“Caring for Our Meetinghouses,” Ensign, Oct. 1995, 79–80
Since 1991 the Church has asked members to take a significant responsibility in the cleaning and care of meetinghouses. For an update about progress in this area, the Ensign spoke with Ted D. Simmons, managing director of the Church’s physical facilities department.
Question: Tell us about how members are doing in their role in the cleaning and care of meetinghouses.
Answer: In some places, members are doing great, wonderful! In other places, they seem to have dropped the ball. They seem not to realize how much good can be accomplished through their participation.
Q: Tell us again what the plan is for members on this matter.
A: It used to be that Church custodians were assigned to just one building. They did everything: vacuuming, cleaning, setting up chairs, and locking and unlocking the building. Now custodians are assigned to teams that go from building to building and take care of maintenance, repair, landscaping, and some of the cleaning. By spreading the efforts of custodians over a greater number of buildings, the Church uses its resources more effectively.
But just as the jobs of custodians have changed, so have the responsibilities of members. Because a full-time custodian is no longer assigned to each meetinghouse, members are to take a more active role in cleaning and caring for the building. With members’ help, the Church has saved a substantial amount in cleaning and maintenance costs. Though we are constantly building new meetinghouses, we have been able to clean and maintain them without increasing our custodial staff. The amount of money saved in just one year by a dozen stakes is enough to build a new meetinghouse in a developing area of the Church. The impact of the members’ help is great, and I have no doubt this plan was inspired of the Lord.
Q: What do members’ responsibilities include?
A: First let me say that we hope members will participate because of their love, reverence, and respect for the Savior. The meetinghouses are his, and we worship him in them. Thus, we should want our meetinghouses to be presentable to the Savior at all times. Also, caring for meetinghouses helps us as members appreciate them more. In earlier times members actually helped build new meetinghouses. Then they contributed to a separate building fund. Now members serve and sacrifice by helping care for the buildings.
On Sundays we ask members to pick up papers after meetings, set up and take down tables and chairs, refill rest-room paper supplies if needed, and otherwise keep the meetinghouse tidy. During the week we ask members to vacuum carpets and take trash out after activities. Members are also now responsible for locking and unlocking the building daily, filling and draining the baptismal font, cleaning up the sacrament table, setting up and securing sound and video equipment, turning off lights and other equipment, cleaning the kitchen after use, planting and maintaining flower beds, cleaning and maintaining library and office equipment, shoveling snow where applicable after normal custodial work hours, making small repairs according to available member skills, and participating in occasional special building or grounds projects. To help members fulfill these responsibilities, each meetinghouse has an easily accessible custodial closet where vacuums, mops, brooms, snow shovels, garbage bags, cleaning supplies, and rest-room paper supplies are kept. Many meetinghouses also provide convenient hand vacuums that make spot clean-ups quick and easy.
Picking up a scrap of paper or folding up a chair may not seem like much of an effort, but when members work together a ward can save a custodial team many hours of work. Multiply that by hundreds of wards and the hours saved really add up. It doesn’t make much sense to pay people to clean up what members probably shouldn’t mess up in the first place or what they should clean up themselves if an accident does happen. When custodial teams don’t have to worry about lighter housekeeping, they can focus more attention on long-term maintenance and heavy-duty cleaning that require special skills and equipment. Rather than putting away chairs and vacuuming up spilled cereal, they can attend to mechanical systems, deep-clean carpets, and refinish gymnasium floors. The bottom line is that the preventative maintenance program can work effectively only with the participation of members!
Q: Have you seen good examples you’d like to tell about?
A: Wards and branches can grow closer by taking care of their meetinghouses together. We’ve heard of units establishing regular annual projects that involve fun traditions such as a ward breakfast. The Marietta East and Jonesboro stakes in Georgia, for example, have a stake involvement day two Saturdays a year when members from each ward help with interior and exterior cleaning and maintenance jobs. Last spring the ground was too wet in Caldwell, Idaho, for members who farm to work in their fields, so they telephoned leaders and offered their manpower and machinery to help landscape some Church buildings. In the Kaneohe Hawaii Stake, members did extra cleaning at their meetinghouse when a custodian had to go on extended medical leave. When one neighborhood experienced a rash of burglaries recently, members established a rotating night watch at their meetinghouse. In another ward the young men not only shovel snow from the walks but also help elderly people enter the building.
We certainly realize that many members were helping care for meetinghouses before this change, but we’ve asked everyone to participate now. I’d also like to point out that the members’ role of caring for and cleaning meetinghouses doesn’t imply that custodians weren’t doing a good job under the old system; they certainly were. We’ve just put their efforts to more efficient use.
Q: Are local leaders getting successfully involved also?
A: Our experience worldwide is that when local leaders openly demonstrate reverence for the Lord by taking care of meetinghouses, their examples affect their entire membership. Further, their concern helps them bring up preventative maintenance issues from time to time in meetings. The key is raising the consciousness level of members. After all, most people are willing to help, but they need to be informed and encouraged by leaders and organized so that no single individual has to take on too great a burden of time or effort. Incidentally, an eight-minute video titled “Member Involvement for Meetinghouse and Grounds Care” has been produced for leaders to occasionally show members to help motivate and inspire them (stock no. 53657).
Isn’t it nice to walk into a meetinghouse that is as clean as the temple? Certainly our meetinghouses can come close to that standard! As each member does his or her part, out of small things will come great things. The next time you see a scrap of litter in the chapel, we hope you’ll stoop down to pick it up. Think of your effort as serving the Lord.