Let’s Put Pride and “WOW” Back in Our Degree Ceremonies – by Scott Robinson

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Scott Robinson
Lewisburg, PA, No. 96

When I joined the Odd Fellows, I looked forward to my Initiation night! I was excited, and nervous. I looked forward to taking part in the same mysterious ceremony that my ancestors were in many years ago. I was thrilled to be a part of that tradition, mystery, and sacred ceremony.

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The night came. No disrespect to my Lodge, or it’s members, but I was woefully disappointed. The ceremony was dependent upon a DVD…that had technical problems. Needless to say, it was a memorable evening, but not in the way had I hoped. My Lodge members did the absolute best they could with what they had to work with and I truly respect them for that. But, they didn’t have much to work with. Who’s fault is that? It is OURS collectively as an Order.

I see this in many of our Lodges. Have we gotten lazy? Have we lost the traditions that make us so special and separate us from orders? Is the pomp and circumstance gone? Is it just too much trouble? Does it take too much time? Is it easier to sit in front of a DVD for several hours and fight to stay awake? While the DVD is extremely well done, it’s just not the same as seeing it LIVE and in person. Do folks show up to degree ceremonies in jeans? I bet we can answer “yes” to most or all of those questions. Think about it.

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Now, cometh the Pennsylvania GL Degree Rally. Pomp and circumstance. Music. Costumes. Traditions. Folks putting maximum effort and pride into the productions. They are an “event.” The “wow” and “cool” factors are there. To me, that is what the history and mystery of Odd Fellowship is about and how it should be done. Not sitting in front of a TV and watching it.

Let’s get that back. If Lodges strive to move away from the DVD, or “short ceremonies”, and bring back the old school customs, and live ceremonies, I’m betting a steak dinner our membership will grow! Why? Because we will have the “wow” and “cool” factors…and pride. It would be something that our Order could be proud of once again. You can bet our ancestral Brothers and Sisters used to take great pride in the degree ceremonies, and they used to give them their maximum effort. They were major productions. They were an “event.” What happened?

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What is our Lodge (Lewisburg, PA) doing about it? As part of our Revitalization Plan, we decided to “specialize” in the Initiatory Degree (for now), as some Lodges did years ago. Back in the day, folks used to travel to specific Lodges for various degrees. Some Lodges had specialties.

We just purchased a Lodge, a beautiful 1870’s farm complete with barn. Eventually the barn will house our Lodge, but for now its in an area of the home that we completely re-built for our temporary Lodge. What are we doing that is so special? We are making the Initiation an “event.”

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We included special effects lighting in the build…using technology! We are using a fog machine, modern ethereal music, and thanks to a very generous Lodge, we acquired an original Victorian-era scene, and built a special scene for small spaces. Those items give the ceremony the mysterious “atmosphere” it deserves. We are also re-creating the costumes, and…get this…we rehearse the Initiation! We are approaching the ceremony as it should be, a serious theatrical production of pomp and circumstance. We dress in our Lodge formal attire, or costumes, for the occasion. We send out a letter on parchment, based on an original in our archive, to the initiate “commanding” their presence. Our members are sent a reminder card. We make it very special, not only for the initiate, but for the audience. We create memories, and that’s what it’s all about. Our members are putting maximum effort into the Initiatory Degree because it is the Candidate’s first impression, and we won’t get another chance to make that impression.

We demonstrated some of our lighting and special effects to a neighbor Lodge Brother and we got the reaction we worked for – he was speechless and just exclaimed, “wow!!” That was the best compliment we could have been given!

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My point to all of this is, we need to get away from doing things, specifically the degrees, the easy (lazy) way. We need to make our forefathers proud and bring back true degree work, and pride, in the Lodges. We need the “wow” and “cool” factors once again…that’s what will bring us membership and participation! Use the DVDs for reference only.

Our Lodge is focusing on building our new facility in the old barn as a place to hold major degree rallies the old school way – all degrees with pomp and circumstance, regalia, costumes, special lighting, technology, and props. We have started collecting the props to use…so if your Lodge has any to donate, drop us a line. We also invite any Lodge to bring their initiates to us. We will “wow” them!

Keep an eye on the Lewisburg Lodge, we are just beginning this new chapter in our history, but watch us grow, evolve, and do amazing things for the Order!

 

4 thoughts on “Let’s Put Pride and “WOW” Back in Our Degree Ceremonies – by Scott Robinson

  1. Magnificent ! I truly hope you’ll complete this mission of yours, putting the wow back in degree work and eventually see you lodge grow. I strongly believe that is the only way to make the membership more desirable among strangers. We here in Finland in our lodges put enormous amounts of effort in each and every degree work and we never use anything less than a dark suit in our meetings – even if it’s “only” a work meeting (no degree work that is).

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  2. Doing the degrees the absolute best they can be done is important. It results in building pride in your lodge, knowing you can handle darn near anything!

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  3. Dear Scott,
    Could not agree more and much more than that I can relate to what you posted. When I joined the Odd Fellows back in the late 1980s we did just as you discussed. I had my Initiation at my “home” Lodge as that was their specialty, and the first degree was held their as well, then for my second degree we went to another lodge and for my 3rd degree another different lodge. It was fun and you got to meet a lot of Brothers from other Lodges. I am happy to also post that my Lodge Harry Marsh Lodge No.12265 Grand United Order of Odd Fellows of Edgewater has always prided itself on doing an “old School” initiation” complete with candles, costumes, the scene, everything…….all the bells and whistles, and of course over the years we practiced and have it down to a science. You are right all the Brothers say it has a big WOW factor!!!! they all enjoy it and are very impressed they instantly realize that we are the “real deal” and different from other Fraternal Orders. I realize many Lodges can not pull off this kind of Initiation and it is a shame as I do not think watching a video is anything like the real thing or an acceptable substitute. The Initiation Degree to me is the most important as that is the gateway into the Order. I would encourage every Odd Fellows Lodge be it G.U.O.O.F. or I.O.O.F. to try and at least do this degree the way it was mean’t to be presented as it really makes an impression on a new member.

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    1. I belong to IOOF here in Finland and we do all the degree work (and everything else ofcourse) the “right way” will all the bells and whistles. That’s how it’s always been here. 😉

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