December 18, 2014 in Grand Lodge
December 18, 2014 in Grand Lodge
The following letter has recently come to my attention. To preserve confidentiality, I have deleted the name of the Lodge and the names of Lodge members. The letter stated the following:
Dear Brother ——,
This letter is to inform you of the financial condition of —— Lodge #—. Our membership has dwindled to 10 with only 4 that are current with their
dues. We have had no members show up for regular meetings in the last 6 months. The age of our members are all over 60 except 1, most over 70 yrs. of age. We
cannot pay the insurance on the building nor do we have the funds available for our per capita dues that will soon be due. The property tax for the 1st half has been
paid and we may have enough funds to pay utilities for 2 to 4 months, then nothing. We cannot have any fund raiser because no one can do any work. It is our
opinion that it is time for ——– Lodge #— to disband.
Sincerely yours in FLT
———, Noble Grand
This is an actual letter, and it is distressing at five different levels.
First, it shows a Lodge that is going to give up its charter. That, in and of itself, is distressing. Every year – year after year – we see Lodges giving up their charters, or having their charters taken, or consolidating. That, of course, is completely unsustainable over time. Once, in California, Odd Fellows proudly had about 500 Lodges. Today, we are at less than 120 Lodges. In the case, above, we have a Lodge that was founded over a Century ago. And now it is going to become an historical memory.
Second, the fact that this Lodge has only elderly members tells us that the Lodge failed to perform its most basic function: To bring in new members to keep the Lodge vibrant and energetic. Lodges that fail to bring in new – hopefully younger – members every year are eventually doomed. This, however, sounds like a Lodge that hasn’t added a new member in many years. And if the Lodge added a new member, it is likely that the newcomer was already in his 60’s or 70’s. It is too late to save a Lodge that has ignored its membership responsibilities for decades. Who wants to join a Lodge of gray-haired men who sit around and don’t really do anything?
Third, this should have been attended to at least a decade earlier in time. Shame on the leadership of this Lodge and shame on the leadership of the District Deputy and the Grand Lodge. It is clear that leadership was asleep at the switch over the past decade or two. This Lodge’s issues should have been addressed and attended to 20 years ago, or at least 10 years ago. The problems faced by this Lodge are not new – they go back many, many years.
Fourth, this is the sorry condition of many of our Lodges. Sad to say, but there are dozens of Lodges in California and hundreds around the country that are at the brink. In my opinion, when the membership of a Lodge falls below 21, that Lodge is “Condition Yellow” and needs a careful examination. We all know that 20 members on the books really means half that number are active – and when a Lodge has only 10 active members, it is susceptible – that Lodge may not have sufficient officers to impose the necessary checks and balances, and may not even have quorums for meetings. Further, that Lodge may not be bringing in those new members that will sustain it two years, five years and ten years down the line. And when a Lodge membership falls 10 or less, that Lodge is clearly in “Condition Red”. Unfortunately, we have a number of Lodges in California and in the USA who show 10 or fewer members on their books. Those Lodges need immediate assistance from the District Deputy and the Grand Lodge if they are to have any hope of survival.
Fifth, over the last few years, as this Lodge above diminished in membership, it ran the risk of financial mistakes, self-dealing and ruin. As membership of this Lodge dropped below 12, we know that actual active membership would have been only half that amount. The level of competence and knowledge in the remaining members would have been seriously eroded. Who would remain competent to be Noble Grand, Treasurer, Secretary, Financial Secretary, Trustee of this Lodge? Without the necessary level of competence, the Lodge would lose its controls and checks and balances. Funds and property of the Lodge would be at risk.
