Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Rita Cooper is a relatively new member of the Order, but she has already immersed herself in Odd Fellowship. She is an active Odd Fellow, member of an Encampment, member of a Canton, and member of a Rebekah Lodge. I’ve come to know Rita as a person with a great heart, an agile mind, a refined sense of humor, and a desire to truly help others in need. She is quite the history buff, as well. But while understanding our history and our ritual, Rita is a progressive Odd Fellow who recognizes that we must evolve and change to adjust to a 21st Century world. She is a student of all things “Odd Fellowship” and I think you will find her article, below, interesting and insightful.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master
The Keys to Survival and Success: Building Our Lodges from the Inside Out
Last year during a Yerba Buena Lodge No.15 Art Show at the IOOF Building at 7th Street, San Francisco, I had the pleasure of visiting the Odd Fellows Museum and experiencing an eye-opening moment. Pete Sellars, our current Grand Warden and long-time Odd Fellow and Historian, has tirelessly and skillfully worked to assemble a presentation that honors the images, the relics, the traditions of our past. As I have had the honor of being an Odd Fellow for not quite four years, I love to learn about, and am intrigued by, our history and traditions. I was struck by a photo (See attached.) from 93 years ago: Alta Lodge No. 205 was celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 1922 at the Fairmont Hotel with an obviously elegant dinner, a glittering event attended by hundreds of Odd Fellows and their guests. But this Lodge no longer even exists! What happened to this Lodge? Can this, will this, happen to other Lodges in this state? What is happening to our memberships? At the height of our Order, the IOOF of California in 1927 had 60,000 members. Today there are less than 5000 of us! Why? One can identify a number of economic, social, and cultural changes that have altered American lives and life-styles, modified social needs and practices since 1922: Social Security, health insurance, life insurance, the popular entertainment media of radio, movies and TV, the internet and its social media offspring like Facebook and Twitter, the ubiquitous smart phones, the evolution in gender roles and … Well, the list goes on. And it raises an uncomfortable question: Are the Odd Fellows still relevant? Has our world changed to such an extent that we have no definitive role to play, no contributions to make, no reason to attract and hold members?
To answer that vexing question, I turned first to review the Odd Fellows guiding philosophy, and found several salient points that speak to the answer.
The IOOF’s time-honored purposes are to:
- Elevate the character of mankind by promoting the principles of friendship, love, truth, faith, hope, charity and universal justice.
- Help make the world a better place to live by aiding each other in times of need and by organizing charitable projects and activities that would benefit the less fortunate, the youth, the elderly, the environment and the community.
- Promote good will and harmony among peoples and nations of the world by applying the principles of universal fraternity, holding the belief that all men and women regardless of race, nationality, religion, social status, gender, rank and station are brothers and sisters
And then, as I look at the world around us, at our communities and institutions, the challenges, the dilemmas and threats they face, we face, my answer is YES! The IOOF is as relevant today as it was when we were founded on this continent in Baltimore on April 16, 1819. In fact our world needs the Odd Fellows and our world view more than ever!
So how can we reclaim our moral and social leadership? How can we rebuild and re-energize diminished Lodges? What steps do we need to take to attract new members, new commitments to the Odd Fellows’ vision? In seeking answers to these fundamental questions, I have drawn upon my observations from my visits to thriving Lodges and found that they have several characteristics and practices in common, things that sustain Fraternity, Fellowship and Community and stimulate both membership participation and membership growth:
- A well-maintained hall with good external directional signage
- A bright, welcoming ambiance in the facility
- Deep appreciation of the Odd Fellow heritage, often including the display of artifacts and images reflecting our history and traditions
- Abiding respect for the rituals and protocols of our Order
- Good communications with all Members including newsletters and meeting minutes, announcements of meetings and events, an up-to-date, accessible, easily-navigated, mobile-device-friendly website using internet-based social media as well as email and postal messages
- An array of special events around holidays and themed events such as luaus, bingo nights, ethnic heritage nights, etc., as well as trips, dances, concerts and historical presentations, occasions that create the opportunity to invite guests and potential recruits
- Committees for planning and execution of policies and events
- Good financial stewardship including careful management of Lodge assets, well-considered budgets that include provisions for lodge operations, facility maintenance, charitable contributions, recruitment efforts and contingencies
These are things that should be, could be, that can be a part of every Lodge. I hope that we can all work to make every Lodge not just a survivor but a vibrant, growing, responsive resource for the ever-evolving needs of our Members, current and future, and the communities in which the Odd Fellow name is proudly displayed.
So what did happen to Alta Lodge No.205? Well in the years that followed that splendid affair at the Fairmont, membership dwindled down to 37 by 1970 and in 1971 they merged with Golden West Lodge No. 322, a successful Lodge that currently has around 170 members and employs most of the practices listed above.
As a proud Odd Fellow, I am committed to pursuing and facilitating this vision for a vigorous IOOF that matters and prevails and I am asking all fellow Odd Fellows: How do we do this? I am suggesting that we look inward at our successes, at our thriving, growing Lodges and bringing the things that work for them to all of our Lodges so we can effectively look outward for new members. I am calling this approach the Inside-Out strategy. Many details need to be worked-out but I believe the problems and the dangers are clear and that the strongest responses have been employed in some of our Lodges are available to all of them.
What are your thoughts on this? Drop me a line. Let’s talk about it.
In Friendship, Love and Truth,