By Toby Hanson PGM
Grand Lodge of Washington
Christopher began his journey to Odd Fellowship with an interest in
fraternal imagery and “just all things weird.” After moving to Missoula
a few years ago he started looking for organizations to join that would
give him the opportunity to meet people and get active in his new
community. Believing Odd Fellowship to have some of the best imagery
and some of the best people in their lodges, he chose to join Covenant
Covenant Lodge #6 was chartered in February 1875. They have nearly 150
years of history in downtown Missoula. Their hall was one of the first
permanent buildings built in town, having been donated by Bro.
Christopher Higgins, one of the founders of Missoula and the namesake of
the street the lodge sits on.
Once in the lodge, he discovered a treasure trove of items from defunct
lodges across the state of Montana. As Covenant #6 had a large storage
area upstairs, and the Grand Secretary is a member of that lodge, items
were deposited there indefinitely as lodges closed their doors.
Fascinated by the collection of random items, Bro. McHale started
working on sorting and organizing them in hopes of setting up a
display. The fruits of his labors are now on display in the Club Room
of Covenant #6 as the Montana Odd Fellows Museum. In August 2019 I
visited Bro. Christopher and interviewed him about his experiences in
Odd Fellowship and his desire to create and manage the Museum.
T: So what position do you hold in the lodge right now?
C: I am the… I am basically a glorified janitor, but I am the Noble
Grand of the lodge as well, but I find that I spend more time being
janitor than Noble Grand.
T: That’s not unusual, especially since your lodge here in Missoula has
a beautiful, old downtown lodge hall, which is fairly unusual,
especially here in Montana, where there are not a whole lot of lodges
left. You guys are one of the outliers where you still have the
old-fashioned big downtown hall and, coming from a home lodge like
Ballard-Alki #170 in Seattle which has the old downtown lodge hall, I
understand. It takes a lot of work to keep a hundred-plus year old
C: Yeah, as I was telling you yesterday, we were one of the only
buildings in the downtown area when we were formed. It’s pretty
crazy—the city has built around us, not the other way around. We’re
very fortunate to have the location that we do and the place that we do,
but there’s a lot—I don’t know—squeaky things that need attention here.
It’s like having an old car, I guess, like a hundred-and-fifty-year-old car.
T: Yeah, a lot of people know what it’s like to have a
C: That’s the thing; there’s not a whole lot of them so we gotta take
care of the ones we do have.
T: Now how long have you been a member here?
C: Just over two years, actually.
T: What kinds of things have you encountered here in joining the lodge
that were challenging or interesting or would be something you’d like to
share with others?
C: I think something that we’re seeing as a widespread issue, and I use
the term “issue” very lightly, is that we’re kind of in a spot where
we’re seeing an overlap of an older and a newer generation. There were
obviously long periods of time where new members were not brought in and
when you get newer, younger members in who have a little bit of a fire
underneath them they tend to want to do things differently. Kids today
are just a totally different make and model of what we used to be as
people. I see a lot of communication issues between some of the older
generations and some of the newer ones and I think that’s something we
need to be mindful of. Everybody can learn something from somebody
because everybody knows something we don’t. I think it’s kind of an
age-old thing where we all need to learn to respect each other’s
opinions and who they are as people.
T: Odd Fellowship is a wonderful way of getting some practice at doing that.
C: Yeah. Of course.
T: So since you joined the lodge here, how has the lodge changed?
C: I mean, it’s like any lodge. We’ve gained a few and lost a few. Odd
Fellowship is an ever-changing thing and I think you sort of need that
because stagnant lodges tend to be exactly that—stagnant. They don’t do
anything. So to at least see some things changing I have to look at it
as a step in the right direction. I know that this year coming will be
a big year for our lodge. We’re going to be doing a lot of different
things than we’ve been doing in the past in the hopes of just keeping
that ball rolling and trying to make this place, not necessarily the
epicenter of the town that it used to be, but to make it much more
useful to the public than just being open a couple hours a month so
members can hang out and talk about Odd Fellows stuff.