In summary, we must remember that we are a fraternal order. The most basic fundamental responsibility of the leadership and members of a fraternal order is to sustain that order with new members. This is a job for each and every one of us. We can’t rely on “the other guy” to bring in new members. A fraternal order naturally loses members every year through death, withdrawal and otherwise; and the Lodge ages year after year. It is incumbent on the Lodge members to bring in new members every year – and to ensure that those new members bring quality, competence and leadership to the Lodge. Every new member must bring in skills for the future – be it the skill to bring in other new members, financial skills, leadership skills, organizational skills and the like. In this fashion we can sustain not only the numbers, but the quality of our Order. And if we, at the Lodge level, fail to do so – and skip a year or two or more in this responsibility – we will see more and more Lodges writing the letter, above.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master
December 4, 2014 in Grand Lodge
There was a fraternal order founded in the United States in the Nineteenth Century, originally back East, but quickly spreading across the country to the West. The order spread across the globe, as well – to Canada, Europe, South America, Asia and elsewhere. It grew rapidly in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, becoming truly international in scope. There was a time, in the 1920’s, when the fraternity had about 1 million members, and it was one of the very largest fraternal orders in the country.
Distinguished by a three-word motto, the order attracted leaders of the community – Senators, Governors, Judges, leading members of the business and professional world. The structure of the fraternity was three-tiered, with subordinate lodges at the local level, grand lodges at the state level, and ultimately a sovereign grand lodge at the national level. The fraternity had secrets and rituals, including signs, grips and passwords, and the doors to meetings were guarded both inside and outside by designated officers. The order had four degrees. Subordinate lodges were instituted and fancy charters, filled with inscriptions and symbols, were provided to be maintained in the lodges.
The fraternity was open to potential members who were in good health and who believed in a Supreme Being, and applicants were voted into membership through ball balloting. Eventually, the fraternal order created an auxiliary for women, and ultimately two youth organizations – one for the boys and one for girls – were also created. The order even developed a uniformed branch.
But, over time, the fraternal order was hesitant to evolve and change with the times, and today it finds itself with numbers much diminished.
Here’s a hint. The fraternity described above is not the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The description above is of the Knights of Pythias. Once, the Knights of Pythias were the third largest fraternal order in the United States (close behind Odd Fellows and Masons) and the Knights had tens of thousands of members in California alone, with dozens and dozens of subordinate lodges. Today, the Knights have just six subordinate lodges in this state, and membership numbers only in the low hundreds.
Could this be the future of the Odd Fellows?
Most certainly it could be. But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s the point. Everything evolves and changes. It is the way of the environment and of nature, and it is the essence of the history of mankind, nations, and organizations. Think about it. Everything evolves. Retail sales today are quite different than they were 50 or 100 years ago. Football, baseball, and basketball are all different today than they were in the day. Cars are different. Entertainment is different. Food choices are different. The military today is quite different than the military was in the last century. Transportation. Clothing. Radio, television and movies. Banking. Computers and the Internet. The Penal system. Libraries. Telephones. The list could go on and on.
The bottom line: In a changing world, Odd Fellows must also evolve and change or we will not be relevant to the new generation of members we need to sustain us and to grow this Order. A majority of Odd Fellows Lodges continue to be one-dimensional – doing little more than holding monthly formal meetings. To survive, sustain and flourish in the 21st Century, Odd Fellows Lodges must become three-dimensional – respecting the history and ritual of our Order, but also having fun social events in and out of the Lodge, and reaching out into the community to do good works. The proof is right before our very eyes. Look around you – it is the three-dimensional Lodges that are increasing in membership. It is the one-dimensional Lodges that are treading water or actually losing membership.
If you don’t believe me, just ask the Knights.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master
November 17, 2014 in Grand Lodge
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At a time when Odd Fellowship had very large numbers of members – in the hundreds of thousands – our fraternal Order created Branches. We created the Encampments and Ladies Encampment Auxiliaries and Patriarchs Military and Ladies Auxiliaries Patriarchs Militant. These Branches once also had large numbers, sometimes in the thousands. We have all seen the old photographs, for example, showing hundreds of uniformed members of the P.M. marching in parades, complete with P.M. bands. We have seen the photographs of Grand Encampment gatherings with hundreds of delegates.
