The natural process of an Odd Fellows lodge includes many dynamics, from who we admit as a member to how we decide to interpret the rituals and our codes. The decisions of an Odd Fellow lodge could be perceived as controversial to members of other lodges.
In my years as a member of this Order and having served in numerous capacities, from a lodge officer in every seat, a district deputy, and trustee and director of two Grand Bodies, a grand instructor three times, a Grand Patriarch and Grand Master, to being a well-read historian of the Order and writer of numerous pieces of legislation, I have never seen a universal way a lodge conducts its affairs. As much as a parent Grand Lodge would like to see all lodges be the same, they are not, nor shall they ever be the same. I write this piece because members must have an understanding of the differences occurring in our Order.
There are many factors which effect the personality of an Odd Fellows lodge, including the geography, the demographics of a community, the beliefs by our members, the education levels, financial availability, and others. We are definitely a diverse group, which sets us apart from other organizations, which is a positive factor in today’s social climate.
For example, on the one hand we may have a lodge belonging to a more liberal city, where the members may be more inclusive of who they admit and how they interpret the rituals and codes. Larger cities, mostly, offer our lodges prospective applicants from all social and ethnic backgrounds, whereas, a small rural town may have only one demographic. Or we may see a lodge in the middle of an agricultural setting – literally – where the workers come straight from the fields to the lodge, which would be almost, if not all, men. This happens. The same goes for geographical regions, where many of the residents are poorer, and another region where residents may be wealthier. These are some of the factors, which give our lodges different make-ups of members. They are not necessarily blended, but still all Odd Fellows.
Some of the differences I have seen over the years: Some members believe this is a Christian organization and its members should be Christian, where others admit all faiths and beliefs. Some members believe a “Creator and Preserver of the Universe” is “God”, but others do not, primarily because of their own backgrounds and upbringing. We have atheist and non-believers and people of varied religious beliefs in this Order. Some members believe this is an Order of non-LBGT members, whereas in larger cities, lodges admit members of the LBGT community. We have lodges with homeless and poor members, and we see lodges with wealthy and well-to-do members. Often, other lodge members will step up and pay another member’s dues.
In older Odd Fellow lodges, there are many lodges that maintain the alter in the center of the floor, as a matter of tradition and to preserve the integrity of the sacred area between the center of the floor and the station of the Noble Grand. Most lodges do not; the meaning of the aforementioned is lost to these lodges, which is their right.
The code instructs Vice Grands and Noble Grands to be able to recite the unwritten work before being allowed to serve in those capacities. This is rarely done, so lodges forgo this requirement. As a past grand instructor on multiple occasions, I saw very few who could recite the unwritten work from memory. Some lodges use the digital video recordings for their degree work and others, if they have the desire and the adequate number of members, may confer the degrees live instead of using the “DVD.” Some members frown on the use of digital degrees, which others praise it as a faster means of bringing in members.
During the opening of a lodge meeting some members read their responsibilities and duties with enthusiasm, some by memory, some not at all; some lodges skip the reading of the duties. Some skip the prayer. Some have a moment of silence during the prayer, out of respect for members of other faiths, who shall not repeat the Lord’s Prayer, as it is viewed strictly as from the New Testament (Bible).
It is a fact, that in many cities, rather than small towns, we find lodges having more members, where they are diverse, where the code and rituals are more likely going to meet challenges and adjustments to be socially acceptable to all their members. In this regard, it becomes a difficult process for an unyielding leader from another lodge or locality to impose a different interpretation of the ritual or code, without the risk of alienation, fracturing, or eliminating an entire group of members.
There are so many different ways our lodges do their business and conduct their meetings, they cannot all be conveyed in this writing. The point of this is to educate those who can read, that our lodges are different whether we like it or not. To become overly concerned or indifferent or even enraged at a lodge where you are not a member, is probably not going to work in the interest of all parties. In fact, a lodge being taken to task because of its practices may ignore outside suggestions to the point of creating a challenge.
Brothers and sisters, we find our common bond in the obligation we all took upon joining this Order, and we all call ourselves “Odd Fellows.” And, we have a rich history.
In Friendship, Love, & Truth,
Peter V. Sellars