Earlier this month it was my family’s turn to help clean our congregation’s church building. I am not a fan.
For those of you not of my faith, the week-to-week cleaning of meetinghouses throughout the world is left in the hands of its members. The year is divided out among congregations (more than one may share a meetinghouse) and church members who volunteer or are voluntold (given an assignment) clean on specific weeks. You sweep, vacuum, mop and set up chairs so the rooms are ready for worship.
I think many faiths have the tradition of cleaning up after activities–sweeping up after a dance or putting away tables and chairs in the fellowship hall after a meal for example. Asking lay members to clean the meetinghouse sanctuary seems less common. Taken to an extreme example I do not believe the members of most megachurches can be found cleaning windows and vacuuming classrooms on a Saturday morning. Please note: I think some people would do this if asked. I just don’t think it is asked of many.
For many years cleaning church meetinghouses was a paid position. Before a the centralized budget we have today members contributed their own money to fund a congregation’s bills and activities and often funded paid custodial staff. The staff was sometimes a member of the congregation who was in need of work or other support. From my best (short google search) research it seemed that the church switched tactics in the 1990s.
Bishop H. David Burton said “This new program is pretty simple. It basically amounts to inviting members of the Church to participate in the cleaning of their buildings in such a way that by their sacrifice, they will come to honor and respect and love these beautiful houses of worship.” That’s a good theory. I do believe that by cleaning the building I serve God and show respect. But based on what I have seen it’s still not how many people appear to feel. I hate doing it. My kids often hate doing it, and starting a Saturday morning with a fight about window cleaning is not a recipe for success. I think our buildings are dirtier than they should be and don’t always make a good impression. In the realm of what the church funds it’s not a huge expense (I am totally guessing. If scouting is off the table can we take that money and have someone else get their Hoover on for part of the year?) There are days, however, that if I were to have a faith crisis it would be precipitated by cleaning my meetinghouse. Few things cause me to question my commitment like being the only one to show up to clean a something no one cared enough to leave in a semi-clean state to begin with. Not feelings that you should feel as a result of providing service.
Here are a few things that everyone could do to make the the experience a little bit better.
1. Show up
Assignments or volunteer slots are provided in advance. Sometimes you can pick your own day. If you can’t make it on your day it means fewer people have to do the same work. Or it won’t get done. Communicate with those assigned with you. Swap with someone else. One reason buildings don’t look clean? Too few people show up and those who are there give up. I know I have. And if you don’t want to do it? Most people don’t. Show up. The adage “many hands make light work” applies.
2. Leave it the way you found it
I went to clean once and the adult Sunday School room was totally unorganized. The piano had been moved into the hall. The orientation of the room was flipped so all the chairs were turned 90 degrees from normal. The main table had been shimmied out of the room and wedged into a tiny classroom next door. I once worked at a meetings and special events facility. Rooms were always emptied or returned to a standard set-up at the end of a scheduled event. Just put it back and don’t leave it for someone else to rearrange a full room. If you have a major ward fiesta cultural dance-a-bration extravaganza super Saturday AFTER people have already come to clean for the day plan accordingly.
3. Take out the trash
If you generate refuse that is significantly more than just throwing a tissue in a trash can take out the trash! I have been to clean when trash cans are full of an entire seminary (early morning weekday Sunday school for teens) donut repast with crumbs everywhere. (see also number 2). The congregations in my cousin’s building were told if they didn’t clean up their act food would be banned from the building (vermin, party of 500?). If you have a significant mid week activity? Take out the trash. If you are there on a Wednesday and change a diaper that will make the diaper pail a superfund reclamation site by Saturday? Take. out. the. trash.
4. Make it easy to clean
My best building cleaning experiences have involved well-defined cleaning responsibilities. One congregation had cards you wore around your neck with a task that could be completed in 20-30 minutes. If enough people came you were done when your task was. Sometimes you had to get another one. Another time cleaning coordinators organized the cleaning and actually hid candy in the room for kids to find as they helped. There was even a little bin with all the tools you needed to do the task. Granted the latter was a well-staffed ward with people who were really dedicated to building cleaning. But it was nice. No one will come if you show up and there is a single sign that says “clean the church.” Have cleaning supplies labeled and organized. One building had the 3 different sizes of trash liners labeled in Comic Sans (how whimsical!). Instead of labeling spray cleaners light, medium and heavy duty maybe call them windows, floors and counters? And no one CAN show up (see number 1) if the building is locked on arrival. My entire family waited almost 45 minutes for someone to open the building and then left because the key wasn’t showing up until the time we had to clean in our schedule had passed.
When something falls through in any of these 4 points I have a hard time feeling Christlike love for people in my congregation or any of the congregations in my building. Why did you spill your yogurt in the entry way and not take the time to clean it up yourself? Why did leave your half-dead flowers in the chapel? They are not pretty. Why did you bring glitter ANYWHERE INTO THE CHURCH BUILDING AT ALL let alone complete what appeared to be a princess disco glitter ball craft on a chapel pew!
I wish we could pay a janitor to do it. I think buildings would be cleaner and better reflect who we aspire to be as a people. It would also spare me feeling that the people who sit next to me as I take the Lord’s Supper are jerks. It was YOU who pushed out the piano. Wasn’t it! WASN’T IT!
Most of my gripes focus on having respect for what is the Lord’s and for your fellow church members–it’s what Bishop Burton was getting at. I recognize that me judging others is part of the problem. I should just focus on doing what I need to do but I am only a human trying to improve. Even though I hate it I still bring my family to clean the church because I want it to be clean when I come on Sunday morning. (If you have the last meeting of the day in the building all bets are off regarding cleanliness–sorry). It’s part of what I can do to show respect for God. It’s a way I can teach my kids that we can show respect for things that are not ours.
So there you have it. Just take out the trash next time you are there. Please?