Recently, the tragic death of George Floyd illuminated an aspect of our group that sometimes we all ignore. This is not about that incident specifically, but rather the quick decline of our Odd Fellow lodges in the inner cities throughout the United States.
Why did this come to mind at this time?
Because if one looks closely at the photos of the bar in which Mr. Floyd was employed, it was in an old IOOF building. But this is not endemic to Minneapolis, alone. It is a widespread issue throughout our country. Many of the inner-city lodges are quickly vanishing. If one looks throughout our proud country one would find that the inner cities are where the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) has diminished most. In only a few of the large cities throughout the United States are the Odd Fellows still a vibrant and necessary addition. Of course, this was not always the case. Many of the largest cities for years had the biggest collections of members. A study of why this occurred is clearly called for.
We all know that the member counts throughout our order have plummeted. Of course, there have been discussed many reasons for this, and certainly, many factors do not address the Odd Fellows alone. Many speak about the ever-widening scope of mass communication: radio, television, the Internet. All these play a factor in our fading counts, but if it does not affect us solely, why has our group lost a larger percent of our members than other groups? It comes down to more of a question of relevance.
How we maintain relevance as a group is most important. Again, this is not endemic to the Odd Fellows alone, but the Odd Fellows are the group we all belong to, and we need to try and be relevant to the community around us. In California, oddly enough, many of our largest lodges are now in medium to small communities. This means that somehow each of these still essential lodges are relevant in their specific areas. The Davis Lodge, for example, in Davis CA, with a population of about 70,00 people, is now one of the biggest lodges in the United States, with more members than many whole states, clearly because they retain relevance to their community. How do they retain relevance? They have many events, and tailor their events to their members interests. Brother Dave Rosenberg has ensured that no member join without addressing their specific interests or hobbies. Want to retain a member? Share an interest in what they like.
Conversely, our San Francisco lodges are still active and vibrant, and yet were virtually dying out about 15 years ago. What made them spring back to life? The tireless efforts of one excellent Odd Fellow, Peter Sellars, who has ensured that they become more diverse, and address the needs of the community around them. One can study the membership charts of San Francisco, and easily see that the memberships of all their lodges have climbed considerably. Also, the membership has become much more diverse than ever before.
So, in closing, it can be done. Inner cities can have vibrant lodges just as smaller communities, but the trick is to retain relevance. Once relevance is lost, so too is the membership. We all want relevance in our lives. Just reciting the ritual will not do the trick, but seeing each member whatever race, creed, nationality, or cultural belief as relevant to the lodge will. The IOOF has got to stop hiding in plain sight, and go into our communities, and say we care about them, each one.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles