Several years ago, I ran for the position of Sovereign Grand Warden. No one knows me, so of course, I failed abysmally.

But why did I fail so abysmally? Because I made my speech about membership. Many members, including several Past Sovereign Grand Masters, advised me not to discuss membership, and to their credit, they were right. No one wants to hear how poorly we are doing. Particularly, since the median age now is at least 70 years old. We all want the order to survive at least as long as we do. But the figures show that this may no longer be possible.

About 2 years ago, I wrote a message projecting a 9-year future for the order in its present state, and of course, now the projection would be downgraded by 2 years. Unfortunately, my 9-year projection was close to the true figure because of several factors. Many years ago, in college, I was a literature major, but minored in mathematics, so I have always found projections and things of that sort of interest. Of course, at my age now, my head is no longer good at computing figures, but it no longer requires a Mensa candidate to determine these figures as they decline quickly. Here is what I see by today’s figures. Remember, that SGL figures are based on reports often at least 2 years past.

In the Rebekahs, of which I am a member, at least thirty-two states are now below two hundred members, so clearly more than three-fifths of the states with Rebekahs are close to dissolution.

In the Odd Fellows, at least twenty states are now below two hundred members, plus the District of Columbia, so two-fifths of the United States are close to dissolution.

As everyone knows, California is the largest jurisdiction by far, and yet, a mere 4,000 members in a state with a population of about forty million people seems small by comparison. A minuscule percentage, to be sure.

But there are some scary figures we have yet to see. For example, since the figures given out by the Sovereign Grand Lodge are from reports often more than 2 years ago, this does not include figures during the pandemic. Many lodges in our own state seemed to almost cease to exist. The question this raises is that if lodges virtually ceased to exist in our largest state, what happened to lodges in the lower populated states? Of course, many lodges communicated by zoom or other remote methods, but given our average age and the treacherous times, what do we expect from lodges when these years are filed in the annual reports.

Sovereign Grand Lodge has done their best to lighten the load. They have eliminated the premise of unscrupulous or unknowledgeable members pursuing mindless trials by deciding to oversee all trials of members. In viewing annual reports, they have also suggested that California take a more active role in the national discussion, allowing more representation, understandably since our member numbers are greater than the bottom twenty states combined, even by figures 3 years past. Also, they have reinforced the generally accepted rule that the Grand Master is the absolute head of each jurisdiction no matter how well-meaning another individual may be. Hopefully, this will clear up some issues going forward. In my reading of previous SGL annual reports, I have seen that infighting within a state generates more turmoil than anything else.

Lastly, the question arises that if we are losing members by an ever-increasing rate, do we proceed to lower our standards? In my humble opinion, that answer is no. Lodges have been absolutely decimated by wild inebriates, and those too proud to admit their own inadequacies. If anything, we should be more stringent on our admission standards. Good people will not stay long where drunkards or members of low character congregate, to be frank, and we must be careful to be a bit more observant when prospective members come and pay a visit. The Davis Lodge, for example, takes months to admit prospective members and they must prove they’re worthy, and yet they are one of the biggest lodges in the country. People want to go where they feel welcome. If we genuinely want our order to survive, we must see the individual trees in the forest, and help them grow.

In F, L, & T,

Rick Boyles
Past Grand Master
Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Jurisdiction of California

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