Perhaps the most intriguing observation one can take away from a visit to Sovereign Grand Lodge Sessions is how different it is from our own California Grand Lodge Sessions.
At our own sessions, for example, legislation is not only discussed prior to sessions, but also during sessions, whereas at SGL sessions, it is discussed primarily at SGL committee meetings and then presented and generally rubber-stamped by the voting representatives at sessions. The impression one might get at SGL then is that legislation is more adequately analyzed by appropriate committees when in fact the problem is that almost all committees meet at the same times, therefore, for example, it is impossible for a representative to meet at one committee meeting when he may serve on another that meets simultaneously. It is not uncommon to hear representatives complain that they can’t visit the committees they want to make their views clear.
Of course, this year the controversial legislation was an increase in the per capita for Odd Fellows and Rebekahs. Outside of the legislation itself, there was no apparent reason for the called for increase. The budget appeared balanced, there was no discussion of a specific need for an increase, and a close examination of the Sovereign Grand Treasurer’s report even showed a surplus in committee funds where there seemed to be professed need. A $5.00 increase per person may seem insignificant, however multiplied by all Odd Fellows and Rebekahs this amounts to a $270,995 yearly!
Yet there was little or no specific explanation for the increase beyond a vague mention of “programs”. Based upon these facts, I felt the only sensible reaction was to vote against any increase whatsoever. The increase, by the way, initially called for an increase of $5.00 for 5 consecutive years, which failed to carry the vote, but then it was amended to be a $5.00 increase for 2 consecutive years. Of course, this means that there is nothing preventing a revisit of the legislation next year. The idea that an increase may be called for yearly without any substantive rationality should seem onerous to any sensible member. As brothers Rosenberg and Sellars have noted, increasing the per capita, particularly an annual increase, does nothing but discourage any increase in membership.
Then, our primary legislation emanating from the California Grand Lodge was the idea that we readjust representation to be more attuned to membership counts. I took it upon myself to speak upon this legislation at SGL, and to garner support from other jurisdictions who would also benefit from the representative alignment. I did get the support of at least 5 other jurisdictions. I will work on more for next year. Also, I spoke with Brother Terry Barrett, Sovereign Grand Secretary, and he has written legislation to be presented next year that addresses this matter, although I asked if we might amend it slightly to possibly include as many other jurisdictions as possible, which would obviously make the legislation more tenable. I offered my services to assist with this change.
It was great to witness our Brother Mel Astrahan filming the sessions, and naturally our best way to move for change at SGL in the future will be to become more involved in all facets of their sessions, and make them more our own.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles
The direction of our Order is dependent upon those who represent us at the Sovereign Grand Lodge, our Grand Representatives. We often overlook the importance of these members. But, we can no longer take these important members for granted or believe they are automatically working in the same interests of our membership.
For example, we may consider California Odd Fellows to be a less conservative version of Odd Fellowship, while another jurisdiction may be very conservative. This is regards to change within the Order; this is not in the context of politics. This progressive attitude has to do with finding positive change to modernize and make the Order become attractive to people.
Some of us have figured out how to expand a lodge, how to have larger memberships, and how to work together to make something worthwhile for our members. Even with differences during a lodge meeting, the members still work toward the “Good of the Order.”
If a member recognizes that a change should occur in the lodge or have a good suggestion, then such a change must be proposed. This is where the experience and knowledge must be learned and shared with every member in the lodge. If it is a Ritual change, then the process is lengthy. If it is a change to the bylaws, then that can be much easier, per se. To make a change in the Ritual is much more lengthy and difficult, and yes – political. Anyone who tells you that changing the Ritual is not political, is badly misinformed.
To make changes to the Ritual, one must have support on the lodge level, the Grand Lodge or jurisdictional level, and the Sovereign Grand Lodge level, in that order. At the Sovereign Grand Lodge level, it must be presented in a timely manner by a submission by the Grand Secretary of the given jurisdiction. Then, it gets assigned to a Ritualistic committee at Sovereign, where representatives who are assigned to that committee hail from different jurisdictions (and different beliefs).
And, this my fellow brothers and sisters, is where the importance of having a good representative for your jurisdiction matters. Sometimes, those committees want to hear from the representative about where a certain piece of legislation or suggestion originates. If your idea didn’t appeal to the representative of your jurisdiction, then your idea shall not be enthusiastically presented. Or, if your representative does not respond to the inquiry of such legislation, then it shall most likely fail. This speaks to the importance of those whom we elect to represent us as Grand Representatives.
