Sunday, May 05, 2013

Cleaning the church

I hope I can write this post sensitively. I've shied away from it for a few weeks but I think it bears discussing.

Last month, our family's turn came up to clean the church villa. The timing was awful - it was the first week back after Spring Break and while yes, every week is "busy," that particular week was "BUSY." It took us most of the week just to figure out a 2- to 3-hour block of time where we could even make it to the church building  We finally figured out a plan to go on a Wednesday afternoon (church is on Friday). But even then, we failed, since at the last minute I remembered I had a department meeting during that same time period. In the end, we met up with the other assigned family at the church a little earlier than planned and between the 10 of us (four adults and six small children, ha ha), we got the job done.

Now. Here comes the sensitive part. I have no problem cleaning the church if I believe it is my duty as a member, that it's on par with the level of service I do every Friday when I teach the children's class or play the piano. That is sacred, important work, and I have agreed to do it. If cleaning the church building falls into that category, then the time it takes out of my week and the stress it causes for my family aren't issues, because the importance of the work is paramount.

But if cleaning the church is not sacred, important work, then I DO have a problem with being assigned to do it. For the above-mentioned stress and time hassle, yes, but also for more important reasons.

Considering where we live, and the structure of the economy here, it "costs" far, far more for my husband and me to clean the church (if we were charging what we get paid at work instead of volunteering our time) than it would for us to pay a housekeeper or similar individual to do it. Probably several times over. And not only that: said person could even be a member of the congregation. S/he could be someone who desperately needs more work, or a little extra money to send home. But right now, the way things are done, that person needs to sit at home and forego the opportunity to earn money so that my husband and I can have the opportunity to clean the church.

Which, again, if that is my duty as a member of this church, I don't have a problem with it. I'll do it, and I have done it, with a smile.

But in case you can't tell, I've thought about it and come to the conclusion that I'm pretty sure cleaning the church is just...cleaning the church. It's something that needs to be done every week and God doesn't care who does it. In places where the cost of domestic labor is high (like the US and much of Europe, I'd guess), it makes more sense that the members of the church are responsible for cleaning it on Saturdays or whenever. But here, where there are people almost literally begging for a chance to earn extra cash (doing jobs like cleaning houses!), including people (probably - I'm not privy to all the congregation business) who also attend our church - that system doesn't make sense.

What do you think? Feel free to call me to repentance in the comments. Maybe I need it.

29 comments:

Susanne said...

Maybe you could hire someone to clean it when it's your turn. That way those who think it's sacred work can clean it during their weeks, but those of you who feel it's just cleaning the church, can hire someone who needs a job.

Alanna said...

I don't think cleaning the church is some sort of sanctified, holy work. But I do know that in my parents' ward a long time ago, they hired a woman to clean the church so she could earn money that she desperately needed after her husband left her and their five kids. The problem was that-- in this case-- it created even MORE work for the rest of the ward. The woman had no car, so rides had to be arranged for her each time, and people in the ward had to volunteer to watch her kids, too. In the end, my Dad (who HATES cleaning the church) thought it would have been easier to just give her the money and let the ward do the work.

So in that one instant, it didn't really work at all. But that's fairly anecdotal, I realize...

Bridget said...

I wanted to do that last time but I hadn't sorted out my thoughts as clearly (ha) as they are in this blog post, so I didn't. Now, I think I wouldn't hesitate.

Bridget said...

That is an interesting story. I'm not sure what I would do in that case.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

The value of families and individuals chipping in to clean the building is that then we "own" it. Just like at home, if we are the ones who do the work, we try harder to keep from having to do said work--keeping the place clean, etc. It's good for the kids, the little "helpers" they are, to learn that at an early age. There is also value in members working together in a service capacity.

However, if there's a moment when hiring someone to take your place (like wealthier men did during the Civil War) (not that cleaning the building is war or that you are wealthy) would be appropriate (and you can decide when that is), then go for it.

Bridget said...

That first paragraph is the argument that is sometimes in my head, possibly from you. And I get it. But mom, when I literally do not have 2.5 hours in one block of time to get myself and my family over to the church to clean it, and I have to rearrange my life to do so and miss out on other responsibilities, then any such lesson I would have learned is lost in my COMPLETELY BAD ATTITUDE.

