One Lodge. Nine Degrees. The future of the Odd Fellows

One Lodge. Nine Degrees. The future of the Odd Fellows

A decade ago, in the pages of this very DMC Newsletter, I opined that the Independent Order of Odd Fellows was too diffused, with too many separate units, and that our fraternity needed to merge and consolidate our units into one strong Unit:   The Odd Fellows Lodge.  Even though our membership numbers were shrinking (and had been shrinking for decades) we still continued to perpetuate units which were outmoded one or two generations ago.

Let me tell you what I mean.

There was a time when women were not permitted to join an Odd Fellows Lodge.   Thankfully, this changed in 1999, and effective 2000, women were no longer barred from becoming Odd Fellows.   In spite of this past discriminatory policy towards women, Odd Fellows created a “separate-but-equal” entity, called the Rebekah Lodge.   (Ironically, men could always join Rebekah Lodges while women were barred from joining Odd Fellows Lodges.   The hypocrisy should not be lost on any of us.)  So, there was a time when Odd Fellows Lodges were known as “the men’s Lodge” and Rebekah Lodges were known as “the women’s Lodge.”   In fact, when I joined Odd Fellows in 2004, older members (both men and women) continued to refer to the Lodges in this fashion – and some still do, even today.  

Women were barred from membership

But because women were barred from membership in Odd Fellows Lodges, and the advanced units such as the Encampment, and the Cantons of the Patriarchs Militant, there was also created a parallel chain for the advancement of women.   So, because Odd Fellows could advance to become members of the Encampment (which also barred women), Rebekahs created the Ladies Encampment Auxiliary (L.E.A.) as the next progression.   And, because members of the Encampment could advance to become Chevaliers in the Patriarchs Militant (which also barred women), Rebekahs created the Ladies Auxiliary Patriarchs Militant (L.A.P.M.) as the final progression in their advancement in the Order.

So, as the result of this past separation of the sexes, and the past discrimination against women, Odd Fellows wound up with six units:   Odd Fellows, Rebekahs, Encampments, L.E.A.’s, Patriarchs Militant, and L.A.P.M.’s.   (And for this discussion, I’m not even counting the Junior Odd Fellows for boys and Theta Rho for girls as two more units.)

No longer making sense

But here we are in the year 2021, and these separate units make no sense either philosophically or practically.   As a matter of philosophy, continued separation of units based on gender is a throwback to another time and another age.   And as a practical matter, these diverse “female” units are shrinking in membership even faster than we see shrinking in Odd Fellows Lodges.  

Ten years ago, I suggested that we need to start merging and consolidating our units.  I received a lot of blow-back at the time because Odd Fellowship was not yet ready to accept the reality and truth.  But now, even Sovereign Grand Lodge has seen the writing on the wall.   Membership in these extended units is very small, and is diminishing over time – the members get older every year, and new younger members are just not coming in fast enough, if at all.   So, bottom line, we need to consolidate the P.M. with the L.A.P.M.   And then we need to consolidate the Encampments with the L.E.A.’s.   That is starting to happen.   SGL has ordered that the L.A.P.M. will no longer exist after December 31, 2021, and members of the L.A.P.M. may join existing Cantons, or form their own Cantons, or may honorably leave the L.A.P.M.    That has now happened in California at the recent gathering of the California Department Council and the California Department Association – the California L.A.P.M. members were all mustered into the Patriarchs Militant and all became Chevaliers.  The L.A.P.M. in California no longer exists.   And it will be happening throughout the jurisdiction of the Sovereign Grand Lodge.   The next step is inevitable:   The L.E.A. must come to a close as a separate unit, and members must merge with the Encampments or start their own Encampments.   I predict that this will happen within the next two or three years.   At that point, we will have only four units: Odd Fellows, Rebekahs, Encampments, and Patriarchs Militant.

But the merger cannot stop there.   Inevitably, the final steps must be taken.  This is not meant to be taken in a negative way.   It’s really just math.   When the numbers of new dues-paying regular members joining the Order is far less than the numbers of dues-paying regular members leaving the Order, then the result is fated.   The first phase will be the phasing out of the Rebekahs as a separate unit.   Members of Rebekah Lodges must then be permitted to become Odd Fellows, and should be able to join existing Odd Fellows Lodges or be given permission to form their own Lodges of Odd Fellows.  I predict that – as the membership numbers continue to decline on the Rebekah side – this merger will occur within the next five to seven years.   And the second phase is equally important.   To strengthen Odd Fellowship, we must eliminate all the separate units while retaining the degrees.   The result will be one unit – the Odd Fellows Lodge – with many degrees – preserving the important teachings of our Order, and allowing members to advance to higher degrees.   I envision the following degrees:   The Initiatory Degree (which I would rename the Degree of Trust – this is what it was called in a prior century), the Degree of Friendship, the Degree of Love, the Degree of Truth, the Rebekah Degree (which I would rename the Degree of Equality), the Patriarchal Degree, the Golden Rule Degree, the Royal Purple Degree, and finally, the Degree of Universal Justice.   One Lodge – nine degrees.   That is the inevitable future of our Order.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

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