Editor’s note: Below are excerpts from the recently published District Deputy Grand Master Instruction Manual written by Michael Greenzeiger, Grand Instructor, Grand Lodge of California.
ABOUT ODD FELLOWSHIP
The Principles and Purpose of Odd Fellowship
One of questions you will most frequently be asked by members and non-members alike is “What is the purpose of Odd Fellowship?” The answer you give may well determine if an individual chooses to associate with our Order or to continue said membership. People want to know why we do what we do and what it means to us. There is no precise right or wrong answer to be given for questions like these because the nature of every lodge and indeed every Odd Fellow is different. Nevertheless, a few key principles have persisted over time throughout our order’s long and storied history.
As is taught in our Ritual, Odd Fellowship is about having a place where we can meet as Brothers and Sisters on equal footing and without the “masks” we often wear to keep each other from knowing us as our truest selves. A person’s station in life doesn’t matter in the lodge room and nor should our petty likes and dislikes. We are bound together as children of one common parent and thus obligated to help and support each other through the trials and travails of life. Our purpose in coming together is to elevate the world as a whole, to make it a better place in which all human beings are bound together in brotherly and sisterly love. Such a world would be a paradise and we can do our part simply by exercising the principles of Friendship, Love, and Truth in all our interactions within the lodge room as well as in the outside world.
Beyond our core principles, there are infinite possibilities for how a lodge can be. One may think of it as a platform for holding whatever social, fraternal, or service activities fit the desires and interests of its members – so long as those activities are in harmony with our principles. Lodges have been successful in many different ways: through shared meals and parties, through putting on activities, through sharing in hobbies, through serving the local community in whatever capacity, through raising money to give to good causes, through practicing and performing the Ritual of the Order, through studying the deeper meanings of Odd Fellowship and its rituals, or through engaging with our history. What is important is that each lodge finds its own way to be which works for its members and their community, and adds to the overall vibrancy of our worldwide Order.
RUNNING A LODGE
Running a lodge is fundamentally not so different from running any other type of organization. One thing to bear in mind is that unlike a business, everyone who participates in a lodge is a volunteer and doesn’t need to be there. If they have a good experience they will come back and perhaps even get more involved. If they don’t, you may never see them again.
Sharing power is very important in a lodge organization. Individuals generally will not feel invested in a group unless they have some say in the decisions of that group. Lodges which are run by a single individual, regardless of what office that individual may occupy are never as strong as lodges with a dedicated core of active members. It is not realistic to expect every lodge member to take initiative and to be engaged, but the more members who are given the room to grow into leaders, the more dynamic and effective a lodge will be.
While everyone has different needs and abilities, it is also critical to have a common core of values and principles. The fundamental principles of Odd Fellowship are a part of the glue that ties a lodge together, but they must be supplemented with a shared understanding of what these principles mean and how they can be implemented in practice. Drafting a mission statement for your lodge or even just holding periodic discussions of what the values and goals of the lodge are can serve to get everyone on the same page and help them to remain united harmoniously in the work of the lodge.
Meetings are the way an organization brings together a group of people in order to accomplish a task or set of tasks. They are not an end unto themselves as much as some may believe they are. Our real ends are the principles and goals of the Order and of the individual lodge. Odd Fellow Lodges use meetings as a way to further these goals.
As such, meetings should be efficient and not waste undue amounts of the members’ time. Their time is valuable and by treating it as such, we demonstrate our respect for our brothers and sisters in the Order. There are many tricks a good leader can use to keep a meeting on track. Preparing in advance is essential. This can include reviewing the correspondences to determine which ones need to be read and which ones do not. It can include ensuring that all bills to be paid arrive on the Secretary’s desk with ample time for warrants to be drawn and for the Finance Committee to inspect before the meeting begins. It can also include familiarizing the appropriate officers with complicated procedures they need to perform in advance, such as balloting on a new member – one of the most complex tasks a Warden ever needs to perform in the lodge.