Also, procedurally, items brought before the Sovereign Grand Lodge Body are laid over for one year. The Ritual changes, as well as proposals to change the Code of General Laws (Sovereign Grand Lodge) work pretty much the same. Changes to our jurisdictional codes is a little easier. Changes to local bylaws is about the easiest. All must be approved by Grand Lodge at one point in the process.
Why do I write about this process and the importance of having reliable Grand Representatives to Sovereign Grand Lodge? It is because this Order needs to be saved and changes must be accepted to avoid death of this organization. There are many of us who believe we have the correct ideas to save this Order. But, we are often discouraged – or our ideas shot down at one level or another. We must unite and start watching those who represent every jurisdiction across the Order. Who accepts positive change? Who rejects any change? We must learn the values and beliefs of those whom we ask to accept our ideas for positive change. Will your ideas be supported?
At the most recent session of the SGL in St. Louis, MO., I sat in attendance as a visitor, I witnessed representatives of my own jurisdiction vote differently on the issue of increasing dues. This was only after I was informed that representatives from the same jurisdiction should vote in unison. In our jurisdiction we have opposed the increase of dues for the past few years, since that last increase in dues by SGL, which by the way, proved detrimental to the growth of the Order. Again, I was only a visitor with no right to speak on the floor. As like all of the members of my jurisdiction, I must trust those who represent us at SGL.
When I saw the split vote on increasing the dues, I was surprised, given the Finance Committee could not explain what the use of the funds would be used for in the future. In fact, there was no explanation of how the money would be used. I thought, surely it could not be for the representatives’ mileage reimbursement, as the representatives are now at a low of 113 – a decline.
Well, the decision on a dues increase went a direction many did not wish it to go, as was evident by the vote. A majority wished to have the dues increased. This new increase applies to Rebekahs and Odd Fellows, to which many of us belong. It applies to our fixed income, non-working and disabled, and poorer members. In my opinion, this was an insensitive and unjustified increase, without the real reason behind the increase being placed in public.
I have heard many members complain, as I have as well. Here are the responses I have received, when asking for the REASON for the increase:
1. 1. “The increase is the price of doing business.”
2. 2. “If you love the Order, you will pay it.”
3. 3. “It only means giving up a Big Mac.”
4. 4. “All you have to do is eat more hotdogs.”
5. 5. “You only need to save .45 cents a month.”
6. 6. “You are rude and ignorant and don’t live by our principles if you disagree.”
Yes, these are the actual responses I received, when I asked for the REASON for the dues increase. As you can see these are vague solutions and defensive remarks, FOR ONLY ASKING THE QUESTION! Do any of these look like justified reasons for raising the dues? They didn’t to me either. We do have a right to question the action of our members when it increases our dues. The increase in dues, and the responses I received, do not strike me as fraternal.
Peter Sellars, PGM
This is the third in a series of articles on the recent dues increase which will impact Odd Fellows and Rebekahs. It won’t be the last.
Since Sovereign Grand Lodge (SGL) voted to raise dues for all Odd Fellows and all Rebekahs, my mailbox has been filling with messages of consternation and concern. Members believe that those SGL representatives who voted in favor of the dues increase have failed to hear their members. Many have written to me indicating that raising dues in a time of declining membership is simply the wrong message to send, particularly as it relates to the next generation of potential members. For example, here is what one Odd Fellow recently wrote to me in an e-mail: “Our younger generation cannot afford to pay dues as it is. My children are all members and i pay their dues. Their friends want to join but are deterred by the dues, so I pay theirs, too . . . . . We have had people apply for membership but withdraw because of the dues.”
The dues increase subject will not go away. Members have asked what they can do. There are several things you can do. First, you should ask the SGL representatives from your state or province how THEY voted and ask them to explain why they voted that way. Second, you can write a personal letter (or ask your Lodge to write a letter on behalf of the Lodge) directed to the Sovereign Grand Master and the Sovereign Grand Secretary, indicating your concerns about the dues increase. Third, and most importantly, you can ask your SGL reps to introduce legislation in 2018 – specifically, an urgency bill – to repeal the dues increase.
Below is an article just written by California Deputy Grand Master Mel Astrahan, who highlights yet another problem with the dues increase legislation that just passed at SGL. Mel highlights the fact that the legislation creates a logistical nightmare because of its in-artfully drafted wording. I commend his article to you.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Sovereign Grand Lodge threatens dues increase unless membership increases.
At the recent Sovereign Grand Lodge (SGL) meeting in St. Louis, a holdover bill from 2016 was enacted which threatens to raise the dues of Odd Fellows and Rebekahs by $5 per year for the next two years. This increase will apply only to Odd Fellow and Rebekah lodges, not to the other branches of the Order. The text of the bill is appended at the end of this article.
