Junior Past Grand Master
Grand Lodge of Washington, IOOF
Sovereign Grand Musician
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re either 1) a fairly new Odd Fellow who is excited by the prospect of being a part of a fraternal order and eager to learn all you can about your new fraternity or 2) a curious non-member who has heard something somewhere and you’re looking for more information about this strange, secretive collection of people who call themselves “Odd Fellows.” In either case, you’re most likely here to find information about the basics of Odd Fellowship like what we do in our lodges, what our objectives are, what we do, what our symbols mean, etc. If that’s what you’re looking for, this article isn’t necessarily for you. This article is going to be most meaningful to those who are already Odd Fellows and curious about what Odd Fellowship has to offer beyond just the local lodge.
The idea and purpose of Encampments is lost on a lot of contemporary Odd Fellows. “We already go to two meetings a month. Why should we do a third?” Members with that attitude demonstrate that our Encampments either have lost their purpose or have not effectively communicated it to our newer members. The Encampment branch of Odd Fellowship is intended to be the place where more active, more experienced Odd Fellows can come together and share ideas and information with one another. It’s supposed to be a meeting of more advanced Odd Fellows who have gained wisdom from their years of service within the Order. It’s also supposed to be a place where those learned Odd Fellows can pass their knowledge and experience on to younger, newer Odd Fellows. I like to call Encampments the “think tanks” of Odd Fellowship.
The first Encampment in the IOOF was Jerusalem #1, chartered July 6, 1827 in Baltimore, Maryland. John Boyd was installed as the first Chief Patriarch and Thomas Wildey as the first High Priest. At first, this may seem odd that the Founder of North American Odd Fellowship wasn’t the first Chief Patriarch of the first Encampment. The exact reason for this choice has been lost to history. However, it makes sense that the most important Odd Fellow would have been elected High Priest given that, in the Encampment branch, the position of High Priest is held in very high esteem as the chief councilor and adviser of the Encampment. The Chief Patriarch presides at meetings but the most important elected officer is the High Priest.
That first Encampment was chartered less than ten years after Wildey brought his form of Odd Fellowship to North America. This would seem to indicate that a need for Encampments existed early in the history of Odd Fellowship. According to various historical records, the first Encampment degree, the Patriarchal Degree, came from England and was brought to America by PGM McCormick of Maryland. The second and third Encampment degrees, the Golden Rule and Royal Purple Degrees, were of American origin. It’s thought that Thomas Wildey had the idea for the degrees but collaborated with Bros. Ridgley, Boyd, and Entwistle to flesh them out. The degrees were adopted by the Grand Lodge of the United States, forerunner of the Sovereign Grand Lodge, in 1835.
The original Encampment degrees were purely lectures, similar to the Subordinate Lodge degrees. Early on in their history, however, a dramatic element was added to the Encampment degrees starting in 1845. This led to a rivalry between Lodges and Encampments as many Odd Fellows chose to participate in their Encampments instead of their Lodges because of the interest in the dramatic degrees. As a result, a dramatic component was added to the Subordinate Lodge degrees. The first Grand Encampment, that of Maryland, with Thomas Wildey as Grand Patriarch, came along in 1831. Grand Encampments were authorized to send representatives to the Grand Lodge of the United States on the same basis as Grand Lodges in 1841.
All of this history and early development of Encampments suggests that they were important to the early development of Odd Fellowship. At that time, Subordinate Lodges were concerned with their day-to-day business of visiting the sick, relieving the distressed, burying the dead, and educating the orphan. At that time, those activities were more than mere words spoken at the end of meetings. They were regular activities that members engaged in on a regular and ongoing basis. Along with those activities, Lodges were also busy with investigating and initiating new members, performing the degrees for those progressing within the Lodge, paying bills, building halls, and generally upholding their obligations. There was little time to talk about leadership strategies or discuss the symbolism and history of Odd Fellowship. Those tasks fell to the Encampments.
I was inspired to join my Encampment when I heard some of the senior members of my lodge discussing an upcoming Encampment meeting one night after our lodge meeting. Hearing them discuss something important and meaningful gave the impression that the Encampment was something I should join. That was only my first year as an Odd Fellow and I hadn’t yet received all three of my Lodge Degrees. However, the impression that I needed to join the Encampment stuck with me. As soon as I had completed my Third Degree I asked for an application and promptly applied to join Patriarchal Odd Fellowship.
The Encampment branch is commonly referred to as Patriarchal Odd Fellowship because the Encampment branch was intended to mirror the role of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament of the Bible. They were to be wise, learned shepherds guiding the development of the young Odd Fellows entrusted to their tutelage. Because of this idea the Encampment degrees are rich in the symbolism of the Old Testament. My experience definitely reflected that idea. Once I joined my Encampment I learned a lot more about the esoteric side of Odd Fellowship. That particular Encampment was very much focused on studying the history and symbolism of Odd Fellowship and provided an invaluable opportunity to learn about our Order.
In my jurisdiction the Encampments have a couple of different functions. They bring together members from multiple lodges in a given area. They serve as opportunities to train new leaders within Odd Fellowship. They give us a place to learn about the history and symbolism of Odd Fellowship. One of my favorite things about our Encampments is they give myself and other younger members a place to sit and engage our senior members and hear the stories of the Golden Age of Odd Fellowship. Those are some of the most priceless moments of any Encampment meeting.
Encampment meetings are useful and valuable. Their Degrees teach important and meaningful lessons which expand on the regular Lodge Degrees we’ve all taken. For those of you now considering putting in an application to your local Encampment, you should be aware that there are some differences between the Lodge and the Encampment. In a Lodge, the Noble Grand, Vice Grand, and desk officers are all elected officers. They’re responsible for running the business of the lodge and, as such, are the most important officers. They’re chosen by the lodge members by election and entrusted with the business dealings of the lodge. In an Encampment, the Chief Patriarch, High Priest, Senior Warden, Junior Warden, and desk officers are the elected officers. In a Lodge the Warden is an appointed position. It’s his or her job to look after all in the lodge room and ensure they are members and entitled to sit in the meeting. The Junior and Senior Wardens are part of the line officers of the Encampment, entrusted with guiding young Patriarchs on their journey of knowledge and discovery within the Encampment. Also of note is that the High Priest is an elected position, second only to the Chief Patriarch in importance. Compare this to the Lodge where the Chaplain is an appointed position and the Vice Grand is the second-ranking officer. These differences come from the differing purposes of the Lodge and Encampment. Lodges were primarily places where members met for mutual aid and counsel. They were never intended to be places of extended learning about Odd Fellowship. They were working bodies tasked with dispensing aid and creating fellowship. Encampments gave members the opportunities to do more than basic relief work and expand their knowledge of Odd Fellowship. This is why the primary officers of an Encampment are responsible for guiding and advising members as they progress in Odd Fellowship.
I find our Encampments to be a vital and useful part of the Odd Fellow experience and I commend each of you Odd Fellows reading this to get involved in the next level of Odd Fellowship. Take the Encampment Degrees and become active in your local Encampment. If you don’t currently have a local Encampment, contact your nearest Grand Encampment about the possibility of chartering a new one in your location. Our Encampment lessons are as sublime as they are useful and they do an excellent job of rounding out the experience of being an Odd Fellow.