The atmosphere of a meeting is also critical to success. A meeting should not be so overly formal and rigid that no one dares to smile, let alone laugh. Neither should it be so loose and unstructured that no one present retains any respect for the lodge and its work. The best meetings are relaxed and warm. Everyone feels safe expressing their views and sharing in the occasional joke with their brothers and sisters. After the meeting no one wants to go home right away, but remains afterwards, perhaps consuming some refreshments and basking in the glow of fraternity with their fellow members.
One of the best ways to organize the work of the lodge and keep it moving along briskly is through the appropriate use of committees. A committee could be a permanent (“standing”) committee such as a Finance Committee, a Building Committee, or a Membership Committee. There are also ad hoc committees established for shorter term purposes such as a By-Law Committee for revising the by-laws or even a committee established just for one event, such as an annual holiday party. One traditional committee that used to be omnipresent in Odd Fellows lodges which one doesn’t see much anymore, but maybe we should, is a “Visiting Committee” for purposes of visiting sick or distressed members of the lodge. Committees are generally appointed by the presiding officer who is automatically an ex-officio member of all committees.
No complicated decision should ever come before the lodge until it’s been through a committee. Committees are designed to meet in between lodge meetings so that a small group of lodge members who have, or are willing to take, a particular interest in the matter at hand and report back to the lodge on what they have learned and what they recommend. This saves the lodge the time and trouble of hashing out all the details on the floor. In addition to keeping meetings running smoothly, committees are also a great way to engage the members of the lodge so everyone has a role to play. A wise leader will establish a new committee to research and help settle an issue when they see that a discussion on the floor of the lodge is going on overly long and perhaps beginning to try the patience of the brothers and sisters assembled.
Responsible financial procedures allow for transparency and for a system of checks and balances so that the lodge members may be satisfied their money is well protected. There are some minor variations in the exact procedures followed from lodge to lodge but certain commonalities reign.
Incoming payments go to the Financial Secretary who records them in a receipts ledger. Payment of dues or assessments is further recorded in a member’s account so it is possible to know which members are “in good standing.” All monies are turned over to the Treasurer for deposit and to be recorded in the Treasurer’s financial books.
Bills initially go to either the Recording Secretary or the Finance Committee, depending on who writes the warrants for bill payment in that lodge. The bills are reviewed and if approved, the warrants are signed by the Finance Committee. The warrants are also to be signed by the Noble Grand. At the appropriate point in the meeting, the Finance Committee makes a recommendation to the lodge as to whether or not the bills be paid, after which the lodge votes on the matter. The bills may not be paid until the Finance Committee has examined and signed them and the lodge has voted. This ensures that no unscrupulous member of the lodge can unilaterally issue a check. Many lodges add a further level of protection by requiring two signatures on all checks. The Treasurer makes out the checks and records the expense in their books.
Best practice also includes periodic reconciling of the Treasurer’s books against the actual bank account. Even the most honest and diligent of officers will occasionally make a mathematical or other error and reconciling with the bank statements will allow this to be rectified. This also allows for verification that no money is being spent without going through the proper lodge channels. The Finance Committee typically conducts an annual audit of the books at the end of the year in preparation for filing the annual report. The financial books must also be made available to the District Deputy Grand Master or any other officer designated by the Grand Master or Grand Lodge to audit the books of the lodge.
Planning events is a big part of what an active lodge does. Events can fall in a variety of different types and which ones are most prevalent will depend on the interests and taste of the individual lodge. Most successful lodges will have a variety of different types of events including social functions, service or charitable events, and degree work. Some of these can also be opportunities to engage with the broader community and get more publicity for your lodge..
Lodges typically have certain tried-and-true social events that they hold year after year, such as a “Roll Call Dinner” in which the names and length of membership of each lodge member is read aloud. Common social events also include barbeques, potlucks, speakers, outings to sporting events, concerts, or holiday parties. There really is no limit to the options available so long as the event doesn’t violate the values or principles of our order. A number of lodges have doubled down on the word “odd” and successfully organized some very creative or off-beat social events. A lodge should take great care to ensure there at least some events which interest each of their different types of members. When new members join, it’s often a good idea to find out what sorts of events those members would like to have and try some new events with them in mind. Ideally, the new members will even get involved in organizing some of the new events themselves.