Others have recently opined about the wisdom of, and the actual need for a dues increase at the Sovereign level. Whether it is needed or not, in this report I will be dealing only with how the bill might be implemented.
So, just how can this bill be implemented? In practice, we are supposed to file our annual lodge per capita reports no later than March, with the reported data being retroactive to the prior calendar year. Therefore, according to the analysis in the last paragraph of the bill, the 1st opportunity for SGL to actually increase dues (by $5) will occur in payments due April 1st of 2019 when the reports for the calendar year ending December 31st, 2018 are submitted.
Of particular note in this bill, is an escape clause which states “The yearly increase shall not be assessed when in any year the dues paying membership from all branches of the Order shows a net gain from the previous year.” Of particular interest here is that this dues increase applies only to Odd Fellow and Rebekah lodge members, while the census count referred to in the escape clause applies across all branches of the Order. Thus, for example, even if Odd Fellow lodges were to show a net gain, that gain could be nullified, in regards to the dues increase, by net losses in the other branches. I don’t support a dues increase at the Sovereign level, but, in my opinion, if the intent of this escape clause was to encourage lodges to increase membership, it would have been fairer if the clause were applied to each branch individually. If Odd Fellow lodges gain membership then Odd Fellow dues should not be raised and if Rebekah lodges gain membership then Rebekah dues should not be raised, and the membership of the smaller branches should not be factored in because they are not subject to the potential dues increase.
Regardless of the intent of the threatened dues increase, this escape clause remains confusing. Just what does “in any year” actually mean? I submit that “in any year” could be interpreted literally such that if there has ever been any year in which membership has ever increased that all yearly increases are voided… but what I think what the makers intended was “when in either of the next 2 years the ….”
So, what could trigger the escape clause? Well, all that has to happen is for there to be a year-to-year net gain of just 1 dues paying member in the total membership census. Theoretically, that could be accomplished in many, many ways. For example, however improbably, if the current membership across all branches were to simply remain constant except for just one current Encampment member joining a Canton and paying PM dues, then there would be a net gain of dues paying members. Is it likely that the escape clause will be triggered? Based on recent history, probably not, but it is not impossible.
Since this bill takes effect Jan 1st 2018, I suspect the makers were thinking that the escape clause would apply to the net 2018 vs 2017 calendar year membership numbers, but the 2018 membership wont be known until after April 1st 2019 when the 2018 reports are submitted. Therefore, the SGL can’t know with certainty what to charge for 2018 dues until some time after the 2018 reports are submitted in 2019, and should they speculate in advance that 2018 membership will decrease compared to 2017, and then membership actually increases, the SGL might have to refund $5 per member back to the jurisdictional grand lodges, who, in turn, would probably be expected to pass those refunds back to the local lodges, who would refund the $5 back to their members. What a reverse logistical nightmare!
The way the escape clause is written means that we won’t know with certainty what our dues to Sovereign will be until after we are scheduled to pay them, which in turn makes calculating our upcoming jurisdictional and local lodge dues and budgets very difficult. It will be interesting to see just how the SGL ultimately interprets and implements this bill.
A matter that has been voted on can be brought back again through a motion to amend or even to repeal the adopted language. We should urge our Sovereign Grand Lodge representatives to fix the problem by simply repealing the bill. To take this action at the 2018 SGL session is not too late.
Melvin Astrahan, 2017-18 DGM of CA
Bill No. 15 – 2016 – Lay Over to 2017
Reps. Harris of District of Columbia, Lynch of Delaware, and Miller of Connecticut from the Committees on Finance, Legislation and State of the Order, and the Executive Committee presented the following Bill.
Title: A Bill to amend Chapter XXIV, Section 1 A (3), restating annual per capita dues to The Sovereign Grand Lodge.
Be it enacted by The Sovereign Grand Lodge, I.O.O.F.:
That Chapter XXIV, Section 1 A (3) be amended as follows:
Sec. 1. General.
(3) 04Dues. Each Odd Fellow and Rebekah currently shall pays to The Sovereign Grand Lodge annual dues of eighteen and fifty one hundredths ($18.50) twenty-foureight and fifty one-hundredths United States dollars (U.S. $24.00 $8.50).
Each Patriarch, Chevalier, L.E.A. and L.A.P.M. member currently shall pays to The Sovereign Grand Lodge annual dues of sixteen six United States dollars (U.S. $16.00$6.00).
05Each of the dues amounts for Odd Fellow and Rebekah members shall be increased by five ($5.00) six ($6.00) two United States dollars (US $2.00) for each year, for two (2) five (5) years beginning at the close of the 2017 2005 session of The Sovereign Grand Lodge. The yearly increase shall not be assessed when in any year the dues paying membership from all branches of the Order shows a net gain from the previous year.
