Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
This is the second in a trilogy of articles predicting the future of Odd Fellowship. What will our fraternity look like in 10 years – 2029? The first article dealt with the future at the Sovereign Grand Lodge level. This second article focuses on the state/province level of our Order. I’m entitling it: “Grand Lodges – Not So Grand Anymore.”
My mentor in Odd Fellowship was Brother Don Smith. Don served as Grand Master of California and also as Sovereign Grand Master of Odd Fellowship. Don was my Fraternal Brother and a dear friend, and always gave me good advice. He also was a remarkable historian of our Order. Don would tell me about the days he attended the Grand Lodge gatherings in California some 40-50 years ago when literally thousands would attend the week-long event. Huge halls had to be rented, and large dining rooms had to be reserved for the throngs of Odd Fellows, Rebekahs, and guests who would attend. Hundreds would go to sessions, and thousands would gather at opening ceremonies and closing installations.
Today, in 2019, it’s quite different. Because of the sharp drop in our membership rolls, quite a few Grand Lodges have less than 500 members in their entire jurisdiction, and a remarkable number of Grand Lodges have less than 300 members. (I once looked at a chart which showed that my one Lodge in little Davis California, had more members than the entire membership of 17 different jurisdictions.) Yet, notwithstanding the dramatic drop in membership, most Grand Lodges continue to operate as if it were 1959, instead of 2019. The annual gatherings still encompass five days (or more) and the attendees do the same things that were done 40-50 years ago. When the attendance at Grand Lodge sessions is less than 30 members, it frankly becomes the theater of the absurd.
Absent a remarkable turnaround in growth of this Order, it makes no sense to continue Grand Sessions of jurisdictions that fall below a certain number of members. Everyone will agree with this concept at some point – the devil is in the detail. Should the threshold number be 300? 200? 100? I predict that those ultra-small jurisdictions below the threshold will simply do away with their Grand Lodge, and the Lodges in that state or province would become jurisdictional Lodges under the umbrella of Sovereign; or alternatively, Sovereign could create regional districts that would encompass the jurisdictional Lodges in that region.
A major impediment to attendance and participation at Grand Lodge sessions is the length of those sessions. Virtually all Grand Lodge (and Rebekah Assembly) sessions last five days, if not longer. That is another bizarre throwback to the past. Now, I completely understand that as the average age of our membership ratchets upwards into the late 70’s, most of the members who attend sessions are semi-retired or retired. And I understand that sessions have become, essentially, an annual reunion – a homecoming of sorts – where members re-connect with brothers and sisters from other Lodges. I get that, and I understand that. However, if we truly want our Order to be attractive to folks in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, we must modify sessions to span no more than three days, with two of those days being over a weekend. Working men and women, and members with small children find it extremely challenging to attend a session of five or six days. However, a session of two or three days, over a weekend is absolutely doable. And in my experience, the actual business at sessions can be accomplished in two days. Accordingly, as we strive to attract the next generation of leaders to this Order, I predict that Grand Lodge Sessions in 2029 will be shorter and leaner – with more emphasis on the business of the Grand Lodge.
Next week, I will publish the third of these articles about Odd Fellowship in 2029 by looking at the future at the Lodge level. The article will be entitled: “The Lodge: Glum or Glad”?
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California