A Suggestion for the Future of our Branches

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:

Encampment: 194
LEA: 170
Patriarchs Militant: 74
LAPM: 60

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

Dave Rosenberg
Deputy Grand Master

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Odd Fellow and Rebekah Publication

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October2014Logo for the California Odd Fellow and Rebekah Publication

In Diversity There is Strength

October 18, 2014 in Grand Lodge

It is my pleasure to offer to you an article penned by Brother Jeff LeRoux of Berkeley Lodge #270. Jeff has served this Order in many capacities, most recently as Grand Chaplain for Junior Past Grand Master Rick Boyles. Many of us remember fondly the blessings and prayers he presented at Grand Lodge Sessions last May – they were certainly unique and informative because Jeff took these blessings and prayers from different religions – Christian, Jewish, Islam, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. – and gave us the opportunity to experience the diversity and the commonality of the great religions of this earth

Jeff is a wise and thoughtful man, and I think you will find his article of great interest.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Deputy Grand Master

In the Odd Fellows Text Book by Paschal Donaldson and Samuel Gwinner published in 1878 the authors noted that there was a great debate in Sovereign Grand Lodge in 1851 over the creation of the Rebekah degree and Rebekah lodges in general. The authors report that “The new degree encountered on the floor of the Grand Lodge a warm but honest opposition. It was contended that there was no necessity for such an addition, – that it was a dangerous innovation, – and that the building of Odd Fellowship was already complete and finished, and the cap-stone laid. Some, also, desired that final decision be deferred.”

It seems to me we are still in the same situation. We need great change and yet our reverence for our traditions keeps us from it. Sometimes we forget the old traditions weren’t always there; they were considered “dangerous innovations” brought in by the innovators of the day. In defending our sacred tradition we often fail to notice the bad parts of some of our old traditions such as the racism that caused us to split from the English Odd Fellows in the 1840′s and that this exclusion of people who were not of “full white blood” lasted until 1971 more than a hundred years after the Civil War.

My brothers and sisters our fellowship has declined in membership by 95%. We obviously need to make changes as drastic as the creation of the Rebekah Degree was in 1851. We need to acknowledge our love for our order not by holding to the forms and beliefs of the past but by holding to the spirit of benevolence and charity which led our forefathers to create these forms to which we have become accustomed and to create new forms and practices that honor the best intentions of our forefathers and carry them into a workable present. We need to do this now and no longer postpone it.

I visited a lodge last year in my capacity as Grand Chaplain and there was an interaction between a young, African-American woman who appeared to be in her late 20′s and an older Caucasian man in his 80′s. The older man said to the young woman “Did you ever imagine you’d be hanging out with a bunch of white guys like me?” She said “No, never.” And he said “Me neither.” A few years earlier the older man had confided in me about his prejudices. He told me he didn’t like Afghans, black people, Asians or “Muslims and other terrorists” which included many nationalities. This was an honest man. He was looking into his heart and acknowledging the fear and anger he held towards groups of people. I don’t know how he changed but it was this old man who had recruited this young black woman into that lodge.

We all need to look into our hearts and acknowledge the fears and anger that keep us from feeling warmth towards others beyond the beliefs we have developed in our childhood and over the course of years. We need to begin extending ourselves personally to those who seem to be “other” than us. If this old man had not developed a capacity to see humanity beyond his admitted prejudices and to extend a sense of benevolence and charity; this young woman would never have been interested in joining such a lodge as would have him as a member. Our first order of change as a fellowship is to look into our hearts as this old man did and become willing to extend ourselves individually in a spirit of benevolence to those who seem different than us.

There is no one way of believing others are different. I grew up as a military brat in a military that Harry Truman had ordered integrated and as a small child had little idea that many people held hatred for others on the basis of race. I did grow up in a very hierarchical society often wearing hand-me-down clothing and resenting the children of the high ranking officers who lived in big houses on the hill and had new bicycles. I still catch myself sometimes feeling resentful of people because they seem part of some exclusive in-group that looks down on others. Like the old man I mentioned above, we all can open our hearts even if we have to catch ourselves in our own particular form of prejudgment on a moment by moment basis and open our eyes to others humanity.

I have noticed that people tend to sit in the same groups and talk to the same people within lodges. This tends to breed a sense of otherness with some members of the lodge. It tends to lead to differences of opinion becoming a division in which there is an “us” and a “them” instead of members having different ideas. Try sitting beside someone different at the next meeting. Talk this over with the lodge members. Integrate within the lodge. When new or prospective members come into the lodge, go out of your way to introduce yourself and as welcome as you would a guest into your home. When I have visited as district deputy there have been markedly different reactions within different lodges. In some lodges people introduce themselves and are welcoming. In other lodges people go and sit in what appear to be their usual small groups and ignore visitors. I have noticed this happening during Grand Master visits as well. Visitors usually feel uncomfortable and appreciate hosts friendly gestures.
My brothers and sisters you can make a point of speaking to people different from you and your usual crowd in social situations. While they have their own prejudices and may think you are Odd that it is OK – after all we are Odd Fellows. Some will be interested enough to talk and you both can extend the feeling of brotherhood. Do it enough and you will discover potential new members and invite them into the lodge.
You may ask how we as an order rather than as just individuals open our hearts. The first is, as a lodge, discuss bringing new people in and how to do it. Then decide who may be odd enough to join and make contact with groups they may already be in. Invite leaders in churches, temples and synagogues to visit. Be actively friendly when they do visit. Make an effort to approach historical societies, civic organizations, interest groups, and teachers; visit them and learn a little more about them and their group. Busy as our lives are we can all do these things once in a while.

The most successful lodges lately have activities that interest people and bring them into the lodge as he Davis Lodge has done. Some lodges have grown by making personal contact and connections of friendship with individuals. This sense of connection is the essence of Odd Fellowship and there are many ways of doing it. Pick your own and invest an hour a month in it and I guarantee your lodge will grow. But do something.

Jeff LeRoux


October 7, 2014 in Grand Lodge

The declines in membership in our Order over the past half-century-plus have been appalling. On this continent, we have lost over 90% of our membership numbers. We have many jurisdictions (states and provinces) where the sum total of membership is under 500, some under 200. In California – the largest jurisdiction – our total Odd Fellows membership numbers used to be over 58,000, and are now under 5,000. We once had over 600 Lodges in this state, and now have 120. We have dozens of Lodges with 20 or fewer members on their books, and some with 10 or fewer members. Our Branches are in even worse shape. The sum total of members of Encampments in California today is less than 200. And there are less than 75 Patriarchs Militant in this entire state. And, as always, those are the numbers on paper – query how many of those are active members.

I believe – by now – virtually everyone in California understands the challenge of declining membership and understands that the responsibility to reverse that trend lies with each of us. We can’t just depend on “the other guy” to fix the problem. However, it may be that there are some Odd Fellows out there who still don’t “get it” and still don’t appreciate that the Order (and perhaps their own Lodge) is in trouble. So, with tongue slightly in cheek, for these few unseeing and unknowing members, I offer the following 10-point Primer.

How To Know if Your Lodge May Be Failing?

1. You know your Lodge may be failing if you have to get on the phone each month to roust out members to have a quorum of five for a meeting.

2. You know your Lodge may be failing if you haven’t initiated a new member into your Lodge for over two years.

3. You know your Lodge may be failing if, at your yearly elections, you have to rotate your elected officers between the same 5 or 6 people.

4. You know your Lodge may be failing if your “members sick and in distress” item is the longest segment of your meeting agenda.

5. You know your Lodge may be failing if your Lodge Hall is rarely used except for your Lodge meetings.

6. You know your Lodge may be failing if your youngest Lodge member is over 65.

7. You know your Lodge may be failing if your Lodge meetings last 20 minutes, and there is no new business and no committee reports.

8. You know your Lodge may be failing if your Lodge has no fundraising activity to replenish the Lodge bank account.

9. You know your Lodge may be failing if your Lodge members organize no activity to benefit the local community, and have no social activity for the members.

10. You know your Lodge may be failing if you have some Lodge members who shoot down every new suggested idea with words such as “that won’t work”, “we tired that once”, or “that’s a dumb idea”.

There you have it. Now you know.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Deputy Grand Master