Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Grange Values and Principles

A member recently forwarded me a website that claims the Grange is, in essence, a satanic organization. Of course it also claims that about all other fraternal orders are also in the same category. All I’ve got to say to such claims is, Bull!

To those who have questions about Grange values and beliefs, I am happy to respond.

Does the Grange promote or oppose religion? The Grange was created and remains non-sectarian in rules and basic principles as outlined in the declaration of purposes. The Grange encourages its members to worship the Supreme Being in the way their conscience dictates. Our ritualistic work contains many direct quotations from the Bible and God is mentioned often. We have one officer called the Chaplain whose duties include prayers during the opening and closing of the Grange. One requirement for a Grange to have a legal meeting is to have a Bible open during the meeting. Our rules clearly state that denominational religious matters are not allowed to be discussed within the Grange meeting. The Grange is designed to be a place with high moral values, members are encouraged to be active in the church of their choice, and the meetings are to be neutral ground for all beliefs.

Is the Grange a secret organization? If having a password or membership card is your definition, then maybe. However, if any member can know everything about an organization then I would think that there are no secrets. In 35 years of active membership with leadership positions at all levels of the Grange, I still haven’t found any secrets. I do know many things that only members are supposed to know, which sounds like just about every other organization I am aware of. That is what most people refer to as a privilege of membership. Even this member only information is often readily available to the public if they really want it. If you don’t believe me, just check out ebay.

Does the Grange promote worship or reverence toward Greek goddesses? No. We do have three officers Ceres, Pomona, and Flora whose titles do come from Greek mythology. These three officers get their titles to show our respect for women and our regard for agriculture. These three names do carry direct connection to agriculture and the officers emblems are also tied to that connection. Ceres emblem is the sheaf of wheat, Pomona has fruit, and Flora has flowers. They remind us that women have a critical role in society and that they bring refinement and improvement to our lives. Our organization does not believe that organizations for men or women alone are as strong as one that requires both as equals.

Are there any rites or rituals in the Grange? What the Grange has is our formal ritualistic initiation ceremony for each of the seven degrees. The first four are done by the Community Grange, and the Pomona, State, and National Granges each confer one. The degrees are designed to follow one after the other. The first four are based upon the seasons of the year and the stages of life. The three that follow emphasize specific lessons that all people should live by. Grange work is demonstrated by the use of symbolism. Symbolism is an ancient form of teaching that is effective and often inspiring. As an example, the symbolism of the first degree is drawn from a farm in springtime, childhood, and the seed. The point of the degrees is to give lessons that each can use in their daily lives and to give each member the bond of friendship and fellowship as Brothers and Sisters in the Grange.

I would suggest that we don’t argue with people who are not interested in what we’ve got to say. When people have their mind made up and just want to make accusations, it is futile to try and argue. I do want our members to talk with those who have questions. We should answer questions and where we don’t know the answer, we need to find out what our rules are on that issue. After all, as our Order teaches, we need to continually learn and to strive to improve ourselves.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Planning National Session

This morning was spent meeting with the National Grange staff on primarily National Session. It doesn't seem possible that in about 20 days, we'll be in Grand Rapids. It is always interesting to be involved in planning the Session, it is never boring.

The reality is that the broad planning stage is long over. We are down to nuts and bolts planning and dealing with the surprises that seem to pop up every day. Jessie, our convention planner, is sweating out planning an event that she has never seen, but is doing great.

The lessons of planning are that: first you need the broad plan that serves as a road map. Second you break out the pieces and develop more detailed plans that are specific to each piece. Third, you adapt and change as things come together, or don't. Lastly, you implement your plan.

While it often seems difficult to have fun during this stage, you should also plan to have a bit of fun. Insert little things that will show your humor or allow others to share theirs. Never do everything the same way you did last year. Always seek some way of improving things.

Let everyone on your team be a part of the planning. Don't just work them, let them be a creative part of the planning, either specific pieces or in the broad planning. The bigger your team the more success you can achieve.

While there are still a hundred things to do, I am confident that our staff, officers, and hosts will put on an excellent National Session. We have a great team and you will have a fun, educational, and productive Session when you arrive.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

There Really is Bad Publicity

This morning I received notice that another Grange in Oregon has an article in a large newspaper talking about the decline of the Grange. Why do members who are experiencing success in their Grange speak of their Grange in a positive light but members who are giving up speak of the "Grange" as being in decline?

I get frustrated at myself, the State Grange leadership, the Pomona Grange leadership, and our long-time dedicated members when those long-time members talk to reporters and tell them all the negative things that they see. Then I remind myself that these members have given up and see no hope or future for their Grange. They must be assuming that because they haven't had success, no one else has either. Most importantly, they are not looking or listening to what is happening around the country.

The problem as I see it, is that much of our membership never looks at the big picture. Their view of the Grange organization is of the local Grange. Pomona, State, and National are viewed as almost different organizations having little relevance to them. Do they get regular communication from other Granges or the Pomona? Does the State Grange send them information or is the perception that they just want the quarterly report? Do any members of that local Grange read the communications, check the websites, or just ask for help from the State or National Granges?

