Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
I have just returned from a week-long sojourn at the annual sessions of the Grand Encampment (GE) and the Military Department Patriarchs Militant (PM) in Stockton. The Ladies Encampment Auxiliary (LEA) and the Ladies Auxiliary Patriarchs Militant (LAPM) also hold simultaneous sessions in Stockton. I emphasize the work “long” in “week-long” because the sessions start on a Sunday evening with an opening ceremony and then run four days and evenings – Monday through Thursday. The PM and LAPM meet on Monday and Wednesday, and the GE and LEA meet on Tuesday and Thursday. To top it all off, there is a meeting of the Joint Planning Board on Friday morning, along with meetings of the Joint Visual Research Committee and the Board of Directors that Friday morning as well.
It’s quite the Marathon, and in my opinion, completely discourages young working men and women from participation. This is why I proposed resolutions which (I am pleased to note) were passed – which will start the process of consideration of two day (rather than four day) meetings. In particular, if these meetings were held over a weekend, then the young working men and women we need would be encouraged to participate.
In fact, the attendees were not young men and women. The vast majority were in their 70’s and 80’s, with a few in their 60’s and perhaps a handful in their 50’s. An entire generation of folks – perhaps two generations – in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s were missing from these gatherings. This certainly is not the way to ensure a continuation of the Branches.
And the statistics certainly show that these Branches of our Odd Fellow’s tree are suffering from the drought caused by declining membership. Once there were thousands and thousands of Patriarchs in the Encampment as well as Chevaliers in the PM. Today, in 2015 in California, it appears that we have just 222 members of the Encampment and 86 Chevaliers in the PM. If one surmises that only half the members “on the books” actually participate with any degree of activity, this means that we have only about 111 active Patriarchs and 43 active Chevaliers in California. These latter numbers are probably pretty accurate because only 54 Patriarchs registered to attend the Grand Encampment (and 49 actually showed up to vote) and only 33 Chevaliers registered to attend the Military Council (and 23 actually showed up to vote).
Only 13 Encampments and just 7 Cantons remain in California. Most of the Encampments and Cantons are losing members. The major exceptions are the Encampments and Cantons in San Francisco and Davis. Those two Encampment and those two Cantons are gaining substantial numbers of members, more than counter-balancing the losses. Davis Encampment has 41 members and San Francisco Encampment has 39 members, comprising between them almost 40% of the entire Encampment membership in California. Ten of the remaining Encampments have less than 12 members each, and three of the Encampments have 7 or fewer members. In the PM, Canton Davis and Canton San Francisco members comprise about 50% of the total number of Chevaliers in California. Why so strong in Davis and San Francisco? As I have said for many years, where you have a strong Lodge, you can have a strong Encampment, and were you have a strong Encampment, you can have a strong Canton. That is certainly true in Davis and San Francisco.
The LEA has a total members in June of 2014 of 116, down from 170 in June of 2013. The LAPM has just 5 units remaining. Total registration at the 2015 LEA was 44, and total registration at the 2015 LAPM was 26.
What is sobering to note is that California is in far better shape that other jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, you can count the members of the Branches on one or two hands.
What is the solution? To me, it’s obvious. We can’t continue operating as if we were living in 1915. We are in 2015 and we need to act like it. Separate branches for men and women is a relic of a past century, and has no place in the 21st Century. It’s long overdue that we merge our PM and LAPM, and also merge our GE and our LEA. And yes, in time, Odd Fellows and Rebekahs must merge, as well. The degrees can and should be preserved. Our Order can become ONE strong unified entity with many degrees. That just make sense.
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California