The human lifespan is limited to about 100 years, more or less. But the fraternal lifespan can last for centuries. The fraternal order we call “the Independent Order of Odd Fellows” began in England in the 1700’s and traveled the ocean to the United States in the early 1800’s. The Order flourished in the United States and Canada and grew to thousands of Lodges and, at one time, about 1 million members. In California alone, Odd Fellowship once numbered over 400 Lodges and close to 60,000 members. We have maintained this Order in North America for almost 200 years. And, in theory, the Order could continue for another 200 years, or more.
In these DMC Newsletters, for the past five years, we have talked about the perils of small Odd Fellows Lodges with continually shrinking memberships. And, indeed, that is a great challenge to the perpetuation of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. But like a bolt from the blue, I have become aware of a similarly great challenge that affects most of our Lodges, and even the largest and most active of our Lodges.
Recently, I visited a very large, active, and quite successful Odd Fellows Lodge that was celebrating an anniversary of its charter. There were literally hundreds of folks in the room. I had occasion to speak, so I asked for a show of hands of those Lodge members who were over 70. A number of hands went up. I asked for those who were over 60. Quite a few hands went up. I asked for hands to be raised for those over 50, and hands went up. Then, on a whim, I asked for those under 40 to raise their hands. I was astonished to see only one hand raised. (And I later spoke to the young lady who had raised her hand and found that, within two months, she was moving to another state.) The fact that only one person in that room was under 40 was a stunning revelation to me. And it was, to me, a yellow flag of caution. Here was a large, active and successful Lodge that was in trouble – not today, and not in the immediate future, but eventually. And that is because we all age, and we all age at the same rate. In other words, in 10 years the 50-year-old members of that Lodge will be 60, and the 60-year-old members will be 70, and so on. Where is the next generation of members? In 10 years that Lodge will have precious few, if any, members under 60.
Now, this is not a knock on folks in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond. I am one of those folks, myself, and I daresay we are remarkable and accomplished people. Lodges need the senior members for their knowledge, involvement, stability and wisdom. But, Lodges also need the next generation of members and leaders. Interestingly, I have looked at the historical books and records of our Order and I have found that in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Lodges had many members in their 20’s and 30’s, and Noble Grands were often in their 30’s. Today, however, the average age of Lodge membership has eked upwards into the 60’s, and I have met quite a few Noble Grands in their 70’s. As members age in place, where is the next generation of members and leaders?
Here is the simple and hard truth: We cannot just recruit new members who are our own age.
If we are 70, it won’t do for us to bring in only our peers who are in their 70’s. And if we are 50, we can’t just bring in 50-year-olds. We must bring in the next generation. Again, this is not a knock on 70-year-olds or 50-year-olds. It is the reality of a fraternal Order. When those who are 70 turn 90, and those who are 50 turn 70, the Lodge will be a Lodge of 70 and 90 year old members. The Lodge will have skipped an entire generation. We also need to be cognizant of the fact that the more members we have in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, the easier it is to bring in new members in that age group – those younger members can tap into the universe of their friends and peers much more readily than can a person in his or her 70’s.
Odd Fellowship is generational. In other words, members of a Lodge must always be prepared to pass the torch to the next generation. Strong Lodges have members who range from their 20’s to their 80’s. If a Lodge skips an entire generation (or, as I have regrettably seen, two generations), that Lodge is in trouble. If the youngest member in a Lodge is in his or her 60’s, what will that Lodge look like in 5 years, or 10 years, or 20 years? And as the years go on, it won’t be any easier for the aging members of the Lodge to attract members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.
Each of us has an obligation to our Order. We must bring in the next generation of Odd Fellows. If we fail to do so, we will have failed our Lodge and we will have failed our Order.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.)
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