Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
One of the very first things we learn when we join Odd Fellowship is the ancient “commands” of this Order, instructing members to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead, and educate the orphan.”
I must be slacking because I haven’t been visiting the sick, relieving the distressed, burying the dead, nor educating the orphan lately.
My point, however, is that these ancient commands, for the most part are . . . well . . . ancient. You might as well command us to draw water from the well, milk the cows at dawn, hand-make our own clothing, and participate in a barn raising.
Don’t get me wrong. Historically, the four commands made absolute good sense. There was a time when there were no social services or government assistance provided to the public. Odd Fellows stepped into the breach two centuries ago to build hospitals, construct homes for widows and widowers, establish cemeteries, and operate orphanages. Odd Fellows filled a great historical need and at a time when Odd Fellowship boasted almost one million members, the country was dotted with Odd Fellows’ cemeteries, hospitals, homes for the aging, and orphanages. Today, when our fraternal membership has shrunk to a mere fraction of our former numbers, there is far less ability to own and operate cemeteries, hospitals, retirement homes and orphanages, and there is far less need for Odd Fellows to do any of that in the 21st Century.
Some of the old admonitions can and should still be applicable today. It is a good thing for Odd Fellows to continue to help other Odd Fellows who may be sick or distressed. But as to burying the dead, maybe not so much. To prospective members of our Lodges, the admonition to “bury the dead” just sounds ghoulish. And educate the orphan? When was the last time you ran into an “orphan” or “orphanage” in the United States? The concept of “orphanage” is a relic from another century.
If we wish to remain relevant to the men and women coming up in this new century, we need to adapt to fit the times. After all, it is these 21st Century men and women that we are seeking as new members in our Lodges, to join, sustain, refresh and continue our fraternity.
So, what resonates with the young adults in 2021?
Surely “bury the dead” and “educate the orphan” don’t. But how about “protect the environment” and “help children in need”? I submit that these latter two new commands should replace the outmoded ones and will give us new direction in a new era. Men and women of the 21st Century are vitally concerned with the health and well-being of our planet – our atmosphere, our climate, our land, our waters, our flora and fauna. They want to do their part to protect the Earth for themselves, and for their children and grandchildren. And frankly, so do men and women born in the last century. It is an enduring theme that connects us all – whether we are 20 or 80 years of age. And “help children in need” is an appropriate evolution from “educate the orphan”. While there are precious few orphans in our country today, there are certainly children caught up in the court system, children who are in foster care or aging out of the foster system, children who are hungry and unhoused. The list of children in need is, unfortunately, extensive – and there is plenty for Odd Fellows to do in this arena at the Lodge level.
So the revised commands would instruct us to “visit the sick, relieve the distress, protect the environment, and help children in need.” It would become a link to our past and a bridge to our future.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
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