Despite national trends for fraternal organizations, Davis Lodge and Branches continue to grow.
You know the statistics. In the State of California, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows continues a steep decline in membership and lodges – a decline that started after World War II and continues almost unabated till today. Odd Fellows? Over the past five years membership in this state has decline about 10% and now totals less than 4,770 members. Over that same five-year period we have lost 23 lodges (that have closed, had their charters pulled, or consolidated) so that we have just 126 lodges in the entire state today. As you know, Odd Fellows once numbered in the hundreds of thousands and Odd Fellows Lodge numbered in the hundreds. Rebekahs? Rebekahs continue to lose a couple of hundred members every year, and now count only about 1,700 “contributing members”. The Rebekah Assembly now operates a deficit budget, projected expenses to exceed income. Encampments? The Grand Patriarch of California recently wrote a letter indicating that many of the few remaining Encampments are “operating” with less than a quorum, and if he were to pull their charters, we would have less than five functional Encampments in this state thus losing our state’s ability to operate a Grand Encampment. Patriarchs Militant? It appears that we have only five or six functional Cantons in California today.
And yet, notwithstanding these grim numbers, the Davis Lodge and Branches, over that very same five-year period, have been growing. The Davis Odd Fellows Lodge, which numbered less than 100 members five years ago, now has 192 members, and 37 applicants to membership. The membership of the Davis Lodge, now makes it one of the five largest lodges in California. In fact, the Lodge has so many applicants that we have had to put each applicant in a “Pledge Class” and we have created a pledging period of about six months. We currently have two pending Pledge Classes, one leading to initiation in the Fall of 2013 and the other leading to initiation in the Spring of 2014. The Davis Rebekah Lodge has 30 active members, making it one of the largest Rebekah Lodges in California. More importantly, the Davis Rebekah Lodge has steadily increased membership over the past five years, adding about three new Rebekahs each year. The Davis Encampment, five years ago, was essentially, defunct – having only three “active” members. At that time a number of third-degree Odd Fellows joined the Encampment and now it has 35 Patriarchs and Matriarchs, making it the largest Encampment in California. Davis also recently received dispensation to form a Canton and Canton Davis #7 already has 14 members.
Why is the Order and all its branches diminishing in numbers throughout California, while at the very same time, the Davis Odd Fellows Lodge and the other Davis branches are growing?
In my opinion, the answer is obvious. Davis actively applies what I call the “Three-Legged Stool” approach. This concept applies a 21st century approach to Odd Fellowship and, frankly, attracts the young men and women of today. Ultimately, it is new membership which is the life-blood of this and any other organization. What is the “Three-Legged Stool” approach? A three-legged stool will only support the body if it is sturdy. If one leg is wobbly, or weak, or missing, the stool will certainly collapse. If all three legs are stout, the stool will readily support the body. In this approach, the three legs of the stool represent the following: (1) The rich history and ritual of our Order that goes back hundreds of years and has evolved to today. We can never diminish the unique history and ritual which makes us Odd Fellows. (2) Good fellowship within the Lodge. Men and women of the 21st Century want a strong social network and so Lodges must offer a range of activities that the members wish to enjoy. The list is almost endless and includes breakfasts at the Lodge, bowling night, movie night, hikes, bicycle trips, wine tasting, game nights, social nights, barbeques, dinners and dances, etc. (3) Involvement in the community. Men and women of today want to be active in the community and in support of good charitable and community works. This can cover a wide range, including but not limited to tree planting, working with mentally ill members of the community, bingo for the community, walk-a-thons to support a charitable group, helping frail seniors in their homes or with their computers, hosting charitable events at the Lodge, raising funds to send kids to summer camp, and so on.
Where Lodges are strong, Encampments will be strong. Where Encampments are strong, Cantons will be strong.
Where Lodges, Encampments and Cantons support, emphasize, and engage in the works represented by all three legs of the stool, there will be strength and growth in the 21st Century of Odd Fellowship.