Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The Constitution of the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Chapter 1, Article 1, Section 1. A. states in pertinent part that our Order “is, and shall forever continue to be, bound to charitable and beneficent works, in visiting the sick, relieving the distressed, burying the dead, and educating the orphan . . . .” This seems to be the highest calling of our Order as it is stated right in the very first chapter, first article, first section and first paragraph of our Constitution. Yet, if ever there were an example of why Odd Fellowship is linked to a 19th Century view that is at odds with a 21st Century world – this “admonition” certainly reveals it. And the decline of our membership in Lodges and jurisdictions is inevitable to the extent that we continue to parrot anachronistic phrases such as this one. They just don’t ring true to men and women in 2020.
This is not to say that “visiting the sick, relieving the distressed, burying the dead, and educating the orphan” were not worthy enterprises for Odd Fellowship in the sunrise of our Order. The 19th Century was surely a terrible place to be if one were poor. There were no social services to speak of. Hence, the rise of fraternal orders. Fraternal Orders, like Odd Fellows, helped take care of members when they were sick. It was the responsibility of the Noble Grand and the Visiting Committee to actually visit the home of a sick member, and bring friendship, companionship, food, some money or whatever was needed to help. When members died, the fraternity was there to provide Odd Fellow death services, including death benefits and burials at Odd Fellows cemeteries. And, in the days when Odd Fellowship included only men, the fraternity was also there to help the widows and the orphans of deceased members. Odd Fellows even ran orphanages in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
We live in quite a different time now. People in the 21st Century generally have insurance. Government provides an array of social services to help folks who are old or sick or infirm. The phrase “educating the orphan” has little resonance today. We don’t really have many “orphans” in 2020 in North America. We certainly have foster children, but there is an entire array of government protections and services for them. Education for children in the 21st Century is free. And phrases like “burying the dead” seem macabre, at best, to young men and women who might be contemplating joining Odd Fellows. Odd Fellows Cemeteries are few and far between today.
When was the last time that your Lodge Visiting Committee actually visited an ill member? When was the last time the Lodge buried a member in an Odd Fellows Cemetery? When was the last time the Lodge cared for the widow of a deceased member or sent the child of a such a member to an orphanage?
The continued repetition of admonitions like “burying the dead” and “educating the orphan” makes no sense in today’s world. It speaks of the age of barn raising, buggy building, and butter churning. If Odd Fellowship doesn’t wish to go the way of hundreds of other fraternal orders that emerged, thrived and then faded away, we need to modernize and move on from historical platitudes. We need to bring 21st Century men and women into our Order. Our ancient admonitions need to be transformed to admonitions that will resonate today. How about helping the homeless? Or standing against discrimination? Or protecting the environment? Or combating child abuse? Or feeding the hungry? There is no lack of modern needs, modern causes, and modern challenges for this Order to consider.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California