Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
On May 16, 2015, I was installed as the 163rd Grand Master of California Odd Fellows. I thought you might be interested in the speech I presented to the Grand Lodge Session on the day of my election, and just prior to my installation. I look forward to my year, working with all the members of this great Order. I am especially pleased that the Grand Master, the Deputy Grand Master Peter Sellars , and the newly elected Grand Warden of California Dave Reed are all progressives, with a clear vision for the future of our Order, and a strong commitment to membership development. For the next three years, at least, we will have a single and united focus, and I expect to see Odd Fellowship in California thrive.
F – L – T
Speech of Incoming Grand Master Dave Rosenberg to the California Grand Lodge Session – May 16, 2015
My brothers and sisters: It will be my privilege to serve as Grand Master of California for the next year. Thank you for your confidence, placing me in this position. I look forward to working with newly elected Rebekah Assembly President Donna Morrison, Deputy Grand Master Peter Sellars, Grand Warden Dave Reed, the Grand Lodge Board of Directors, and each of you in the coming year. I am especially delighted that Deputy Grand Master Peter Sellars, Grand Warden Dave Reed, and I are on the same page when it comes to a vision for the future of our Order.
Since I first ran for the position of Grand Warden, I’ve made no secret of my vision for this Order. I’m really a pretty simple guy, and so I’ve focused, and will continue to focus, on two things: (1) Stopping the 70-year decline in our membership. I will continue to suggest ways to increase Lodge membership, and I will do all in my power to facilitate and support our growth. (2) Returning to the great principles of this Order: friendship, love and truth. We are just too small and too few to continue the bickering and back-biting that I’ve seen. I will not tolerate it. Teddy Roosevelt used to say that the best thing the President has is a bully pulpit – and the same is true for the Grand Master – I intend to use the bully pulpit – with the spoken word and the written word – to move this Order forward.
My tenure as your Grand Master will be different. I extend the hand of friendship to each of you. I truly love this Order and what it stands for. And I will always tell you the truth, no matter how painful it may be. And here’s the truth: Our Order is diminishing with declining membership and closures and consolidations of Lodges. Slowly withering away, piece by piece, because we have talked for 70 years about our declining numbers, but we have done precious little besides talk. Let me give you just one statistic. In 1860, when we first started keeping statistics, the number of dues-paying Odd Fellows in California, was 5,370. As of December 31, 2014, we had 4,252 dues-paying members in California. Yes – we had more members in 1860 than we do today. Well, the time for talking is over. We have to be bold. We can’t be afraid to take big steps. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps. And you can’t attract young men and women to Odd Fellowship in 2015 by behaving like we’re living in 1945. To thrive in this new Century, our Lodges must become three-dimensional: We must focus not only on the great history and ritual of this Order, but we must also remember to have some fun in our Lodge experience, and we must open our Lodges to our communities to do good works in those communities.
This speech will be short. Because we don’t have time for fluff. We need to get back to the business of strengthening, building and growing Odd Fellowship. So, when you look at the Itinerary of the Rebekah President and the Grand Master for the coming year, you will not see a flower, or a song, or a hymn, or an emblem, or a motto, or a bird, reptile, amphibian or mammal for that matter. We’ve kept it simple. We’ve only chosen watchwords, colors and projects. Our watchwords are Evolution and Change. Because if we don’t evolve with the 21st Century and if we don’t change the trajectory of our membership declines, this Order will diminish and may very well die. We can’t continue losing members and closing Lodges. It’s just not sustainable. And we can’t hide the truth that many of our Lodges can barely muster quorums for meetings. The history of our great Order is one of occasional evolution and change – it seems to happen every few decades – and brothers and sisters, you and I are about to embark on another such era. Our chosen colors are black and white. Because truth is black and white. You either tell the truth and face reality, or you are dissembling, evading, pretending, or just plain lying. My projects are “helping others to help themselves” – and so I am focusing on the Culinary Academy at RCS which trains foster kids to work, our member benefits program which helps Odd Fellows and Rebekahs overcome temporary financial obstacles, and the IOOF Educational Foundation which helps men and women get the education they need to help themselves.