Each Grand Body shall collect the dues as of December 31 annually and pay to The Sovereign Grand Lodge with their Annual Report due April 1. Non-contributing and Associate members are exempt from these dues. Any proposal to increase these dues shall be laid over for one (1) year and the Sovereign Grand Secretary shall inform the Grand Bodies of the intent, amount and reason for raising said dues.
(As Bills do not become effective until January 1st, and no one came forward to move that this bill become effective at the close of the session – it therefor becomes effective January 1, 2018; and the dues will increase with the reports of 31 December 2018, which was agreed to on Thursday 24th August 2017 notwithstanding the year stated in the Bill.)
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
How does a SGL representative justify voting in favor of the recent dues increase?
A couple of days ago, I published an article where I highlighted the Sovereign Grand Lodge (SGL) decision to raise dues charged to members in 2018 and 2019. The precise language of the dues increase is the following: “dues amounts for Odd Fellow and Rebekah members shall be increased by five ($5.00) United States dollars for each year, for two (2) years beginning at the close of 2017 session of The Sovereign Grand Lodge. The yearly increase shall not be assessed when in any year the dues paying membership from all branches of the Order shows a net gain from the previous year.”
In response to this article, I have received e-mails from SGL representatives who had voted “yes” on this dues increase. I have asked each of them, repeatedly, the following question: “What did SGL tell you and the other reps that they would do with the increased revenue?”
I have never received an answer to the question.
In one case, I asked the SGL representative why he voted for an increase in dues when the SGL budget was balanced, with no showing of a deficit. His answer was remarkable. He said: “Yes, I do realize it was a balanced budget. But as we all know the numbers are dropping. So if you have less members to collect from you need to collect more from those that decide to continue. And a dues [increase] will not be charged if the membership increases in all branches. The incentive is there if you don’t want to pay more by increasing the lodge membership in all branches.”
Let’s analyze what we just heard here.
First, the representative’s perspective is that dues must go up because membership has decreased. Really? For what purpose? The SGL budget is balanced. So what deficit are we filling with the increased dues? More importantly, the illogic of this representative’s perspective is breathtaking. Does that mean that every year membership declines dues must go up? Do we double dues if membership gets cut in half? In truth, increasing dues to combat declining membership is a self-fulfilling negative prophecy: as we increase dues, it will compel members to withdraw resulting in decreased membership, and (thus) increased dues. Dandy.
Second, the last part of this representative’s perspective is the thought that the $5 dues increase “will not be charged if the membership increases in all branches.” He is referring to the proviso contained in the last sentence of the dues bill that: “The yearly increase will not be assessed when in any year the dues paying membership from all branches of the Order shows a net gain from the previous year.” Based on that, the representative suggests that we all have now been given an “incentive” to avoid paying the $5 dues increase “by increasing the lodge membership in all branches.” Say, what? In the mind of this representative, he believes that we (each of us members) will so want to avoid paying a $5 dues increase that we will want to join the other branches of the Order, because if all the branches collectively increase membership, the $5 dues increase will not be imposed. So, he suggests that the dues increase will give me and other members “incentive” is to join other branches, and thus increase the membership of the other branches. He is actually suggesting that I will be impelled to join other branches and pay $100 more in dues to avoid a $5 dues increase. And remember, this “incentive” only works if collectively, throughout all branches of the Order in SGL there is a membership increase.
So, there you have it. This is the sort of thinking and “logic” which, apparently, compelled a majority of the SGL representatives to approve a dues increase for us. At bottom, there is no rational basis for it, and it will do no more than further drive our membership numbers to a new low.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
One of the most confusing, unjustified, and wrong-headed decisions in recent Odd Fellows’ history has just come down from the August 21-24, 2017, Sovereign Grand Lodge (SGL) Session, just concluded in St. Louis. In case you have not heard, a majority of SGL representatives voted to increase the per capita dues that you, and every member, will pay in 2018 and 2019. At DMC we wish to commend the SGL representatives who voted in the minority against this turkey of an idea. And for those SGL representatives who voted in favor, we say “shame on you.”. Let me explain why I call this decision “confusing, unjustified, and wrong-headed”.
Here is the precise language that SGL adopted to amend Chapter XXIV, Section 1 A (3) of the Code of General Laws: “dues amounts for Odd Fellow and Rebekah members shall be increased by five ($5.00) United States dollars for each year, for two (2) years beginning at the close of 2017 session of The Sovereign Grand Lodge. The yearly increase shall not be assessed when in any year the dues paying membership from all branches of the Order shows a net gain from the previous year.”
