Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Change is hard. I understand that.
As progressive members who want to see our Order strengthen and grow in the coming years, we’ve all experienced meetings where new ideas, new concepts and new proposals are criticized, even ridiculed, and often shot down by long-time members who abhor any change to the status quo to which they have become accustomed. And even in the face of diminishing membership, the status quo adherents continue to cling to their conception of fraternity. I still vividly remember the long-time member who once told me (and this is an actual quote): “I would rather see this Order die, than change.”
Well, forgive me if I don’t subscribe to that view of our fraternal world. Personally, I believe that our Order must evolve to survive.
The resistance to new ideas and change is not limited to Odd Fellowship. We see it in other fraternal orders and clubs. Tom Barton, a progressive member of the Odd Fellows from San Francisco, recently sent me the clip, below, from Lions Clubs International. Have you heard these sorts of comments mentioned in your Lodge?
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
As is evident from below, SGL – at least the members of the State of the Order Committee – recognize the advancements and needs of the Odd Fellows. However, very little is presented to progressively change those issues that need to be addressed. Despite the establishment of the Non-Discrimination Policy, issues must be faced. Those did not come to the committee, but because of some last day legislation submitted, there very well could be a need for clarification dealing with “religious ideology” and how we define a “supreme being” and a requirement to believe in such. Shall this contrast to the beliefs of the past and conflict with today’s beliefs in the ranks of society and membership of the Order? What if a member becomes an atheist after once believing? One cannot be treated differently because of his or her “religious” beliefs or change in such beliefs as this has never been addressed in code or ritual. Some have proposed removing a member from the Order because that member has, over time, changed his/her religious beliefs. But to simply propose removing a member from the Order because of his or her “religious” beliefs could be legally challenged as a violation of the current Non-Discrimination Policy. I understand where some would want to passionately go with this, but it could have serious ramifications far beyond anything this Order has seen in recent years.
For this year, though, the Order has made some progress.
What was supposed to be the State of the Order report, but was not used because it lacked one signature, still can be shared here as it is relevant to all of us and our concerns.
One of the most impactful detriments this Order faces is angry contradiction between members; even worse is public demonstration of such disagreements on social media.
As society has modernized our means of communications, more frequent and rapid exchanges, whether conjecture, opinion, or fact, we must always keep in mind and practice those absolute principles of friendship, love, and truth. Those who are not members could view us a hypocritical, thus destroying our own legitimacy as a fraternal organization.
All members must seek peaceful outcomes. If discord has reached your hearts, seek amends. Work toward resolutions, rather than persistent aggravation.
The State of the Order committee also found there is a need for the creation of historical literature to be drafted and published in every jurisdiction, as this is one of the greatest mediums to reach a segment of curious people, and history enthusiasts who enjoy historical and interesting stories. No matter which town or city a lodge is located, there is related history, whether to a historic event, a prominent member, or in the structure itself. People enjoy reading history. Our lodges are full of stories and history. Some of our lodges have attics and basements full of historical and interesting artifacts. Clean those spaces out and write about those items. How were they used? How old are they? Are they valuable? Write about them and take pictures and share this information with local news outlets (social media, news articles, magazines, short documentary(ies), pamphlets, and books). This is the kind of program this Order must embrace if it wants to assure its place in history.
The State of the Order committee also encourages the modernization of communications between lodges, members, and jurisdictions, with regard to the latest in electronic technologies. We must utilize and embrace that segment of our membership who can point us in the right direction.
We can also touch upon subtle, but important inclusiveness-achievements witnessed at SGL in the last two years:
- Having a representative of the GUOOF speak to the Grand Body in 2018.
- Having a representative for Cuba at our Annual Communication in 2019.
- Having the first woman elected as the Warden of SGL (2019).
These represent not only progressive change but is evidence of an organization embracing it’s evolution.
A visit to the website of the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows at www.ioof.org is enlightening and inspiring. We see words such as “international”, “worldwide”, and “universal”. We read about our powerful fraternal purposes including: “To promote good will and harmony amongst peoples and nations through the principle of universal fraternity, holding the belief that all men and women regardless of race, nationality, religion, social status, rank and station are brothers and sisters.” We are told that within the Order’s “non-discrimination policy: “The I.O.O.F. will not exclude any individual based on disability, age, ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or other social identity . . . .”
These are principles around which every Odd Fellow can and should rally. They make us proud to be members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
Yet, sad to say, the reality is not exactly synchronized to the ideal espoused on our sovereign website. The questions must be asked. Does this Order discriminate on the basis of religion? And has this Order systematically refused to become truly international?
Because Odd Fellows value truth as the cardinal principle, let’s drill down to that truth.
