“Conversation: Caring for Church Meetinghouses,” Ensign, June 1999, 75–76
In a recent letter to Church leaders, the First Presidency called for “members to assume a greater responsibility for cleaning and caring for Church meetinghouses.” In particular, the letter stated that “Aaronic Priesthood quorums should play a prominent role in fulfilling this responsibility. They may be assisted by young women of corresponding ages.” To learn more about the Church’s emphasis on members caring for meetinghouses, the Ensign spoke with Bishop H. David Burton, Presiding Bishop.
Question: What is some of the thinking behind the request for members to help care for meetinghouses?
Response: The same opportunities to sacrifice for the kingdom do not exist today as they once did. There was a time in the Church not too many years ago when members donated funds above and beyond tithing and fast offerings to help operate their local wards and stakes, including the costs of maintaining buildings and providing electricity, water, and telephones. More recently, through the faithfulness of members across the world, the Church has been in a position to fund those kinds of expenses at the local level. But as that has occurred, some members—particularly youth—have lost respect and appreciation for Church buildings. Today it is often easy for us to slip over to our meetinghouses and treat them as any other ordinary building that we may enter during the week.
Basically, the meetinghouse care program is simple. Members of the Church are invited 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. The most important thing to understand is that this program was not primarily instituted to save money. This is a program to develop personal character and receive eternal blessings. Those priesthood leaders who teach their people that this is an opportunity to sacrifice and build the kingdom will find success in their efforts.
Q: How can adults and youth help care for meetinghouses?
R: Member involvement in the care of Church meetinghouses is organized under the direction of stake presidents, who are assisted by stake physical facilities representatives. Assignments to local members are made by ward bishoprics. Some marvelous creative thinking has been going on among leaders, and we have heard about inventive ways families and youth groups are helping. President John Taylor said, “It is … the special duty of the Aaronic priesthood to attend to temporal matters” and to “take care of the properties of the church” (The Gospel Kingdom, sel. G. Homer Durham , 155, 170). Where members and leaders have caught the spirit of it, reverence for their building has really started to improve.
Weekly tasks that Aaronic Priesthood members and young women may be assigned include vacuuming the chapel, classrooms, corridors, and foyers; cleaning rest room floors, wiping counters, and replacing paper products; cleaning chalkboards, drinking fountains, and kitchen areas; sweeping the cultural hall floor, platform area, and exterior entrance walks; picking up debris between meetings; emptying trash and relining wastebaskets; setting up and putting away chairs and tables; securing the building after meetings by closing windows and turning off lights; cleaning and repairing hymnbooks, folding chairs, and sacrament trays; cleaning grounds, parking lots, landscaped areas, and adjacent Church-owned property; planting, weeding, and caring for flower beds; and removing snow from sidewalks as needed. When possible, work should be done after regularly scheduled meetings and as part of ongoing youth activities.
Tasks that adult members may be assigned include assisting youth in their tasks as desirable or required, cleaning up after activities they are involved in, locking up the building when it is not in use, and operating mechanical equipment. Working closely with youth, leaders should use this opportunity to teach them principles of sacrifice, service, respect for property, and standards of cleanliness.
While members have the primary responsibility, facilities management personnel will enter meetinghouses once a week to perform the more difficult maintenance responsibilities, such as refinishing cultural hall floors, cleaning the grouting in rest rooms, and shampooing carpets. They will also maintain the equipment used by members and stock the cleaning supplies necessary for members to perform their roles.
Q: It seems that the aspirations for this program are quite noble.
R: Yes. When you think about it, next to your home and the temple, where do the important events of life take place? The meetinghouse is a center of spiritual and social activities for our families. Here we worship the Savior every week. Here we partake of the sacrament and remember His atoning sacrifice. Here we listen to and learn the doctrines of the kingdom. Here we bless our children. As the First Presidency said, by helping care for meetinghouses members “can deepen their reverence and feelings of respect for the house of the Lord.”