There was a time in America when membership in a fraternal order was de rigueur. Everybody who was anybody was an Odd Fellow, or a Mason, or an Elk, or a Knight of Pythias, or a Moose, etc. There was a time when the United States boasted hundreds of fraternal orders, and literally millions of men and women were members. That time has come and gone, and now the number of national fraternal orders has shrunk to a tiny fraction of what once existed. And the number of members has also diminished to a shadow of the numbers in the fraternal heyday.

In that heyday, my own town featured at least five fraternal order. Over the last couple of decades, that number has shrunken to just two fraternal Lodges: Independent Order of Odd Fellows and another well-known fraternal order (which shall remain nameless in this article). For the past 20 years, my Odd Fellows Lodge has engaged in dozens and dozens of community and charitable activities, all widely publicized in the local newspaper, with posters, and in social media. During that same period of time, that other fraternal Lodge has been on radio-silence – no community or charitable activities were ever publicized – we never heard from them.

Recently, driving past the Lodge hall of that other fraternal order, we saw that there was now a metal fence put up around it, and it appeared abandoned. On the other hand, my Odd Fellows Lodge is booming – in 2022 we initiated 41 new Odd Fellows, and we are on track to match or actually exceed that number in 2023.

What happened to that other fraternal order?

Of course, I don’t know for sure, but I will surmise that it became the victim of “The Vacuum.” Let me define my terms. A vacuum is a space that is devoid of matter. “The Vacuum” is a state of being of a Lodge when it has had all the life sucked out of it. The Lodge has devolved, folded inward, and has lost its energy, vitality, and mojo. The Lodge succumbing to “The Vacuum” is a Lodge that has given up any outreach into the community. The members don’t engage in any projects anymore. They don’t publicize events because they have no events. Essentially, all they do is hold monthly meetings, pay utility bills, make repairs on the building, and discuss which members are ill or who has died.

The community has lost touch with this sort of Lodge because they have become practically invisible. The problem with invisibility is that it directly affects the ability of the Lodge to bring in new members and grow. The result is that the existing members simply age in place, move away, or eventually pass away. And then the day comes when the metal fence goes up around the building.

F – L – T

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

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