I understand that National Grange can not visit each Grange, nor can we do more than provide communication through our publications, website, and many training sessions. While we have expanded our communication tool box dramatically over the past couple of years, it is still dependent upon our members to chose to open the paper or email, click on the website, view the video or blog, listen to the podcast, or show up at a meeting.

How does an organization with over 2,500 units teach their members that there is bad publicity? When a member is quoted that the Grange is dying, declining, or failing who does it hurt? It hurts all of us. Remember no one wants to join a dying organization, and the reality is that we're not dying!

There are potential members in every community. Each person has a different awareness of the Grange, some have barely heard of the Grange while others have a perception of the Grange. While their perception may not be accurate, that is the starting point for your Grange if you want to recruit them.

Newspaper stories can open doors to potential members or they can close doors. What our members say about their Grange to reporters will influence what they write in the paper or say on the radio and TV. I'd settle for a balanced story. We have some Granges failing, but we also have new Granges, and many Granges experiencing success. However, it is our job to tell the media about the good as well.

Publicity is important to your Grange. Bad publicity will hurt you, good publicity will help you. I challenge each member to share their ideas on how we can teach the members of each Grange about the importance of publicity. I ask because each member has the opportunity to contribute to the health of the Grange and this issue is critical.

Now that I've expressed my frustration with bad newspaper stories, I want to state, in my 35 years as an active Grange member, I have never seen such optimism and excitement among our members as I am seeing today. I know that it is tough for a State Master to deal with a Grange that has never asked for help and now wants to close. However, many states are building revitalization teams to aid these Granges and are achieving remarkable successes.

Don't dwell on the negatives, focus on the good things you can do. Vent when you see a negative story, but find a way to build a positive future. Listen to what others are saying, but create the future you and your members want. That is what Grange members do!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Grange is not the Meeting

I hear far too often that the meeting is the focus of a Grange. We worry about having a quorum to hold a meeting, we worry about the length of the meeting, and we worry about why members are not at the meeting. Maybe you're worrying about the wrong things?

Meetings are necessary and important, but not for themselves. The Grange is the reason for the meeting. The meeting is a tool to allow members to create action, to learn, and to socialize. The meeting isn't the important thing, it is the tool to do the important things.

The Grange is people, not a building and certainly not just a meeting. Our meetings and meeting structure are time-tested and generally the more you deviate from our normal process, the more time you use doing less.

Instead of worrying about a quorum, try worrying about why people would want to come to your meeting. Do you have fun at your meetings, do you laugh or smile a lot? Does a member who attends usually learn something new? Do your members go out of their way to make a new member or visitor feel welcome and part of your Grange?

Instead of worrying about the length of the meeting, how about worrying about the content of the meeting. Does the leadership of your Grange check to see if committees are going to have reports? Does your Grange have any unfinished or new business that has the members doing something? Remember business is where we create the action that will interest people. Are you skipping some of the orders of business to save time? If so, consider the possibility that someone is looking for that order of business.

Try worrying about the members who do attend before worrying about those who didn't show up. If those who come to the meeting get to leave the meeting with new information, a sense of accomplishment, and some good times they will share with others. The things that they will share will help create the public perception that Grange meetings are worthwhile, fun, and everyone is invited.

Take the time to look at the order of business and the meeting set up structure. You will find that it is one of the best ways to hold a meeting. Members looking at each other and with a clear plan to accomplish the variety of things that a grass-roots organization needs to do.

Remember that the meeting is not the reason for your Grange. The meeting is the tool that allows your Grange to do things. Make what you start at meetings and what you accomplish at meetings the focus of your Grange.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Our Best Days

Have you ever heard the phrase, Those were the best days? I've heard people say it about themselves and about our Grange. I don't get it. No matter how bad a day, week, or even month I may have, I always have hope that the future holds new and exciting opportunities.

If your best is behind you, then what is there to look forward to? I know a man who just celebrated his ninetieth birthday. Every time I talk to Gil he wants my opinion on current events and what each may hold for the future. If he can look forward to the future with such hope and anticipation, why can't many younger people?

Our role may change in life, but the opportunities keep coming. I always believed one of the most important things we choose to do is bring children into this world and then raise them to be good productive citizens. That phase of my life is over as my kids are grown and out in the world, but I've discovered the next phase. Grandchildren! I see that my role has changed, but the importance of what I do has not. New things, new experiences, new opportunities.

I look at the history of the Grange and see a chunk of American history. Good times, tough times, and a few ugly times. But each problem and challenge is followed by a period of renewal and growth. We just keep setting the bar higher and higher, we keep growing and improving. So with the Grange. We've been written off a number of times, and we keep coming back stronger than ever.

I believe that our best days are yet in front of us. I'm headed to Homer, Alaska to present a charter to a new Grange this week. Just try and convince those folks that our best days are behind us. The opportunities are ours for the taking, provided that we are willing to work for them. Hope and persevere, what a concept!