As we’re rounding up the topic of keeping our meetinghouses clean, our first letter today comes from a long-time building custodian.  The custodians are the ones who have seen it all, so her letter is especially welcome today.  But read on afterwards, because other Meridian readers have good ideas to share.

I’ve been a meetinghouse custodian for 15 years and have seen a lot.  For the most part, the buildings I clean have been kept up pretty well.  There are always members who take great care and those who don’t. As for a stingy FM Supervisor, they have a budget to work within, and mine is the best supervisor ever!

Since cleaning the buildings is a priesthood program, it is the stewardship of stake presidents and bishops to see that building cleaning is done by the members.  It seems that each ward has its own way of organizing and getting the members to do their part.

I personally try to let people know ways that will help them in their stewardship as I see them in the buildings. They have always seemed to appreciate my advice. I have been able to meet many wonderful folks during my years as a custodian, which is a real benefit for me.

Now that the meetinghouse custodial positions will all be eliminated by the end of December, members will have all the responsibility of cleaning.  It is a learning process of teaching and patience. Yes, some people will treat the buildings just like they do their homes _ which means it will be messy (or clean).  In the grand scheme of things, we are just spiritual beings having a human experience and we’ll all make it with love and forgiveness.

Today, as I was in my buildings, I noticed that several urinals obviously hadn’t been cleaned for a long time.  It is hard for me to not get in and do it!  But it’s not my job anymore, and I have to let the members reap the consequences of their actions.

Thanks for letting me sound off. I hope this has given a different perspective. I really love our meetinghouses and have been so blessed to have had this job for all these years.  What a great job! I love our members!

Sandi Wilke

What a good attitude you have, Sandi!  Not all custodians are so upbeat.  But as you think of whose house you’re cleaning, it really does become a labor of love.  Thanks, too, for being insightful enough to let your ward members reap the consequences of their actions.  We don’t learn if we aren’t inspired to do so.

And if it weren’t enough to hear from a real, live custodian, we actually got a letter from someone in Facilities Management.  It’s icing on the cake!

Thank you so much for that timely article!

As you can see by the email address, I work for the Church. I actually am an office assistant in a Facilities Management office, so all of those comments were great! It is wonderful to see all of the different perspectives, especially as we go through these changes.

We plan to use some of the comments in our “future” training that we give to our building and stake PFRs as they begin to take over major responsibility for overseeing the cleaning of the buildings. Lots of wonderful ideas!  Thanks again.

Martha Young
Office Assistant
Roanoke Virginia FM Group

Another upbeat letter!  Thanks, Martha!  I feel as though church members must be doing something right if people who have the most reason to be discouraged about the facilities are so excited about their jobs.  

I had no idea what a PFR was until I googled it and found “Physical Facilities Rep.” Now I’m smarter than I was when I woke up this morning, which is always a good thing.

And here’s another letter from someone whose job it is to manage the buildings of the Church;

I found the article about the cleanliness of our meetinghouses quite timely, since the custodial positions have now been eliminated in our region of the Church.  As an employee of the Church in the facilities management office in our area, I also have experience from the “other” side.  

What I think is vital for all Church members to understand is that President Hinckley, clear back in 1994, issued a letter to the stakes, wards, and members that said that in order for the youth to increase their reverence for the Lord’s meetinghouses, it was now the responsibility of the members, especially the quorums and groups of youth, to clean the buildings.

Reverence for the building was matched with cleaning them.  The idea did not take hold, mainly because the ecclesiastical leaders have not been leading from the front.  

It is difficult for busy stake and ward leaders to accept the fact that they have temporal responsibilities for the buildings.  Although I understand that people come first in the minds of our church leaders, they are not asked to do this alone.  There are callings and assignments that can be made to facilitate the work that needs to be done.  If the leaders are not leading, explaining the new sacrifices and responsibilities that the members have pertaining to the cleaning of the building, then the members will simply dismiss the whole idea as an excuse that “stingy” facilities managers use to get others to do their work!  

Not enough thought and time have been devoted to making this program work.  As with all programs, this must be tailored to the needs of the individual wards and branches, but President Hinckley wanted the youth to be involved in all of it.  

