August 12, 2014 in Grand Lodge
August 6, 2014 in Grand Lodge
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I have written many articles about the slow and steady decline in membership that we’ve seen in the Odd Fellows Lodges in California and throughout the United States for the past three generations. We all know the scenario, and the efforts that are being made (recently, with some measure of success) to slow, stop and ultimately reverse that trend. As we all should recognize by now, the decline cannot be halted by continuing to do business as usual. That “business-as-usual” approach hasn’t worked for the past 64 years, and won’t suddenly work just because we repeat it in the 65th, 66th or 67th year. To succeed in the 21st Century, our Odd Fellows Lodges must become three-dimensional Lodges emphasizing not only our history, heritage and ritual, but also opening the doors of our Lodges to reach out into our local communities with good works, and reaching out to our members to bring back the social and fun aspects of belonging to a fraternity.
But what about our other branches? What about the Rebekah Lodges, the Encampments, the Cantons, the Ladies Encampment Auxiliary, the Ladies Auxiliary Patriarchs Militant, Theta Rho, and Junior Odd Fellows?
Let’s be frank. It’s not a pretty picture. If the Odd Fellows Lodges have suffered membership declines, the other branches have also suffered declines, multiplied and squared.
The Rebekahs in California were once a remarkably large and powerful branch. In 1950 (just 64 years ago), California had 50,002 Rebekah members in 367 Rebekah Lodges. In 2004 (just 10 years ago), the number of members had dropped like a stone to 5,718 and the number of Lodges had shrunk to 123. Today, the decline continues in that there are just 1,951 regular members in our Rebekah Lodges, and the number of Rebekah Lodges has fallen to 62. The downward trend is shocking and concerning. And, clearly, it is unsustainable. In the last 10 years alone, the membership numbers have dropped to just one third of what they were; the number of Lodges has halved. If the trend were to continue at the same rate, we can expect to see 10 years from today just 650 Rebekahs in 31 Lodges.
And 1,951 members in 62 Lodges averages just 32 members per Lodge. While that doesn’t sound too bad on the surface, if we peel away the layers of the onion, we see that the situation is dire. First of all, of the 1,951 members, only 1,728 are dues paying members. Second, 136 of the members are members in the jurisdictional Lodge. Third, we all know that having members “on the books” doesn’t mean they are all active members; we know that at least half the members of any Lodge are members on paper and rarely attend or participate. Accordingly, I would estimate that there are, today, only about 800 “active” Rebekahs in California. Divided into the 61 non-jurisdictional Lodges, that averages out to about 13 members per Lodge. We all know that a Lodge with only 13 active members – particularly if the members are in their 70′s, 80′s and 90′s, is a Lodge with challenges. Of course, an “average” or 13 also means that there are Lodges with more than 13 and Lodges with less than 13 – perhaps far less than 13 members. The alarm light is surely blinking red for those Lodges.
And, indeed, we see all sorts of challenges and problems when numbers diminish to these levels. Lodges have difficulty filling officer positions. Members are recycled year after year into offices. Checks and balances fail at the Lodge level. Often quorums can’t be reached to have real Lodge meetings. The Rebekah Assembly – a hard-working entity – has had real budget challenges due to the great decline in membership.
The Grand Encampment and the Cantons of the Patriarchs Militant are in even more dire straits. It’s, frankly, hard to get the actual numbers, but it is my understanding that there are about 208 members of the Encampment, serving in 13 Encampments in California, and there are about 92 Patriarchs Militant serving in 7 Cantons in California. Those numbers show that these branches are shells of what once existed in California, when thousands attended the Grand Encampment, and uniformed Patriarchs Militant, complete with bands, marched by the hundreds in parades. And if we continue applying the reality that only half the members of any organization are “active” members, then we really have only about 100 active members in the Grand Encampment and less than 50 active Patriarchs Militant in California.
