Brother Mason Wolf is a relatively young and energetic member of our Order and currently serves as Noble Grand of True Fellowship Lodge #52. He has written the article below relating to the Initiatory Degree, the form in which it is presented, and the impact that the presentation has on incoming members of our Order. I know that you will find it of interest.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
Think back to your first experience receiving the initiatory degree with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Was it mysterious? A little frightening? Did you get the sense that something dreadful, but somehow important, was about to be imparted to you? Did it feel like you were entering an ancient order with hidden knowledge and wisdom that you were about to learn?
Or did you watch an hour long video of men in robes recite a lot of monologues at you?
For me, I had the first experience, and I will never forget it. But my wife joined during COVID, and we had no way to give her that experience, so she got the DVD. It was boring, but she wanted to do Odd Fellows with me, and that was the only way she could join at the time. It was adequate, but it wasn’t special.
I’m a huge believer in the value of conferring our degrees live, with full props and costumes. And I know how hard it can be, especially for lodges without enough members to put together a degree team, or when they don’t have access to the props already. If the only way to confer a degree is with a video, or by giving the lecture form (for those that have one), some degree is better than none. But not by much.
The Time and Effort IS the Value
Putting time and effort into something makes it valuable, because it proves that we value it so much that we’re willing to spend our precious time and effort. It’s circular, but it’s true. And candidates get that. They know the difference between a pre-packaged experience and one that is lovingly tailored just for them. Doing the degrees, in full, is how we tell candidates how much we value them, and how much we value the lessons we have to teach.
The DVD’s are actually very well done, but the experience is not special. The lesson isn’t imparted as a conversation. The Vice Grand in a recording doesn’t wait to hear whether the candidate has actually taken the obligation before the degree proceeds.
If we won’t demonstrate that we think the lesson is valuable enough to give it properly, we can’t be surprised when the member doesn’t find the lesson valuable either (or even remember it).
It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect
The occasional thespian may join a lodge, but most of the time, everyone’s an amateur. But so were most of the Odd Fellows who went before us, and that’s okay. If you practice your part enough that the candidate can hear you clearly, and you know when to speak and when to stop, then trust that the words themselves are capable of doing the work.
I started thinking about this topic last weekend when I was one of the candidates taking the Encampment degrees live at Hahn Farm in Oregon. The people putting on the degrees weren’t all perfectly polished, and there was the occasional stumble over a line. They were reading from scripts most of the time.
And none of that mattered to me.
What I experienced that day was genuine love for the Encampment, and the willingness to come together (a long journey for many of the participants) and teach lessons that have been passed down, unbroken, for the better part of two hundred years.
Could it have been done better? Of course! But will I ever forget the experience? I doubt it. Because while I was listening to the words and following the actions of the degree ceremonies, my mind was filling in the detail, connecting the words with the principles, and recognizing the common thread that unites every member of each of the degrees I experienced.
The Shared Experience is the Point
As Odd Fellows, we accept people who come from all backgrounds, classes, professions, races, geographical areas, religions, and so on. To make it work, we need to have something that unites us that we’re all willing to agree is more important than our differences. Odd Fellowship is all about recognizing that we are all brothers and sisters, and that it’s our duty to care for each other as siblings, looking past the false distinctions that others see.
Part of the way we learn to look past those false distinctions is by having that experience of joining the Order, and then each degree we take. If I go to another part of the world, and there’s an Odd Fellows lodge, even if I don’t speak the language or know the customs, I know we share a set of values. And hopefully, we’ve shared the same experiences partaking in the live degrees. That is a starting point on our journey to viewing one another as family, and the more we can share through our rituals and degree work, the more of a common foundation we have to build on.
What We Teach, We Also Learn
The last reason I love the live degrees isn’t for the value they confer to the candidates, as much as to the instructors. If the only experience you had with the degrees is when you received them as a new member, and now it’s 30 years later, that’s a lot of time to forget what your lodge taught you. When we stop doing the live degrees, we forget what they mean.
I think every member should either confer, or spectate, all of our degrees on a semi-regular basis. Especially with the initiatory, there’s something powerful about watching someone go through it for the first time. There’s that moment of surprise that will hopefully start them down the journey of Odd Fellowship, and seeing it in others helps us remember why it is that we’re all doing this.
If your lodge isn’t doing the live degrees, form a degree team. If you have to double up on parts, do that. If you need to read from the book, speak clearly and read. If you don’t have the props, do what our forebears did and make some (or partner with another lodge that has them).
If you have candidates for the degrees, that’s wonderful! It means that your lodge has already done the work that it takes to attract new members and help them to advance. You should keep doing it! But the work of putting on the live degrees is a huge part of what it takes to turn them into Odd Fellows. It proves that you value them, and you value our teachings, and it passes those teachings along in a meaningful way they won’t easily forget.
And best of all, it’s fun.
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