Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Sovereign Grand Lodge (SGL) session – held this year in Fort Worth, Texas – is over and I’m now back in California. I’ve been a member of the Order for 11 years, but this is the first SGL session I had occasion to attend. I can summarize my impressions in three words: Interesting, Informative, Impossible. Interesting because I’d never seen or experienced it before. Informative as I got my first glimpse into how the highest body in Odd Fellowship is run. And impossible because it confirmed my suspicion that SGL is structured to resist evolution and change in this Order. Let me explain.
First, however, the statistics.
Those statistics continue to show the diminution of our Order, and they are sobering. In 2013, there were 1,364 Odd Fellows Lodges in North America. In 2014, the number had dropped to 1,325. That’s a loss of 39 Lodges. In 2013, there were 37,035 Odd Fellows in North America. In 2014, there are 35,167. That’s a drop of 1,868 members. Remember, our Order once had over one million members in North America. We have shrunk to less than 4% of that number. The trajectory is chillingly clear. These statistics show that – if no changes are made – in 20 years, our Order will be virtually invisible – perhaps 50-100 Lodges surviving here and there.
But the situation is grim right now in many jurisdictions, and certainly, within the next five years this Order will start hemorrhaging in many serious ways – much like a great ship whose hull is weakening and springing leaks. Right now, in North America, there are 29 jurisdictions (that’s states and provinces) where Odd Fellows Lodge membership is LESS than 400. There are 20 jurisdictions where membership is less than 300. There are 18 jurisdictions where membership is less than 200. There are even 4 jurisdictions where the membership is less than 100. These statistics are sobering.
The situation is even more concerning when looking at Rebekah Lodges and other Branches of this Order. In 2013 there were 1,060 Rebekah Lodges and 24,940 Rebekah Lodge members in North America. In 2014, those numbers were 22,538 and 976, respectively. (In California, the 2013 stats showed 63 Lodges and 1,951 members; in 2014, the numbers were 58 Lodges and 1,719 members). The Grand Encampment of North America showed 336 Encampments and 4,053 members in 2013, and 319 Encampments and 3,835 members in 2014. (A very concerning statistic for this Branch is that these numbers show an average membership of 12 in each Encampment – that is a very thin margin, particularly for those Encampments with less than the average.) In North America, the Ladies Encampment Auxiliaries showed 98 units and 1,138 members in 2013, and 88 units and 1,005 members in 2014. Patriarchs Militant in North America had 196 cantons in 2013 and 3,295 members; in 2014, there were 194 cantons with 3,212 members. LAPM in North America showed 99 units with 1,131 members in 2013; there were 89 units with 1,004 members in 2014.
So, what did I learn?
During my time at SGL, I watched the representatives talk about the symptoms, but not treat the disease of diminishing memberships. A considerable amount of lip service was given throughout the sessions about the need to increase membership, but no changes were made which would allow for membership growth. A meeting of the SGL Membership Committee attracted only 8 attendees. I learned that SGL is really run by committees, and those committees tend to be controlled by one or two members. To me, the committees seemed resistant to evolution and change. And if a bill were to reach the floor of the SGL in session, it would need a 2/3 vote to pass. I learned that the very small jurisdictions (those with less than 200 members) have virtually the same voting power as a jurisdiction like California, with membership that is over 4,000. I learned that representatives from the Grand Encampments control over 1/3 of the voting membership of SGL.
The attendees at SGL were virtually all in the senior citizen range. I surmise that the vast majority were in their 60’s, 70’s, 80′ and 90’s. Very few representatives were in their 40’s and 50’s. And I don’t believe I met any representative in his or her 30’s. For many of these attendees, SGL was like their annual reunion – a time to visit with and re-acquaint with old friends. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. But I didn’t get the impression that the delegates were seriously interested in changing the status quo, even though that status quo was driving the Order down as members pass away. SGL is ponderous, and hard to change. For example, the SGL website still lists the Sovereign Grand Master from two years ago as the leader of this Order – that site has not been updated in two years.
But not all was doom and gloom in my opinion. I met a number of leaders from other jurisdictions who shared my viewpoint that we must evolve this Order to make it more attractive to young men and women of the 21st Century. I will continue to network with these progressive leaders. Also, copies of my second book were distributed to all jurisdictions in North America, by permission of the outgoing Sovereign Grand Master Jimmy Humphrey. I was also pleased to see the SGL sessions use – from time to time – the electronic voting method started by California – certainly a step into the 21st Century. And most importantly, under the leadership of our own Deputy Grand Master Peter Sellars, who served as Chairman of the SGL Revitalization Committee, that committee produced a list of 100 ideas for community involvement, and a second list of 25 ways to improve Lodge meetings. In the next two DMC Newsletters, I will distribute these two lists. They are full of ways to revitalize your Lodge. A revitalized Lodge is a Lodge that will attract new members.
If we are going to increase the membership of our Lodges, we cannot rely on SGL – we will have to rely on ourselves to do so.
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California