Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat

After a 133-year presence in Sonora, the city chapter of the Rebekah fraternal organization has closed because of declining membership.

Sierra Rebekah Lodge 245, the sister organization to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, was shut down last month by President Sharon Burgess of the state's Rebekah Assembly, according to five-year Sonora member Judy Jackson.

"We wanted to leave it open, but we had eight members and she felt that wasn't enough," Jackson said.

The Rebekahs are a fraternal order, as well as a service organization. Members must be 16 years or older, believe in a supreme being and be faithful to their country.

According to their website, "Rebekah's exhibit the true principles of Odd Fellowship, which are Friendship, Love, and Truth, and in this day and age are extended to rendering service to our communities - service is our goal."

Before the Sierra Rebekah Lodge began suffering from a lack of members, it was an active service organization in the community. The members held bake sales and other fundraisers, donated to scholarships, assisted with Girl Scouts projects and donated to the Three Links Camp - a California Odd Fellows and Rebekah youth camp in Mi-Wuk Village.

Treasurer Troy Bahten estimated that over the past 10 years, the Sierra Rebekah Lodge has decreased by about 10 members.

Many members have died or become too old to attend meetings, and the organization has had a difficult time recruiting young members.

"The younger generation is concerned about their computer … that's how they communicate, where in the old days, it was important to get out and socialize," Bahten said.

According to Bahten, the organization was often unable to hold meetings because it was required to have five members in attendance: the noble grand, vice grand, secretary, treasurer and chaplain.

"Back in their prime, they probably had two or three hundred members," Jackson said.

Jackson said the Sierra Rebekahs are not working to reverse Burgess' decree.

"She's made her decision," Jackson said. "We can't do anything at this time."

The Grand Lodge of California collected the Sierra Rebekah Lodge books and regalia at the Odd Fellows meeting in Sonora on Wednesday night.

The Sierra Rebekahs will be able to continue their existing memberships with the Sonora Odd Fellows lodge. Individuals can be members of both organizations since the two are no longer segregated by gender.

The Rebekah organization was established in 1851 as the female counterpart to the Odd Fellows organization, which was founded in England during the 18th century, according to the Sovereign Grand Lodge Independent Order of Odd Fellows website.

Sonora IOOF Lodge No. 10 currently has about 15 to 20 members including the Rebekahs, according to Bahten, who is the vice grand of Sonora No. 10.

The Sonora Odd Fellows lodge was established in 1853, about 34 years after Odd Fellows created its first North American lodge in Baltimore, Md.The organization now has thousands of lodges across approximately 26 countries.