The Grand Lodge for Europe, its history and idea - and the meaning of the Grand Lodge as an important link in the international Odd Fellow Order

There is no Odd Fellow community without International Odd Fellow community. A community, in which the European jurisdictions have always played an active – and in many connections – decisive part.

In order to systematize the article a little, I will outline the most important elements in the international cooperation throughout the times, as it has looked with European eyes:

  • ”Nordic Grand Sire Meeting” with participation from the five Nordic jurisdictions Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland.
  • ”South European Grand Sire Meeting” with participation from Switzerland, The Netherlands/Belgium and Germany.
  • From app. 1900 – 1990 : ”European Grand Sires Conference” with participation of the European jurisdictions at that time.
  • From 1990: ”The Federation of Independent European Jurisdictions” (hereafter called The Federation), which has today become ”The European Grand Lodge” (hereafter called GLE). The participants are here, except for the five Nordic jurisdictions, the jurisdictions from Belgium/The Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.
  • ”European Rebekah Leaders Association” (hereafter called ERLA), with participation of the European sisterly leaders.
  • “International Council” (hereafter called I.C.) with participation of ”The Sovereign Grand Lodge” (hereafter called SGL), ”International Assemble Rebekah Institution”
    (hereafter called IARA), ”The European Grand Lodge”, (hereafter called GLE), as well as ”Grandlodge for Australasia”.   
  • ”Sovereign Grand Lodge” , at the yearly conferences of which Europe throughout the years has been represented by one – and mostly – more jurisdictions. The connection between SGL and GLE takes place through the office ”Deputy Sovereign Grand Master”, who is the Grand Sire for GLE at any time being in force.
  • ”The Australian Asiatic Grand Lodge”.

But I will allow myself to concentrate on the so-called ”Federation of European jurisdictions” – now ”The Grand Lodge for Europe” – and “International Council” – and then more or less sporadically mention the other mentioned parts of cooperation.

”The Federation of Independent European Jurisdictions of The Odd Fellow Order, I.O.O.F.” was constituted in 1990 in Lucerne, Switzerland and was amongst others a result of many years’ considerations about the connection between the European jurisdictions and SGL,  but especially a result of considerations about the future of the Odd Fellow Order in Europe.

For many years before 1990, representatives for Europe had with concern looked at the decline of the Odd Fellow Order on the Norh American Continent, and had at innumerable meetings and  speeches in SGL tried to influence our American brothers to do something radically, but unfortunately it was impossible to make SGL realize the necessity of changes – and even this lack of response from SGL became – as mentioned already – one of the reasons for establishing ”The Federation”.

In 1988 the European jurisdictions decided to form their own association, or rather to strengthen the cooperation, which already existed through the so-called ”European Grand Sire’s Conference”.

It has not been possible for me to find out, when the meetings between the European Grand Sires started, but in the Danish Grand Sire Petrus Beyer’s written report from the fourteenth session of the Danish Grand Lodge in 1903, the following can be read:

”At the fifth conference of the European Grand Sires were present in Copenhagen on 17th – 18th May 1902 Grand Sire Laurentz, Sweden, Grand Sire Gerlach, Germany, Grand Sire Philips, The Netherlands and Grand Sire Petrus Beyer, Denmark. Grand Sire Hengst, Switzerland, had with general regret had to send his apologies”.

Out of this can be seen that the European cooperation is almost as old as the presence of the Order in Europe.
As previously mentioned the first thoughts were to form a Grand Lodge for Europe, but it was decided to form a Federation, and the first drafts of regulations and by-laws were treated in 1988-1989. Upon a lot of written communication, an extraordinary meeting in ”European Grand Sire’s Conference” was held, when the final drafts were agreed upon, and the first board was elected as follows: As President Grand Sire Preben O. Rasmusssen, Denmark, as Vice-President Grand Sire Daniel Corrodi, Switzerland, as Secretary Grand Secretary Thomas Jessen, Denmark, and as Treasurer Grand Sire Dag Wallen, Sweden.
It should here be mentioned that The Federation was formed in a way that only the brotherly part of a jurisdiction could be represented. This lead to the fact that the European Rebekah Assembly two years later – in 1992 – created European Rebekah Leaders Association. Today it definitely looks somewhat different – but hereabout later.

