Updated: August 15, 2021
The concept of “weak Lodges” is recognized in the Odd Fellows Codes. And certainly every jurisdiction has Lodges that could be categorized as “weak”. This is not a criticism. It’s just a statement of fact.
There are lots of reasons why a particular Odd Fellows Lodge might be considered as weak. The reasons include:
- very low membership numbers and failure, for years, to add new members;
- a Lodge building in need of significant maintenance and repair, including ADA access issues;
- no tenants, thus no rental income for the Lodge;
- financial irregularities, including lack of financial record-keeping and lack of financial checks and balances;
- failure to submit per capita reports;
- a dearth of trained and knowledgeable leaders;
- inability to have legal meetings due to lack of a quorum of members;
- failure to hold meetings and/or keep proper records of meetings;
- failure to follow Odd Fellows ritual. Some Lodges suffer from one of these ailments; and some Lodges suffer from a combination of ailments.
Just like we would help a Brother or Sister in need, as a fraternal Order, Odd Fellows are obligated to assist weak Lodges. Of course, this is sometimes easier said, than done. There are Lodges that are pretty good at staying under the radar. In fact, for many Lodges, the only contacts that they have with Grand Lodge are the submission of the annual per capita report, and the official visit by a District Deputy Grand Master or a Grand Master. The rest of the time, the Lodge remains virtually invisible – sometimes they stay invisible so long that they literally vanish.
Perhaps the biggest red flag revealing an Odd Fellows Lodge in difficulty is the annual per capita report submitted to Grand Lodge. But even that report may paint only part of the picture. For example, as to membership data, it just provides the number of members – it doesn’t indicate how active or involved the members are or even if they attend meetings. And as to financial information, the report really only covers the tip of the iceberg, and very little, if any, back-up data is provided. As to official visits, they are hit and miss. For most years, the DDGM program is, itself, weak. Some DDGM’s are very conscientious and take seriously their required annual visits to all Lodges in their respective districts. Other DDGM’s, regrettably, slough it off or make only half-hearted social visits, without really delving into the details. Even official visits by Grand Masters can be unhelpful. For example, in many jurisdictions, the GM doesn’t visit every Lodge every year. And more often than not, when there is a GM visit, the Lodge pulls out all the stops and invites Odd Fellows from surrounding Lodges to attend the dinners and meetings – putting forward a brave face. And typically, GM visits are brief – and GM’s, during their visits, don’t really check out the minute book, or the warrants, or the Lodge financial documents. And precious few weak Lodges actually step forward and ask for assistance.
So what can or should be done to help these Lodges avoid the inevitable decline, loss of charter, or necessary consolidation?
I suggest a simple, low-key, but elegant approach to assist the weak Lodges. In my mind, the best approach is one-on-one. When a weak Lodge is identified, the Grand Master should assign (perhaps as a Special Deputy) a knowledgeable Odd Fellow from a nearby healthy Lodge to work with the weak Lodge, one-on-one, on a regular and ongoing basis – perhaps for as long as one year. The goal is not to close the Lodge; the goal is to assist the weak Lodge to get healthy.
F – L – T
Pasts Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows