September 10, 2014 in Grand Lodge

Have I gotten your attention with that headline?  I thought I might.  Those are strong words.  And certainly controversial.  But I do not say them lightly, and I say them with due respect, in the vein of constructive criticism, and in the hope that the structure can be changed.  Obviously, we all want a structure that supports success, not one that fosters failure.

First, let me define my terms.  When I refer to “Sovereign Grand Lodge” (hereafter, “SGL”) I am referring to the ultimate legislative body of Odd Fellowship.  This is the entity that, at bottom, controls the fraternal life of our Order – everything from regalia to ritual and all points in between.  When I refer to “structured” I am not talking about the individuals who are part of SGL – I have the greatest admiration and respect for our new Sovereign Grand Master Jimmy Humphrey, and all the officials and representatives who comprise the membership of SGL.  When I refer to “structured” I am talking about the dictionary definition:  “The way something is built, arranged, or organized.”  And when I refer to “failure”, I am focusing on the long-term viability of our Order – and specifically, Odd Fellowship in North America.

So, what’s the problem, you say?  After all, the SGL has been in existence in North America (in some form) for almost two hundred years.  That doesn’t sound like failure, does it?

Indeed, if one is looking at Odd Fellowship through the lens of 1914, one would argue that SGL was doing quite well.  But, Brothers and Sisters, we are not talking about 1914.  We are talking about 2014, and the years going forward.  The structure of SGL may have been well-suited during the rise of fraternal orders in the 19th and early part of the 20th Centuries.  But now, in the early 21st century, in the midst of the era of the decline of fraternal orders, the structure of SGL is an impediment.

Don’t get me wrong.  We need a SGL.  I am not advocating for its abolition.

I am, however, advocating for its reform.  I am suggesting that the SGL needs to be restructured – to make it an effective and responsive force to deal with the single greatest issue faced by Odd Fellowship in the 21st Century (and, frankly, faced by fraternal orders in general): The decline in membership.  That decline has been steady for decades now, and is absolutely unsustainable at its current pace.  We simply cannot continue to lose hundreds of members every year.  The decline in membership in our Lodges directly affects a host of other issues faced in Lodges, such as lack of membership to implement the checks and balances required for financial stability and security.  There are Lodges that have shrunk to such a degree that less than 10 members are listed on the books, and officer positions simply get rotated every year amongst the handful who can serve.  Some Lodges become so small that they lack quorums to conduct meetings, and are controlled by just one or two people.  These are not healthy situations.  And the membership statistics that we have been keeping for the last half century show an alarming decline.  There are entire jurisdictions in North America – and quite a few of them – that have less than 200 members on their books.  And we all know that “book” members don’t necessarily translate into active members.  Our many branches (Theta Rho, Junior Odd Fellows, Encampment, LEA Patriarchs Militant, and LAPM) are, in membership, mere shadows of what they once were.

Ultimately, the solution to this dilemma of declining membership can only be achieved by individual Lodge members, with the assistance and support of their respective Lodges.  Grand Lodges can play peripheral supporting roles in membership development (e.g. membership development seminars, membership development grants, membership brochures, and the like).  And, in my opinion, SGL can play a significant role as well.  But, currently, SGL’s structure prevents it from helping to overcome our membership decline.  Rather, the structure of SGL is a structure of inertia, not progress.  It is structured to preserve the status quo.  And what is the status quo?  It is 60 years of membership declines.  No one should want to preserve that.

So, what do I suggest?  Here are the four structural changes at SGL which, I hope, can be accomplished in the near future:

1.  SGL should be structured more like a “House of Representatives” rather than like a “Senate.”  Currently, every jurisdiction receives the same number of votes at SGL.  This is inherently unfair.  A jurisdiction with less than 200 members receives the same 2 votes as does a jurisdiction with over 4,000 members.  I would suggest a modification of this structure which would not deprive any jurisdiction of its present representative numbers, but would grant larger jurisdictions some modicum of equity.  So, for example, while every jurisdiction would receive the minimum of two representatives, some jurisdictions would receive a total of 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 representatives, depending on the number of members in that jurisdiction.  It won’t be a full “one person-one vote” equity – but it would go a long way to providing a fairer and more representative voting system.  And it certainly would recognize jurisdictions that are growing.

2.  SGL needs to be able to move a lot faster.  Currently, for example, it takes literally years for changes to be made in ritual, if they happen at all.  I know, for example, that representatives from California a few years ago, proposed some relatively simple (but important) changes to an Encampment degree that would have eliminated some blatantly racist and offensive passages.  To this day, the changes have not been made.  This inertia discourages members, and leaves in place language that is outmoded, or stilted, or even offensive.  Another example, is the oath taken by new members in the Initiatory Degree.  That oath is the longest I have ever heard.  It’s length is downright painful.  It takes over five minutes for new members to recite this oath.  Heck, the oaths taken by the President of the United States, or a Governor, or a Judge are also important – but they are about one-tenth the length of this degree oath in Odd Fellowship.  Can it be readily modernized and shortened?  Apparently, not.

3.  Form should not take precedence over substance.  I am aware that jurisdictions submitted legislation and proposals to SGL this last session which were not considered by the body because a new committee chair imposed a requirement on the form of the submission, that had not been effectively communicated to the jurisdictions in advance.  Accordingly, proposals were not considered on the floor and were bounced to a future year.  That sort of process dampens fraternal democracy.  Virtually all of the work of SGL is done within an antiquated committee structure that gives inordinate authority to one person (the chair), and relatively little of substance is taken up on the floor.  The committee structure allows issues to be sidelined, delayed, or even buried.  One could say that SGL, with its committee structure, is formed to support the status quo, and is structured to resist change.  And yet, change is the imperative needed to attract a new generation of members to our Lodges and to our Order.  It was once said that true insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result.  Well, for the past 60-plus years we have been doing the same thing over and over and over again, and for the last 60-plus years we have been losing members year after year after year.  And yet, some in our Order still believe that if just keep doing things the same way we will suddenly start gaining members.

4.  SGL needs to join the electronic age.  In case no one has noticed, we are in the 21st Century.  Yet voting continues to be done at SGL in an antiquated, non-electronic way.  At my urging, California tried electronic voting rather than ballot or hand voting at the 2014 Grand Lodge sessions, and it was quite successful.  Previously, we had spent at least 25% of our floor time during sessions in the laborious process of counting (and recounting) ballots and hand votes.  With the use of electronic voting several remarkable things were achieved:  (a) The item on which we were voting was displayed on a screen so that everyone was on the same page when voting; (b) the actual voting took less than a minute, and at the end of the voting, results were immediately displayed on the screen; (c) the vote tallies were accurate and disputes were avoided; and (d) the meeting secretary had an instant and complete record of each vote.

At the local level we can revitalize our Lodges by bringing in new, quality members.  Ultimately, the health of our Lodges and the growth of our Order is an individual responsibility of each of us.  At the state and province level, we can make our Grand Lodges viable by electing strong, progressive leaders.  But all our work at the Lodge and Grand Lodge levels will be stymied unless we can restructure the old battleship that is the SGL.  I commend our new Sovereign Grand Master Jimmy Humphrey for intending to re-charge and re-focus the SGL’s Revitalization Committee.  Several years ago a Revitalization Committee was created.   (Such a Revitalization Committee was something that I, and others, had proposed.)  In its initial term, the Revitalization Committee had some suggestions for change.  But, over the succeeding years, this committee has been relatively moribund.  This Revitalization Committee offers hope for structural change that will make our Order more responsive, better, and stronger in this new century.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg

Deputy Grand Master

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

September 5, 2014 in Grand Lodge

What’s in a name?

Sometimes, a name can be very revealing – particularly of an organization.   Let’s take just a moment to look at the name of our fraternity:  Independent Order of Odd Fellows.   What does it tell us?  Well, perhaps it tells us quite a bit – if we take the time to slice and dice and actually analyze the five words.

INDEPENDENT.    Our predecessors had many word choices available to them for the first word in our fraternal name.  They could have chosen “Mystic”, or “Benevolent”, or “Secret”, or “Loyal”, or “Ancient”, or “Knights” or “Improved”, or even “Hermetic” – as did some other fraternal orders.   But they chose “Independent”.  This is a strong word, meant to convey a strong message.  The message says that we are not beholden to any other entity.  We are free to make our own way and create our own rules.  And, indeed, the history of Odd Fellowship is a history of evolution and change, in fact, outright “rebellion” at times, as groups of Lodges went their own way, or even “self-instituted”.

ORDER.  The second word of our name is equally interesting.  Our predecessors had fewer choices for that second descriptive word.  They could have opted for “Society”, or “Fraternity”, but they settled on “Order”.  I have to believe that they chose “Order” because the name implies a social system with a hierarchy and rules.  Indeed, that is appropriate to us.  We have degrees, and Lodges, and ritual, and regalia, and Grand Lodges, and a Sovereign Grand Lodge.  Certainly, we are an Order.

OF.   Often overlooked, because it’s just a short connecting word, but let’s not forget the third word of our name.  Our founders did not choose “for” as the connector.  They specifically chose “of”.  There is, indeed, a difference.   We are not just “for” ourselves.  We are a group “of” Odd Fellows, but we can be (and we historically have been) a group of brothers and sisters who help others.

ODD FELLOWS.  It is appropriate to consider the fourth and the fifth words together.   This is because our name, in England where we originated, was combined as “Oddfellows”.  In this country, the words were separated.  But what is the origin of this unique name?  What do the words “Odd Fellows” really mean?  We know that there are many theories regarding the origin of “Oddfellows” – I’ve heard at least a half dozen of those theories – some mundane and some rather interesting.  But that’s all that they are: theories.  The truth has been lost in the fog of time.   No one alive today can say with certainty what the origins are of the name.  Nevertheless, two things are apparent.  For one, the name is unique.  For another, the name has a certain fun, whimsical quality to it.

And so  I suggest that we should enjoy our “Odd-ness” and our “Odd-Fellowship”.   Why not?  It’s part of our persona and uniqueness.  The name alone causes people to pay attention.  (And isn’t that step one in bringing new members to a Lodge?)  Personally, I think the social time Lodge members spend together is quality time.  It harkens back to the earliest days of our fraternity, when the members would gather in pubs to drink, eat, tell tales, sing songs and just have a good time.  Let’s not ever lose that quality.  Let’s not get so serious, so dour, and so straight-laced that we forget to just have fun with our Lodge mates.

So, what have we learned?

Well, we’ve learned that our name actually tells us quite a bit about who we are.    We are Independent.  We are an Order.  We are “of” Odd Fellowship, not just “for” Odd Fellows.  And, ultimately, we are ODD FELLOWS.  So, let’s all remember to savor our Oddness.

We are the Independent Order of Odd Fellows!

F – L – T Dave Rosenberg

Deputy Grand Master

Sovereign Grand Master

September 4, 2014 in Grand Lodge

August 28th, 2014

August 31, 2014 in Grand Lodge

Wow, I can’t believe how fast the first quarter of this year has gone.
We had the Youth Camp Festival, and although not as well attended as we would have liked, we did get to see the completion of the pool and it was available for swimming during the camper’s sessions.
This is one of my projects, and as the board had to spend money from their reserve funds to build the pool, please see if your lodge can’t open their pocket books and donate some money to build that reserve back up.
In June, I was also able to give my Marshal Marlene Bois a surprise mini reception. We got her good
In July, I attended ODM’s in Woodland and Cupertino – both of which were very nice meetings. Some of us also worked at the Garlic Festival at the end of the month. We had a reception for my Conductor, Ruth Schuyler in Lompoc with a follow up day going to Solvang and the Ostrich Farm, where we got to feed the birds. It was a fun trip.
August was busy with a reception for the Theta Rho President, the Saratoga Home BBQ, an ODM in Auburn, and a trip to the SGL Youth Days as an escort for the TRA President.
At the end of August the Membership Rally was held at the Sugar Barge RV Park – Once again, while not a lot of people in attendance, a fun time was had by all who did come. Pedal Boating on the River, s’mores, swimming and Ben Shuler at the BBQ. Oh yeah, they surprised Ben and I with an Anniversary Cake on Saturday night. Thanks everyone.
My visits will swing into high gear starting with the 26th of September, with a visit to Oroville.
Don’t forget to come to the receptions on September 27th in Santa Rosa and October 18th in Lodi.

