Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The one enduring theme of our Order is the symbol of the three links which stands for Friendship – Love – Truth. We say that Odd Fellows should live their lives in friendship, love and truth. Well, it’s time for a dose of that truth.
And that truth is that we are members of an Order that is slowly shrinking out of existence. As much as some would like to continue operating as if everything were just peachy, the numbers don’t lie. Odd Fellows Lodges around the USA are losing members (and have been for decades), and Lodges are closing either through loss of charters or through consolidations. Rebekah Lodges are, if anything, shrinking faster than Odd Fellows Lodges. Encampments are a mere shadow of their former selves. And Patriarchs Militant Cantons are at their nadir. For example, in the California Jurisdiction (the largest Jurisdiction in North America), members of Encampments number only around 200 and membership in the PM hovers around just 70. Less than half those members are “active.” Other jurisdictions show similarly dismal numbers and trends. Ladies Encampment Auxiliary and Ladies Auxiliary Patriarchs Militant are in the same boat – and shrinking rapidly as members age, with hardly any new members joining up.
In their heart of hearts, virtually everyone in our Order understands this reality. Yet efforts to change course have resulted in only minor corrections at the edges of the problem. As an Order, we have not yet addressed the root of the problem. So, in the spirit of telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (even if painful), here, unvarnished, is the root of the problem: Odd Fellowship is operating in the 21st Century as if it were a 20th Century (and at times, a 19th Century) Order. This is why we are not attracting – in sufficient numbers – the next generation to our fraternity. This is why the average age of our membership averages in the 60’s (and in some Lodges, in the 70’s). This is why we are diminishing.
To survive and flourish in the 21st Century, Odd Fellowship must re-focus, re-structure and re-write.
First, is the need to refocus who we are and what we do as a fraternal order.
How do I know this to be true? Here’s how. Over the past 10 years I have tried an experiment using my own Lodge (Davis #169) as the laboratory. When I was first elected as Noble Grand of my Lodge in 2006, I launched this experiment. When I joined my Lodge in 2004, we had around 25 members. My hypothesis was that to flourish, my Lodge had to change its trajectory and its culture. I re-focused my Lodge on outreach to the community to do good community works, organizing fun social events for the members, and restoring and modernizing the physical facility of our Lodge Hall. The result of this experiment has been startling. While the vast majority of Lodges throughout California have been steadily losing members over the last decade, the Davis Lodge has steadily gained members over that same period. The Lodge has grown from 25 members to over 250 members with over 55 Lodge Committees doing everything from “A” (Adopt-a-Highway Committee) to “Z” (Zymurgy Committee), and everything in between including a Bingo Committee, a Breakfast with Santa Committee, a Community Support Committee, a Davis Chocolate Festival Committee, a Good Fellowship Committee, a Music & Concerts Committee, a Membership & Initiation Committee, an Odd Needle-workers Committee, an OddtoberFest Committee, a Classic Film Festival Committee, a Taste of Davis Committee, a Take-a-Hike Committee and many, many more. Our membership is about 50-50 men and women, includes members of diverse ethnicity, and ranges in age from 18 to 88 and everything in between. Our Lodge meetings are not dominated by reports of a leaking roof, but rather reports from active committees.
Second, is the need to restructure our fraternity.
It makes no sense to continue the trappings of a fraternal order that once had one million members at a time when we have a mere fraction of that number. We need to merge our diverse branches into one strong tree. We don’t need to diffuse our efforts in six separate and separated entities and branches like: Odd Fellows, Rebekahs, Encampment, Ladies Encampment Auxiliary, Patriarchs Militant, and Ladies Auxiliary Patriarchs Militant. We will be stronger if we merge into one entity: The Odd Fellows Lodge with nine degrees. We would retain the four degrees of Odd Fellows Lodges (Initiatory, Friendship, Love, Truth) and we would add to that the Rebekah Degree (which should be transformed into the Degree of Equality), plus the three degrees of the Encampment (Faith, Hope, Charity), and finally the PM Degree (Universal Justice). Together, we will be stronger, and more of us will achieve the higher degrees. Will it be easy? Of course not. But it can be done (the devil is always in the details), and it must be done to save this Order.
Third, we must re-write the ritual of our order to reflect the new realities of the 21st Century.
We all know the ritual contains important truths, but it is archaic, stifling, and way too long. The oath of office for the President of the United States is 35 words. The Odd Fellows obligation of the Initiatory Degree is 222 words, and is stultifying in its length and difficult pronunciations. What message are we sending to the young men and women of the 21st Century with a ritual that is stilted and not relevant to their lives? A major modernization of the Odd Fellows’ ritual is long-overdue, and would be welcomed by members old and new.
Odd Fellowship is at a true historic crossroads. Time is running out. We simply cannot wait another decade or another generation to make this transition. This effort can be the Renaissance of our Order. But do our leaders at Sovereign Grand Lodge have the vision and gumption to re-focus, re-structure and re-write?
F – L – T
Past Grand Master