Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Several years ago I had a discussion with a long-time, respected member of our fraternal Order. The subject was the decline in membership and the concomitant collapse of Lodges. I suggested that change in our approach was necessary to save this Order. He contended that we must stay the course and that change was not welcomed. He was against any change to the ritual or the way we do business. I responded that this Order would surely die unless we modernize, become relevant to 21st Century men and women, and change our ways. Ultimately, he said the words that I found truly remarkable at the time, and which have stayed with me to this day. He said: “I would rather this Order die, than change.”
And even today I talk to members who seem to equate any change as sacrilege. These anti-change members are wrong at two levels.
First, a more modern approach to Odd Fellowship works. I have proven it. In this regard, I have used my own Lodge – Davis #169 – as a sort of “laboratory” of change in Odd Fellowship. In the past 10 years my Lodge has grown from less than 30 members to close to 300. We have 23 current applicants for membership. Because of our visibility in the community, we no longer “recruit” new members. Potential members contact us expressing an interest in joining the Lodge. I imagine this is what Odd Fellowship was like in its heyday in the late 19th Century. For the past decade, my Lodge has experienced a net gain in members year after year. We have 55 committees covering a wide range of endeavors, aligned with the interest of members. Some of the committees are active in the community, providing support at many levels. Other committees are all about fraternal interaction and social fun for the members. Our Lodge Hall is busy about 20 days every month with some meeting or activity or event. We have done all this by re-focusing our Lodge. Yes, we hold meetings and follow the ritual of the Order like every other Lodge. But if we did only that, we would be a one-dimensional Lodge. We also provide two other dimensions: Our members (and applicants) reach out into the community and are very visible doing good community works. And we plan a plethora of fun activities for our members, family and applicants for membership. This is the viable future for Odd Fellowship. Lodges that are three-dimensional Lodges have adjusted to the 21st Century – they will flourish.
Second, “change” is the one constant in the history of Odd Fellowship. It is part-and-parcel of the Odd Fellows experience, and we have seen it from the very beginnings of our Order. Originally, Odd Fellowship in England was little more than a gathering of men in pubs, drinking, eating, and telling tales. It was all about having a good time in fellowship. But the organization morphed. It became a “beneficial society” which tried to render aid to every brother who applied, through sickness, distress or otherwise. When Thomas Wildey originated Odd Fellowship in the United States, its main objects were to “relieve the brethren, bury the dead, and care for the widow and orphan”. And then, a huge change occurred. Brother Wildey and the American Lodges simply broke away from the English Lodges and went their own “independent” way. In time, however, the Order changed again. Initially, Wildey was all about the social and physical needs of the brothers and their family members. But over the years, the Order became much more “moral and spiritual” and the teachings evolved to emphasize the “elevation of the character of man.” Notwithstanding this noble purpose, the old books and records of the Order revealed that there were times in our history when Odd Fellowship was absolutely denied to women, people with certain disabilities, men with chronic diseases, “an infirmity which may prevent a man’s gaining a livelihood”, and people of color. Thankfully, that has all changed, but it took many years – in fact, women were only admitted into Odd Fellows Lodges in 1999-2000. There was a time when members had to memorize the ritual or they were not able to advance; such memorization requirements eventually went the way of the horse and buggy. At one time, just three black cubes could exclude any candidate from admission. That has changed – now only a majority vote can exclude a candidate from membership. I could go on and on, but the point is that “change” is a hallmark of the Odd Fellows experience and history.
As we approach the Bi-Centennial of Odd Fellowship in North America, we must come to the realization that we are in the 21st Century and the next evolution of our Order is necessary and inevitable. We must become relevant to men and women of this 21st Century. Those who battle the inevitable will surely falter (the trail of failing and closed Lodges proves the point). Those who embrace the change, will survive and flourish, and will ensure that our great Order can continue beyond our lifetimes into the future of our children and grandchildren.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California