Love to you all

Debbie Shuler


August 27, 2014 in Grand Lodge

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It’s sometimes hard to let go.

Parents certainly experience this phenomenon.  As children grow older, it’s a fine line that parents tread in protecting the children from the world, while at the same time allowing the children to participate, learn and grow in the world.  And, certainly, at some point, parents must “let go” and have the grace to allow the children to become independent in that world – to develop on their own, mistakes and all, as adults.

Well, what is true for parents is also true for a generation of leaders in our Lodges.   At some point in time, the leaders of the last generation have to “let go” and allow a new generation of leaders to develop and to flourish.  And it’s sometimes hard for that last generation to let go the reins and allow that new generation to assume leadership in the Lodge.   I have seen this failure to let go first hand in some Lodges – much to the detriment of the Lodge and the good fellowship within the Lodge.  I have seen men and women who have led the Lodge for the past 20-plus years simply refuse to truly let go, and truly allow the younger members to become the new generation of leadership.  This failure to let go can be terribly frustrating for the new members, and frankly, it can be very damaging to the Lodge.  Those new members feel shut out of decision-making, and sometimes even feel resentful of the last generation.  And it’s quite short-sighted.  No one lives forever, and inevitably the new generation must assume positions of leadership.  But if the old leadership team refuses to develop that new generation, and refuses to let go of those reins of power, that new generation may not still be around.  You can’t expect new members to “wait their turn” for a decade or more.

Many members are important to a Lodge, but no member is indispensable to a Lodge.   Just like the task of a Noble Grand is to develop candidates to become Noble Grand some day, it should be the task of every senior member of the Lodge to develop young member’s skills and knowledge so that those younger members can assume positions of responsibility in the Lodge.  It’s really very selfish for members of the last generation to ignore the new generation of leaders, or worse, to refuse to empower that new generation.   The welfare of the Order and the Lodge should come before any personal pride and personal titles.

When I first joined my own Lodge, it had less than 25 members on the books and was inactive.  Within a short time after I joined, I assumed the position of Vice Grand, then Noble Grand.  In the position of Noble Grand I changed the culture of our Lodge and moved us to become a strong, dynamic, large and growing Lodge.  But I did not continue as “Noble Grand for Life”.  I worked on developing the future leaders of our Lodge, and then moved on.  I did the same in our Encampment and our Canton.  I assumed the positions of Chief Patriarch and Captain, respectively, changed the culture, attitude and direction of these branches, and then relinquished the leadership positions to the next generation.  And the new leaders have done the same.  I moved on, and so did they.  It’s healthy for the organization, and the results can be very satisfying for all concerned.

This is not to say the last generation of leaders should go sit on the proverbial Lodge rocking chair.  Not at all.  There are many, many options available to senior members of our Order.  Those senior members can continue to serve in numerous positions in the Lodge such as Warden, Conductor, Right Supporter of the Noble Grand, and others.  Those senior members can assume responsible committee positions in the Lodge, such as Membership or Good Fellowship.  Those senior members can take responsibility to organize Lodge events.  Further, they can advance at Grand Lodge or even Sovereign Grand Lodge.  They can join and advance in the Encampment and the Cantons of our Order, or the Rebekah Lodge.  Lots of options exist short of the pasture.

So, it may, indeed, be hard to let go, but the future of our Lodges depend on passing knowledge, responsibility, and leadership to the next generation.  If we fail to do so, we have failed the future of our Order.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Deputy Grand Master