Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Peter Sellars is not only the Deputy Grand Master of California, but he is noted historian of Odd Fellowship, having written excellent books and articles on the subject. Peter is also a colleague with me in a progressive vision for the future of this Order. He and I are in harmony regarding the need for this Order to evolve and change to survive, and indeed, flourish in the coming years. To grow our membership, we need to have more social meetings, to become more open, more visible and active in the community, and we need to remember how to have some fun.
The entire structure of this Order is build to resist change and preserve the status quo. For example, one of the many weaknesses in the structure of this Order is that a Grand Master only serves for one year. Very little can usually be accomplished in one year. We have, in California, overcome that structural hurdle because we have a progressive Grand Master, a progressive Deputy Grand Master, and a progressive Grand Warden – so we have the ability to effectuate evolution and change over a three-year period.
I am very pleased to present an article by Deputy Grand Master Peter Sellars reflecting his own journey in Odd Fellowship which, I am sure, you will find revealing and enlightening.
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California
THIS ODYSSEY OF ODD FELLOWSHIP
By Peter V. Sellars
The “Need for Change” reared up its head and roared at the members of this Order in the 1920’s and has not stopped roaring – yet. For most of members, who were brought up as Odd Fellows and learned from “old timers’ that things should not change, stuck with this kind of oral tradition – that this is the way is has been, thus it is the way things shall be attitude, have impeded the needed change.
My experience is worthy of some attention. As you are a volunteer in this Order, you volunteer to take two-cents of my opinion, too, by reading this short writing. My grandfather persuaded me to join when I was still serving my country. First, I was reluctant because of the name, Odd Fellows. I was in my third enlistment in the Marine Corps and had been a very serious conservative person. Being called an Odd Fellow was not what I desired. Being called a “crazy” Marine, by my buddies because of the hours I worked and the job I had in the Corps was what I was accustomed to in the Corps.
My grandfather convinced me [to join] when he offered to pay my fees and dues and his promise that after getting my Initiatory Degree, he would not push me to attend any meetings until I finished my enlistment and college. After retiring, I did come to a meeting, then another, and another.
I was placed in the Vice Grand’s chair at my first meeting. And, then I met the “old guard,” when a couple of them said, “You must go through the chairs before becoming Vice Grand!” I rolled my eyes while the old timers hashed it out in two-hour-long meeting. I wanted to quit after my first meeting. I thought to myself, this is not the kind of place for young people. That was my introduction to Odd Fellows.
There were no lodge events, scholarships, donations, or any outings. To me, the only thing the Order was about was this thing they called “business meetings.” Throw in an argument between the older members, and you could see some entertainment value in attending a meeting. I eventually became Noble Grand. That was when I took over.
I sponsored several of my buddies into the lodge. Then, I added events. I started implementing things, like scholarships, outings, dinners, etc. The lodge grew. The younger members took control. In 2001, women were permitted to join the lodges. By this time, I was the Grand Instructor for the Grand Lodge.
Oh my! With the inclusion of women, I wrote articles supporting this innovative change. I also sponsored dozens of women into the Order. I can tell you I had the “Old Timers Brigade” all over me, in response to the articles. Some told me that they could no longer be my brother because I promoted women in the lodge. If they had to say something like that to me, chances are they were never my brothers in the first place.
The success from my first lodge led right into my next lodge. I carried over my friends and our ideas. I enjoyed the changes and always incorporated what we were permitted to do. If we could drink beer, we put it in the bylaws. If we could enjoy dinner installations, we did them. If we could dress down and leave the sport coats at home on an eighty-degree day, we did that too. We did what worked for blue-collar-workers and those just wanting to relax and socialize. We made ourselves comfortable.
Then, I worked myself up to Grand Patriarch. I wanted to continue this concept of progressive change, because I knew it worked. It worked in my lodge and my encampment. I wanted it to work at a higher level. I saw a passage in the Golden Rule Degree of our encampment degrees, which needed some updating to be acceptable by everyone joining our encampment. I learned what was acceptable and not acceptable for those outside of our lodge rooms.
Attempting to evoke change and progression at the Sovereign Grand Lodge level was a challenge in itself. I presented the legislation to change a passage or two to one the committees and the legislation I had written, was rejected in the strongest terms. From that moment on, I decided I had nothing to lose and to speak my mind and to promote change and to bring in all applicants to my lodge. I decided to be to outspoken one. If you disrespected me, I gave it back two-fold. I forgot to mention, that I learned the code and the Ritual better than most members I know. I became offensive to the “bullies” in other lodges and put them in their places. I made it a point to adopt change and go with it strongly, in one direction.
My lodge incorporated the degree videos, which Sovereign Grand Lodge permitted and encouraged the videos only because the “Old timers” did not like the videos. I wrote legislation for my jurisdiction to permit 16-year-olds to join our lodges, because the code allowed it and the “Old timers” did not. As I stated, we do dinner installations exclusively, because old timers like to march around the floor for an hour. We left the floor work at the door. But, I can still perform the floor work better than anyone I have seen in recent years. I allowed this organization to push me to become a progressive member. I seek change at every turn. I write legislation pieces just to push the idea of change. I have written articles inside and outside the Order for years pushing progression.
The desire to out-do the “Old timer” and to beat him at his old ways, pushed me to become a historian and learn more about our Order than anyone I know. I established a museum for the Odd Fellows. I pushed to learn.
Today, I am still on my path of pushing a progressive agenda. I support those members who have reached that point in the Order, where they are on a similar path. I prove that a lodge can be successful by not having any concern or issues about applicants joining my lodge. We simply do not have that problem, because we are modern and progressive. We use the ideas of our members and tie into our community. That is progression. I teach the history and the tradition of our Order. We share with one another and enjoy our lodge’s purpose. I know I am in a true Odd Fellows fraternity when I am in my lodge. There are other successful lodges now.
Today, I see two candidates from my jurisdiction running for the position of Sovereign Grand Warden. From my position, I see this as a healthy opportunity for our entire Order. I am also told this is a “terrible” and “stupid” move, to have two candidates from one jurisdiction. Well, this sort of reminds me of when that old timer told me it was illegal to be Vice Grand without coming up through the chairs. This Order benefits by having its elected positions challenged at each level. Individuals should work for their lofty goals and not expect to simply fill a position.
I wish to motivate you to become progressive and not allow the old timers of your lodges tell you the following:
“You can’t do that!”
“The code doesn’t allow it!”
“Our lodge doesn’t do that!”
“Those people are not allowed to join.”
If you hear any of those phrases from a member of your lodge, chances are that person should be questioned and a little note or email should be sent to the Grand Master. I hope you attain the attitude of making your lodge a success and that you embrace change and progression at every available turn you make in this Order.