Why have these numbers diminished? The answer is simple. Members of the Encampment can only come from third-degree Odd Fellows. If the Odd Fellows Lodges are weak, the Encampments must be weak. Similarly, members of the military branch can only come from the Encampments. If the Encampments are weak, the Cantons must be weak. And yet, these branches blithely continue to do business as usual as if it were 1920 and thousands of members were in the Encampments and Cantons. They continue to hold four-day grand gatherings, even though in some cases, less than 20 voting members show up.
The numbers and the stories are similar for the Ladies Auxiliaries. The numbers are even worse for the youth groups. Statewide, Theta Rho is a mere shadow of what it once was, and Junior Odd Fellows exist virtually in name only.
And that’s just California. We know that there are jurisdictions in the USA where the numbers of members are far, far less than in California. We know that there are jurisdictions – quite a few of them – where the sum total of membership is less than 200. In California we have less than 5,000 Odd Fellows on the books and less than 2,000 Rebekahs. And we have difficulty supporting the assorted branches. How can a jurisdiction with 200 members support the various branches of this Order?
Why do we go through this facade? Odd Fellowship certainly has a history or evolution and change. Dramatic changes occurred in the middle of the 20th Century when the call to join fraternal orders diminished as government and private sector assumed many of the tasks previously undertaken by fraternities (e.g. insurance, hospitals, orphanages, retirement communities, etc.). Another huge change occurred after World War II when fraternal social life took a back seat to television, movies and the electronic age. Everything changed again in the 21st Century, when Odd Fellows opened to women and when the age of membership was dropped to 16. Odd Fellowship must adjust to change or be buried by it. To continue business as usual is simply no longer sustainable.
What is the solution? To me, it’s apparent. Within the next five years – hopefully sooner rather than later – we must re-write the Codes and develop the protocols to merge our branches. When Schuyler Colfax, in the 1860′s opening Odd Fellows membership to women, developed the Rebekah Degree and the concept of Rebekah Lodges, it was unique and progressive in the fraternal world – for the 19th Century. However, in the 21st Century, the quaint “separate but equal” concept of the “men’s Lodge” and the “women’s Lodge” is an anachronism and no longer viable in this century. This next evolution of our Order is inevitable. And, inevitably, this change can only be launched at the level of Sovereign Grand Lodge. The change must begin with a merger of the Patriarchs Militant and the LAPM. It must then move to a merger of the Encampment with the LEA. Next, Odd Fellows and Rebekahs must merge. And ultimately, all branches must merge and become one Order, with 9 degrees.
Sovereign Grand Lodge meets this month in Victoria, Canada. The time is now.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master
August 3, 2014 in Grand Lodge
As you know, my prime focus has been, is, and will continue to be: Membership!
Over the years, I have done my best to draw attention, again and again, to the decline in our membership, and the serious problems that decline engenders to Lodge life and the health of our fraternity. But as the old saying goes, simply complaining about something without offering solutions to the problem is no more than whining. So, over the years I have offered solutions. In numerous articles (and in my book “The Future of Odd Fellowship – To Be or Not To Be”), I have pointed out methods and techniques to bring in (and retain) members. At bottom, I have advocated that Lodges can no longer afford to be one-dimensional in the Twenty-First Century. Successful Lodges in this Century are three-dimensional: (1) emphasizing not only the history and ritual of our Order, (2) but also opening the doors and windows of our Lodges to reach out into our communities with good works, (3) and further making sure that we bring the fraternal social life back to our Lodges and just have some fun.
It is interesting to note that the serious decline in our membership is NOT an Odd Fellows phenomenon. We are not alone. Indeed, other fraternal orders have seen very similar declines over the past several decades. I thought you might be interested in thoughts from some leaders of our sister and brother fraternities – gathered from news accounts around the country. I think you will find them instructive.