And as your Grand Master, I will be visiting Lodges, but I won’t be bringing buttons or coins or pins. Instead, I have written a second book about the future of our Order which focuses on my vision to increase membership and to get back to the basics of friendship, love and truth. This book is entitled “The Future of Odd Fellowship – Evolution and Change”, and will be available starting today for any brother or sister to purchase at $10 – and every penny of the proceeds will be contributed to support Odd Fellows charities which help people to help themselves: the Culinary Program at the Rebekah Children’s Home, the Odd Fellows Member Benefits program, and the Educational Foundation. The book, itself, is full of information to help members and Lodge re-focus on ways to increase membership and on ways to get along in the Lodge room as true brothers and sisters in a fraternal organization.
Today I will distribute a list of my committee appointments for 2015-16. This year I did something different. In April I sent a letter to each Lodge in the jurisdiction, and requested that members interested in serving on a committee contact me directly. My goal was to expand the universe of members on these committees. For too long, our Grand Lodge committees have operated in a closed universe, with the same people serving again and again, year after year. Nothing wrong with experience, of course. But I also wanted to give some of our newer members the opportunity to serve. You will notice that I have created some new special committees, including a Code Revision Committee and a Public Relations Committee – because our Code is in dire need up modernization and our Order needs a focused effort to reach out to members of the public. There will also be a renewed emphasis on a re-charged Membership Committee under the leadership of Deputy Grand Master Peter Sellars, and we are bringing back the think tank and engine of new ideas that is the Dedicated Members for Change Committee under the leadership of Past Grand Master Rick Boyles.
My Grand Lodge Officers reflect evolution and change, as well. In the entire history of Odd Fellowship in California, only two women have ever served as Grand Lodge Officers. You will note that the majority of the Grand Lodge Officers that I have selected are women. Equal treatment of all Odd Fellows is very important to me, and I expect to every Lodge and every member of this Order. I am very pleased to announce my appointed Grand Lodge Officers – a strong team for 2015-16: Grand Marshal Nancy Johnson, Grand Conductor David Fleck, Grand Chaplain Rita Cooper. Grand Color Bearer Lawrence “Stark” Dagesse, Grand Guardian Lea Rosenberg, Grand Herald Anita Donnell, and Grand Instructor Neil Allen.
Some of the changes will be symbolic. For example, incoming President Donna Morrison and I have decided that we are not going to have a dozen separate receptions for our Grand Lodge and Rebekah Assembly Officers. Instead, we will work hand-in-hand to have one very large and festive joint reception for all officers. We also are not going to have that expensive Hawaiian Cruise that only a handful of members can afford – instead we are going to have a wine country bus trip – a fun and inexpensive excursion right here in California. Other changes will be very substantive. For example, our Code is replete with inconsistencies, archaic requirements, and ancient dogma which don’t fit the realities of today. In the coming year you will see proposals to simplify and modernize our Code.
In closing, remember this: Our ritual says that “Odd Fellowship is Progressive”. The Constitution of the Sovereign Grand Lodge says, “The rules and regulations set forth in the Constitution and Code of General Laws shall be liberally construed. The chief concern shall be following the spirit of the law and good of Odd Fellowship rather than harshly enforcing rules to the letter of the law.” That, brothers and sisters, shall be one of the hallmarks of my year as your Grand Master. We will work together to re-vitalize and re-energize this great Order. And we will do so in a progressive spirit, following the spirit of our laws and the good of Odd Fellowship rather than a harsh enforcement of rules. In this regard, I will be issuing a number of dispensations throughout my year – as the Code authorizes me to do as Grand Master – which will facilitate the opening of our Lodges to the world around us, a renewed emphasis on having some fun, and the recruitment of new members to join our Order.
In friendship, love and truth, we will take this journey of evolution and change together. I will leave you with the story I heard many years ago – it has stayed with me – of two stonecutters. They were asked what they were doing. The first one said, “I’m cutting this stone into blocks.” The second one said, “I’m on a team building a great cathedral.” Let’s work together – like that second stonecutter – to re-build this great fraternal order.