Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Some members believe that consolidation of Odd Fellow Lodges is a fine thing, and a major accomplishment. There is even a formal consolidation ceremony in our ritual that is performed when the merger of two (or more) Lodges is consummated. In the ceremony, the absorbed Odd Fellow Lodge is called the “consolidated” Lodge and the absorbing Lodge is called the “consolidating” Lodge. There is a fair amount of pomp, circumstance and ceremony involved in the consolidation ceremony. You can find it in the ritual (the “red book”).
But to me, consolidation speaks more of failure than success. It should not be the subject of a celebration. It is a cause for concern.
A consolidation is just a fancier way to saying that an Odd Fellow Lodge has gone out of business. It is a more genteel way, if you will, of pulling a Lodge’s charter. When two Lodges consolidate, it means that one Lodge has gone out of business because the membership has fallen so low that it is no longer viable. And it doesn’t happen overnight. Typically, Lodges that consolidate into another Lodge have not been viable for many years. The demising Lodge has lost a quorum of regular members, and has often been kept on life support by the kindness of associate members – typically from the gaining Lodge. The failed Lodge may have gone for months without meetings because of the lack of quorum. Truth be told, the absorbed Lodge’s leadership and members have failed their Lodge and have failed the Order. They have allowed the membership to age and to dwindle. In the past, the absorbed Lodge may have been sustained for decades, sometimes well over a Century, by members who lovingly cared for the Lodge Hall, were proud of their history and accomplishments, and happily brought in new members to continue the fraternal experience. But the current generation of members was too old, or too complacent, or too distracted, or too clueless, or too incompetent to continue that history. They let the Lodge lapse on their watch. They let the Lodge become a mere historical footnote. What a shame.
In the California jurisdiction, we have three consolidations that have just occurred or are pending. I am sure that other jurisdictions have consolidations in some phase of devolution. In two of the three California consolidations, the demising Lodge had five dues-paying member on its books. In one case, the books showed eight dues-paying members. But it’s probably smoke-and-mirrors to some extent. Of the few dues-paying members, some may have been too old or ill to travel to meetings, some may not even live in the jurisdiction, and some may have simply stopped attending even though they write a dues check once a year. The absorbed Lodges have really been defunct for years- they are zombie Lodges, going through the motions of life, but long since derelict, decrepit and deceased
Odd Fellow Lodges that have five dues-paying members on the books have gone past the point of no-return. But Lodges with 10 or fewer dues-paying members should be concerned as well – and there are 18 Lodges in California with 10 or fewer members. Having 10 or fewer members should be a red flag for the leadership and members of those Lodges. It is critical that they bring in more members. There is no time to delay. Under the theory that only about half the members truly participate in Lodge meetings and activities, a Lodge with 10 or fewer members is skating perilously close to the precipice of consolidation. (I note that there are another 14 Lodges in California with 11 or 12 dues-paying members. Should those Lodges be concerned, as well? You bet they should.)
Surrendering an Odd Fellow Lodge charter or having it pulled by the Grand Master is the ultimate indignity in a fraternal order. For a Lodge to be absorbed through consolidation is, perhaps, a step up, but it’s no cause for celebration.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California