Updated: August 15, 2021
It is undisputed that over the last Century membership in Odd Fellows’ Lodges has dropped by over 90%. That is a significant and concerning decline.
But even more significant and concerning is the decline in the other units in our fraternity. Rebekah membership has dropped. So has the membership of the Encampments and the Ladies Encampment Auxiliary (LEA). And Patriarchs Militant membership has declined, as has the Ladies Auxiliary Patriarchs Militant (LAPM). It should be no surprise that when Odd Fellows Lodges opened to women, the “separate but equal” units of Rebekahs, LEA and LAPM started becoming obsolescent. Just to put this in perspective, in California, Odd Fellows Lodge dues-paying membership totals 4,547 while Rebekah Lodge dues-paying membership totals 916 – so Rebekahs membership is a mere 20% compared to Odd Fellows membership. And the drop is even steeper when looking at LEA and LAPM.
Racing in time against the inevitable, the Rebekahs, LEA and LAPM have tried to sustain themselves. But inevitably and inexorably, as the ages of members increase, the membership numbers decrease. Let’s be frank. Why join an LAPM when membership in a Canton of PM is available? Why join an LEA when membership in an Encampment is available?
Compounding the Dilemma
Compounding the dilemma, it has become increasingly difficult for LEA and LAPM units to find young members to join. I would venture to say that the average age of members in these units is probably into the 70’s. And if a new member is found who might be in his/her 30’s or 40’s or 50’s, they are usually a rare commodity in that unit. These units have so few members, that officer position simply rotate among the same few members, year after year. And what will these units look like in five years? Ten years? Twenty years?
Even the Rebekahs have a problematic future. Precious few Rebekah Lodges actually own Lodge Halls. This is a real problem for the vast majority of Rebekah Lodges. Typically, the Lodge Halls are owned and controlled by Odd Fellows Lodges. So, Rebekah Lodges have no steady stream of income from building tenants or renters of the Lodge space. Some Odd Fellows Lodges have even charged Rebekah Lodges rent to use the Lodge Hall. So, Rebekah Lodges have a strike against them from the get-go. In the standard jurisdiction, the number of Rebekah Lodges is only a fraction of the number of Odd Fellows Lodges, and the number of members in each Lodge is typically smaller and older than comparable Odd Fellows Lodges. Odd Fellows Lodges, before 1999, used to be called “the Men’s Lodge” and Rebekah Lodges used to be called “the Women’s Lodge”. Those designations make no sense today. The majority of Odd Fellows Lodges have women members, and the majority of Rebekah Lodges have male members.
What’s the solution, going forward?
We know that separate units are not sustainable. We don’t need six separate units in a fraternal Order that is shrinking. Economy of scale, alone, would indicate that the units need to merge. Sovereign Grand Lodge has recognized this inevitability, and is slowly moving into the direction of merger of units. I suggest that this is a four step process. In step one, the Patriarchs Militant and the LAPM would merge into one unit. In step two, the Encampment and the LEA would become one unit. And in step three, the Odd Fellows and the Rebekahs would join as one unit. Finally, in step four, Odd Fellowship would be a single unit, having 9 degrees reflecting the merged units: The Initiatory Degree (which I would rename The Degree of Trust), The Degree of Friendship, The Degree of Love, The Degree of Truth, The Rebekah Degree (which I would rename The Degree of Equality), The Degree of Faith, The Degree of Hope, The Degree of Charity, and The Degree of Universal Justice. Perhaps in time, Odd Fellowship should develop additional degrees that members could strive to attain which would help us “elevate the character of mankind.”
I’m not suggesting that this will be easy. Odd Fellows leaders will have to develop fair and equitable plans to create the mergers. But I am suggesting that the great merger is inevitable if we are to survive as a viable and modern fraternal Order.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
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