Plus, on a humanitarian level, isn't it almost irresponsible to NOT hire someone in the community in need?

Ariana said...

It's just service...like any other service project. Think of it this way- the money they save by having the cleaning work done for free by willing members can go to support the humungous increase in missionary costs. We always get assigned to clean the church during the WORST, busiest, most hectic weeks, and I figure if I am willing to go clean the church, then I am living the law of sacrifice. I remember having a church custodian (paid) growing up, but policies have changed.

Ariana said...

I should say cleaning the church is a very small part of living the law of sacrifice...Probably not the whole thing. haha

Crys said...

Dr. J and I have talked about this for years and we couldn't agree more.

Liz Johnson said...

The argument I've heard is the one that your mom raised... and I get it, to a certain extent. But I don't think that being in charge of cleaning it once per quarter has made me any more careful - I generally try to leave it clean no matter what, and I think most people are doing the same thing. I dunno. I would be totally on board with hiring a member to clean. That whole "helping out members of the stake" thing was a big motivation behind having a live-in maid when I lived in Mexico. That and not having to do our own dishes (hahahahaha).

Lucia- insert creative nickname said...

Haha, you must not be the first person to ask this, since the church put out a video about it :)

https://www.lds.org/callings/meetinghouse-care/reverence?lang=eng

I always thought it was put into policy because the 'sacrifice brings for the blessing of heaven' idea, and I tend to agree with the idea that you take more ownership when you take good care of something that is special to you, and also even if it is not very expensive, it still IS an expense and the church leaders feel that money is better spent elsewhere.

And I do think there is something very cool and unifying about people from all walks of life coming together to serve.

I totally see your point though, it shouldn't be a hardship. I think care should be taken to arrange the assignments so they don't cause undue family stress.
Although, I do have an unusual love of vacuuming and if you give me an industrial vac and a whole chapel of carpeting and I'm in cleaning heaven, so my ideas on the subject are probably skewed. But if that chapel of carpet became a chapel of tile... ICK!

Jen said...

My ward has a google doc with all of the dates, and your family can choose when you clean--first come, first served. (I always choose the week AFTER General Conference......mwa ha ha.) so maybe that might be a superficial solution?

My understanding was that the decision to have the members clean was purely financial..,but I thought it might just be an American thing (since I assumed that hiring cleaners was a more manageable cost elsewhere.)

You brought up things that I've never actually thought about, since my brain is so America-centric when it comes to this issue. I'd never considered this perspective, so thank you!

Sarah Familia said...

My main problem with this and other assigned lists (like the one they do in elder's quorum in my ward for exchanges with the missionaries) is that, like you said, the assignments are made without consulting the individual members about whether this is an appropriate assignment and time for their family. And then the attempts to guilt and manipulate people into fulfilling these assignments. That's just not a reasonable way to treat adults who are willingly participating in a volunteer organization.

Andrew said...

Ooh, in Cairo we had Hussein, the live-in bawwab who cleaned and guarded everything all the time, 24/7. And he was awesome. I have no qualms paying people to do it, especially where you guys are, since it's so cheap.

Nemesis said...

Yeah, this is where I'm not even going to try to be tactful. This system does not foster ownership--it just means that a few people end up doing all the work because everyone else either slacks of or just simply isn't available. My husband went and helped on one of our assigned days and the only ones there were him and the guy who's "calling" it is to coordinate the cleaning. This means that this other brother basically spends hours every Saturday cleaning the church with little to no help. And in the mean time, there are members who need the work and would be grateful for a job opportunity or a source of extra cash to get them through a pinch.

This is what our tithing goes to--the upkeep of our buildings. And the Church is in no way hurting for cash.

Jen said...

(I'd like to add, in all honesty, that on the Sundays where I know it's my week to clean the church, I'm not as concerned about cleaning up after myself after sacrament meeting. If I know I'm going to be spending a couple of hours cleaning the following Saturday, I'm not going to take five minutes bending down and picking up crushed goldfish crackers.)

