The Certain Future of Your Lodge -by Joseph Dowdy

Joseph Dowdy
Lompoc Lodge #248

In 50 years, the most senior members of your lodge are in their 20s and 30s right now. Your lodge, if it still exists, is going to be run by today’s millennials and their children. Those 20- to 30-somethings with beards and tattoos you see today are going to be the elders. The good news is that they care more about others than you may realize.

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Odd Fellows and Rebekahs today are plagued by the trappings of a very old institution that may be very unappealing to those 20- and 30-something future leaders of your lodge. Your lodge may not have internet access; my lodge does not. Your lodge may be overdue for repairs; my lodge is that way. When 20- and 30-something future leaders visit your lodge, they may not want to invite their friends because the body of the lodge is almost certainly going to be 90% senior citizens. The future leaders of your lodge won’t see that future unless they can make it their own lodge with the kinds of things their friends expect. Most lodges today are like a Model T sitting at a Ford dealership waiting for someone to love them for what they are; my lodge is that way to me and I am proud to love my lodge but I’m also 53.

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If you want to leave a legacy to future generations and grow futures leaders in your town, you need to figure out how the lives of those future leaders can be enriched by becoming an Odd Fellow. Ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?” and then be prepared to not have the right answer.

Getting the correct answer may be your biggest challenge. You may need to get past all those things you have heard about millennials being self-entitled and lackadaisical just so that you can get an answer.

And when you find out what they want, you may need to work just as hard as them to grow your lodge and bring in new members; you can’t expect them to do it by themselves and only how you see fit. That is a recipe for disaster to take that Model T and tell them it’s in their will so good luck.

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What you may need to do is to fast track their leadership in your lodge and be willing to put it, both figuratively and literally, in their hands. Give them the reigns early so that you can be there to coach them and provide context in the way that only a seasoned member can do. You may wonder how you are going to do this and I am telling you that the answer is friendship.

So, let me confess something to you here. I am new to Odd Fellows. I have been in our lodge for about nine months and I have yet to receive my friendship degree. If I am saying something that isn’t correct, you will have to forgive me as I am new.

But something I can see, even from my beginners’ perspective, is that if you want to be someone’s friend then you must set your differences aside. I’m sure there are things about even your best friend from childhood that you don’t like and you’ve set that aside so that you can continue to be friends. No one is perfect and neither is your best friend. So since you have experience setting aside differences, you’ll need to do that a lot with your future lodge leaders… And I do believe this is what Odd Fellows are all about.

One of the things I love most about Odd Fellows is that we have rules to set aside many of our differences by avoiding sectarian and political debate. (If only Facebook could do that!) In all the news media, it’s very easy to see that the people giving you the news are divided on one side and misrepresenting people on the other side. As someone who worked as a combat correspondent and a broadcast journalist, it is glaringly obvious to me that much of today’s news is driven by an agenda rather than by an objective truth. Like two people watching a car crash from different angles, even two people watching the same thing can’t always agree upon who was in the right. And like the story of the blind men describing an elephant they have never encountered, we don’t know what we are experiencing because we say what we think we know instead of patiently going all the way around full circle.

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The Odd Fellows, because we set aside sectarian and political debate, are in a unique position to teach our fellow Americans a thing or two about friendship. We know how to hold our tongues when it comes to discussing the kind of things that divide and even break years of friendship and even family relations (which I know from my own experience). In our lodge, I am friends with people that I would not ordinarily be friends with and that is a lesson that is not lost on me. When I think about bringing people to our lodge, I know I may need to hold my tongue and reserve judgment about who I think they are and what they can do for themselves and the lodge. I must listen to them and determine if they see what I see in them or if they can one day. And I am strategic in talking to those who enjoy volunteering and building community around them; those are my kind of people who I think would make great Odd Fellows.

There is something else I can say that I know about prospective lodge members. You can appeal to what we, as Americans, have in common. Americans love to give time and money to worthy causes. Give people a cause and they will step up. Americans are the most generous in terms of giving and, if you ask me, they are closer to being Odd Fellows than they realize. Maybe our generosity stems from the quality of our character as Americans. Who put the glow into the Golden Age of Fraternalism when it became so widely accepted? With one or two out of five people being members of a fraternity, was it the benefits of giving or the benefits of receiving that made it so popular? Brotherly love and friendship and helping the orphan, widow and the sick and those in need are really in our DNA as Americans and so it is also very American to have a friend who “has your back.” I think so long as we are clear about what we do that we can be attractive even to millennials because we, as brothers and sisters, need to “have each others’ backs” if we are to grow our lodges together.

And that brings about my final point I want to bring up. We can either invite people to our lodge and watch them struggle to figure out who we are and what we’re about and have untrusting ideas about passwords and handshakes and secrets or we can be found in the community doing what we say we are about. And if you feel that you are too old or too tired to volunteer in your community then it may be too late for you and your lodge; I’m not saying this to be unkind but to spur you into action. Let me tell you why it is so important to be found by these future leaders in your community making a difference.

My daughter, who is 10 years old, sells toys. How she sells toys is to go where kids are (like farmers’ markets) and then play in front of them. The kids see the toys and they get their parents to buy them. And my daughter charges three times what others charge for the same toys. The parents don’t always buy but she moves on and keeps playing. She even hands out those toys on occasion, so the kids (who have parents who don’t buy) aren’t sadly empty-handed. In one night, my daughter has made over $100 for three hours of work because I told her that all she needs to do is go out and play and kids will want to do what she is doing. If you think about how this applies to Odd Fellows, it could be the best way to “sell” someone on Odd Fellowship; just apply the same principle. Get your lodge together as a body and go somewhere together, do something that others would want to do and let that be the thing that draws them to join you. And you could also consider that going individually where others are; and having fun there will also draw in others to be your friend. Truly, a stick in the mud is not a good friend. And if you really want to go all out, take a look at what no one else is doing in your community that someone should be doing and let that be what draws them in; this is what I consider the true definition of leadership and it is the best way to get people interested in you.

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Odd Fellows was all about helping others who needed help when it became so enormously popular. Nothing has changed in that respect. The future of your lodge depends on how willing you are to take action. You don’t always have to do the work yourself because you can always partner with other non-profits but you can’t just be a bump on a log and expect movement in your lodge. You can try to reproduce projects that succeed like other lodges are doing. You would be surprised how a simple flyer can expose someone to Odd Fellows and leave a great impression. Ultimately, the winning formula that you choose to follow will be up to you. It’s time to experiment and risk failing until you get the hang of it. This is your opportunity to focus on doing something to attract those future leaders. As my daughter would tell you, fun is irresistible. Have some fun and others will find you fun to be with. Be of service and others will join you if it is in their heart to serve. Be the role model for those future leaders of your lodge because no one else is going to do it for you.

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