As previously noted ”The Federation” primarily was created, because an organization was needed, which could stick together the Order in Europe and control, how the individual jurisdictions represented – or did not represent – the Order externally. At the same time the jurisdiction accepted its commitment to spread the Order in amongst others the Eastern Europe. Therefore on the first conference of The Federation four committees were established:

1.    Committee for spreading the Order to countries in Europe
2.    Committee for humanitarian tasks
3.    Committee for rituals and religious aspects
4.    Committee for international relations

In the period with The Federation, one of the results in the committee work was amongst others the new ”Unwritten Work” issued in 2002. Gradually there came many lodges in Poland,  Estonia,  Czech Republic and Spain, also having their source in initiatives in The Federation. Overall it is still worked with the mentioned four subtopics in the new Grand Lodge for Europe.
By the way in respect of the endeavours of the Federation to establish lodges in European countries, in which no Grand Lodge existed,  this work required an agreement with SGL, as The Federation did not want SGL to establish lodges in Europe according to American model. This led to certain disputes between SGL and The Federation. Disputes, which we on the European side thought were settled with the agreement, signed by both parties in 2001, the so-called ”Accord”. Unfortunately it quickly turned out that SGL did not interpret the Accord in the same way as we did, for which reason an amendment of the wording in the Accord became absolutely necessary.

A proposal of amendment on this subject should have been treated on a meeting in I.C. April 2005, but because of a completely unexpected reaction from I.C.’s American repre- sentatives, this meeting turned out to elapse quite differently from the expectations, but before I continue, it will be relevant to place I.C. in the worldview of the Order.
This organization was amongst others created to re-establish the lost physical and orderly connection between the two big Odd Fellow areas America and Europe, which had not only, but also because of the 2nd world war, lost contact to each other. The initial meeting about establishing I.C. was held in May 1947 in Baltimore in the state of Maryland. The following constituting meeting in I.C. was held in Copenhagen from 2nd to 6th May 1949. The first act was to elect a president – and the election fell on the Danish Grand Sire Knud Nielsen.

PSGM Charles Wheeler started the meeting in Copenhagen with the following  prophetic words: ”In the next few days,our deed here will write history for our Order, either bad or good.  If we act wise and unselfish, our endeavours will be crowned with luck, and our Order will get honour thereof.  If we act selfish,and each jurisdiction tries to secure themselves on the others’ expense, we will fail, what is expected from us and the brothership will know to value our mistake”,  unquote.

It soon appears by reading the minutes from I.C.’s meetings throughout the years that the most fruitful is reading the different reports of the jurisdictions, telling about the daily Odd Fellow work around the world.
But these reports at the same time give the impression that I.C. never became the forum, which could lead the development in the world’s jurisdictions towards a whole.

It is also rather symptomatic that the following note in the minutes is rather usual: ”Now action taken by the Council”!
At the I.C. meeting in 1957 ”The Grand Lodge for Australasia” asks for membership, but not before 1963 this part of the world was represented.

In 1993 Brother Grand Secretary Ian Witton, even from Australasia, airs for the first  time his thoughts about a new and more powerful I.C., as it had been realized that an organization, represented by all elected brotherly grand officers from the whole world’s jurisdictions, and who only met all three years, did not have a chance to play a role. In 1996 same Br. Witton was elected President for I.C., which gave him the platform needed  to promote his thoughts about a new I.C.

As a result of Brother Ian Witton’s work, the old I.C. was decommissioned in 1999:

At the same time, the present I.C. was established as it was hoped to be a stronger organization without the same stifling bindings to SGL, which the first I.C. had. The development on I.C.’s meeting in 2005, to which we will return right away, seems to show that we might be on the right way.

The new I.C. consists of 3 representatives from SGL, 2 from the American Rebekah Institution, I.A.R.A., 2 from Australasia and 4 from The Federation, 2 sisters and 2 brothers. The organization meets at least once a year!

The very big difference between the old and the new I.C. is that the sisters for the first time sit in an international Odd Fellow organization.

And then back to 2005. We find ourselves in Chicago, at the new I.C.’s 6th ordinary meeting, and on the agenda is as previously mentioned a proposal of amendment to the Accord, which The Federation has with SGL, an Accord which the parties understood differently in respect of the right to establish lodges in areas, having no Grand Lodge. This proposal of amendment never was discussed, as the representatives from SGL, at great surprise for the representatives from Europe, gave us the following proposal:  Ask SGL for a charter for a European Grand Lodge. This will make Europe equal negotiator towards SGL,  which will consider a charter a much more important document than the present Accord. Inofficially one of the participants said it in the following way: ”SGL must give Europe a charter, in order that a new ”Grand Lodge for Europe” can be the base for the international Odd Fellow Order of the future. This role SGL can no longer play”!