Service or charity events which are appropriate for a lodge depend on the composition of the lodge as well as the community around it. A lodge with a smaller number of members or with members who are less able to do physical work should look into opportunities which are appropriate to the number and abilities of their members. It’s generally a better idea to get involved in something hands-on than to just write a check because it really gives the members a feeling of achievement and satisfaction to accomplish good with their own hands. Working together for the common good can also strengthen the bonds of friendship and fraternity within the lodge. If you are not sure what the needs of your local community are, you could consider contacting a local homeless shelter or other nonprofit to find out what their needs are and how you can be of service.
Degree work is very special in that it’s the time when we pass on the meaning of what it is to be an Odd Fellow to the next generation. Not every lodge is able to field their own degree team, but for those who can it can be a very moving experience if done properly. When members undergo the degrees for the first, they have many impressions and feelings regarding what they have just seen, but they don’t understand the full depth of the degrees. It is only on repeated viewings or better yet, having actually grappled with and performed a part in the degree oneself that the full flower of its meaning can bloom.
Degree work should be done with care and seriousness. There needs to be a level of respect for the degree or the candidates will very easily pick up on the fact that it doesn’t mean much to the members putting it on. Practice is very important here because even if one reads from the book, it is still possible to tell who has cared enough to practice and who has not. If you read from the book, be sure to practice enough that you can read fluently. One you can read it fluently, you can think about what it means and then you can read it with real depth of feeling. Likewise, it is important to practice the floorwork so that you can move around the room deliberately and without confusion.
While we must have respect for the Ritual, we must also have respect for the candidates. They may have never undergone any sort of ritual initiation and it may be a new and overwhelming experience for them. It is important that the candidates be made to feel comfortable in every possible way during degree work. If they seem confused or anxious they should be guided or reassured. It’s okay to deviate from the Ritual a bit if it helps a candidate to feel secure enough to fully engage with the material being present.
For any type of event, including social events, service events and degree work, if you belong to a smaller lodge you may wish to consider combining with other lodges or even your entire district to bolster your capabilities. We are always stronger when we work together with each other.
HOW TO GROW MEMBERSHIP
If your lodge is doing all the right things described above then you are already well on your way to building your membership. The first step is always making your lodge an inviting place where people would want to spend their time. If the lodge is unpleasant or boring then all the recruiting in the world will be for naught. What good is it to bring members in the door only to have them head straight for the exit?
That being said, once you’ve made your lodge into a space where a new member might want to spend some time, the next step is getting the word out. A lot of recruiting happens organically in a well-functioning lodge. If a member is having a great time and going to engaging events, they can’t help but want to share it with their friends. Bringing someone along to a public event may be all it takes to get a new member.
How you explain Odd Fellowship and your lodge to a person should depend on their own interests and background. Odd Fellowship has many different aspects to it and there are many different types of people in the world. It is best to focus on the aspects of the lodge which would most of interest to your audience, though you must also be forthright and honest about any aspect of the lodge which they may not like so as to avoid any surprises later. There is obviously something you like about your lodge or you wouldn’t continue to be involved, so if you can articulate that to others like you, they will probably want to join as well.
The greatest challenge is often in bringing in people who are different than one’s self. To truly have a vibrant lodge and to fulfill our aspiration of uniting all men and women of the world together in harmony and fraternity it is essential to also be able to bring in people different than you. Do your best to put yourself in their position. What is important to them? What do they like to do for fun? How could your lodge help them to improve and elevate themselves? Odd Fellowship is a big enough tent for everyone and if you look carefully you can find a place where they might fit.
One strategy that lodges around the country have been successful with and which is especially helpful for a smaller lodge seeking to grow is to find non-profit organizations with compatible goals and interests to our own and to work together with them on their projects. These organizations can be a source of individuals who are already civically-minded and may make excellent members. When you offer them the use of your hall for their events and spend some time getting to know their members it is often only natural that some of them will want to unite with you. Once you have individuals with several different types of interests, whether they be hobbies, professional interests, service work, performance, or anything else you are well on your way to having a diverse lodge capable of attracting a wide variety of different types of members.
A full digital copy of the manual can be requested by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org