Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
I have just returned from a week in Stockton where I attended the annual gathering of the Department Council (Patriarchs Militant) and the Grand Encampment. Also gathering in Stockton were the Department Association (Ladies Auxiliary Patriarchs Militant) and the Grand Ladies Encampment Auxiliary (LEA).
At these gatherings, I am struck by four things: (1) The members who gather are long-time dedicated members of the Order. (2) The numbers of units and the numbers of members of units continue to diminish, virtually unchecked year after year. (3) Virtually everyone attending these meetings was in their late 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. (4) The members who gather for these statewide meetings continue to operate their branches pretty much the same way they operated them 20, 40, or 60 years ago.
There was a time in California when thousands attended these annual gatherings, then hundreds. Today, it is likely that only 40 or 50 will attend each branch session. In the Military Council of the PM last week, only 22 attended who were eligible to vote – meaning that a mere 12 votes can pass bills, approve resolutions and elect to vacant offices.
The unspoken truth, however, is that these branches cannot and will not survive in the long term. These branches are mere shadows of what they once were. The numbers don’t lie, and the statistics show a slow spiral to oblivion. Allow me to share the California numbers with you:
There are only 86 members in the PM today. Although this is envisioned as the “uniformed” branch of Odd Fellowship, I believe that less than half of those 86 have Class A uniforms. Only 6 Cantons exist in California. The two largest Cantons (San Francisco and Davis) comprise 42% of the total membership of the PM. Three of the remaining Cantons have 10 or fewer members, indicating that they have, or will have, quorum challenges.
Ladies Auxiliary Patriarchs Militant
Only 53 members comprise the entirety of the LAPM in this state. They are represented in just 6 auxiliaries. The largest of those 6 auxiliaries has only 12 members, and 4 of the 6 auxiliaries have 10 or fewer members, indicating again that they have, or will have, quorum challenges.
The most recent statistics from the GE shows 222 members statewide (that number includes 14 associate members), a small overall gain from the prior year. But if one subtracts the gains made by the two largest Encampments (Golden Gate in San Francisco and Davis) the remaining Encampments show a net loss of 5 members year over year. There are a total of just 13 Encampments in the state, down from the prior year. The two largest Encampments comprise fully 36% of the total membership of the GE.
Ladies Encampment Auxiliary
The total number of LEA members in California has dropped to 107. The records show that only 2 new members joined LEA, while there was a loss of 9 – so a net loss of 7 members for the year. Such a net loss is not sustainable over time. The remaining 107 LEA members operate in 9 units in the state. The average membership per unit is under 12.
What can we gather from these statistics? We see branches that generally are diminishing in membership, and diminishing in units. Many units currently have, or will in the near future have, quorum problems. The vast majority of the membership are older – there are virtually no members in their 20’s, 30’s or 40’s who join or wish to join. While the units do, occasionally, bring in a new member or two, the loss of members (by death, withdrawal or otherwise) exceeds the influx of members. The inevitable conclusion is that these branches cannot survive – and likely will cease to exist within the next 10 years.
It is apparent to me that there are only two paths we can follow: (1) We can continue business as usual with only superficial changes, which will allow the remaining members in these branches to continue to serve for the rest of their lives in the way they have always served. But inevitably, the branches will cease to exist for lack of quorums. (2) We can transform these branches to adjust to the 21st Century, bring in new members, and continue the important lessons these branches can impart.
Change is hard. I understand that. But to resurrect these branches, I believe we must do the following. First, they must be merged. There is no point in having a “man’s branch” and a “woman’s branch” in the 21st Century. The PM and LAPM must merge, and the Encampment and the LEA must merge. Even the U.S. military is fully integrated – men and women are not separated. In the 19th and 20th Centuries, there may have been a place for separate units for men and for women – but it is an out-of-place and antiquated concept in the 21st Century. Second, the uniforms worn by these 4 branches must be relegated to history. Not only are they expensive, but they are a throwback to WW I and WW II and do not resonate with young men and women in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Third, and importantly, the merged branches much develop a mission. Just going to meetings or doing sword drills will not increase the membership. Every lodge, club or organization must have a purpose – and so the military branch and the encampment branch must develop a mission and a purpose for the betterment of society. It’s not enough just to meet and go through a meeting ritual – we must reach out to the community, be visible, and do good works in our communities.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master