So I went to a Rotary Club meeting…

rotaryI’d never been to a Rotary Club meeting. I’ve been invited several times and politely declined.

Until yesterday.

I’m on vacation in GA and two of my relatives are Rotary Club members. One lives here and the other is an out of town “Rotarian”. Apparently Rotary Club members are expected to attend Rotary Club meetings even when they’re on vacation. So with two invitations from two relatives, how could I say no? Especially when the meeting was being held at the local swanky country club and lunch was included?

I observed some things about Rotary Club that I’d like to share with you. Whether these things propel you toward Rotary Club or repel you from Rotary Club is something I’ll leave between you and Rotary Club.

I went into this experience with little to no expectations except for the aforementioned lunch. Upon entering the foyer of the country club, I saw a table with two pleasant-faced ladies (I’d guess in their sixties) and a case full of large, round, pin-style name tags. The case reminded me of something that would have been handed off to a spy in the middle of a bustling town square crowd in Eastern Europe in some 1960 spy movie. Had the case been closed, I would have immediately thought, “Good Lord, what could be inside that?”  Turned out, they take the protection of their nametags pretty seriously.

IMG_20150805_130511But since I wasn’t a local member, that nifty case held nothing for me. I instead got a hand-written sticker-style name tag. To be fair, it was the most substantial sticker I’d ever seen. Stiff, stout, and customized just for me.

After being introduced to the nametag table ladies by my cousin who was a local Rotary member, I moved left through a doorway into view of a beautiful spread of salad, sides, succulent roast beef, and dessert. Since the lunch was free (to me), I piled my plate high and moved to the next room: the official meeting room.

Upon entering I immediately noticed what I surmised as the average age of the crowd. More on that later. We found a table to sit at which was already occupied by a couple of “Rotarians” but with plenty of open seats left. I sat down and started in on my salad.

My cousin introduced me to those around the table. She’s the type of person who loves connecting people. I have the feeling that she probably didn’t need the nametags to know the names of those already at the table. Those I was seated with were smiley, pleasant, friendly, and smiley. Smiles all around. That was pretty much the perceived theme of the entire meeting, in fact.

I was just a few shovelfuls into my bleu cheese dressing with a hint of salad greens when I heard a very faint sound of a bell. It was a single tone that triggered a singular response from the crowd, with me a few seconds behind. Before I knew it we were on our feet. I looked longingly at my salad and quickly decided it would be inappropriate for me to try and continue eating while standing.

A well-dressed, happy man strode to the podium in the front of the room, introduced himself with some niceties, and commenced the Pledge of Allegiance.  Oooooh, THAT’S why we were standing. Patriotism. Cool. I’m down with that. (I personally like to give the words “Under God” extra punch when I recite the Pledge.) After honoring the flag, there was an invocation. Turned out it was given by a gentleman at my table. He drew a folded piece of paper from his sport jacket pocket, read his prayer, Amen’d, and returned the paper back to the same pocket. “Hmm.” I thought. “Prayer at Rotary Club. I’m DEFINITELY down with that. Even if it is read.”

After the invocation we took our seats again. This time for good. Well, for most of us anyway.

The next order of business was to introduce all visiting guests. The instruction was given to stand when your name was read and remain standing until all the guests had been introduced. Thankfully, I was last on the list. We received our applause and returned to our salad.

The same gentleman who led us in the Pledge called to anyone who had “Happy Dollars” while patting a globe on the table next to him.  As soon as that invitation rang out, a man across the room headed to the front and toward the globe. Turned out, the globe had a hole in it and as the man put in his “happy dollars”, he gave an explanation as to why he was giving those (five) “happy dollars”. I don’t remember the reason. He was immediately followed by another gentleman who also had five “happy dollars” to give, along with a reason for giving them. Again, I don’t recall his reasoning. I just remember thinking, “My dollars are happy in my pocket.” (I’m still unsure what that was for.)

After all happy dollars were collected that were being given, the speaker for the day was introduced. He’s the head coach of the local college football team. Knowing beforehand who the speaker was, I imagined that his talk would be generically inspirational; something for everyone, so to speak. A halftime locker room talk full of passion and purpose, rousing the crowd to excellence in their respective roles in the community. Oddly enough it was about football. His half hour came and went and while I wasn’t necessarily “wowed” by this pigskin orator, I absolutely appreciated his obvious fire for football and leading his players with excitement and drive. He finished his talk, took a few questions, and was thanked by the crowd of businessmen and retirees with a hearty round of applause.