I imagine these Branches were created for a number of reasons. The Branches afforded opportunities for leaders of Odd Fellows and Rebekah Lodges to move on to leadership positions in the Branches, thus freeing up leadership positions in the Lodges for newer members. The Branches also afforded members of the Order to advance to “higher” degrees, and obtain the teachings of those degrees. Finally, the Branches offered members the opportunity to receive more degrees just like other fraternal orders.
This was all well and good in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries when Odd Fellowship numbers were very large. The way our system is structured, numbers do matter. For example, one cannot become a member of the Encampment until one has attained all degrees in an Odd Fellows Lodge. And one cannot become a member of the Patriarchs Militant until one has attained all the degrees in an Encampment. So, I have always said that you can’t have a strong Encampment unless you have a strong Odd Fellows Lodge, and you can’t have a strong Canton unless you have a strong Encampment. This concept is proven by my own experience in Davis. When I joined my Davis Odd Fellows Lodge 10 years ago, we had only about 25 members on our books, our Encampment was virtually non-functional, and we had no Canton. Today, my Davis Lodge has about 230 members, and we resurrected our Encampment about six years ago (when membership had dropped to 3), and now have 45 members in the Encampment, making us the largest in California. We mustered and instituted a Canton less than two years ago, and now have 24 members, making us the largest Canton in California. Accordingly, strong Lodge = strong Encampment and strong Encampment = strong Canton.
But this is an exception in California, and I suspect, throughout North America, because we have very few large strong Lodges. It is not that easy to obtain the numbers regarding the strength of our Branches, but I have gotten them. Here’s what they show regarding the relative membership of our four Branches in California:
Patriarchs Militant: 74
These numbers are staggeringly low. And the situation is even more dire because the number of local units in these Branches is dropping dramatically. For example, there are only 7 Cantons in California and less than 15 Encampments. Similar situations exist for the LEA and LAPM. Most of the local units have fewer than 10 members, and several are on the brink. (Take away the Davis Encampment and Canton Davis and the numbers are revealing. Davis alone makes up almost 25% of the Encampment membership in California and almost 33% of the Patriarchs Militant membership in California.)
In fact, the continuation of these Branches in their current form makes no sense. For one thing, we all know that the number of members on the books does not reflect the true number of “active members”. Typically, only have the members listed on the books are active. So, for example, with 74 Patriarchs Militant on the books, probably only 37 are “active” members. This is shown by participation at the Grand gatherings. For example, on October 14, 2013, at the grand gathering of the Military Council of Patriarchs Militant, only 17 members were eligible to vote. Similar numbers are presented by the other Branches. In fact, these grand gatherings aren’t so grand anymore. Certainly, 75 or 100 years ago, the grand gatherings of these Branches were truly grand with hundreds, and perhaps thousands, in attendance. Yet today, with only 17, or 38, or 45 members in attendance, the Branches go through the same motions that they went through 75 or 100 years ago – with the same opening ceremonies, the same meetings, the dinners, and so one for four or five days. If truth be told (and we are fraternally obligated to be truthful) the gatherings are a mere shell of what they once were. They are, regrettably, a facade. (Merriam Webster defines “facade” as “a way of behaving or appearing that gives other people a false idea of one’s true situation.”)
What’s the solution? In my mind, the only reasonable solution is to eliminate all the stand-alone Branches and instead convert them into Degrees in Odd Fellows and Rebekahs. So, an Odd Fellows Lodge would, with this change, now provide eight degrees to members: Initiatory, Degree of Friendship, Degree of Love, Degree of Truth, Degree f Faith, Degree of Hope, Degree of Charity, and Degree of Universal Justice. A similar arrangement would be designated for the Rebekahs. An added benefit of this approach is that it will encourage more Odd Fellows and Rebekahs to obtain the teachings of these advanced degrees.
Now is the time to consolidate our Order, not diffuse it.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master