When we from Europe had recovered from the shock, all agreed upon the following battle plan:

1.    The Federation should before the end of 2005 agree upon a wording of a request for a charter to an European Grand Lodge
2.   This request should be sent to I.C.’s meeting in June 2006
3.   The request should be dealt with on SGL meeting in August 2006

And as we all know, on the meeting in 2006 SGL decided in unanimity to work out a charter to an European Grand Lodge, which was subsequently instituted in Oslo in June 2007.

And then back to The Federation: As previously said this organization has had many different  aspects of the Order on its agenda, and fruitful discussions have taken place between the jurisdictions. But gradually as many Grand Lodges in Europe got more and more aware that a significant argument for many members in the future was to show the world that the Odd Fellow Order was both for women and men, and that all members had equality in the Order, it also became clear for the Federation that the separation of the members : The Federation for brothers and ERLA for sisters - no longer was expedient.

For the clarity it must be mentioned that ERLA – i.e. the sisterly pendant to The Federation – had no rights except for clear sisterly matters – but could be considered a committee under the Federation.

At the yearly meeting of the Federation in Helsinki in 2002, it was agreed upon to set up  a committee, which at the meeting in 2003 should present a draft to new rules for the Federation, so that this hereafter should represent both the European sisters and brothers.

Such new rules were agreed upon at the yearly meeting in 2004 – and as a consequence of this ERLA was abolished.
It was this expanded Federation, which in 2007 was replaced by ”The Grand Lodge for Europe”.

The Grand Lodge for Europe:

This Grand Lodge consists of the present 9 independent European Grand Lodges: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Switzerland, The Netherlands/Belgium, Germany and Poland (mentioned after number of members).
The most important purposes are:

  1. To safeguard the Order’s traditional use of ethic instruction, ceremonies, signs
    and symbols.
  2. Exchange of information.
  3. Prepare strategic plans for securing the future of the Order.
  4. Secure that the charter, traditional rituals and the Secret Work remain the superior basis for Odd Fellowship among GLE’s members.
  5. Secure European unit, cooperation and respect for the international development of The Independent Odd Fellow Order, and to keep all the rights, advantages and duties, being a consequence of the Odd Fellow – membership.

The supreme authority of The Grand Lodge is the ”Grand Lodge Conference”, holding ordinary meeting every year in May or June.

To the yearly conference each jurisdiction sends 2 representatives, 1 sister and 1 brother. Every second year, at the regular meetings, the ”Grand Lodge Conference” shall elect the European Grand Officers. The conference elects together with the election of officers 2 committees, one for brotherly and one for sisterly matters. Even so The Conference appoints a youth committee, consisting of 1 member for each jurisdiction.

The financing of GLE comes from the subscriptions from the 9 jurisdictions as follows:

  1. The basic contribution of not less than 1.500 euros, which is paid by each jurisdiction in equal parts.
  2. The supplementary contribution, which is paid by each jurisdiction in accordance with formula C = J & T x (A – B) where
    C = the contribution of the national jurisdiction
    J = the amount of sisters and brothers in a national jurisdiction
    T = the amount of sisters and brothers of all European jurisdictions together
    A = the budget that is decided by the Grand Lodge Conference
    B = the total basic contribution as referred to in this paragraph

Dear sisters and brothers: The most important element in this whole Grand Lodge construction is not the officers of this Grand Lodge. No, it is the 100.000 sisters and brothers all over Europe. For them, GLE has been built, it is hopefully them that will have pleasure and use of it.

It is important that the European Grand Lodge is seen by our member jurisdictions as a Grand Lodge, whereto they can come, looking for advice and guidance for the work of the individual jurisdiction towards the common target. It is important that the member jurisdictions understand and feel that the Grand Lodge is there for them.

Here is a big task for the 2 times 9 representatives, that the jurisdictions every year send to the meeting in GLE, the yearly Conference. These representatives must take care that our jurisdictions are well informed about what GLE is doing, in order that it will not become some remote and uninteresting size without connection to the sisters and brothers, paying the party – and hopefully should become value for the money.

Dear sisters and brothers, GLE also wants to see the European part of the Odd Fellow Order as a part of the international Odd Fellow Order, therefore GLE has from the very first day said to the Sovereign Grand Lodge, to the Grand Lodge of Australasia and to International Council: You can count with us in your endeavours to perform the requirements of the Order.

We have not created GLE to isolate ourselves from the rest of the Odd Fellow world, we have created it, in order that it can together with all sisters and brothers make a difference in the world.

I wish for all of us that The Grand Lodge for Europe will solve its tasks to the pleasure of all sisters and brothers, to the benefit of our jurisdictions and the best for our Order.

It will later be brought an article about the work in GLE,  as it goes right now.