Odd Fellows And Changing Society

In the early 20th century, there were hundreds of different fraternal associations, not counting professional and social organizations. Probably half of the population held membership in at least one organization.

While some fraternities were formed mainly for the purpose of fellowship and teaching their members the principles of morality, many benefit societies were formed in the late 1800s to give working men financial security, because of a lack of social welfare programs. The
laboring class had little in the name of pensions or insurance plans, and it was highly desirable for them to become members of one of the numerous fraternal groups.

With all of the insurance plans available today, especially group insurance through employers, and government welfare programs, there is little need for the benefit features of fraternal groups. There is little reason for people to gather for that purpose.

Some of the groups that are alive today are arranged for the purpose of instilling values and morality in their members. The rituals are supposed to communicate these values and their philosophies. The problem is that too many complain that the rituals are too long and old-fashioned. Most people seem to prefer brief rituals and ceremonies, if they will go for them at all. Many orders have modified their ritual, reduced the number of degrees, dropped the rituals entirely, or removed parts considered offensive to the culture. While I like the idealism of carrying on the tradition of performing the rituals in their entire, unaltered state, I would be one of those that believes that their lengthiness and out datedness have contributed to declining memberships and low participation.

Why do people join fraternal orders? Are people just inclined to socialize in an organized group? It is quite common for many Odd Fellows to belong to other groups. People like us would probably find some other group, if there were no Odd Fellows. I happen to be one of those "joiners", and was probably born 100 years too late.

I have heard many discussions, from members of various orders, about how they enjoy the socialization and camaraderie with the other members. They dislike the business parts of meetings, see little point in using passwords and opening and closing the lodge, and are
intimidated by the degree rituals. If they want to experience the parts they like, they have to endure the meetings and the rituals. Does the good outweigh the bad for them? Most will take the easy road and go with what is the most favorable to them.

People are satisfied by different things, and some enjoy the struggles. Sometimes, I feel that I am a glutton for punishment! But you must take a step back and impartially look at your lodge from another's viewpoint. If participation and membership is dropping at your lodge, whatever is taking place is not enjoyable enough to retain members. Those disillusioned members are sure not to recruit new members. We have to find a balance and make attempts to give the members what they want. If we don't give them what they want, it won't matter how hard we work to keep the traditions alive. They will vote with their feet and pocketbooks. They will simply walk away and the check for their dues will not come at the end of the year. No
matter how hard you fight it, you can't stop that vote.

Some of the reasons we all hear for lack of participation are that meetings and activities conflict with work, making it to meetings is inconvenient, the meetings are long and dull, and there is no real sense of purpose or direction.

What do they want? Do they want a sense of purpose and direction, entertainment, interesting meetings, less procedural headaches (statutes). They seem to think that following the traditions of antique Odd Fellowship is a thing of the past and it doesn't have any usefulness in today's society. I have also heard members complain that Odd Fellowship is basically nothing but performing rituals.

Some Odd Fellows today think that people join to learn the secrets and mysteries and to learn their system of morality and philosophy. I don't think that a high percentage joined for those reasons back in the old days, even though we tend to romance the past.

Many of the reasons that people joined lodges long ago simply don't exist anymore, as far as the Odd Fellows is concerned. Many joined as a form of prestige, but that is more served by joining the country club, a group like Rotary, or a professional association. Many joined to acquire insurance and benefits, but that has been replaced by insurance companies and the government programs. Many joined to make new social ties, or for professional networking. Again, that is usually taken care of by groups like Rotary, churches, or groups that are designed for a particular hobby or interest. Many joined for entertainment, as there simply weren't as many things to do 100 years ago. There is a plethora of entertainment options available today. In hindsight, traditionalists, like us Odd Fellows, can see the new entertainments as a decline of community and society, but we are a small minutia of the population.

It seems that the Order has changed very little in 150 years. The lack of adapting to the times is a tragedy. Take some churches for example. They think that they know the absolute truth and if no one comes to their church, the say that something is wrong with the people. It couldn't possibly be their church or its leadership they say. That is when self-righteousness becomes a problem. The church will make every kind of excuse. It won't however acknowledge that it is doing something wrong or has a poor doctrine. Fraternal groups often think talk of changing is an attack against its principles. There are too few like me, that aren't afraid to say that the emperor is nearly naked. Most refuse to uncover their eyes or admit what they actually see.

I sometimes think with the Odd Fellows an oligarchy has developed. Many of our leaders are in the same positions year after year. Most of this is probably caused by a lack of membership, but some of it results from self-serving egotistical ways. It reaches the point that if they don't get their way, they would rather see things die. That is destructive.

Some of the trends I see today with other groups are for more accommodations towards family activities. One particular group, is renaming its lodges to family centers. Another group is pushing for more daycare and playroom facilities at its lodges. We also need to focus more on bringing back a more traditional version of community, and attempt to find ways to make our fellowship more entertaining. More service projects would be a good way to bring us together for a common purpose and put us out in the community. We need to hold the past traditions in high esteem, but realize that we can't practically maintain all of them in their entirety.

If we are to stop this present long and slow decline of this Order, we must accommodate and embrace changes for the Order. Some believe that we should not alter the things that the founders of Odd Fellowship worked so hard for. What they fail to realize is that they were innovative and industrious in their time. What would those founders do if they could time-trave into today's society? (Well, they would probably marvel at automobiles and TVs, but...) I think
they be shocked and angered when they saw the lack of adaptiveness our Order has displayed. They would question how the Order could let things go downhill for so long. There would be an immediate call to action to save the Order they worked so hard to build.


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