Nemesis--this is one of my main frustrations with the implementation of this...the buck has to stop SOMEWHERE...the building has to be cleaned....and the poor guy in your ward ends up doing it. THAT MAKES ME CRAZY. I would imagine that it's true in most wards that the cleaning of the building falls to what my husband and I call "the STP," (The Same Ten People.) Every ward has an STP. And too often, they're the ones cleaning the toilets.

Crys said...

I also would be a fan of just having everyone pitch in on Sunday for ten minutes. So maybe it wouldn't be completely appropriate, but that is when I clean, when I notice things are messy. I'm guilty of not going to my cleaning date because I have seriously zero idea where they announce this info and no one bothers to confirm your assignment, but I 'm also guilty of cleaning the ladies bathroom floor on Sunday when I notice it is particularly bad :-)

Jennifer said...

I haven't helped clean the church in years. In our ward, there are multiple families assigned to each of our Saturdays and I just send my husband because of the kids go with us, I just end up watching them there and not cleaning.

However I really enjoyed your post and the perspective it offers, as well as everyone's comments.

Hannah Singleton said...

We have a family in our ward that regularly hires someone else to clean the church when it is their turn. It's a win/win as those who need money get it and the other family doesn't want to do it. I think you're right in that it's just important that it get done.

That being said, I have found when I approach our turn to clean with an attitude of consecration rather than as a chore, I have found it to be a much more enjoyable experience. I also think it teaches my small children about service and sacrifice - something I worry about them not learning as we are able to provide them with so many of the "comforts of life."

Suzanne Bubnash said...

I suspect your turn to clean the building comes around a lot more often than ours does. We have 3 decent size wards in our building and the assignment is rotated, so I can afford to be idealistic and preach about pride of ownership.

If an assignment creates anxiety and major stress, just say no. If you are in a time of life that makes an assignment impractical, just say no. I never cleaned the building when we had a a baby or toddler. Heck, I didn't even go to the temple sometimes for several years at a time when we had too many small children and no fam around to make it possible (and it was a 10 hour RT). When we clean the building I don't often see moms who work away from home; am sure on Saturdays they have their own house to clean.

One of my friends visit taught a sister who was a disgusting total slob, at the level of health hazard. The RS pres asked the VT to help this sister clean. My friend couldn't do it--it made her barf. So she paid someone else to do it.

Yvonne Anderson said...

In our previous ward those who asked for financial help to pay rent or utilities were asked specifically to spend a set amount of time cleaning to "earn" the money they were being given. I think this is a win-win. Church gets cleaned. People are working for what they receive and not just getting a free hand-out.

In addition, we also had the weekly cleaning rotation to tidy up the rest.

Bridget said...

Watch out, Lucia - there is a lot of tile at the Sharjah Ward chapel!!

Bridget said...

And I love how they're using those ubiquitous all-purpose brown paper towels throughout that video.

Matthew said...

@Yvonne – If memory serves, the welfare manual approaches this idea with the instruction that people should not be made to feel that they should pay back, or be made to earn the support which they are receiving. I want to say that it was specifically prohibited. If I recall correctly, the instruction was along the lines of the importance of finding service and meaningful work for the individuals receiving help for other reasons (such as keeping engaged, receiving the spiritual benefits of service, etc.) That being said, I am an inactive heretic, so perhaps my memory is not the best thing to rely on. I suppose it would be possible to check the most current version of the welfare manual, but I don’t have one.

@Bridget – Without going too post-modern, I’d say there needs to be some contemplation of the evaluative framework. If the point of the policy is to clean the church in the most effective way, clearly hiring out the labor would hold a lot of benefits. Lebanon is in a very similar set of circumstances, and I would say you make a compelling case. However, if the goal of the policy is a democratizing participation in communal work, sort of like a voskresnik, the case is not so clear cut. By my reading, there is ample evidence for universal service as a mechanism of reminding people that they are all equal. If that is indeed the goal, then it would actually be feature (not a bug!) for someone who would normally earn vastly more at their chosen occupation to be giving up their time to undertake the labor rather than sub-letting it out.