“The young people – we’re talking married couples 25 to 35 – their priorities have changed as far as joining fraternal organizations,” said Phil Kirmse, exalted ruler of an Illinois Elks Lodge. “They have so many outside interests.” The Elks, nationally reported a drop since 1980 of 125,000 members. Mr. Kirmse’s lodge had 1,300 members when he joined 10 years ago. It’s has dropped to fewer than 700, and the average age of its members is about 62. “So, in 10 years,” he said, “unless we bring some young people in, we’re just going to go downhill because we’re so old.” The Elks annual report for 2010-11, nationally, showed 869,019 members with a net loss of 23,868 members for the year ending March 31, 2011.
Mel Spizzo, secretary of a Moose Lodge, said, “We get some young people, but mostly old-timers join. New enrollees have to stay here for an hour and a half and listen to people tell the history of the lodge. You have to sit and stand, sit and stand. It’s like being in church. It turns some people off.” Nationally, in 1979 there were 1,323,246 members of Moose Lodges. In 2013, the number of members had declined to 800,000.
The Improved Order of Red Men, a fraternal organization that traces itself to the Boston Tea Party, is strongest in New England, the Far West and Texas, but it’s membership is down to about 23,000 nationally, and has declined from its high of 500,000 in the 1920’s. “All of the organizations have the same problems,” said David Lintz, director of the Red Men Museum and Library in Waco, Texas. “Guys just don’t commit as much anymore to the requirements, the memorization and ceremonies and rituals. The fraternities aren’t as needed anymore for things like insurance or political clout.”
Even the largest fraternal organization of all – the Masons – has shown a serious decline in membership. The high point for the Masonic Order in the United States was in 1959 when they showed 4,103,161 members. Since 1959, the Masons’ membership has declined every single year without fail (a steady decline of over 50 years). In 2012 membership had dropped to just 1,306,539. In a recent article appearing in USA Today, it was noted that despite the impression given by books such as “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Lost Symbol” and movies like “National Treasure”, the Masons are not a clandestine group. “We’re not a secret society,” said Mark Bennett, historian of a Freemasons lodge in North Carolina. “We’re a society with secrets.” In an effort to boost flagging membership across the USA, a number of Masonic lodges, like other fraternities, are abandoning secretive ways and inviting the public to see what the organization is really all about. In 20015, the Masons produced a report called “It’s About Time” which encouraged lodges to invite the community in. Most, however, didn’t start opening their doors till 2009 when Masons in Massachusetts saw success with the new policy.
And, of course, Odd Fellowship has experienced a precipitous decline in membership over the years. The high watermark for Odd Fellows’ membership in California was 1927 (almost 90 years ago) when our Order boasted 58,398 members. Then starting in 1928, our membership started to decline, with an occasional year of growth, until the World War II years, when membership increased for a few years. In 1948 our California membership was 30,600. But starting in 1949, membership began a steady 64-year descent (with the exception of one year which showed a slight gain) until the present day. And currently (as of December 31, 2013), California Odd Fellowship shows that we have 4,727 members. One has to travel back in California history to 1859 (over 150 years ago) to find membership totals less than 4,727 members. In 1859 we had 4,603 members. And no one suggests that 4,727 members “on the books” represents the true number of Odd Fellows who participate in Lodge and fraternal life. We all know that Lodges carry “paper members” – folks who may pay their dues and are listed on the annual reports, but who rarely if ever appear at the Lodge. I will surmise that of the 4,727 members on our books, the number of active and engaged Odd Fellows in California is less than 2,000. There are high schools in our state with higher enrollments than 2,000.
Business as usual is unacceptable. When we had 58,000 members, we could ignore the problem. When we had 30,000 members, we could be complacent about it. But today, with our membership on the books of less than 5,000, we must address it as our highest priority. It’s the elephant sitting in the middle of our Lodge room, and can’t be ignored any longer.
It seems pretty clear to me that if simply continue to do what we have been doing for the last 64 years, we will certainly continue the decline. On the other hand, if we are willing to evolve and change – and become three-dimensional Lodges – we will stop the slide and reverse the trend. Certainly, our sister and brother fraternal orders are changing the way they do business. And in the last year (under the leadership of Junior Past Grand Master Rick Boyles and 2013-14 Membership Chairman Peter Sellars) we actually halted the precipitous drop in our membership. In 2013-14 we were almost flat – our net loss was only 3 members (rather than hundreds of members as in past years). We halted the descent in 2013-14 because we emphasized membership and we encouraged Lodges to become three-dimensional.
