Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The drive for the next generation of new members in Odd Fellowship is necessary for the continued viability of our Order. Does this mean that there is no place in Odd Fellowship for older members? Of course not! Odd Fellowship, in my opinion, can be and should be a big tent – there should be a place in our fraternity for people of good character representing all generations, all ethnicities, all nationalities, all races, and abilities. After all, when Odd Fellowship was started in England a couple of centuries ago, they were called “odd” for a reason – they would meet in pubs, and they opened the pub doors to a wide variety of people and professions.
Our Encampments show us the value of experience. As Patriarchs and Matriarchs, we are generally older than the average Odd Fellow, and we have advanced in Odd Fellowship to obtain all degrees in the Lodge and all the degrees in the Encampment – thus we should be generally wiser than the average Odd Fellow in the ways of our fraternal order. Can we utilize this age, experience and knowledge for the benefit of Odd Fellows? Most assuredly, we should do so. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is worthy, but how much more worthy when shared with others. This sharing can take three forms:
1. Helping Lodge members understand the symbols of Odd Fellowship and the ritual. Odd Fellowship is immersed in symbols. The skull, the three pillars, the heart in the hand, the dove, the bundle of sticks, the lily, the hourglass, and on and on and on. Passwords, signs, and symbols are all important signposts in the journey of Odd Fellowship. A new Odd Fellow is, frankly, overwhelmed by all of this content. It is the rare member who recognizes all the symbols; it is rarer still to understand the significance of each one.
Typically, it takes years to absorb them all. And even the most senior of us need to be reminded of the meanings from time to time. As experienced members of the Order – as shepherds if you will – we Patriarchs and Matriarchs can certainly fulfill important roles as mentors of younger members. But this mentoring cannot be imposed on anyone. It has to be requested, either explicitly or implicitly. Knowledge should be freely shared with all who want it, but it should never be force-fed to anyone.
And there is a right way, and a wrong way to share knowledge. The wrong way is to do it loudly and publicly. The right way is to do it quietly and privately. I’m sure many of us have cringed when, during a meeting, we have heard older members publicly castigate younger or newer members with words such as, “that’s not where you stand,” or “that’s not how you say that.” How embarrassing! The better way is to let it go, and then after the meeting to have a private conversation with the young member – give them some guidance, not criticism.
2. Assisting Lodge officers in maintaining civility in the Lodge. And Lodge officers don’t suddenly drop into office, fully formed, with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Many of them have had only a relatively brief experience in office. Perhaps they served as Vice Grand for a year, or as an appointed officer. Perhaps they have had the chance to attend a seminar. But in general, the level of experience and the level of knowledge is modest. Every elected officer in a Lodge needs a good mentor.
To mentor an incoming elected officer of the Lodge is a valued role for an Encampment shepherd. And this is particularly true if the shepherd has filled that role earlier in his/her fraternal career. What better source of guidance could there be for a Lodge Secretary or a Lodge Treasurer or even a Lodge Noble Grand than a person who has previously served in those positions. Once again, advice should be freely given, but only if requested. Certainly, feel free to let the new officer know you are available to provide help and assistance, and then stand back and be ready to provide it, if asked.
And during the course of a Lodge meeting, the shepherd can perform a valuable role in supporting the Lodge officers if things get a bit unruly, or if a member becomes obnoxious or demanding. A respected elder in a Lodge can bring peace to a tense situation, and can help re-focus a discussion gone awry. In these subtle ways, a shepherd can ensure that the flock is well tended and not in danger.
3. Reminding Brothers and Sisters of F-L-T.
And as shepherds, we can remind our brothers and sisters that this fraternal order is all about FRIENDSHIP, LOVE AND TRUTH. A shepherd should be aware of the flock. Have any members of the flock grown so detached and so focused on their own selves and their own agendas that they forgot to speak openly person-to-person to their brothers and sisters? Have any members decided that they had to pass along a “rumor” about a brother or sister, rather than candidly and directly speaking to the affected brother and sister? Have any members displayed a quest for “power” in the Lodge or in the Order so great that they could criticize or diminish or hurt a Lodge brother or sister?
A little self-reflection is always in order. We are here to “elevate the character of man”. Let’s make sure that everyone reflects on their own character.
Lodges should be welcoming and comfortable refuges for our members. Lodges should be places where we support one another.
Let’s all resolve that:
a. No idea proposed by a member is “stupid” or “silly” or “unworkable”. Every idea is worthy of consideration and discussion. Ultimately, the idea may be accepted, modified or rejected. But let’s give our proposing brother or sister the courtesy of fair consideration.
b. No brother or sister should be talked about behind their back. Let’s give our brothers and sisters the courtesy of direct face-to-face conversation. If they have done something really good, take the time to tell them so. If they have done something that bothers you, take the time to talk to them about it in a friendly, open and non-threatening way.
c. No one in the Lodge should start a rumor about another member. And if you hear a rumor, it should stop with you.
d. No meeting should be boring or unproductive. Why have a meeting if nothing gets accomplished? Every meeting should have a focus and should move toward a goal – whether it is planning a Lodge dinner, or organizing an event to support a local charity, or planning an installation of officers, etc.
e. In everything we do in our Lodges, we should always ask the question: “Am I doing this for the good of the Order?”
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California