T: What are some of the activities you’ve done here at the lodge that
has opened it up to the public more?
C: Probably the biggest one—we don’t do a whole lot of stuff *at* the
lodge, which I think is part of our issue; I’m looking to change that in
the next couple of months and take it from not doing anything to all of
a sudden trying to do a bunch of things and seeing where that goes—the
first Friday of every month, Downtown Missoula does, like, a First
Friday celebration and all the businesses stay open and there’s, like,
art showings and hand-crafted things and drinks and whatever. The lodge
hands out free water and snacks and stuff in front of the lodge hall and
it’s a fun thing to get to do to interact with the general public but
the public just says, “Oh, free bottle of water? Thanks!” and, you
know, walks away. But, it only takes one or two people here or there,
but it’s literally just putting in the shift and sitting there and doing
it. It’s an interesting and fun thing to do.
T: Side question to that: when you’re out in front of the lodge handing
out snacks and water, are you easily identifiable as Odd Fellows? Do
you have shirts on that say that?
C: We have a table with lots of information and a big flag and stuff.
Some of the guys wear Odd Fellows shirts; I mean, I’m probably the only
one that doesn’t, but I’ll just be there talking to people so they know
I’m part of it anyway.
T: That’s good, because one thing I always tell people is that it’s only
effective publicity for the lodge if they know what you’re doing is an
extension of the lodge. They gotta know that Odd Fellowship is actually
active and doing things.
Now we’re here in the Club Room of your lodge hall and we’re surrounded
by the most amazing and impressive collection of Odd Fellows items and
artifacts. How did this collection come about?
C: I was basically given the opportunity to dig through the lodge’s
collection that they’ve amassed in one hundred and fifty years and, I
don’t know, I love looking at old things and I love learning about Odd
Fellowship in general and about this lodge in particular and by doing it
I’ve learned a lot about the history of Missoula as well. But, yeah—I
was basically given the opportunity to dig through this stuff and it
turned from, like, spending a few minutes just looking at stuff to now,
it’s been probably close to a year since I’ve started this. I don’t
know—we’ve probably got a thousand-plus items on display and I’m hoping
to try and fit as many as I can get my hands on here, really.
T: This is an incredibly impressive collection. Just some of the things
that I can spot easily: you have the old Odd Fellows’ apron up on the
wall, you have the AMOS fez over there from Idaho, there’s a lot of
Patriarchs Militant stuff here, the old fore-and-aft hats that they used
to wear, plenty of the Goliath heads—I always like those.
C: Of course.
T: Lots of robes, old charters, the swords—are there particularly
interesting pieces of this collection that you’d like to talk about?
C: There’s a lot of stuff and it’s all kind of my baby, so to speak. I
became interested in old documents because we sometimes forget how easy
it is for a letter to just disappear into oblivion after a hundred-plus
years so it’s always interesting to read mail the lodge was sent a
hundred and twenty years ago, just to see what they were talking about.
I don’t know—one of the things I take the most pride in is a stack of
Western Union telegrams I found that were announcing the deaths of
members of our lodge in the early 1900s. Now if I had not just found
those stashed away in some book, like, they would be something that we
had no idea about and that was someone from our lodge that died and
someone else taking time from their day to let us know and we all know
there was probably a huge pain in the ass to have to send a telegram in
1904, especially knowing you probably wouldn’t even get a response to
it. So, yeah, I appreciate that effort that was put in by those people
and, you know, I can only hope that in a hundred and some odd years
people are able to look through the crap that I’ve decided to rescue and
get the same kick out of it that I did.
There’s just a lot of weird things. You learn a lot about your lodge
and the city your lodge is in by reading some of the old papers you
might find around. You literally never know what you might find and
some of the stuff I’ve found has been completely outstanding. We’ve had
a canton of the Patriarchs Militant, Theta Rho, we’ve had Rebekahs, and
we’ve had Odd Fellows all in this lodge. We also had the Masons here
before they got their own spiffy building a few blocks away. To have
the complete histories of all of those branches of the Odd Fellows is
pretty great and it’s a long time to… any meeting that’s happened
since 1874, we can tell you who was there and what they talked about.