Members are required to believe in “a Supreme Being, the creator and preserver of the Universe”. Lodges are required to maintain a copy of the “Holy Bible” in the Lodge room during meetings. The ritual of the Order is replete with references and stories springing from the Jewish and Christian religions. For the vast majority of people who live in North America, this is perfectly comfortable and fine. But what about the rest of the people in North America who are not Jewish or Christian, and what about the rest of the people on our planet? There are over one billion people who ascribe to Hinduism. This is not a monotheistic faith. Another half billion practice Buddhism. Again, this is not a faith that has a Supreme Being. The same is true for those who practice Confucianism, Taoism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism.
How can a member of these faiths take the oath that they believe in “a Supreme Being”? How can they be comfortable when the Holy Bible is maintained in the Lodge room, and their books of faith are not? And beyond this, certainly those who believe in Islam or who are Jewish ascribe to a “Supreme Being”, but how comfortable is the Moslem or the Jew with the ritual of the Order which is heavily Christian-based?
How is this not discrimination based on religion?
These are uncomfortable questions, but they are vital to the future of our Order. If we truly ascribe to be a worldwide fraternal order fostering friendship, love, truth, faith, hope, charity and universal justice for all – then we must think through what we say and what we do. Have you ever wondered why Odd Fellowship only exists in 30 countries when there are almost 200 countries on this planet?
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Recently, we have published articles extolling the virtues of public relations and communications to the public. It’s an important element to support growth of our membership. If your Lodge operates in secret, closed from the public’s view, it’s unlikely your Lodge will grow and be robust. Odd Fellowship at all levels now recognizes the importance of sharing our story of F-L-T with the public at large.
One of the best ways to share the story of our Lodges with the general public is to publish (in print media and social media) photos of our activities. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is as true today as ever. However, the purpose of this article is raise a word of caution about the use of photographs. A good photograph is powerful. However, a bad photograph is counterproductive. Better to have no photograph, than to publish a really bad one that might send the wrong message.
In this regard, I have conducted a little “experiment”. Over the past month, I have randomly reviewed close to 100 photographs published by various Odd Fellows Lodges from throughout North America. These are photos published almost exclusively by Lodge members, and virtually all were found on social media, although some were published in print media. Let me start by commending the Lodges and Lodge members who reached out to tell the story of their Lodge to the public at large. But, there is a big caveat. Other than driving or walking past the Lodge Hall, or personally doing research on IOOF, or attending an Odd Fellows Lodge event, or having a rare conversation with a Lodge member, these photos are the window to the public about Odd Fellowship. What does this window reveal?
I found that some 90% of the photos showed people. The remaining 10% only showed buildings or objects. The photos showing people, almost always included Lodge members.
Almost half of the photos showing Lodge members simply showed Lodge members standing or sitting in a group, smiling to the camera. There were very few “action” photos – that is, members engaged in an activity like loading food on a truck, of providing meals to the public, or painting a building, or picking up trash from the side of a roadway. But what struck me – again and again – was that over 75% of the photos showed members who were senior citizens. There were no younger adults in the photo. What message is conveyed to the public by a photograph of seven gray-haired people sitting around a table?
Now, I have absolutely nothing against gray-haired people. I am one of those, myself. But for a fraternal order that wishes to attract the next generations into its membership, a photo of seven sedentary septuagenarians may not accomplish that mission. We must be mindful of the photos we post. These photographs are the window through which the world views Odd Fellowship and your Lodge.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
The general public is invited to play Bingo at the Davis Odd Fellows Lodge Hall on Sunday, September 8, to benefit Unleashing the Possibilities, Inc., a 501 (c) (3) charitable corporation raising money to build a new animal shelter for all the real doggies and kitties and critters in Yolo County.
Doors open at 12 noon, and Bingo begins at 1 p.m. Bingo played at the Odd Fellows Hall is sanctioned gambling and so only adults may play. Cash prizes are awarded for winners of every game. Fifteen games are played and the cash prizes go up to $250 for the final “blackout Bingo” game. The Odd Fellows Lodge Hall is located at 415 2nd Street in Downtown Davis. The Odd Fellows run Bingo every second Sunday of every month on behalf of charitable and community organizations, and have been doing so for 11 years. It is estimated that the Odd Fellows have provided some $75,000 to these organizations. All proceeds raised by Bingo are paid to the beneficiaries after winners are paid.
In addition to Bingo, the public enjoys a snack bar with hot dogs, nachos, candy, soft drinks, wine and beer.
Unleashing the Possibilities, Inc. (UTP) was formed several years ago to encourage Yolo County Government to work with the cities to build a new animal shelter. The current shelter is old and worn out and does not serve the community, nor the animals, as well as it should. By raising private funds to help government build the new shelter, UTP has moved the process forward. Currently, county government is in discussions with the cities to form a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) as the future structure for animal services. UTP is committed to bring private monies to the table to help local governments build the new shelter and improve animal services.