What makes Odd Fellows unique in the fraternal world? What sets us apart from Pythian Knights, Moose, Elks, and numerous other fraternal orders?
There are, of course, remarkable similarities in the fraternal orders. They all espouse their three or four great principles. Odd Fellows highlight “Friendship, Love and Truth”; Pythians designate “Friendship, Charity, Benevolence”; Elks identify “Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love, Fidelity”; Moose delineate “Fraternity, Benevolence, Charity”. All the fraternal orders operate from the basic community unit of a “Lodge” although the Lodge might be called by a different name (such as “Castle” by the Pythians). All Lodges have a president – albeit with fancier titles such as Noble Grand, or Governor, or Exalted Ruler. And the list of officers is quite similar, including folks who guard the doors so that the secrets of the fraternity are not revealed and non-members are kept out of meetings. And it seems that all fraternal orders have degrees of various kinds.
I have noted two other great similarities between the various fraternal orders. First, all flourished a century ago, but have been declining in membership over the last hundred years. Second, all have recognized the decline and have sought to combat it by evolving over the years in remarkable ways.
There were once literally hundreds of fraternal orders in North America. Today, the list of fraternal orders numbers in the dozens – not the hundreds. Many fraternal orders sprang up, flourished, and then simply faded away. Some fraternal orders once numbered a million members in every state. Today, membership is only a fraction of that million.
And the changes have been substantial. There was a time when fraternal orders admitted only men. Women were excluded. People of color were not admitted. Some fraternities – in their rules and regulations – prohibited membership for people who were disabled, or who worked in the liquor industry, or were professional gamblers. Some fraernities required members to take an oath that they were not Communists or Fascists. For entertainment, some Lodges sponsored Minstrel Shows. Initiations at some Lodges could be humiliating and painful. Thankfully, these practices have become historical footnotes from an age when discrimination was the norm.
But the most serious and dramatic change seen in fraternal orders is the decision to leave the four walls of the Lodge Hall and reach out into the community to do good community and charitable works. I am confident that this change was a direct result of the declining membership and the recognition that fraternities could not attract and inspire new members by hiding away in rooms reciting ritual from a book. They realized thats they had to be visible. And those Lodges that took this to heart found that it was a way to attract new members to the order.
So, this brings us back to my original question: What makes Odd Fellows unique in the fraternal world? If a person is interested in joining a fraternity, why should they join Odd Fellows rather than Elks, or Moose, or the Pythian Knights, or another fraternal order?
Why, it’s as simple as our name. We are “odd” and we should not fail to enjoy our “oddness.” We can certainly have some fun with our “oddness”. In my own Lodge, we have an annual “OddtoberFest”. When we set the time for a meeting or an event, we invariably choose an odd time – such as 8:01 a.m. or 6:59 p.m. Finally, in recognition that while we are all human beings, we are each unique – Odd Fellowship should be a “big tent” open to all men and women of good character, rich or poor, of all colors and beliefs; Odd Fellowship should not be an exclusive club. We should revel in our “oddness.”
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California