To answer the title question, I’m not sure. Just tossing this idea out there, so I may change my mind.
I first became aware of the notion of an Odd Fellows pledge period through the reading of the Davis Lodge #169 of California website. Davis Lodge #169 has new candidates go through a pledge period, which allows them to learn about the Order and also get acquainted with the members of their lodge. And for Davis #169 it seems to be successful (scroll down this page to find the Davis Lodge pledge book under “Membership Guides” Davis Lodge Membership Guides Pledge Book).
What might be the advantage to a pledge period?
It can be used to take advantage of the candidate’s burning zeal to know more about the Order. I believe the pledge period should focus on two main areas.
- Preparing pledges to be the best members they can be to benefit the community and the Lodge and,
- Educating them on ritual, history, and the organization of the lodge, Grand Lodge, and Sovereign Grand Lodge.
With that in mind, a lodge could take the opportunity to educate pledges on the history of the lodge and Odd Fellowship in general. They can be given information about how the lodge is designed, conducted, the names of the offices, lodge jargon and buzzwords, and the various activities conducted by the lodge. Also, they can be made aware of the various grants and scholarships available to Odd Fellows for continuing education.
Some people suggest using a pledge period to train pledges to hold offices in the lodge, so that when they are qualified they have an easier time of stepping into those shoes. This sort of pledge period gives the pledge even more practical instruction in lodge life and will encourage them toward leadership roles. This may be possible without revealing too much about the mysteries.
Let the pledges be managed by the membership committee. See if the lodge can wrangle a little gas money for each committee member. Each week conduct a different lesson on a part of Lodge life.
Below is a video on fraternity pledge life from Saturday Night Live:
Pledges should be able to produce a project to show for their effort at the end of the period, which should be presented to the lodge or membership committee before initiation. If they don’t produce a project like answering written questions, filling out forms, making art, video, or music, your pledges will “half ass it,” and won’t be wiser about Lodge life after initiation.
What should each pledge week be about? Well, you have to keep in mind you are putting together a course of study that will give pledges the information, skills and learning they need to produce a project.
If you have a group of pledges, create an project the entire group can work on together which will build camaraderie. First decide on the project, THEN create a course of study that will complete it.
So, if you have a group of pledges and they’re going to set up and staff a recruitment booth at the local farmer’s market as a project, here’s how we might go about putting it together:
- Week 1: At an open meeting, have pledges interview lodge members so they’ll know who to call upon for assistance for the recruitment booth. Discuss lodge committees. Begin the plan for the booth
- Week 2: History of IOOF generally (assign readings from wikipedia, IOOF website, online articles, etc.). Continue plan for booth.
- Week 3: A history of your lodge and an introduction to parliamentary procedure and voting. Continue plan for booth
- Week 4: Have pledges draw and label the layout of a lodge room. Talk about The Code. Continue plan for booth
- Week 5: Explain the role of officers of the Lodge, Grand Lodge, and Sovereign Grand Lodge. Continue plan for booth.
- Week 6: Staffing the recruitment booth or presenting some other project.
For an individual, a lodge could follow the same 6 week process but have a less demanding project at the end. There are a thousand ways a pledge period can be conducted and you can even use a pledge book if needed.
Over time, I’ve developed some resistance to “all degree days.” They rarely teach about lodge life, ritual, offices, membership, or history, and they are often conducted with a sense of urgency.
Once the new member gets the degrees in one day, they are plunged directly into a lodge system they know nothing about and have to navigate on their own, which can be very stressful and intimidating. Soon, the acknowledged authority of everything miserable, “the lodge troll,” will make derisive remarks to the new member: “WTF do you think you’re doing?! That’s not where you stand! Why are you wearing sandals?!” Then the new member doesn’t come back, and the lodge troll continues their perfect attendance streak. A pledge period is troll inoculation.
If you prefer All Degree Days, perhaps a compromise is in order: have the pledge period and initiation at the lodge, then get the rest of the degrees in one day. This way, the member will have an idea about what’s going on and won’t be quite so intimidated.
If you are not an Odd Fellow but have an interest in joining, just know that some lodges may have a pledge period and others may not. But we don’t require any of the experiences you may have had in a college frat. We don’t have wild toga parties or drunkeness in the lodge.
After you’re a member however, keep this in mind: An Odd Fellow once remarked on the difference between Odd Fellows and other non college fraternities and said “Some fraternities head for Dairy Queen after lodge. Odd Fellows head for the pub and/or tattoo parlor!”
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Scott Moye is an award-winning history educator and collector of Arkansas folklore. He grew up on a cotton farm and is currently a museum worker. Hobbies include: old house restoration, writing, amateur radio, Irish traditional music, archery, craft beer, old spooky movies, and street performance. He is a member of Marshall Lodge #1, in Marshall, Arkansas, and a founder of Heart In Hand Blog. He currently resides in Little Rock, Arkansas.