Last weekend, I wrote an article in this DMC Newsletter about the possible effects of the pandemic on Odd Fellow Lodges and Lodge members. The future of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), of course, is hard to predict. Plus, the pandemic has “only” been with us for only six months, and has hardly run its course. Under the best of circumstances, we are in this pandemic reality for at least another six months. Under the worst scenario, it may be as much as another year before we start to emerge from this dystopian universe. And even after the coveted vaccines are approved and distributed, there may be many members of the Order (a vast number of whom are in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond) who remain reticent about meetings and social gatherings.

So this pandemic is undoubtedly a punch in the gut of fraternal orders. How will this pandemic interlude affect Odd Fellow Lodges in the short and long run?

Some Lodges are holding “virtual meetings” using zoom. Other Lodges are not meeting at all. It is quite likely that marginal members will become even less engaged, and may very well not pay their dues for 2020. Even some moderately active members may become dispirited and move into the marginal realm. Almost certainly, the pandemic will have a deleterious impact on our membership rolls. Clearly, it will be difficult for Lodges to entice new members to join. It is predictable that more Lodges than normal will show net losses in membership. Some Lodges may actually hold their own and show a steady state, and only a precious few (if any) will show net gains.

I’ve received a fair number of emails in response to my pandemic DMC Newsletter. One of the most poignant came from a member (who will remain confidential) from a Lodge that is relatively active. If this member in an active Odd Fellows Lodge is discouraged, I can only imagine how difficult it is for a member of a low-energy Lodge.

I wanted to share the member’s email with you (I have deleted the name and the Lodge identification, and have otherwise excised content which would reveal the Lodge). Here’s the email:

“Hi Dave,

I have been thinking about this same topic. Our Lodge is conducting Zoom Business Meetings. As grateful as I am to be able to “see” folks on Zoom, it does not replace the regular dinners we could enjoy together.

A big problem for me (and others I am sure) is that with so few lodges left, they are geographically further apart and members live all over the place. Even if we had any younger members who wanted to help shop for groceries for older members it would be a hard sell to tell them, “Oh, by the way, Sister Mary lives twenty miles from the lodge.” And the willing volunteer may live 10 miles in the other direction.

For some members, a big draw is the regular meals we offer, both for social reasons and for some, just getting a free balanced dinner. I fear that there is going to be a big drop off in membership in our lodge at the end of the year because most of the reasons for belonging are not there anymore. No dinners, either in lodge or in restaurants, no intra-Lodge activities, etc.

You are absolutely correct about a lot of older people being unwilling to risk dining or even meeting inside the lodge until there is an effective vaccine. We were getting some younger members from local colleges but they are not around anymore either so pretty much everything has come to a screeching halt!

My spouse and I are active people, but have had to totally rethink what we can still do with our lives.

Odd Fellows provided a nice secondary social activity for us, but not really that large a part. Consequently I have thought of dropping out, but since the dues are not a killer for us to pay, we will likely hang in there for now.

I believe that all in all, this pandemic is going to accelerate the end of the Order. In some states the membership is going to die off even sooner than expected. Maybe California and a few other states or provinces will survive and can then effect the necessary changes that should have been started years and years ago.”

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF)

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