At that, we rose and exited.

Okay so here’s my advice for the Rotary Club, coming free of charge from a guy who just visited one of your meetings. And since I’m someone who dwells in the world of fulltime ministry, people like me need to listen up as well. Why? Because its all relatable.

Don’t just know who you are, say who you are. And more importantly who WE are.

This is just my opinion and maybe I’m off, but I think the words “Rotary Club” convey exactly zero about the Rotary Club’s purpose. Being among all those Rotarians, I got the sense that members know why the Rotary Club exists, but there was no clear articulation of that purpose. So I was left wondering why we had gathered and based on my experience I think the purpose is for mostly older, well-off citizens to have lunch, network, give donations to something, eradicate polio, and pledge our flag. All good things for sure.

Business owners, community organizations, and churches alike: IF you’re going to have insider knowledge, don’t let anyone not be an insider. I wasn’t offended at all by the fact that everyone around me seemed to be clued in. I just would have loved to see something somewhere that helped me understand why we were all there eating salad and giving happy dollars to a globe with a hole. I know there was more to it all, but I don’t know what else that “more” includes.

Be a connector.

My time at my first Rotary Club meeting was as good as it was because of my cousin’s ability and willingness to connect people. Connecting people seems to often get relegated to those who are deemed “outgoing” or “extroverted” or just “people kind of people”. But I’d dare say that it doesn’t take much at all to say,

  • “Hi, my name is ______. What’s your name?”
  • “Do you live nearby?”
  • “What do you do?”
  • “What do you like to do when you don’t have anything to do?”
  • “Do you have any kids?”
  • “Are you reading a book right now? Would you recommend it?”
  • “I’m from out of town. What should I see before I leave?”
  • “I just saw (insert movie title) and thought it was (insert opinion). Have you seen any good movies lately?”
  • You get the idea.

Any one of those questions might likely lead to another question. And none of them are rocket science, but if you ever need help just return to this blog, read one of these questions and recommend jerrythinks to them while you’re at it.

Business owners, community organizations, and churches alike: That person who walks into your business, club, or church service is wanting one thing before all else. They want to be noticed and welcomed. If you fail at that level you don’t deserve them to return ever again. Smile. Say hello. Introduce them. Connect.

Multiply before you die.

As I looked around the room at that Rotary Club meeting, I couldn’t help but notice that 75-80% of those in attendance were 60 and older. Now, I’m not saying that the Rotary Club is knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door but unless this organization is intentional about bringing in younger Rotarians, and doing so continually, its a biological fact that Rotary Club can’t survive. But then again, it was founded in 1905, so 110 years (so far) is none-too-shabby a lifespan. I sincerely doubt that the Rotary has any plans on going anywhere anytime soon. So, let’s just chalk this white-haired-lunch up to this particular local chapter. Still, you know by now what’s coming next.

Business owners, community organizations, and churches alike: Unless you are engaging the younger of the generations along with the older, you too are looking at a very limited timeframe. I can walk into a church service and within a few minutes get a sense of how much time that local church body has left. Are there younger faces around? Is the heart of the people to reach out and connect with those who aren’t quite as far down life’s path? What is being done to engage them?

  1. Have you ever been to a Rotary Club meeting? How was is different from my experience? Was it similar at all?
  2. Which of these 3 observations resonate with you and where you are?
  3. Read this quote Rotary’s founder and think about how it relates to those of us called “church goers”: “Whatever Rotary may mean to us, to the world it will be known by the results it achieves.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

(In case you’re like me and didn’t know much at all about Rotary, here are some tidbits I learned through looking for myself.)

  • pharrisphotoStarted in 1905 by a Chicago attorney named Paul P. Harris.
  • Began and continues as a “service” organization.
  • Harris wanted a place where professionals from diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships.
  • The name “Rotary” came from the beginnings when the location of the meeting would rotate among the offices of the members.
  • A couple notable Rotarians: James Cash Penney (see it?) and Manny Pacquaio (world champion boxer and congressman) Also, presidents, senators, and astronauts.
  • Approximately 1.2 million members worldwide.
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