I suspect that the policy was actually intended to accomplish both, in a cultural context where there was not a lot of wealth imbalance between congregational members. The idea of if being clearly more to everyone’s benefit to hire out the work probably didn’t seem all that likely. I think this is substantiated by some of the comments which have already been made above. It seems to me to be a policy which fits well with largely middle-class congregations, but that gets very complicated, very quickly when applied in developing country contexts. Over the last few years, it has seemed to me that voices like Holland’s have been much more in favor of additional lee-way for adapting these kinds of policies to local conditions. I would say – hire out the work, and find ways to facilitate democratizing service which make more sense based on the local conditions.

Bridget said...

Good to hear from you, Matthew. You always class up this joint. :)

If the policy is there to remind us that we are all equal, I think a) they need to tell us so, but b) it would be redundant since everything else at church already does that. Re: b, A former stake president can be a nursery leader, a janitor can be a bishop, etc. etc. Re: a, if having members clean the church on a volunteer basis really is an additional way they want to send that message, they need to do it explicitly rather than just a passive-aggressive signup sheet. Also, in my ward at least, I totally do not get that vibe. The vibe I get is, "the church needs to be cleaned and it's your turn."

Now, whether there would be value in openly adopting such a policy, and clearly stating that the policy is to "democratize participation in communal work" is another issue. But I think the issue of this possibly being part of the law of sacrifice (as per Ariana, above) would come first.

To sum up: interesting thoughts, not sure I agree on the particulars, but we're on the same page as far as fundamentals.

Myrna said...

Back in the day when I was young, our church building in Canada had not one but two full-time custodians. And we also paid building fund, in addition to tithing. I am pretty sure their wages were paid from the building fund, not from tithing money.

My husband has been in charge of letting people know when it is their turn to help clean, and sometimes to go and be "in charge" of the cleaning crew. So he has seen all kinds of attitudes about the work. I sometimes go and help when it isn't technically "my turn" because the work needs to be done, so why not me?

Our ward seems to have gone with an assignment mode; I can see that a sign-up mode might work better (and would help the attitudes of some people), but I can also see that some people would just never sign up, and that is probably not fair.

People who are young enough to be my children don't even remember that there ever was a building fund. Not sure if they would want to pay into one.

Craig said...

Lots of great comments here, and I have experienced feelings for both sides. The pragmatist in me would go the hiring route. But I think in this specific case I will come down on the side of "consecrated service". Perhaps making it a priority as a family service project will increase the value and improve the attitude.

"Just say no" on a case by case basis, if family stress and negatives outweigh all else, but don't make this the norm.

Ariana said...

I really like how our ward does it. We are split up into "emergency preparedness blocks" -- groups of 5 families who live near each other. There is one family in each group assigned as a block captain, and there's an assistant captain. If there was ever a big zombie apocalypse, earthquake, or whatever, the block captain is responsible for checking on everyone in their block and reporting back to the emergency preparedness leader, who reports to the bishopric. Anyways. We use the block groups for church cleaning purposes. Two blocks (so like 8-10 families) are assigned one week--a Monday night cleaning and a Saturday cleaning. We share our building with 2 other wards so each ward cleans for a month, then it switches. We always clean with the same people, and it's up to the block captains to remind/motivate people to come. We have been counseled that cleaning the church is a service. It's never a problem getting enough people. We can clean the whole place in about 1 hour. People in our ward are really good about coming, or finding subs (switching assignments with another family) if they can't come. It works out really slick, and our church building is always spotless. I read an editorial thing in the Ensign awhile back that struck a chord with me.... it was written by a lady who was fulfilling a temple cleaning assignment. She said she spent a couple hours cleaning, and her dust cloth was just as white at the end as it was at the beginning. The point was we clean not so much to remove dirt and debris from the Lord's house (let's face it, it never really gets too dusty or dirty, with all the cleanings), but to prevent it from ever becoming dirty. A parable for life.

Lucia- insert creative nickname said...

It's tile?! I feared as much. Bridget! You must fix this and change everyone's mind, and hopefully church policy before we arrive! I'll bring sackcloth and ashes for my cleaning uniform just in case it doesn't work out.
Oh man, the brown paper towels. Classic!

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