Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The 163rd Annual Grand Lodge Session officially begins tomorrow, May 13, 2015, in Modesto. As I pack my papers and bags in preparation for the session, I can’t help but reflect back on my experiences in this Order. I am a relatively new member, having joined just over 11 years ago. And it has certainly been an interesting experience for me and for my family. I joined the Order in early 2004. By 2005, I had reviewed Journals and reports generated by Grand Lodge and had come to the startling conclusion that Odd Fellowship was a diminishing, and potentially dying, Order.
In case you haven’t been keeping track, let me offer some statistics reflecting the paid membership (as of December 31) of California Odd Fellows over the past few decades:
1950 – 29,096
1960 – 21,744
1970 – 14,027
1980 – 10,151
1990 – 7,617
2000 – 5,846
2010 – 4,994
And here’s some more shocking facts. At the end of 2014, our paid membership was only 4,252, less than our membership in 1860 – we had 5,370 members in 1860. And it is noteworthy that the drop in membership from 2000 to 2014 (just 14 years) was 1,594 members – we lost almost 30% of the Order in the last 14 years. The decline has been substantial and it is absolutely unsustainable. Our Number 1 issue in this Order is this steady decline in membership. It is the elephant in our Lodge room. For anyone to ignore this would be to ignore reality.
The decline was and is very distressing to me as I felt then, as I feel now, that Odd Fellowship’s history and message were important ones for our age. So, I endeavored, starting in the latter part of 2005 to transform my own Lodge – Davis #169 – essentially, using my own Lodge as a “laboratory” to show what an Odd Fellows Lodge could do in the 21st Century to grow and prosper. At the beginning of this experiment, my Lodge had about 20 members, most of whom did not come to meetings. I daresay it was similar in this regard to many (perhaps most) Odd Fellows Lodges today. We proceeded to evolve into a three dimensional Lodge. We emphasized three things: (1) The rich history, record and ritual of Odd Fellowship – the things which made us uniquely Odd Fellows; (2) Opening the doors and windows of our Lodge to the community, and involving ourselves in active local and charitable projects to benefit our town; and (3) Remembering that we are a fraternal order, so we endeavored to have some fun activities for the members, including activities which brought fraternal benefits to the members and their families. The result is that instead of losing members, we have grown over 1,000% in those 10 years. Our current membership is 230, and we have 27 applications for membership pending. I imagine that this is what Odd Fellows Lodges were like in the 1800’s – they were the center of the community and everyone who was anyone wanted to join. The Lodges did not do any active “recruiting” for members – they let their activities and public presence do their “recruiting” for them.
I believe, in my heart, that the future of this Order will be secured if our Lodges become three-dimensional Lodges. And it is noteworthy that those Lodges that have become three-dimensional are the ones showing significant growth. The truth is inescapable. If we believe in “truth”, then we need look no further than that.
As I begin my journey to Modesto, I reflect back on my journey in Odd Fellows over the past 11 years. It has been an overwhelmingly positive trip. In fact, I can think of only three negative incidents I have experienced in those 11 years. Frankly, I appreciate even the negative experiences for the lessons I can learn from them. In fact, those three negative experiences have served as substantial motivation to me to move this Order forward.
The first “negative” occurred during a discussion I had, many years ago, with a rather conservative Brother. He was a gentleman whom I greatly respected, even though our views relating to the Order were rather different. We had quite a debate about IOOF – I emphasized my “three-dimensional” approach, and he focused on history and ritual as the sole components that would bring life back to the Order. I highlighted the evolution and change that had already occurred in Odd Fellowship and stressed the need for further change to save this Order. He kept arguing that if only Lodges would strictly adhere to the ritual and teachings, Lodges would begin to flourish again, and it was the failure of Lodges to strictly adhere that was leading to our diminution. This discussion went on and on, until at one point, he finally told me, “I would rather see this Order die, than change.” At that comment, I knew our debate was at an end, because I would rather see this Order change, than die. But this discussion taught me a great lesson: That there are those in the Order who strongly believe that the future of this Order is adherence to the past, that change is not welcomed, and if we just continue to do what we have done for the last 100 years, we will be just fine. They are content with the status quo. That was, and is, an important lesson for me.
The second “negative” happened during a Grand Lodge Session a couple of years ago. I am a fairly outgoing person, and I enjoy chatting with Brothers and Sisters, often extending my hand in friendship to shake hands. I said hello to a Brother during a recess and stuck my hand out in greeting. And the brother refused to shake my hand, saying to me, “You are the enemy.” I simply smiled and walked away. About an hour later, parenthetically, this Brother came up to me and – obviously having a change of heart – stuck out his hand and said, “I should have taken your hand. The hand of a Brother extended in friendship should always be taken in friendship.” We shook hands and that was that. But, again, this was an important lesson for me. I am viewed as an agent of change in this Order. I have long spoken and written about the need for our Order to evolve and change to become relevant again in the 21st Century. Clearly, this Brother reflected the view that I am “the enemy” because I espouse changes in the status quo. This incident taught me that the feelings run so deep and strong that a simple handshake was refused. That knowledge is a useful lesson.
The third and final “negative” was actually never spoken. It was, in fact, just the opposite. There is a Brother who has simply, over the years, refused to speak to me, or even acknowledge my presence. I would always say “hello” when I encountered him, but interestingly, he would never respond, and would look through me as if I were invisible. I had never had any words, or discussions with this Brother, and there was no incident between us. He simply would not recognize me as a person. I can only surmise, again, that it related to my efforts to bring evolution and change to Odd Fellowship. This incident taught me patience and tolerance. Good lessons.
So, as I prepare for the 163rd Grand Lodge Session, and my new role as incoming Grand Master for 2015-16, I come to the task with the benefit of many lessons – mostly positive, but some negative – which will serve me well in the coming year.
See you in Modesto.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master