Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
In my capacity as Grand Master of the Jurisdiction of California, I have had the pleasure of visiting quite a few Lodges. While there are great similarities because of our common bond of Odd Fellowship, I find each Lodge and it’s set of members to be unique and, frankly, different from any other Lodge. That is a strength, not a weakness. During my visits, I always allow time – during good of the order – to engage in a dialogue with members, including some time for Q&A. In my travels of late, I have taken to asking Lodge members the following question: What is the Number One responsibility of an Odd Fellow?
How would you answer this question?
Without fail, I get a diversity of answers from the members. Among the answers I have received are the following: To help others in the community. To help other Odd Fellows. To practice friendship, love and truth. To be kind. To support the Lodge. To help one another.
All of the above are good answers. But I rarely get what I consider to be the correct answer to the question. And the correct answer – unique to fraternal orders like ours – is: To bring new members into the Lodge.
Remember, the question I posed asked for the “Number One responsibility of an Odd Fellow.” As such, the number one responsibility is to the life of the Order. If we don’t fulfill our number one responsibility, then our Order will ultimately fade away (like hundreds of other fraternal orders over the last century that have emerged, have flourished, and then have perished in the United States). As humans, our lives are finite – if we are lucky, stay healthy, live right, and have good genes we may live to be 100. But a fraternal order has the potential to live for many generations, literally for centuries. But this generational life only works if members bring the next generation into the Order. We have certainly been doing that in North America since 1819. And in the 1800’s and 1900’s, and first half of the 2000’s, Odd Fellowship thrived and grew throughout the continent. In California alone, there were over 600 Odd Fellows Lodges, and we had almost 60,000 members. We did this because members constantly brought in new members – and those new members included folks in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s – the next generation – the life blood of a fraternity.
Sometime in the middle of the 20th Century, however, complacency set in, and for the last 70 years, we have seen an amazing shift. We have seen members aging in place in their Lodges while failing to bring in new members. We have seen the number of Lodges in California drop to less than 120, and the number of members drop to around 4,000. We have a remarkable number of Lodges in this state where the membership (on the books) is less than 20, and where the vast majority of members are in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s or older. What happened to the next generation of members in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s? Regrettably, the members of those Lodges had forgotten or ignored their Number One responsibility as an Odd Fellow. They thought only of themselves, and not of the well-being of their Lodge or their Order. For years – decades in some cases – they had failed to bring in new members, and had effectively skipped one or two generations of potential members. And now, many Lodges find themselves at a crossroads of survival, without the critically important component of fraternal health – that is, young members.
And this Number One responsibility is not just for the Noble Grand, or the chair of the Membership Committee, or the ostensible leaders in the Lodge. No. It is a responsibility of each and every one of us. You can’t blame “the other guy” if the Lodge is slowly aging and diminishing. Is it too late? For some Lodges, the answer is, regrettably, yes. But for many Lodges, it is not too late. I, personally, have brought over 130 new members into Odd Fellowship – so I know it can be done. Several months ago, I visited a Lodge in the foothills, in a very small town, with a very small membership. During my visit, we talked about what needs to be done. That Lodge advised me just the other day that they are planning on initiating 20 new members later this month! Yes, it can be done.
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California