Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
What is the single most important responsibility of membership in the Odd Fellows?
That’s actually a tough question, because the Order has created a wide range of obligations, duties and admonitions for its members. Certainly, we are advised to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, educate the orphan, bury the dead, and assume other ancient “admonitions” of this Order. These old admonitions were central to the beneficial aspects of Odd Fellowship in the 18th and 19th Century, but have certainly diminished in modern times. We don’t do much burying of the dead nowadays, and it’s pretty hard to find an orphan to educate in the United States.
Some might contend that our most important responsibility can be discovered somewhere within the Degrees. Perhaps it is “Friendship”, or “Love”, or “Truth”. And I absolutely agree that the messages conveyed in our Degrees to behave in our daily lives, and in our fraternal halls, with friendship, love and truth to each other is central to the concept of Odd Fellowship. I find in my travels to Lodges that there are members that operate under old grudges and ancient slights and simply don’t get along with each other, or argue and bicker at Lodge meetings. That sort of behavior is not the conduct we expect from an Odd Fellow. Frankly, it is toxic to the Lodge. Members need to get past the old grudges and ancient slights and move on. In other words, shake hands and get over it.
While all the obligations, duties and admonitions of Odd Fellowship mentioned above are significant and important, I suggest that none of them are THE most important responsibility of an Odd Fellow. Instead, I suggest that the most important responsibility of an Odd Fellow (from the founding of our Order in North America in 1819 to the present) is the responsibility of each and every member to ensure the continued viability of that member’s Lodge. Let me explain.
Odd Fellowship is not a club. It’s a fraternal order. We operate through the basic unit of the Lodge. And what makes a fraternal order unique is that it has the ability to exist over generations. The life-span of humans is, of course, finite. So, to continue the viability of the Order, we must continue the viability of the Lodge. But a Lodge cannot exist without new members. It’s just simple math. As members move away, or resign, or allow their membership to lapse, or pass away – a Lodge will diminish and ultimately die (or consolidate) when the membership falls below a quorum of five. To enable a Lodge to continue to the next generation, the primal responsibility of existing members is to bring in new members. And this process requires two more aspects: (1) New members must be brought into the Lodge in sufficient quantity to result in a net gain of members. In other words, if the Lodge loses five members in a year, then that Lodge should bring in at least six members that year, to show a net gain. If the Lodge brings in five members, it is static. If the Lodge brings in four members, it is suffering a net loss. Net losses are, of course, unsustainable. (2) Most of the new members must be younger than existing members. For example, if a Lodge is composed of members all in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, the Lodge cannot bring in only new members in that same age group. That ultimately will lead to the slow demise of that Lodge. Instead, it’s important for the Lodge to bring in new members in their 50’s, 40’s, 30’s and 20’s. Interestingly, when I look at the old records of Lodges in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, I find that the Noble Grand, and most of the officers of the Lodges were in their 20’s and 30’s. Nowadays, we find many Lodges where the Noble Grand, and most of the officers, are in their 70’s and 80’s.
In my travels around the State of California, visiting Lodges, I have found too many Lodges which are, essentially, Lodges of Grandfathers and Grandmothers, many of them with fewer than 20 members on the books. I have visited Lodges which have had to cancel meetings because they couldn’t muster a quorum. I have visited Lodges where they haven’t brought in a new member in years. I have visited Lodges where no members are under 50 years of age. I have visited Lodges where they have virtually no activities for the members and do virtually nothing to better their local communities. These Lodges are on the verge of extinction. In other words, who would want to join a moribund and boring Lodge like that? The answer: No one. Those Lodges continue to diminish and are just kind of hanging around till they drop below a quorum. They continue to limp along with the assistance of Associate Members who come over occasionally to make a quorum and fill a vacancy in office.
The members of these Lodges have forgotten their primary responsibility to the Order. They have grown complacent and, frankly, are thinking only of themselves in the moment, and have ignored their responsibility to Odd Fellowship in the long term. That’s just wrong. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us, as Odd Fellows, to bring new members into this Order. It is not only the responsibility of “the other guy” to bring in new members. It is my responsibility and YOUR responsibility.
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California