Should Odd Fellowship consider starting Virtual Lodges using online video conferencing?
A Virtual Lodge is a lodge that meets exclusively online using a video conferencing platform. These platforms, used worldwide by business, governments, and other organizations, allow people to check into a virtual room with other people to conduct their business.
When I was first challenged to consider this idea, at first I was totally against it. Now, I’m definitely on the fence and leaning toward embracing it completely. There are pros and cons to a virtual lodge, just like everything else in Odd Fellowship. Many people are going to be skeptical of the idea but, many people will also support it.
Some of the problems the IOOF is facing might be addressed by a Virtual Lodge. We all know, thanks to Dedicated Members for Change, that we are having an enormous issue with recruitment. Also, we have many older members who cannot attend lodge for any number of reasons. How about members who live too far away from a lodge to attend? Would a virtual lodge help in these cases?
As far as recruitment is concerned, the Order would not know if a Virtual Lodge helped recruitment unless it was tried and we crunched some data. But there are endless examples of companies, clubs, groups, and gaming communities online that are able to accomplish holding meetings online. It is not a stretch to think a Virtual Lodge would be an effective tool for recruitment.
Older members who cannot attend a lodge could certainly benefit as well as those who for certain health reasons cannot attend lodge. They could access lodge life through the internet, and still feel like they are part of the membership. And since our membership is skewing older, a virtual lodge could become very popular with this group.
A virtual lodge could also be of benefit to members who are in the military and stationed overseas, as well as members who are on the road for work. A traveler could access lodge from her or his hotel room.
Some Odd Fellows lodges are formed around hobbies and activities. Some lodges support activities like riding Harleys, hunting, wine tasting, books, etc. Having a Virtual Lodge would tap into yet another activity that some people prefer being involved in: online communities.
A virtual lodge could be used to reach those who do not have a lodge anywhere near them. It would also increase the IOOF’s visibility online, which is STILL a huge concern to many of us. Also, if we can get 5 third degree members who live in an area without a brick and mortar lodge, then they would have the experience needed to start a brick and mortar lodge.
Now, let me state that if we were to have a Virtual Lodge, the goal should NOT be to replace the traditional brick and mortar lodges. One way to do this would be to require that all degree work be conducted at a brick and mortar lodge, which would require new members to travel and get a real world lodge experience. Maybe members could be required to attend a brick and mortar lodge once a year or something similar. The point is not to use the Virtual Lodge as a cop out to not attend your local lodge.
A Virtual Lodge may need a different way to conduct a meeting when compared to a traditional format. There may need to be a different way to open and close the lodge, and meetings may need to be altered from the suggested meeting format. There must be a way to guard the door to a virtual lodge, but this could be handled through the admission process: members would send photos of their dues cards and perhaps another form of ID to the NG of the virtual lodge. Which brings up the notion that officers in a virtual lodge may need their job descriptions updated for online work.
Another issue would be figuring out what role a Virtual Lodge would play in community service activities. By its very nature, a Virtual Lodge would have members from several different areas. This could make it difficult for them to do local community work. So they may have to focus their activities on a regional or national level. And of course, this makes the argument that local brick and mortar lodges would STILL be the first bulwark when it comes to local community service. So there’s no chance brick and mortar lodges would cease to exist.
All lodge decorum would need to be maintained in a virtual lodge. One reason for this is to maintain security. There would be real concern that a platform could be hacked. Yet, we forget that “hacking” a brick and mortar lodge is possible using very small recording devices and cameras smaller than a quarter. Most online meeting platforms will only allow those who have been invited to enter. And since online companies have people devoted specifically to security of their platforms, an argument could be made that online security could be tighter than your local lodge.
How many Virtual Lodges would be needed? I’m just throwing ideas out, but this would depend on the country where a lodge was located. In the US, we have 4 time zones in the contiguous US, but a total of 9 counting dependencies. Perhaps one virtual lodge per time zone? Or, if Sovereign Grand Lodge agreed, local Grand Lodges could run Virtual Lodges in each of their jurisdictions if they thought it necessary.
It would certainly need some study. But we must realize we have to meet people where they are, rather than have them meet us where we are. We have to go to the people and be as accessible as possible.
A business realizes this when they make it easy for people to spend their money. A business accepts credit cards, debit cards, cash, cash apps, Paypal, etc. Businesses make themselves available to showcase their wares through ebay, Amazon, Etsy, their own websites, pop up store fronts at festivals and street fairs as well as brick and mortar stores. They use multi-pronged approaches to get their products out there.
And we need to do the same thing. This is how we need to be thinking.
Could a Virtual Lodge be one more tool available for expanding our reach to help develop a Universal Community and help people?
Scott Moye is an award-winning history educator and collector of Arkansas folklore. He grew up on a cotton, soybean, and rice 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. He’s available for writing and editing gigs.