With consistent organization and willing members, the work of cleaning our buildings will be a success, and most importantly, the reverence for the Lord’s house will increase.  This isn’t rocket science; it isn’t a punishment. Members are being asked to make a sacrifice of time and effort.  In my opinion, it is all a part of the weeding out process.  Some will help, others will ignore the Prophet’s call to serve.

Cris Braun
Office Assistant
Peoria Illinois FM Group

Thanks for your letter, Cris.  In our ward, the youth do empty the trash cans, take down the chairs, and clean up after the meetings.  But the ward doesn’t know this is happening, because nobody has ever told them.  Your letter has inspired me to find some way to give them some public recognition for this _ not just so people will be aware of the work they are doing, but also to inspire them to continue their excellent work.

Here’s my 20-minute reflection.  After re-reading the list, I now call this the “Seven Principles of a Highly Reverent/Clean Church Building.”

1. Keeping the building clean starts at the top.  Bishoprics and stake presidencies must set the tone and expectations.  It’s just that simple.  If there is not a “culture” of cleanliness, by default you get a “culture of clutter, clash, (and crap, if you can say that here).”  Sadly, it is a rude slam-dunk deal.

2. Our building was not abused as much as it was heavily used while, simultaneously, some seeping subtle matters of cleanliness were ignored.  To bring up the “standard of cleanliness” in our shared-by-two-wards building, we set up a day when the full Saturday morning was devoted to deep, deep cleaning of the building.  As many people as we could possibly convince to show up, did.  At least 120 came _ plus persons receiving temporal assistance.  A list of about 45 different assignments was made by me (bishop at the time) and we cleaned, cleaned, cleaned, hand scrubbed most horizontal and vertical surfaces and junctions thereof, cleaned and oiled all wood surfaces in the building, cleaned flower beds and shrubs, even wet wiped tops of doors, cleaned normally unseen (to us, but seen by the Lord) spots, and so on.  When we were done, it felt (sight, smell and spirit) like a temple.  All who cleaned were nobly edified and satisfyingly fulfilled.  To this day, four months later, the building is still at a higher level of cleanliness than when we started the cleaning.  The new bishops in our two wards plan to do this type of cleaning every six months.  Reasoning: It is easier to maintain a level than to dig deep into the pit to bring the building back up to a temporary level of cleanliness.

3. Set a tone and levels of expectation of reverence for all those who use the building.  Reverence spawns respect; respect spawns cleanliness and order (akin to D&C 88:119).

4. If you see something on the floor, pick it up.  I was in a high school as a guest once and I walked by a piece of paper.  In a humble yet bold way, a student remarked, as he picked up the paper, “Sir, in this school, we pick up all garbage.



”  Good for that student and the school administration that set this incredibly positive and empowering level of accountability and ownership!

5. Think of and teach regularly that the church building is a place of worship first, second, third and everything else fourth.  If not, the lowest common denominator will push the building down to a “recreational facility” first, second, third, and fourth, and you may be able to squeeze it back up to a soothing and peaceful “place of worship” on Sundays (if you’re lucky).

6. How people treat a building is often a reflection of what is happening at home.  Some people’s idea of “clean” is another person’s pigpen.  Patience, repetition, and love will be needed to teach and lift.

7. Decide in ward council to set the tone, direction, frequency, acceptable appearance, responses to/for the “feel” for the Lord’s House that you are privileged to be in.  It is the Savior’s.  “Feeeeeeeel” that statement.  Feeeeeeel it way down deep.  Our way of handling the building is a direct reflection of where we personally (and potentially, collectively) are in our regard for sacred matters.  May we be wise.  Feel.  Do.  Be blessed.

Murray Meszaros
AKA Anon E. Moose

Thanks for a great list, ex-Bishop Moose.  I’m sure a lot of bishops will take note of your experience and go and do likewise.

This next letter brings up a point I hadn’t considered:
Sometimes, there are groups of people who use a meeting house a lot because they don’t have suitable facilities at home.  They live in small apartments, or they have so many people living together in one house that to have any sort of extended family gathering in their own space is too difficult. So, these events end up at the church building because it feels like a second home to them.

