I’m in the process of reading a very interesting book, Josiah for President. It raises the question, “Can a plain man of faith… become the leader of America?” I’m at the point where a former congressman has given up his campaign for president and by happenstance meets Josiah, an Old-order Amishman. Clearly, the question suggests that tradition and today are going to collide and our former congressman is going to consider Josiah running for president. (If I’ve raised your curiosity, the book is written by Martha Bolton and published Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI in 2012.)
One of the reasons this book has been on my list for a while is my interest in the Amish. Another is the Grange’s ongoing challenge or reconciling tradition and today. That challenge is not limited to the Grange, certainly. Our entire political system faces it, along with us and other organizations. (I am now encouraged to purchase Girl School cookies online.) Consider how many current political debates have their roots in today versus tradition. Should we abandon the electoral college? Does the thinking of our forefathers when they included the “right to bear arms” still apply in the different world we live in?
There’s no doubt a keen value of the Grange over our history has been its role in promoting the interests of agriculture, defending the welfare of rural people, and supporting good government. Many presidents have expressed support for the Grange throughout its history. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a Granger and explained, “For many years I have been a member of the Grange. I have felt at home in it because it embodies the fine flavor of rural living, which I myself have known and loved. Beyond this, it has been an instrument for expressing in useful activity the highest sentiments and deepest loyalties of Americans.” (President Roosevelt received his Silver Star certificate in 1939-he had been invested with the honor of the Seventh Degree in 1930.)
I think Roosevelt’s explanation of his membership raises an interesting question for all members: “What is it about the Grange that makes us ‘feel at home?’” One of the reasons that might be an interesting and important question is that it requires us to learn more about the Grange and ourselves.
When my brother (who was unfamiliar with the Grange) visited several years ago, I dragged him along on a trip to the Grange Hall where I needed to perform some maintenance-related task. He and I share a love of antiques and old things, so I was pretty sure he’d appreciate the building and some of its furnishings—I left him to explore while I performed my task. When it was time to leave, I found him sitting in the foyer looking transfixed. He said, “Can’t you just picture some old bearded farmers sitting her, gathered around the stove, talking?” I could. They looked very much “at home.” The Grange was the place to meet with like-minded people-not just for the sake of meeting, but for the social opportunity to be with like-minded people in a supportive and sharing way.
Since his visit, the wood stove has been removed by order of the insurance company. But when we have a meeting or community program, people still gather on the porch in the summer or under the heating ducts in the winter. I have always been fascinated how nearly everyone wants to help when we start cleaning up after a potluck supper. There’s a warmth that doesn’t come from the sun or the furnace. It might be the “fine flavor of rural living” in action.
I don’t know if Josiah will become president—would there be an armored buggy? But I do know that the Grange needs to be a place where people feel at home. When we look to our traditions and our heritage, we have much to help us encourage that. We just have to figure out how to marry tradition and today instead of forcing them to collide.
The Grange Way: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, freedom; in all things charity.
Information regarding Roosevelt’s Grange membership and his explanation was garnered from the book, “The Grange – Friend of the Farmer” by Charles M. Gardner, published by the National Grange in 1949.
Any degree or ritual quotations are from the forty-sixth edition of the 2013 Subordinate Grange Manual. The views and opinions expressed in “Exploring Traditions” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official doctrine and policy of the Grange.