Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

When I was elected Grand Master of California last month, I promised you that I would always tell you the truth – whether good, bad, or ugly. So, here it is: complete and unvarnished. Our Order is slowly dying. It has been dying for decades, now. If we continue at the rate of decline that we have been experiencing for the past 100 years, our Order in California will have less than 2,000 dues-paying members in 20 years. That being the truth, our Number One priority must be to add members to our Lodges. This is a responsibility of each of our Lodges and each of us.

If you doubt my words, simply take a look at some statistics. The drop in membership has been inexorable and steady. The numbers don’t lie. It will be impossible to sustain the structure of our Order as we continue to lose members, and consolidate and close Lodges. Just as an example, please take a look at the sobering statistics every decade from 1854 to 2014, showing the number of dues-paying Odd Fellows in California:

1854 1,765
1864 6,972
1874 18,013
1884 23,447
1894 30,687
1904 36,561
1914 45,925
1924 57,030
1934 35,138
1944 27,370
1954 26,141
1964 18,220
1974 12,111
1984 9,041
1994 7,174
2004 5,736
2014 4,252

We have fewer members in California Odd Fellowship today than we had in the 1860’s. There are high schools in California which have a greater student population than 4,252. And even that number of 4,252 is misleading. We all know that in reality, in most Lodges, the number of dues-paying members does not reflect the number of active members who actually come to meetings and participate in Lodge activities and business. We all know that only about half the dues-paying members are active members. So, a Lodge of 20 dues-paying members may have only 10 active members. And a Grand Lodge jurisdiction of 4,252 members probably means around 2,000 active members. That’s getting awfully thin.

In the early years from the 1850’s through the 1920’s, our Order experienced a steady growth in membership. But around the Great Depression in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s the growth was halted, and a steady decline in membership began. We cannot have a net loss of 1,000 to 2,000 members every decade and expect to be a viable fraternal Order in 15-20 years. To survive in the the coming years and into the 2020’s and 2030’s, we cannot behave like we were living in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Our Order and our Lodges must modernize and must evolve and change with the times or we simply will be unable to attract the men and women of the 21st Century that we must attract in order to survive and grow. Our Lodges must become three-dimensional Lodges, not just one dimensional Lodges. Remembering our history is very important, but if we simply remember the past, we will have no future. We must start living in the present. It’s perfectly fine for us to be a society with secrets, but we can no longer afford to be a secret society. We must open the doors and windows of our Lodges to reach out into our communities to do good works. And we must bring the fun back to our fraternity through social activities that members enjoy.

Let me put this in even simpler terms. We have been losing members pretty steadily since World War II. If we continue to do what we have been doing for the past 70 years, how can we expect a different result? This fraternity must evolve and change to become a 21st Century Order, or we will go the way of a hundred other fraternal orders in this country that were born, grew, flourished, diminished and are now defunct – and are now remembered only as historical footnotes.

As your Grand Master, I will do all in my power to bring the message of “evolution and change” to our Order. But this is a task for each of us. The Lodges that evolve and change into three-dimensional Lodges will prosper and grow in the coming years. The Lodges that fail to do so will, regrettably, continue to diminish.

Let me end on a positive note. The task before us is by no means impossible. We have a few Lodges in this jurisdiction that have become, or are transforming into, three-dimensional Lodges. They are socially active, vibrant, engaged in their communities – and significantly, they are adding members and are growing. It can be done.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

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