The proof is right before our eyes. Progressive Odd Fellows Lodges in California which have opened their doors to the public, have involved themselves in the community, and have brought the fun aspect back to fraternal life have shown significant growth, while Odd Fellows Lodges that have not changed their ways have shrunk in membership or, at best, have remained static.
The path to the future should be clear to any Odd Fellow who wishes to see this Order continue, prosper, thrive, and grow.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master
July 28, 2014 in Grand Lodge
The common (and obvious) question I am asked by potential new members is: “Why should I join your Lodge?” I imagine you get the same sort of question, in some form, from folks you recruit to join your Lodge. If you are not prepared to answer this basic question, then you are not prepared to bring new members into your Lodge.
It’s a simple question, and a fair one. Most people are pretty busy. They have family commitments. They may have job commitments. They have avocations and hobbies. They are members of other organizations, And, for their available time, they certainly have the option of considering and joining a multitude of other clubs, groups, committees, boards, and lodges. Why, indeed, should they choose to dedicate a portion of their valuable time to Odd Fellows? Let me be brutally frank. Ultimately, if you can’t answer the question of “Why should I join your Lodge?” you will not be able to bring in new members to your Lodge. You have to give folks a reason. They won’t join your Lodge just because you ask them and you have a bright, shiny face.
Because I was asked that question so many times, I endeavored, a few years ago (November 24, 2011, to be exact), to jot down the reasons why someone might join my Lodge. When I was done compiling my list, I had recorded fully 100 reasons to join the Lodge. (You will actually find this list on my Lodge website at www.davislodge.org.) And as a result of compiling this list, I realized that my efforts at recruiting new members was – at this point in time – completely facilitated because my Lodge was active and involved. At its most basic lever, it works out to be a mutually advantageous equation: An active Lodge brings in new members, and new members make an active Lodge. It is symbiotic.
Look. I don’t ask or expect all of you to compile a list of 100 reasons. But I will suggest to you that if you are unable to compile even a small list of 10 answers to the question “Why should I join your Lodge?” you may be able to convince your retired uncle Henry to join, but you will be unsuccessful in growing your Lodge from the general public. If the only reasons that you can come up with are that you hold a monthly meeting and potluck, that your Lodge contributes $250 per year to the local boy scout troop, and that your Lodge is repairing the roof and fixing the chairlift – it’s unlikely that those reasons will resonate with young men and women in this century. No one is going to beat down your door to apply.
When you compile your list, the best reasons are the reasons that show an active Lodge and a fun Lodge. The list of things that a Lodge can do to be an active community and social center are virtually endless – let your collective Lodge members’ imaginations be your guide. By way of example only, Lodges can engage in downtown clean-ups, tree plantings, volunteering at the local food bank or homeless shelter, reading to elementary school children at school, co-hosting an event at the Lodge Hall to benefit a local charity, schedule a community meal, schedule an Oktoberfest for Lodge members and their families, go bowling, take a hike on a nearby trail, visit a winery, etc., etc.
I have attended meetings of some Lodges where the entire meeting lasted 20 minutes and (other than the ritual opening and closing) all the Lodge members did was read the minutes of the last meeting, report on funds in the bank, approve payment of two utility bills, and report on a member who was ill. The meeting had no committee reports, no old business, no new business, no announcements and no good-of-the-order. These sorts of Lodge meetings are at one level, boring and moribund. But more significantly, they show a Lodge that is tired. We want active young men and women to join our Lodges. And those young men and women of today are busy and have many choices to fill the hours of their “available” time. Why would they join a tired Odd Fellows Lodge?
F – L – T
Dave Rosenberg Deputy