When “Dedicated Members for Change” first formed in 2010, we were criticized, mocked, ridiculed, and sidelined. Early on in our existence, we asked to use a meeting room during Grand Lodge sessions. The Grand Master at the time denied us even the use of a room. We had to go down the street to a Mexican restaurant to have our meeting. I recall a discussion I had years ago with a respected member of our Order regarding the need for change to ensure the progress and survival of Odd Fellowship. I showed him the decline in our membership numbers and I made specific reference to Lodges that were in trouble. I suggested to this member that the Order needed to change the way we operate, or we would surely continue to diminish and perish. At the end of our discussion, this member uttered the words I remember to this day. He said, “I would rather the Order die, than change.”
Well, I have a different philosophy. I would rather that this Order change and live on.
And it’s not like change is some radical notion in our Order. In fact, the history of Odd Fellowship is a history replete with change. If one goes back to the 18th and 19th Centuries, we see branches of Odd Fellowship desiring to change the ritual and breaking off to form new orders. When Brother Thomas Wildey instituted his Lodge in Baltimore on April 26, 1819, he did it himself – no Grand Lodge gave them a charter. Yes, it was self-instituted. He and four others simply took their obligations in front of each other. How’s that for radical change? Even in more modern times, we see dramatic changes in Odd Fellowship. There was a time when only white men could be members of an Odd Fellows Lodge. Thankfully, that has changed. In a prior time, Chaplains were not an office in an Odd Fellows Lodge. Women were barred from joining Odd Fellows Lodges until the year 2000. It’s been only in the last few years that Odd Fellowship adopted a formal non-discrimination policy.
Change is a common thread in our Order. And, ultimately, change will save this Order. Because without change, we will diminish. At the current trends, other than a small handful of energetic and wealthy Lodges, Odd Fellowship will go the way of literally hundreds of fraternal orders that have sprung up in North America, flourished, and then faded into historical obscurity.
So what are the changes that will save this Order? Here is my view:
- Lodges must be active in their communities. After all, the community is where we derive new members. To sit in a Lodge Hall distanced and divorced from the community at large is a sign of a Zombie Lodge.
- Lodges must dedicate time for social events and social meetings. New members don’t join just to sit in a room and recite words from a little red book. The social aspects of FLT are important. These aspects will bring in new members, and will keep current members engaged.
- The ritual must be simplified and modernized. The oaths and obligations are overly long and stultifying. The words are ancient, archaic and outmoded. Lodge members even have difficulty pronouncing the words during meetings, let alone understanding them. We live in the 21st Century, not the 18th Century.
- The different units of Odd Fellowship must ultimately be merged into one strong entity. The modern Odd Fellows Lodge should have nine degrees composed of the four current degrees (the Initiatory Degree, the Degree of Friendship, the Degree of Love, the Degree of Truth), the Rebekah Degree (which can be renamed the Degree of Equality), the three Encampment degrees (Hope, Faith and Charity), and the P.M. Degree of Universal Justice.
- The ancient admonitions must be brought into the 21st Century. The admonitions certainly made sense during the time of Thomas Wildey. But in the current age, “bury the dead” just sounds ghoulish, and “educate the orphan” makes little sense in a country without orphanages.
- Overt religious references must be eliminated. We are a fraternal order, not a religious order. There was a time when Odd Fellowship was only available for white Christian men. The “white” and the “men” parts have been ameliorated. But what about the “Christian” part? If Odd Fellowship truly wants to be international and honestly professes to be non-sectarian, then change is in order.
- Every Lodge is required to have a Finance Committee, a Bylaws Committee, and a Visiting Committee? Why not also require a Membership Committee? Without a strong membership program, Lodges will flounder. Only with a strong program of membership development will Lodges ultimately survive.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
Jurisdiction of California
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