A few days ago a relatively new member of my Odd Fellows Lodge asked me a question that struck me as pretty straightforward. The member asked: “How do you think Lodges will do after this pandemic ends?”
The question only encompassed eleven words so I was poised to answer quickly, and off-the-cuff, by saying, “Oh, I think they will be just fine.”
But I didn’t.
As I reflected on the question for a moment, it seemed to me that the expected answer may or may not be the right one. For one thing, none of us can, with certainty, predict the future. We can, however, certainly visualize alternative futures. So, yes, one alternative future is that “they will be just fine” and all Odd Fellow Lodges will come out of the pandemic kind of where they left off when they went into the pandemic. We have very few guideposts to help us frame an answer. The closest event that parallels the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 is the so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920 – a century ago. Some parts of society were absolutely devastated and took years, if not decades, to come back from that 1918-1920 event. Other parts of society bounced back quickly and strongly.
I can envision at least two other alternative futures for Odd Fellowship after the pandemic winds down.
On the one hand, this pandemic may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for some IOOF Lodges where membership was already small, inactive and/or dispirited. Without the ability to use the Lodge Hall, those Lodges may be pushed over the precipice of survival. Without strong leadership and a sense of togetherness, there will be little to bind the members. They will have grown apart. Even when the pandemic “ends” there will undoubtedly be members – particularly older members – who will continue (for months and perhaps years) to socially isolate themselves for fear of infection. For those Lodges with elderly members who do not use email or cell phones or cannot manage zoom technology, the year-long distance and disruption may be a road too far to traverse. These are the Lodges that will buckle, will never quite recover, and will ultimately fade away.
On the other hand, this pandemic may be the litmus test for the strength of the Lodge. If Lodge leadership and members use the opportunity to be imaginative in how they can stay connected, how they can meet virtually, and how they can help each other and the community, the Lodge will have proven its worth, staying-power, and stamina. These are the Lodges that don’t stand still – these are the Lodges that evolve and change to fit the times. There are Lodges out there that have been “meeting” using zoom technology even in these times of social distancing. There are Lodges where the younger members have been helping the older members with grocery shopping. There are Lodge that have had members volunteering to help at food banks, at making face masks for nursing homes, at organizing blood drives, at sending email communications to members on a regular basis to keep everyone connected. These are the Lodges that are going to be resilient. These are the survivors. And they will be “just fine” after the pandemic.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF)