By far, the largest Odd Fellows jurisdiction in the realm of Sovereign Grand Lodge (SGL) is the Jurisdiction of California. Yet Sovereign Grand Lodge treats California Odd Fellows like an unwanted child. How can that be? Let me count some of the ways:
1. SGL decided to raise the per capita fees they require from every Lodge by $10 (spread over two years). The leadership of SGL muscled this through without explaining why the increase is needed, notwithstanding repeated requests for an explanation. The dues increase is anathema to the most important challenge facing fraternal orders – membership growth. This increase in dues will have a negative impact on our efforts to encourage new members to join. Sadly, I am confident that the increase in dues will cause a drop in membership throughout the jurisdiction – thus sending a torpedo into the efforts to stop the decline in IOOF membership.
2. SGL “mislaid” legislation submitted by the California Grand Lodge to allow a modest increase in representation for the largest jurisdictions at SGL (without a decrease in representation for any jurisdiction) – thus making representation more reflective of membership. California, with over 4,000 members, currently has 2 reps to SGL – the same number as is given to jurisdictions with less than 300 members. Officials at SGL finally “found” the legislation, it was voted on, and overwhelmingly defeated. So, in fact, we are being taxed without adequate representation.
3. The ritual of SGL has language that is not gender-neutral and some language that is demeaning to people of color, and repeated efforts to eliminate those references have been delayed or rebuffed.
4. Recently, SGL voted to present its highest honor – the Decoration of Chivalry – to two Confederate States of America monuments. This action is completely tone-deaf in light of our times, and the concerns of our African-American community members. The Confederacy sought to continue the sanction and practice of slavery of black men, women and children. What message does this send about equality and justice?
5. And speaking about tone-deaf, how can we forget the recent decision by some leaders at SGL to deny access to the Pilgrimage for Youth to a young man with a disability – and then to attempt to defend the decision in the press. The actions of SGL were certainly not acceptable to the young man and his family, nor to any Odd Fellow who believe in F-L-T. The SGL decision also brought negative publicity to the Order and great derision of Odd Fellowship, angered the UN, and caused every Jurisdiction and Lodge to be concerned about negative legal consequences.
6. The recent Chair of SGL’s Membership Committee has rung the fire bell of our declines in membership and has warned that our Order is on a fatal path. Yet, SGL has essentially ignored these warnings, and blithely continues on the path of decline while giving lip service to the need to increase membership.
7. The Jurisdiction of California constantly orders supplies from SGL which take months, if not years, to fill – directly impacting our ritualistic practices. Why can SGL not fill a simple supply order?
Students of Odd Fellows history know that the annals of our Order are replete with instances of groups of Lodges breaking away from their particular “mother ship” when the disconnect and chasm between them becomes too great. Even the split that created the Manchester Unity was the result of a schism in the Order. How long can California continue to tolerate being unfairly taxed, neglected and ignored?
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California