Throughout the history of the Order of the Arrow, the process of combining two or more lodges into one has been a regular occurrence. The first lodge merger happened in 1924, nine years after the OA’s founding, in which Unalachtgo Lodge of Philadelphia become a part of Unami Lodge.
Lodge mergers are a complex endeavor. For the lodges involved, it can be easy to approach them with a sense of fear, dread, or even anger. To help mitigate these emotional reactions, the role of the section is of utmost importance.
Multi-lodge mergers are significantly more complex, and require even greater effort to find solutions that all parties can be satisfied with. That is what happened in 1929, when Dr. E. Urner Goodman required the five Chicago-area lodges to merge.
Nearly 90 years later, another Chicago-area merger would be required as four lodges merged to form Takhone Lodge in 2019, after the Pathway to Adventure Council was formed in 2015. During this time, 2022 National Chief Tim Reiss played an integral part in this merger, then serving on the lodge merger committee and as Takhone’s first Lodge Chief.
To help lodge leaders and the section leaders who support them through a lodge merger, the Order of the Arrow has developed a Lodge Merger Guide. The Lodge Merger Guide lays out the big picture steps necessary to merge lodges as well as some tips and tricks to guide the process, in four key phases: pre-merger, planning, transition, and the first lodge year.
Pre-merger is arguably the most important part of the merger as it sets a future lodge up for success throughout the process.
“The biggest thing is to set those clear boundaries ahead of time and make sure you don't lose friends over it,” Tim said. “It’s the people that make this program what it is and if you forget our admonition, you're going to lose people that you shouldn't be losing,” he added.
The lodge merger committee for Takhone Lodge consisted of three youth members and one adult from each of the four lodges. As with anything in the OA, a lodge merger should be youth led and adult advised. This balance between youth leadership and adult advice was critical to the success of the Takhone Lodge merger.
As was to be expected with such a complex situation, each lodge had their own traditions that they wanted to bring into the new lodge, but not every lodge agreed on what the best course would be. One such issue was the question about ordeals at summer camp: with one side wanting to continue a lodge tradition of offering ordeals at summer camp while another side thought it best to ease into life as a new lodge by not spreading resources too thin. Ultimately, it came to a vote and the lodge decided not to conduct inductions at summer camp.
To handle the many moving parts of this endeavor, Takhone Lodge organized their merger committee of 12 into several distinct subcommittees, ranging from deciding the name and number of the new lodge to writing the structure of the new lodge executive committee and bylaws.
Reflecting on his own experience, Tim stated “I think the biggest thing was just getting people to buy into the new lodge. To be successful, I think we need more than just the PDF”…“we need people.”
The lodge merger guide is only one tool in the toolbox for lodges experiencing mergers. One of the most important pieces of the process are the section leaders who can help lodges navigate these uncharted waters.
“Section chiefs kind of need to help their lodge understand that this can be a real unique opportunity to make something new; very few Arrowmen get the opportunity to ever create a lodge,” Tim said.
By serving as a mediator, a section leader can play the most critical role in this process: helping everyone find a compromise that they are satisfied with. For Takhone Lodge, the lodge merger mediator came from outside the lodge and provided ample support and perspective to all involved in the merger.
“It’s important to have a mediator,” Tim advised, “he kind of impressed upon us that this is our lodge to make, but also at the same time, we need to make sure that it's going to be here for a while afterwards. Our mediator…was from outside any of the lodges. He was truly a natural figure who had the new lodge’s best interests in mind.”
If lodges in your section are going through a merger, you have an opportunity to help guide the process. It’s important to approach the process with a sense of empathy and respect for the soon-to-be legacy lodges and their traditions but also with a dedication to the opportunities for a continued impact of cheerful service. A lodge merger is an opportunity to build something that will serve the Arrowmen of tomorrow.
Discussing some of the tougher decisions that had to be made, Tim added “it also is important to understand that there are going to be times where you're not going to want to do something, but you're going to have to do it because it benefits the most amount of people.”
For more resources and advice on mergers, reference the lodge merger guide, which can be found on the OA’s publications page. Questions regarding the lodge merger process can be directed to Layla Spanenberg, the OA National Committee Member over Council and Lodge Integration/Mergers, by emailing @email.