This past August, many of us from the state of California made the trip to our Sovereign Grand Lodge, meeting in St. Louis, MO. One of the remarkable things about our order is the constant renewal of friendship with those we know, and new members we meet. Sovereign Grand Lodge Sessions are full of get togethers for various committees and branches of the order. The proceedings handbook is very informative as to membership counts, assets, liabilities, and many other facets of our order. One of the first steps we all must take in revising our order and moving forward is to not do so blindly. When a member is present at a convention, it is difficult if not impossible to imagine the scope of a jurisdiction. Of course, this can be a good thing, because no jurisdiction should be treated less than any other.
On the negative side, there are several things almost all in attendance take note of, but is difficult to change without universal support. For example, unlike our own Grand Lodge Sessions, at Sovereign Grand Lodge, all legislation is discussed primarily in committees outside of sessions, and then only voted on in sessions. The problem with this is that the Sovereign Grand Representatives often have an incomplete and generally inaccurate view of the legislation. Of course, the glaring example of this fact came this year in the form of the increase of our Per Capita. The finance committee did give a report on the need for the raise, but many felt that the premise for the raise was not explained sufficiently. Sadly, although the initial request of a $5.00 increase yearly for 5 years was voted down, the amended request for a $5.00 increase yearly for 2 years passed. Some representatives seemed to feel that this was apparently an acceptable modification, but I personally felt that in a way we were being fed the same slow poison, just because it could easily be amended next year.
Also, the ugly reality of our order, is that while our own state is now growing, other states are shrinking, and some are shrinking fast. There are a multitude of reasons for this; specifically, a largely elderly membership, adherence to tired ritual dress and behaviors, ignorance of an outside changing world, and many other easily proven facts, but the results bear the facts out just by the virtue of the membership lists. The real problem with this is the order is becoming a convoluted quagmire, guided just as much by representatives of failing states as those in successful ones. The state of California, with some 4,000 members, has the same representation at SGL as states with less than 200 members! California presented legislation that would remedy this, but unfortunately, this failed, even though I felt it was imperative to speak on this issue. To be blunt (and I did seem to get agreement on this from many) without change representation will soon sink even more. We need to revamp this but also need to realize that no one wants to lose representation, while ensuring that larger jurisdictions receive at least more equal representation. I did take the opportunity to discuss this with Brother Terry Barrett, Sovereign Grand Secretary, and I am happy that he also is in favor of a modification of representation. He has written a new piece of legislation for next year, that may pass. What will help it pass will be to include other larger jurisdictions receiving more representation as well.
In August, there was seemingly very smart legislation presented via the jurisdiction of California to the representatives of SGL, to increase the number of representatives for every jurisdiction, but it was defeated. This would have been at no additional cost to SGL, and each jurisdiction would have had the option of adding more representatives to SGL, thus reducing the workload on the same existing representatives. Either they believed the workload was getting lighter each year and there was no need to have additional reps or they were happy with the year-by-year reduced numbers. In 2016, there were 119 reps. In 2017, there were only 113 reps and Sovereign Grand Lodge predicted further decreases.
The number has steadily declined and is on the same pace as the rest of the Order. Twenty minutes after the representatives voted not to increase the number of representatives, a gentleman (a rep), whom I shall not name, came to the mic and stated that each committee was so busy they could not find the time to attend other committee meetings and collaborate in discussing legislation which is assigned to multiple committees. He stated they lacked the time available because the committees were too busy. Here’s a thought! Perhaps with the added reps, the workload would have been reduced. What a concept!
As I have written in previous messages, the idea of having legislation sit dormant for nearly two years because it deals “with the almighty code” or the “sacred Ritual” is ridiculous. It is an outdated scheme to affect needed change and to keep up – I mean CATCH UP – with what changes we must make to save this Order. There have been plenty of suggestions and presented legislation to modernize and to move forward to grow this Order, but it gets killed primarily because of the delaying mechanism utilized to present items for a vote. Why this self-imposed “laying over of bills”? Why not an immediate, same session approval or disapproval? These methods of delaying allow prejudicial influences to kill important legislation and rarely works in favor of passing any changes.
The recent dues increase, which every member has a right to speak against or in favor, as it personally affects our pocket books, is one of the worst votes by a misinformed group of representatives we have ever seen. If one reads the legislation, the dues increase is nothing but a punishment on the membership, for not growing the Order. It is also a steep increase to many members, a total of $10.00 for two years. Then, the Rebekahs were included in this retaliatory measure as well, as they must pay $10.00 over a two-year period, too! Furthermore, no Rebekahs were given an opportunity to come to the mic and speak on the matter. They probably didn’t even know that it was on for a vote. But, their dues were arbitrarily increased as well. If a member belongs to both the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, which many do, that equates to a $20.00 increase. For our members who are retired or on limited incomes or those simply having a tough time financially, this can be a burden. The fact that the Finance Committee for the SGL could not respond to what the money would be used for, when called upon during the discussion of the increase, should have been a red-flag to anyone and everyone in the room. The fact that SGL did not need the money, as is evident in the bill, should have been a red-flag. So, what happens to the money? Who does it go to? How is it going to be spent? We can’t believe most of the reps voted on something without knowing where the money was going or where it was going to be used. Well, perhaps given the method in which legislation is discussed behind closed doors, presented in a slight of hand manner, and then passed without adequate discussion, we can believe it.
Brothers and sisters, we must open our eyes and be aware of what is going on around us. We must be more progressive in our thoughts and ideas to save this wonderful Order. Some of us have been working for the Order for a very long time. We want to see it go on for another 200 years. If we are not more attentive to bad legislation, backroom dealings, and fiscal irresponsibility this Order may not survive.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Peter Sellars and Rick Boyles