starting with the smallest groups – Ladies Encampment Auxiliary, LAPM, and so on. Obviously, this trend – started decades ago – is not sustainable. It will lead to the eventually collapse of our beloved Order. Small pockets of successful Lodges will, of course, remain but Grand Lodges and SGL, itself, will become mere shells. Don’t believe it? There are plenty of other fraternal orders that have experienced this very thing over the years. Odd Fellowship is neither exempt nor immune.
Can this be avoided? Of course it can. However, continuing on the same path we have traveled for the past three generations will inevitably only lead to the same result: declines in membership. To believe that if one does the same thing over and over again will lead to a different result is nothing short of insanity. To change the trajectory of our Order we must change the way we do business. Only this can stop the fall and will lead to membership gains.
Sad to say, however, the biggest single impediment to change is SGL. It is SGL that controls the ritual and controls the Code of General Laws. Change must come at that level, yet the structure of SGL is constructed to resist change, and the membership of SGL changes only incrementally. It is hardly representative of the majority of members of our Order as each jurisdiction receives essentially the same number of representatives. That is, California with over 4,000 Odd Fellows has essentially the same number of representatives as a jurisdiction with less than 400 members.
Key committees at SGL – to which virtually all legislation is funneled – include committees Legislation, Ritualistic, and Patriarchal Degrees. Membership on these committees rarely changes, and the members of these committees, for the most part, are advanced in years. Any proposed changes to the ritual and Code (other than stylistic) are deferred or delayed or simply killed, in committee. Some proposals may not even reach a committee by the decision of the Sovereign Grand Master. This has happened to resolutions submitted by California. Proposals to modernize the ritual or the Code face a rocky future in committees dominated by long-time members who frown upon any changes. Apparently, staying the course is more important than confronting the declines in membership – even though those declines threaten the very life of this Order.
In fact, SGL doesn’t even want us to publicly talk about the diminishing membership. When one of our Grand Representatives from California ran for the Office of Sovereign Grand Warden he was told that he should not talk about membership declines in his speech to SGL because “anyone who talks about membership will lose.” This courageous representative, who values truth, chose to talk about that very subject anyway. And he did lose.
When the former Chairman of the SGL Membership Committee had the temerity to write an article about the decline in our membership and predicted the imminent demise of our Order unless we changed the way we operate, he was roundly castigated by members of SGL.
Even more ominous, however, is the fact that recent legislation from SGL gives the SGL Communications Committee the ability to take action against any Lodge or member who posts anything on social media that they don’t like. So, even this DMC article, if posted on social media, could lead to charges. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and that is, in fact, censorship and a denial of free speech. What a strange, strange thing for an Order that values “Truth.”
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California