Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Just the other day I was walking along G Street in downtown Davis. A new coffee shop had recently opened at the corner of G Street and 3rd Street and it was distinguished by an expanse of windows so that most everything in the shop was visible from outside the shop. I could clearly see the patrons with their coffee cups. And glancing through the floor-to-ceiling windows, I was struck by the fact that every single person in that coffee shop – and there were over a dozen patrons – was sitting alone with his or her cup of brew, looking down to their laptop or cell phone. Every single person was engrossed in their electronic window on the world. No one looked up, and no one was engaged in conversation with anyone else.
And then it hit me.
Our society has changed in a dramatic way. We have become – to a great extent – a society of loners. And this effect is most pronounced in the new generations of our society – those men and women generally under the age of 40. This has been a sea change in our sociology. The only comparable event in our American history is the advent of the car and train – which took us out of the horse-and-buggy era and made people mobile. But even that enormous change did not come on as rapidly as the change we are seeing today. We are in midst of it, and the change seems to be evolving and morphing almost daily. The Internet, computers, laptops, iPads, iPhones, Twitter, Facebook, the Cloud, email, texting, YouTube, Linkedin, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumbir, Google, WeChat, and a plethora of other components of social media – these innovations have fundamentally changed the way we interact with each other and communicate with the world. A member of Sycamore Odd Fellows Lodge #129 sent me an email with a remarkable quote and statistic from the New York Times: “Social isolation is a growing epidemic – one that’s increasingly recognized as having dire physical, mental and emotional consequences. Since the 1980’s, the percentage or American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent.” Forty percent! Understand this: We have a large percentage of the population who are isolated, and who could gain from a connection to other human beings.
Recognition of this modern reality is important at many levels. It has direct relevance to fraternal orders in general, and Odd Fellowship in particular. There is a population of men and women who would greatly benefit from membership in our fraternity; and of course, our fraternity would greatly benefit from their membership.
Here are the simple facts:
(1) If an Odd Fellows Lodge does not add new members, that Lodge is in trouble. We need only look at the recent history of our Order in North America. Over the past 50 years, hundreds of our Lodges have withered and passed away. In virtually every case it was the result of lack of members. (And make no mistake about it, a “consolidation” of Lodges is simply a genteel way of saying that a Lodge has died.) Without the addition of new members on a regular basis, the Lodge will diminish and die in time.
(2) The majority of our Odd Fellow Lodges have not added new members in sufficient numbers to replace the existing members who pass away, move away, or let their memberships lapse. This has been going on for decades, and the numbers of members keep shrinking in those Lodges. Only a few Lodges have actually shown net gains in members. There is no question that a Lodge that continues to show a net loss in members will diminish and die in time.
(3) Most Odd Fellow Lodges that add new members, add members who are in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s. It’s wonderful to add these new members, but without adding members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, that Lodge will create an age gap that – in time – can’t be filled. A Lodge where the average age is in the 60’s or 70’s is destined to diminish and die in time.
So, our fraternal order has a great opportunity to tap into a new generation of men and women in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. We need to do so in the interest of our fraternity and our Lodge. And, frankly, many of these potential younger members want the social interaction and community involvement that a Lodge can offer. Many of them do not want to be isolated all the time. How do we tap into the younger generation? One thing is certain, we cannot do so if we continue to behave like we are a fraternal order from 1917. We have to reinvigorate and reinvent our Lodges to make them relevant not only to Baby Boomers, but also to Millennials. This means, for example, that our Lodges must have Facebook pages and we must be present on social media. More importantly, we have to offer activities in the Lodge and in the community that interest and attract younger members. Just having baring meetings where we read the minutes of the last meeting, talk about repairing the roof, and spend most of our time talking about who is sick and in distress will not be a recipe for success with the new generations. On the other hand, focusing our meetings on socially responsible activities in the community (for example, helping foster families, feeding the hungry, helping frail seniors in town, cleaning up highways, etc.) and fun activities for Lodge members (for example, a New Year’s Eve event, or an Oktoberfest, taking hikes, poker night at the Lodge, a family potluck, etc.) – these are things that will interest all members – and in particular the younger generations that we need to grow and flourish.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows