In the June 1999 Ensign, Presiding Bishop H. David Burton explained the issue, saying that saving money was not the only objective. Participating in the cleaning of the buildings would be a sacrifice by which members would better honor and respect and love our beautiful houses of worship. In short, the program was also intended to develop personal character and receive eternal blessings. Priesthood leaders who would teach their people that this is an opportunity to sacrifice and build the kingdom would find success in their efforts.
Church members would only take upon themselves light janitorial duties requiring no specialized experience or equipment; heavy janitorial tasks such as such as refinishing cultural hall floors, cleaning the grouting in rest rooms, and shampooing carpets would still be the responsibility of professional facilities management personnel.
And this doesn't just apply to chapels, but to temples as well. On The Rest of the Story, Alix and Brynt Barney reported on their recent experience taking a turn in cleaning the Rexburg Temple. They had a brief meeting where their responsibilities were explained and they were issued special "jump suits", then embarked upon their tasks. They were enthralled by the obvious presence of the Holy Spirit on the occasion, and what they took away from the experience was that the real point wasn't merely to clean something that was already dirty, but instead to keep it from ever getting dirty. Perhaps that explains why Jesus Christ said that when a man looks upon a woman and lusts after her, he has already committed adultery in his heart; unchecked, the impulse could lead someone to actually commit adultery and "dirty" up his life.
Other Church members also find it a worthwhile experience. In the February 2011 issue of Meridian Magazine, Susan Elzey describes her experience of cleaning her chapel in much greater detail. Banner, Sword and Shield notes that although she absolutely despises housework, she actually enjoys cleaning her chapel because it's not stressful, it's a demand that only comes up occasionally, it allows her a quiet period in a church where kids are not constantly needing attention. She compares it to the Celestial Room in a typical temple.
Amazingly, there are those who object to Church members being asked to volunteer to clean facilities. One detractor commenting to the Barneys' post ascribed ulterior motives to the Church:
You realize, of course, that you're doing janitorial work because the corporation would rather pour its money into the now-$4 billion mall in Salt Lake City, yes?
May 21, 2011 3:45 AM
Criticism pours in from other sources. On the Recovery from Mormonism website, cleaning facilities is denigrated as "scraping boogers off of chair bottoms". Another RfM thread denounces such members as "chapel-cleaning chumps". But, just as disturbing as the anti-Mormon invective is the element of elitism and snobbery entering into their discourse. They act as if cleaning and janitorial work is beneath their dignity. They behave just as the ancient Nephites did, who would enter into a cycle of prosperity, get lifted up in the pride of their hearts unto the wearing of costly apparel, and begin to look down upon their lesser brethren and sisters. Undoubtedly they looked upon janitorial work as "scut work" as well. And, of course, when the Nephites would not respond to their prophets' calls to repentance, an army of the Lamanites would often show up to administer their own lesson on repentance.
We should take our cues from Jesus Christ on this issue. In John 13:1-17, we find out that after the Last Supper was concluded, Jesus then proceeded to wash the feet of his disciples. Since Odoreaters™ had not been invented yet, this was undoubtedly not the most pleasant experience. Yet he did it anyway. The message Jesus intended to deliver was that no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
If it was not undignified for Jesus Christ to wash the feet of His disciples, then it is not undignified for LDS Church members to voluntarily clean their chapels and temples.