Unfortunately, some people aren’t the most careful housekeepers in the world, and so they don’t clean up the church facilities any better than they take care of their own living quarters. But, that said, who is giving church keys to all these people that were referenced in the original letter?  It sounds like there isn’t enough supervision of the building by those in leadership positions.

As to the problem with getting enough families to clean on a regular basis: in the different wards in which I’ve lived (we moved a lot because of my husband’s job) I have served on ward councils often, and here was their solution.  Building cleaning was assigned to whichever family(s) received welfare aid, and then another family was assigned with them to help.

Our buildings were always cleaned every week.  There was a list of required jobs. There was always a “supervisor” designated.  All other people were the “helpers” and were to follow directions.  It was carefully (and tactfully) managed.  We made the assignments for several months out, and if a conflict arose, a family could switch with someone else. It was always made clear to the welfare recipients that this was their opportunity to contribute to the Lord in gratitude for the goods and money that were given them from consecrated funds.

The other really significant aspect of having every family participate in cleaning is to create a sense of ownership in each person who uses the building. When you clean up other people’s messes, you don’t want to be the one creating a mess for someone else. You know there it isn’t some anonymous custodian being paid to clean, but it is someone just like you who will be scrubbing or sweeping.  I’ve seen Primary-age children admonish a peer to pick up trash or wipe their feet before coming in because that child had been a cleaner and he felt personally responsible for the condition of our church.  

It sounds like it’s time to change things in her stake/region and someone should speak up. There’s a chain of command — someone is ultimately in charge. Figure out who, and work with them to create a sense of community about your building. It’s easy to be messy if you think it’s somebody else’s job to clean up.

A Sister in Nevada

Great letter, Nevada.  I loved your clincher of, “It’s easy to be messy if you think it’s somebody else’s job to clean up.”  But there was an idea of even greater worth, which was your observation that, “It was always made clear to the welfare recipients that this was their opportunity to contribute to the Lord in gratitude for the goods and money that were given them from consecrated funds.

That applies not just to the recipients of church welfare, but also to all of us, because all of us are recipients of the blessings of God.  If we remember how richly blessed we are to have meetinghouses, and realize that those blessings aren’t a right but a privilege, perhaps all of us can treat our meetinghouses just a little better.

We have three units in our building, which is also the stake center. I’ve tried to talk about this with our bishop and our previous bishop, but didn’t get the response I thought I would.  Maybe, in their bishopric training meetings, they’re asked not to chide the members about cleaning up after themselves.
Our ward presently meets in the middle three hours, so this year we have a ward in the chapel before us and one after us.  I try to get in the chapel, as soon as most of the members from the previous ward have left, to pick up their programs, pens, pencils, crayons, felt pens (which parents should know are an accident just waiting to happen), baby toys, books, scriptures, Cheerios (both the whole and the crushed varieties), and so on, and so on.  We were able to get the stake facilities person to buy us a small Bissell, which we keep in the sacrament prep closet. It makes it a whole lot easier to pick the “crushed variety” of Cheerios.
At one point a couple years ago, the ward meeting before us had someone assigned to do the cleanup of the chapel, but he moved and hasn’t been replaced. With the two of us cleaning the chapel, it only took us about five minutes, that was nice.
Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not writing this, to chastise the leadership of the wards or stakes, but to bring the problem to the attention of the families.  They may think their children don’t see them walking out of the chapel and leaving a mess on the benches and the floor, but the kids will learn by the example of their parents.  A far better example for the children to emulate would be for them to see their parents, not just picking up their own mess, but on the way out, if there’s a mess ignored by someone else, stop and pick up the program left on a bench, straighten out the books and later, maybe on the way home, talk to the children about it. Look around and see how you can help, make that extra effort, as though the Prophet were going to be attending with the next Ward.
My motto is; “Leave every part of the Lord’s house better than when you found it!”
From our Ward’s “Picker-upper”

Thanks for a great letter, Picker-upper.  If all of us were as diligent as you, the meetinghouses would always be clean _ and “Cheerios of the crushed variety” would be a thing of the past.

I, too, have difficulty with this issue.  I often tell others that we never know when there will be visitors to our building _ members, nonmembers, or even the Lord himself.  What kind of impression we leave our building in says a lot about us, and we don’t want to leave a negative impression.  

The only thing I can suggest is to start teaching children young. I was three years old when the El Dorado chapel was built, with members (at least in part) contributing toward the labor.  I remember my dad walking me through the halls just prior to the building’s completion and seeing the carpet rolls, ready to be laid, and the area where the organ would be placed.  

I remember sitting cross-legged on the carpet as a Sunbeam because we did not yet have chairs, with paint so fresh on the walls that we children were told not to touch the walls because they might still be tacky.  I remember the adults talking to us about how special our building was, and the importance of caring for the building.  

Perhaps the hardest lesson was the one learned by when my brothers and I (along with other children) damaged the building.  We were playing with the carts used to stack chairs, (something we’d been told repeatedly not to do) and in so doing, accidentally knocked the cart against a wall, chipping the tiles from off of the wall.

  Our parents used that moment as an opportunity to teach us about reverence and respect for the Lord’s house.  Until the damage was repaired, those missing two tiles (two square inches of damage) were a reminder to us of the importance of obedience, and of how our lack of reverence had caused our beautiful building to be damaged.  Although I was only about five years old at the time, I will never forget that lesson for as long as I live.

My brothers and I knew about how special our building was because Mom told us about growing up “in the mission field” in far-away Trenton, Ontario, Canada.  They had to rent a building that was a dance hall on Saturday nights, which meant that my grandfather (who was the branch president) had to get up early to bring his family to clean up the beer bottles, sweep the floors, and set up chairs so the branch members could worship.  

Another sister, Virginia Bird, often told us as youth how one day President David O. McKay visited a meetinghouse.  Seeing some litter on the ground, he stooped to pick it up and throw it away.  A member, seeking to prevent the prophet from having to do such menial labor, told him that he shouldn’t have to do that.  She said that she heard him say: “Of course I have to.  I’m a member of the Church as well, and it is my responsibility to keep the Lord’s house clean.” She told us, “If it is important enough for the Prophet of God to clean the building, then we must each do our part.”

Adults of all sorts (and not just our parents) told us to walk quietly in the halls (and not run or play) because this was Heavenly Father’s house.  They told us that if we wanted to play, we should go outside or into the cultural hall.  When we ran in the flowerbeds, adults reminded us that we needed to stay on the lawns or the sidewalks.

I seldom see even parents asking their kids to walk and not play or run in the church anymore.   I see children playing hide-and-seek in the planters, and nobody even looks askance!  Most of the time I feel that I’m the only adult that takes the time to remind the children that the building is our Father in Heaven’s house, and that we must be reverent and not run in the halls or play in the gardens.  I’ll often be standing mere feet away from the children’s parents, who smile indulgently as their children behave irreverently and destroy the building/gardens, and who get upset with me when I remind the children that this is Heavenly Father’s house and to treat it with reverence and respect!

Parents now have the marvelous opportunity of teaching their kids to care for their chapels because we are asked to help clean the buildings.  One family in our ward brings their young children with them. Usually one parent will take turns minding the littlest ones while the other parent escorts his/her older charges to help with their tasks.  One child accompanies an adult to empty the garbage cans while another “helps” his/her parent to wipe the chalkboards clean. What a perfect opportunity for a parent to instruct a child about keeping our building clean by being Heavenly Father’s hands, about making this an inviting place for members and visitors alike!

When I was a little kid, we didn’t have that opportunity, because there were paid janitors.  But I remember being instructed to carefully use the wastebaskets and to make sure not to bring food or drink outside of the kitchen or cultural hall, and that if we spilled, to go and clean up our messes.  

When we were very young, I remember my parents having us clean up our mess of spilled Cheerios from the bench after sacrament meeting or Sunday School’s opening exercises.  We began early on to help pick up and stack the chairs. It was a rite of passage to first be allowed to help stack the adult chairs, then the tables, or to finally be allowed to sweep or mop the floors.  As young women, it was our job to help clear tables at ward suppers.

  Our rite of passage was being told that we were now responsible enough to do more than clear tables, but were now allowed to wash dishes.  We knew it was a great privilege to be thought responsible enough to take on the work of the grown women in our ward.

What kind of examples are we setting for our children today?  Are we setting the example of the family who brings their young children to clean, or the example of those who shirk their responsibilities?  Nowadays I not only don’t see adults asking their children to help, but instead see adults gathering their kids to leave early so they don’t have to help with the cleanup.  

Recently, a parent dropped off her teens to help clean the building while making her own escape from the chore. (At least she dropped them off, but how much better might it have been had she set the example by working side-by-side with her charges?)  It is no wonder that our children grow up thinking that they have all rights/privileges and no responsibilities!

This month it is our ward’s turn to clean the building.  It was our turn on the day we had houseguests, and it was very inconvenient.  Unable to switch shifts with anyone, we left our guests early in the morning and went and cleaned anyway, only to find out afterward that our shift had changed and that we needn’t have come in that day.  Our new shift was scheduled three weeks later, so now we have the opportunity to clean the building twice in a month.  

Yes, this would have been our only weekend together as a couple this month, and yes, I’d rather spend it with my husband on the camping trip that we had planned.  But the Lord has given us so many blessings, the chapel we worship in being one of them.  No, it is not convenient for us to clean twice in a month, but we will go anyway, because it is our way of telling the Lord thank you.  It is our opportunity to be the Lord’s hands.  And besides, as King Benjamin reminded his people, the Lord will pay for our obedience in additional blessings.  

Glad to be the Lord’s Hands
Stockton, California

Thanks for reminding us, Glad, that the next generation isn’t going to learn to clean (the meetinghouses or their homes) unless we set the example for them, and that if we treat the task as a privilege it will seem like less of a chore.  Excellent letter!

I’m another dismayed member regarding the way members treat our ward building. At least three times a month I am in the building during the week. I empty trash throughout the building, including the chapel, clean up the kitchen where dishes have been left either dirty in the sink or in the drain. It’s nothing to find dirty diapers in the restroom trash (even though there is a posted sign asking that this not be done because the smell is terrible).

Often food is left in the refrigerator, and after a week I throw it in the trash. Often trash collects in the kitchen and begins to stink before it is taken to the outside container, and even then it will collect beyond the pick-up day because no one takes it out to the curb. We tried to have plants in the foyers and on the entry walkway, but no one would tend to them so they died.

We do not have a paid custodian, and when members are assigned their turn they often don’t show up. The couple who is responsible for assignments obviously does not follow up, and many times assignments do not take into consideration that some families cannot fulfill the assignment due to seasonal constraints.

Recently it was our turn along with another couple. The other couple never showed, and we worked until late scrubbing and rescrubbing the bathrooms where obviously they had not been cleaned for a number of weeks. The following two weeks people were assigned that were either out of town or had work obligations.

The vent in the women’s bathroom did not function for more than six months, and you can’t really count on the air-conditioning or heating systems to function properly. We are in a tourist area and recently we had over 800 in attendance.

  Out of four toilets, only two were functioning (maintenance did come two weeks later and replaced the flushing mechanisms). After the meeting we found numerous rolls of toilet paper on the floor of the bathrooms, which had to be thrown away because they were wet. The Relief Society room looked like a large waste basket _ water bottles, papers from candy and cookie packages all over the floor.

It frustrates me to see the Lord’s house being treated with such disrespect. Help! It appears that this matter just is not getting any better.

Buried by Clutter

It’s evident, Buried, that your meetinghouse situation isn’t working.  I hope some of the suggestions in these columns can help you.  Meanwhile, you may want to consider having a meeting with the Relief Society presidents and other influential people who are leaders in the ward(s) that meet in your building. Because you’re in a tourist area, your ward may especially benefit from having laminated signs posted in critical areas (kitchen, bathrooms), with rules for use.

When Clark was a stake clerk, we helped put together bishops’ retreats every year.  They were always held in meetinghouses that were at least a couple of hours away from our own stake.  It was so helpful to go in those kitchens and see permanent signs there, letting us know where cleaning supplies were stored, and telling us what was expected by our hosts as far as keeping the facilities clean.  Quite often those facilities weren’t clean when we arrived on site, but thanks to the posted instructions we were able to leave them the way they were supposed to be.  

Because you’re in a tourist area where strangers are often making use of your ward meetinghouse, signs could serve the dual purpose of instructing visitors and reminding your ward members what is expected of them in your ward’s building.