Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The vast majority of members of our Order know Odd Fellows through their own individual Lodges, or on occasion, through a visit to a neighboring Lodge. A small minority of us are in touch with Odd Fellowship through the Grand Lodge level, either as representatives to Grand Lodge Sessions (which occur once each year), or when we submit reports to Grand Lodge, or as elected or appointed Grand Lodge officers, or as elected directors to Grand Lodge boards, or as appointed members of Grand Lodge committees. And, only a tiny fraction of us are connected to Sovereign Grand Lodge (which also meets once each year). Yet it is the Sovereign Grand Lodge which, in reality, shapes and controls the way we operate as a fraternity – controlling the legislation, the General Code, and the ritual that we use.
This year, Sovereign Grand Lodge will gather in session during the month of August in Fort Worth, Texas. In my capacity as Grand Master of the Jurisdiction of California, I will be traveling to Texas this year to attend that session. This will be my first trip to Sovereign Grand Lodge in session. Should be interesting.
Each year, at SGL session, representatives elect a Sovereign Grand Warden, who will travel up the line to be Sovereign Deputy Grand Master, and then Sovereign Grand Master. It’s an important and powerful position which will help shape our fraternal future. Past Grand Master Rick Boyles has submitted an article – which we publish below – on his view (a progressive view) of the role and expectations for a future SGM.
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California
Smell the Coffee
This year, as every year, there are fine people running for Sovereign Grand Warden. Of course, the person ultimately elected will in three years ascend to the rank of Sovereign Grand Master. But the larger issue than who becomes our next Sovereign Grand Warden is more complex than may occur to us. We have to change the mindset of the Odd Fellows; we have to say that the status quo no longer works. Clearly, there have been some wonderful Sovereign Grand Masters. Our present one, SGM Jimmy Humphrey, and our incoming SGM Danny Wood, both are excellent examples of quality individuals working hard at a job with very little thanks. However, that is not the primary concern we should have. More important than being a nice person or sincere, we should ask what is the objective? If the objective someone has in running for this position is merely to continue on as we always have, then we are truly fooling ourselves. Things have to change and change quickly. It’s no secret that 15-20 states now have memberships below 200 members, so it is imperative that we make changes and make changes now. Merely doing the same things over and over again is not only the definition of insanity it is a recipe for disaster, and the premise of putting the order in full on some type of long range plan, such as a five year plan, simply will not work. There are too many variables when we attempt long range planning. Change must be immediate and the debate over whether or not change is needed should be put to rest. If change were not needed, there would not be states numbering less than 200 members. The state of California has made notable progress, and this year, with Grand Master Dave Rosenberg, I predict we may even show positive growth. Brother Rosenberg has shown us ways in which we can get new members without giving away the store, or altering our basic tenets. Clearly, he has emphasized important strides we may all take. Let me list a few for you:
1) Treat your members like normal human beings, living in 2015, not 1915. Recognize that the world at large has changed. You may personally like living in the past, but don’t assume everyone else does.
2) Form committees that your lodge members can be enthused about. If your lodge shows an interest in something, form a committee around that interest.
3) Invite the public into your lodge. Communities are generally focused upon local events; you might consider sponsoring or maintaining visibility at these events.
4) Dress like it’s the year 2015. I remember initiating some new members who went into a fit of giggles when they watched an instructional video where everyone was dressed in the normal Odd Fellow formal attire. I never could convince these members to dress up, so they are now good members but not active at statewide events. Many people won’t attend events where special garb is required. Time to smell the coffee and dress like normal everyday people.
5) Serve meals, have refreshments. Act like a host or hostess and maybe guests will join you. I can’t get over how many lodges do little or nothing for their members. Unless your lodge is on its last legs, you should remember that you, no matter what your title, are not in charge of your lodge, your members are in charge. If you don’t serve refreshments, ask yourself what you are demanding of your members, particularly those with jobs – you are demanding that they somehow get off work, eat dinner and then run to lodge. For many of those employed this is impossible.
6) Act civil towards every human being. You don’t have all the answers. New members generally add vitality, and a different bent on things.
7) Open up. Enjoy the world at large. No one seems to know the Odd Fellows. People call us a cult. Why is that? Several books on cults, mention our name. They accuse us of being a closed door, closed mind society. Is that how we want to be known? The word “cult” is derived from the word “occult”. Is that how we wish to be known?
In closing, there should be no further delay. We need to wake up! We as an order have to stop sleepwalking through our rituals and our history. If we want to survive into the future, we have to act as if there is something for us there as well. The point is that we can be on the right side of our own history, or not. There are a myriad of defunct fraternal groups that no doubt had sincere individuals leading them, but it is not just a question of sincerity that is needed, it is a question of being able to coexist in today’s world. The unwritten work was originally formulated for the functionally illiterate; members quoted the ritual because they could not read or write; formal garb and side-arms were all the rage in 1890. It’s time to wake up and climb into today.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles