For your reading pleasure, we are re-publishing a DMC article which first appeared on June 10, 2014, which included a DMC article from August 18, 2012 – almost 10 years ago.
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
This little entity called “Dedicated Members for Change” (DMC) was started in 2010, but it’s not understood by everyone in the Odd Fellows. I recognize that fact. For example, some think we have “members”. We don’t. DMC is simply an e-mail matrix where we share ideas and discuss issues relating to membership – the decline of our membership, and ways we can increase our membership. We are kind of a “think tank” for our Order. Not everyone agrees with everything said by article writers in this e-mail dialogue. That’s perfectly fine. Our intent is simply to raise the issues and discuss them. Sometimes, the articles are provocative. Why not? Provocative articles stimulate our brain cells, and freedom of speech and expression are cherished American values. Article writers will even make suggestions on membership development that some members and Lodges may find useful. I know we are having an impact because the issue of “membership” has come front and center in our discussions at Odd Fellows’ Grand Lodge Sessions and in our Lodge Halls. And we are starting to see the beginnings of a new trend where Lodges are bringing in more new members than they are losing. We are seeing net gains, not net losses in many Lodges now.
Why is there angst about “Dedicated Members for Change”? It can’t be about the use of the word “Dedicated”, as I hope each and every one of us is dedicated to our Order. It can’t be about the use of the word “Members” because we are all Odd Fellows and/or Rebekahs – members of our Order. So, it must be all about our use of the word “Change”. And to me, that’s really ironic. Because when you look at the history of Odd Fellowship, it is all about change. This Order has a history of evolution and change. We are quite different today than we were 20 years ago, or 50 years ago, or 100 years ago. The most recent change is the emphasis on social meetings and community outreach. But it wasn’t very long ago when our Order saw other changes such the admission of women into Odd Fellows Lodges. And the list of changes is a lengthy one. The degrees we have today are different than the degrees of Odd Fellowship a couple of generations ago. The oaths and obligations have changed over time. The ritual we use has changed and been re-written over time. The names and responsibilities of officers have changed. The regalia has changed (once Odd Fellows wore aprons in addition to the collars). The Order once had a plethora of secret signs when communicating with Odd Fellows outside the Lodge Hall – that’s all changed. I could go on and on.
The simple truth is that “change” is a thread that has woven through Odd Fellowship for hundreds of years. Why should it be any different today?
No one is suggesting that we become Rotarians or Clampers. No one is suggesting that we turn our backs on the history, the ritual, the regalia that make us unique as Odd Fellows. But we do suggest change which will make us more visible and attractive to the men and women of the 21st Century – the new members we need to grow our Lodges. We do suggest opening our doors and windows and reaching out into our communities to do good works, and we do suggest more social activities within our Lodges to bring the “fun” back to Odd Fellowship. These sorts of “changes” will rejuvenate, refresh, reinvigorate our Lodges and will re-focus us on the key to our success as an Order: bringing in those new members which are the lifeblood of any fraternal order.
Below is an article I wrote on August 18, 2012 for the DMC Newsletter. I thought you might enjoy this trip down memory lane.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Since Odd Fellowship was founded in Merry Olde England in the 1700’s, it appears to me to have undergone at least nine dramatic changes in its history. We learn about our future by understanding our past, and so I think it would be useful to travel down the historical path of this great Order.
- Odd Fellows started when working men of different trades met in the pubs of England. The earliest printed record stems from 1748 where “Odd Fellows” met in the Globe Tavern in England. I’m reasonably confident that drinking ale was a major part of these social gatherings. There is also evidence that our fraternal Order was linked to the “Ancient Order of Bucks”, and its symbol of three bucks with antlers intertwined. These men were led by a “Most Noble Grand” and also met in taverns.
- Odd Fellows were not the only fraternal order in England – in fact, there were dozens of them. And most of them evolved into what was known as “friendly societies”. Before social security and unemployment insurance and health care subsidized by employers, folks in England were pretty much on their own. In stepped Odd Fellows (and other fraternal orders) to help members who were sick or in distress, to educate orphans of members who died, and to bury members in Odd Fellows cemeteries. Odd Fellows Lodges were the social fabric (in lieu of government) which helped members and their families. In large measure, this is why Odd Fellows developed secret grips, signs and passwords – only by such secrets could one Odd Fellows Lodge know that it was helping a true Odd Fellow, as opposed to someone who was passing himself off as an Odd Fellow simply to receive financial or other assistance.
- And then for a time, Odd Fellows and other friendly societies were suppressed by government in England.
- But eventually, these fraternal organization became prevalent, and the suppression ceased. Odd Fellowship was revived in 1803 by an organization called “London Union of Odd Fellows” which, in turn, morphed into “The Grand Lodge of England” which assumed control over all Odd Fellows Lodges in England.
- But not all Odd Fellows Lodges in England were happy with that. In 1809 Victory Lodge in Manchester declared itself independent of the Grand Lodge of England. And in 1814 the six Lodges in Manchester met and joined together as the “Manchester Unity of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows” and proceeded to elect officers and “standardize” the degree work.
- Odd Fellowship came to the United States in 1806, but it wasn’t until 1819 that Odd Fellowship in America took off like a rocket with the work of Thomas Wildey. He and a handful of others “self-instituted” an Odd Fellows Lodge called Washington Lodge #1 in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1820, they received a charter through an English Lodge, and then Odd Fellowship – through the work of Wildey – rapidly expanded across the country.
- In 1834, Odd Fellowship in America became independent of the Order in England.
- In the middle of the 1800’s, Odd Fellowship became the first fraternal order to open its doors to women with the formation of the Rebekah Lodge; and in the late 20th Century, membership in Odd Fellows Lodges were opened to women and in Rebekah Lodges were opened to men.
- And in 1869, a California Lodge (Templar Lodge #15 in San Francisco) helped to establish a Lodge in Germany (Wuertemberg Lodge #1 in Stuttgart), and from there Odd Fellowship traveled world-wide.
Frankly, the history of Odd Fellowship is a history of change. Why should it be any different today? In fact, I suggest that Odd Fellowship is in the midst of another historical change in its personality – the tenth change, if you will. Sometimes it is difficult to discern change when you are in the midst of it. And I assure you that change (evolution) is happening right now. Both Grand Lodge and Sovereign Grand Lodge recognize that Odd Fellowship – to survive in the 21st Century – must evolve. This evolution must open Lodges up to the public. We have simply got to be more visible in our communities. This means more community outreach, involvement and support. This means inviting the public into our Lodges in social meetings and social events. This does not mean revealing the secrets of the Lodge. But it does mean becoming an active part of the communities in which we live. If we do so, we will attract the young blood of new members which we need so that the Order can flourish.
If we fail to leave the four walls of our Lodges, those walls will become the coffins of our Order.
F – L – T
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