Odd Fellows has an image issue that can be easily addressed. We seem to be confused about the difference between secrecy in an Odd Fellows lodge meeting versus secrecy at large. We treat our order as if it is not supposed to exist; and, in fact, I have seen the public refer to us as a cult. Then, when there is an issue within our order that goes public, the public becomes confused as well, and tends to view our order in a negative light.
100 years ago, this confusion did not exist. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was one of the largest fraternal entities in America. Now, it is a shadow of its former self, and because of that, the public at large is left wondering about not only our right to exist but even confusion about who or what we are. In this age of instantaneous news, smartphones and ever increasing technological advances, we are quickly making ourselves not only obsolete but in fact open to speculation about our very right to carry on in such a secluded setting. One positive way to defend our order is to address negative publicity with positive publicity, but our normal inclination as an order is to say nothing, which is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Obviously, in the years and decades before us, technology will evolve rapidly, and what we prefer to hold secret should evolve accordingly. As it says in our guidebooks, when the lodge door closes all lodge functions will be held sacrosanct, but the premise that what we say or do has no outside ramifications, is not only a quaint idea but is also becoming increasingly dangerous. The public perception of a lodge is simply that of a cold exterior; having no idea whether the lodge contains members considered for sainthood, or staffed with convicted felons perpetuating an agenda of fear.
As mentioned, our installation ritual talks about the secrecy within a lodge and this is important for lodge sovereignty; however, it is not an undesirable thing to advertise our lodge to the public. For this simple reason, anything that announces our presence in a positive light serves a purpose. As many have noted, the order tends to maintain buildings in the center of downtowns, and yet, we are hidden in plain sight. Even more, we are mainly a group of elderly Anglo-Saxons whom are slow or unwilling to accept diversification, which adds to the public’s negative view of our order. Conversely, where we are at our strongest, we practice diversification, and are more open publicly. At successful lodges, the growth of the lodge is contingent upon its ability to portray a positive public image, the portrait of the lodge as painted by its many happy members, multiplying exponentially, so much so that growth becomes almost a non-issue, new members added to the mix without concentrated effort or distress. On the other hand, unsuccessful lodges, led by often disruptive, or disgruntled long-term members bent upon the persecution of their own members bullying to protect their own self-interests, or built-in prejudices, can easily fail just by merely continuing their fractured path. By simple examination of the differences between a successful and an unsuccessful lodge, we can see how we might consider the right way to progress into the future.
That begs the question what can we do if our own Odd Fellows lodge is failing, and can’t connect publicly in any substantial way? Simply put, we must alter our image. While it’s an admirable trait to talk about friendship, love, and truth, if we want new members, we need to project this publicly. This may seem difficult, but each lodge can do something to increase its own lodge visibility. Local newspapers often provide free or low-cost ways to advertise local events which we might try participating in. We must try to entice the world by emulating the world, an art exhibit, hosting a speech by a local figure, having committees that are open to new and exciting things, or other public displays that can add interest; some lodges have experienced growth by hosting charitable events or historical discussions. There is a myriad of things an Odd Fellows lodge can do, so that raises the question, why do so many lodges fail? In principal, most lodges fail, because they have either lost all public persona or they have become punitive with their own few remaining members. This can accentuate into a public perception of a practiced and closed atmosphere of fear, prejudice, or even public hatred if we are not careful. We must not be afraid of the public, we need to embrace them and show them our love and then perhaps we will lucky enough to be the recipient of theirs.
In F., L., & T., Rick Boyles