To begin with, this language – which I assume must have been hastily drafted – is not clear as to the amount of the increase over the two-year period. I have been advised that some at SGL thought that the intent was to raise the dues $5 in 2018 and then $10 in 2019: total raise of $15. It would have been easy to draft the bill to say precisely that. However, that is certainly not the plain language of the adopted bill. As I read the bill, the dues increase would be $5 in each of two years – 2018 and 2019: total raise of $10. So, at best, we have unclear language in the bill.
Second, there is a proviso that may make it all inoperative: If the dues paying membership from all branches shows a net gain over the prior year, then the increase does not go into effect. Based on historical trends, this is an unlikely scenario, but nevertheless, we would have to wait until all Branches throughout all of SGL submit their reports to determine if the proviso prohibits the dues increase. That puts the dues amount to be assessed in 2018 and 2019 in some state of limbo. Further, there are members who pay their dues two or three years in advance. What should they be paying for 2018 and 2019?
Confusing? You bet.
Even more troubling is the fact that the dues increase was not justified at SGL. I have spoken to several individuals who attended the session where the issue came up. NO reason was given for the dues increase. The presented budget was balanced. The Finance Committee did not report a need for a dues increase or a reason that the additional funds were needed.
So why does SGL need the extra money? Is there a program that they wish to fund or increase? Is it to pay representative travel and lodging expenses (that would be strange since the number of reps attending has diminished)? Is it meant to pay for insurance? Litigation expenses? Who knows! The reason was not articulated. We are left to completely guess.
But the ultimate question is: Why did some representatives vote in favor of a dues increase without understanding the purpose for which the money would be used?
But the worst is yet to come. The decision is, in my opinion, completely wrong-headed.
Look, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Odd Fellows single biggest challenge/problem is our diminishing membership numbers. That shrinkage has affected us for decades, and permeates everything we do as an Order and in our Lodges. Some Lodges have membership so low that they have trouble getting a quorum for meetings, or only survive because associate members prop them up. Some Lodges have a “gene pool” of talent that has diminished to such an extent that they don’t have sufficient officers to fill all positions, nor to maintain the checks and balances necessary for financial stability and accuracy. Some Lodges find themselves with no member younger than 65. Yet, at SGL, at Grand Lodges, and at the Lodge level, we go about our business pretty much the same way we have done so over the last Century – hoping beyond hope that if we can just run our meetings properly, all will be well.
The continued losses are debilitating, and not sustainable. We once had an Order that boasted 1 million members – the largest in the United States. Instead of growing – we have been shrinking. Today, we are a shadow of our former membership. And if the net losses continue, our Order will be decimated in North America in the next 20 years.
Here are some SGL statistics that should alarm every Odd Fellow:
* In 2015 there were 1,270 Lodges; in 2016 that number has slid to 1,236 Lodges – a diminution of 34 Lodges. I understand that the number in 2017 is even lower.
* In 2015 there were 33,745 dues paying members in the United States and Canada. The percentage drop in membership we have been experiencing in the United States and Canada is close to 4% year-to-year.
* There are 56 regular jurisdictions in the United States and Canada with 33,745 members and 8 other countries under the direct jurisdiction of the SGL with 696 members. I note that there are independent jurisdictions in Australasia, Europe, Latin America with 71,067 members. These other jurisdictions have far-surpassed the membership totals of the United States and Canada.
* Some of the jurisdictions in the United States and Canada have gotten paper thin in terms of membership. How thin? Let me give you an example. My own Lodge – Davis #169 in California – has more dues paying members than each of TWENTY jurisdictions (states and provinces) in North America. In fact, there are fully FOUR jurisdictions with memberships under 100.
So, unquestionably, the Number One concern of our Order, of our Lodges and of our members is, and must be, to INCREASE MEMBERSHIP. In light of that, here is a simple truth: Raising dues is anathema to increasing membership.
Increasing dues will make it more difficult to gain new members, and it will make it difficult for some members – who have limited resources – to continue their membership. Even if this were to affect only 2% of our Order, we can ill-afford lose 700 members or potential members because the dues increase has compelled them to withdraw or not to apply.
Members, Lodges and Grand Lodges need to resist this dues increase. SGL must revisit this bad decision. SGL should focus, instead, on membership, membership, membership. The sinking ship of Odd Fellowship can be righted, but not with a dues increase. When over 90 percent of our Lodges are showing net losses of members, while less than 10% of our Lodges are showing net gains, isn’t the solution obvious? We need to focus on the few Lodges that are gaining members, and replicate their formulas for success. Everything else is just whistling in the dark.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California