It’s pretty cool to be able to have that, you know.
T: It is. So what would you say Odd Fellowship has done to enrich your
C: That’s kind of a difficult question because I went from not being a
member of the Odd Fellows to then, as I’ve said—it’s kind of overtaken
my life. It literally has become a huge chunk of my life and I’ve had a
few people over the past two years ask me if they joined Odd Fellowship
what would they get out of it. You can literally get out of it whatever
you want. You could just show up to a meeting a month and not
participate, you can make life long friends, you can travel the world
and meet brothers and sisters all over the place. I’ve been trying to
make it a point to show my face around the Pacific Northwest a little
bit this coming year. So yeah, it’s difficult to predict where I’m
going to be as Odd Fellowship goes, but I know I’m certainly going
T: Tell me about your social media activities in Odd Fellowship, because
that’s how I first became aware of you and your fantastic work here in
C: I guess when you spend that much time doing something, you know, you
do kind of want to share it with the amount of people who are interested
in a thousand-plus-piece collection of Odd Fellowship stuff. It’s a
pretty niche market so meeting people here and there on social media is
always a good thing.
T: I know that we have a really active community of Odd Fellows on
Instagram. I’ve met a lot of wonderful members through Instagram,
C: I’ve met a few knuckleheads through Instagram as well. It really is
amazing to find people that are into the same stuff and part of the same
organization in other parts of the country and other parts of the
world. You know, some of them I’ve already developed meaningful
relationships with and I think that’s pretty cool. It’s a great sign of
things to come in Odd Fellowship. We can choose to focus on the “Doom
And Gloom” parts of it or we can try and actively be part of the
solution to those issues. I think it’s possible.
T: I agree with that. Just in my own jurisdiction in Washington I have
seen an amazing thing happen. There has been more free, unsolicited
interest in Odd Fellowship just from people who want to be a part of
something, want to be connected to their communities, want to find a way
to meet other people who are part of their communities, but don’t know
how to do it because the whole paradigm of fraternalism has basically
been forgotten. It used to be that every newspaper had a section that
detailed the fraternal orders, what they were doing at their meetings,
where they met—it was a regular part of civic life and, in so many ways,
that has become invisible and there’s beginning to be this demand for
that and I think Odd Fellowship is so well-positioned to be the thing
that revives fraternalism and gets people back into our lodges. I am
seeing so many more young professionals who want to be a part of
something and they’re choosing the Odd Fellows.
C: Sure. It’s about literally showing up, putting your phone down, and
paying attention to what is going on around you, and I feel it’s
something that we’ve lost in general and there are still pockets of
people out there that believe in taking time away from your own
super-important life to try and help those around you, or at least be
social with those around you. It is a long lost art, unfortunately.
T: Now what do you see for the future of Odd Fellowship, both here in
Missoula, around Montana, and in the world at large?
C: You know, it starts with one person. If every lodge can have one
person that is willing to do whatever they have to do to help the lodge
along, it will help. That probably wasn’t a great answer, but it really
starts with one person. You never know the next person that you meet
and talk to about Odd Fellowship that has no idea about it, that could
be the guy that, in two years, is doing everything in their power to
save your lodge. One of the things that I try and make a point of
saying is that there’s no person who is necessarily more important than
the lodge as a whole. We all have something to offer. We all have
something to bring to the table and it’s how we get together and how we
pool our resources for the best way to ensure that we’ll be here another
two hundred years.
T: Now if you had a message you wanted to send to any and all of your
brothers and sisters who read The Heart In Hand, what would that be?
C: Make sure your lodge has clean bathrooms.
T: Yes! Amen to that! Having visited many lodges as a Grand Master,
Amen to that!
C: You want a clean bathroom to go into when you go in to another
lodge. That’s it. That’s literally the only advice I have for any
other lodge. If you can’t get the basics right you won’t be able to get
the hard stuff right, either.
T: Alright, anything else you want to add to this?
C: No. Thanks Toby, and thanks to whomever is going to read this.
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