This article focuses on something old and something new, something borrowed and something blue*.
Let me start with an indisputable truth: All fraternities requires a fairly constant influx of new members. The life of an active college fraternity member is about 4 or 5 years. So, a college fraternity needs a flow of new members every single year, because at the other end members tend to graduate or matriculate at the four-or-five-year mark. If that college fraternity skips a year or two, it’s in trouble and has a hole to fill down the road. Similarly, with adult fraternal orders like Masons, Moose, Eagles, Knights of Pythias, Elks and Odd Fellows, there is a perpetual need to fill the ranks with younger members because, inevitably, older members depart, move away or pass away. If a fraternal lodge doesn’t add a new member in five years, or ten years, or (gasp!) an entire generation, there is going to be distinct trouble brewing its future. Because there will come a point-of-no-return when that Lodge will find itself with a bunch of members in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s with little or no prospect of bringing in members in their 20’s, 30’s or 40’s. (Regrettably, we have many, many Lodges that have already reached that point.) How many young people want to join a lodge of grandfathers and grandmothers?
That said, my next statement may surprise you: It is my belief that Odd Fellowship is at the cusp of a revival and Renaissance. All we have to do is seize the moment.
I believe that Odd Fellowship has the potential to be attractive and relevant to a whole new generation of members. I have certainly seen this in my own Lodge as we attract members in their early 20’s who are interested and intrigued by the rich history of our Order, the mysteries of our symbols, and the community service engaged in by our Lodge. The caveat to all this, of course, is that the Lodge must be active and involved, both socially and in the community. No one wants to join a Lodge that does little more than hold formal meetings. That’s just boring and not sustainable.
Recently, I was directed to a blog which was started by two progressive Dedicated Members for Change: Scott Moye from Saline Lodge #174 in Arkansas and Ainslie Heilich from Tuscola Lodge #316 in Illinois. It’s called “Heart in Hand: The Modern Odd Fellows Guide”. I commend it to you. The blog can be found at https://oddfellowsguide.wordpress.com/. I found an article written by Ainslie, obviously a young and new member of the Order, which is quite insightful. Here’s, in part, what he said:
“My theory is that Gen X and Millennial generations are looking for something outside of formal religion that is fun, mysterious, and meaningful to help make sense of the chaotic world we live in today. People like me got intrigued by the history and the mystery of all the symbols and rituals and it drew me to the order. I needed to feel like I was a part of something larger than myself. Something that was serious but didn’t take itself too seriously. Something that helps the community. Something that gives me a purpose and reminds me to do the right thing. Odd Fellows is all of those things and more.”
Juxtaposed with this new article by a new member, I received an old missive from an old member. The old missive was went to me by another progressive Dedicated Member for Change: Scott Robinson from Lewisburg Lodge #96 in Pennsylvania. Scott forwarded a little poem that was written by an anonymous Odd Fellow in 1940, some 77 years ago. I think you will enjoy it.
When your lodge has failed to grow;
Attendance gettin’ mightly low;
Dues a’comin’ awful slow;
Don’t actlike you’re full of dope;
Don’t lose every bit of hope;
Don’t jest set aroun’ en mope’
Don’t jest open up and close;
There’s young members – think of those;
Things air slow enuff. God knows;
Find a subject for debate;
Don’t go home until it’s late;
Start a-visitin’ – fix a date;
Git your social committee workin’;
Take a hand an don’t be shirkin’;
When you’re loafin’ trouble’s lurkin’;
Start a sale, start a dance;
Have a picnic, take a chance;
Ask your brothers, friends or aunts;
Start sumthin’ that will take;
No matter if you lose or make;
But for thunderation sake
That little ditty was written three generations ago, but (remarkably) there are Lodges today that find themselves in the same pickle. Meetings where members do little more than open and close the meeting. Suggestions made to try new things falling on deaf ears. A new idea that is shot down because it might not work. Members who have grown complacent and won’t change the status quo even though the Lodge has ceased to grow. What’s the old saying? “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” It’s a cute turn of a phrase, but it often has some truth to it.
But the simple truth is inescapable: To survive and flourish in the 21st Century, Lodges must bring in the next generation of members. That’s, after all, what Odd Fellows Lodges did generation after generation. But today, there are Lodges where the members are all in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. These Lodges were complacent and skipped a generation, sometimes two generations. They will not survive unless and until they reach out to the current generations who are in their 20’s and 30’s and 40’s. And they will not attract those new generations until they open their doors and get involved with their communities. In other words: Start sumthin’.
*[So, I “borrowed” two quotes from other publications, one “old” and one “new”. And the fact that our membership is shrinking should make us all “blue” and call us all to action.]
F – L – T
Past Grand Master