This is not to say that we should turn our backs on basic tenets that make us uniquely “Odd Fellows”. Friendship, love and truth will never go out of style and we should do our best to live up to these ideals. If we are real and honest friends to the members of our Odd Fellows Lodge and fraternal Order, if we truly love other human beings and treat them as we wish to be treated, and if live our lives with truth and honesty – we will be true Odd Fellows and proud of it.
However, beyond the principles inherent in our three links, there are many aspects of the Odd Fellows that have important historical context in Odd Fellowship, but little if any relevance to the 21st Century. A prime example are the admonitions emphasized by Thomas Wildey when he brought Odd Fellowship to North America and spurred its growth across the continent. In the early 1800’s we were “commanded” to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.” These were certainly worthy admonitions for the 19th Century. That was a time when many cities were engulfed in illness, and few medical facilities were available; when people would pass away with no person or agency available to bury the remains, and when widows and orphans (and orphanages) were prevalent – particularly during the wars that swept the continent during those early years. But in the 21st century, men and women scratch their heads in puzzlement when hearing these ancient admonitions. A more relevant set of admonitions might be to “feed the hungry, help the homeless, protect the environment, and educate the children.”
Further, we are an Order that professes to be “non-sectarian”, yet our ritual is replete with Judeo-Christian teachings which make it difficult for persons who are Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh, and numerous other religions and beliefs to feel comfortable in the Lodge. Clearly, we are anything but “non-sectarian”. Why would we turn our backs on a majority of humans living on the planet?
Additionally we are an Order that professes to be equally open to both men and women, yet there are Odd Fellows Lodges today that have no women in their membership. It’s been almost two decades since Odd Fellows Lodges were opened to women. How can any Lodge today justify not ever having had any women in its membership rolls?
And as we take the tally of our Lodges, we see that most of them are slowing withering as a result of declining membership. At the very same time, however, there are a few Lodges that are growing and prospering. How can that be? We are all in the same Order? Why are many Lodges diminishing and failing, while other Lodges – sometimes just a few miles apart – are active and increasing in membership?
The answer is pretty plain., if you take the time to look at it. The successful Lodges are the progressive and modern Lodges. Those successful Lodges do the following:
1. Successful Lodges open their membership to the community, in all its ethnic, racial and gender splendor. A Lodge composed exclusively of older Caucasian men is unsustainable.
2. Successful Lodges make sure that Lodge members enjoy an active social and fraternal life. The Lodge has events, activities and functions that the members (and families of members), as well as potential members, can enjoy.
3. Successful Lodges reach out into the community to do good works. Doing such good works is good for the community and is very satisfying to members, and potential members.
4. Successful Lodges have social meetings. Not every meeting of the Lodge must follow the ritual with formal openings and closing and the use of unwritten work. A Lodge need only have one such formal meeting each month. There is no prohibition to having a social meeting once a month as well.
5. Successful Lodges have a person in charge of publicity. We have all heard the interesting philosophical question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” It applies to fraternal orders. If a Lodge does not inform the community of its activities, then the Lodge is invisible in that community.
6. Successful Lodges have a dedicated Membership Committee. Successful Lodges find that one member (perhaps even two or three) who are membership “rainmakers” and have them focus on membership development.
7. Successful Lodges put a damper on negativity, bickering, and rumors. The fastest way to create Lodge dissension, bad feelings and turmoil, is to allow members to be negative, to bicker or to spread rumors. This sort of negativity is toxic to a Lodge and will result in members not attending meetings and events, or even leaving the Lodge. It is important for Lodge leaders to step in immediately to but a stop to it.
8. Successful Lodges find a way to say “yes” rather than always saying “no”. The fastest way to discourage and turn-off new members is to always say “no” to their ideas, or “that won’t work”, or “we tried that in the past and it didn’t work”, or “that’s a dumb idea.” Successful Lodges find a way to channel that new member energy into positive outcomes.
9. Successful Lodges take pride in the Lodge Hall. Many of our Lodge buildings are old, often historical. Just because a building is old, doesn’t mean that it has to be musty or dirty or shabby. Successful Lodges clean up and spruce up their Lodge Halls. The Lodge building, after all, conveys a message to the community. And successful Lodges make sure that the building signage clearly identifies the building to the world as a Lodge of Odd Fellows.
10. Successful Lodges open their Lodge Halls to the community for community use. These buildings are an asset to the community (often in the very center of the town), and should not be locked away to be used only once or twice a month for a meeting. Whether the Hall is provided free or as a rental, successful Lodges open their doors and windows to the town. And successful Lodges do their best to make their Halls accessible – if the funds are available for an elevator, this creates a new dimension in public accessibility and Lodge visibility.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California