For the last several years, members of LDS congregations worldwide have been asked to clean their own buildings, replacing what was once the task of janitors hired by the church. Though meetinghouses still hire out help for repairs, congregation member volunteers do the weekly cleaning.
According to church leaders, the primary purpose of member participation is to benefit and bless all, including the youth and less active by providing opportunities to serve. It also reinforces and deepens respect for the Lord’s houses of worship. It is noted that the opportunity to clean the meetinghouse is not about saving money, but about a spiritual opportunity to show respect to the Lord.
An unofficial estimate from a Mormon-skeptic blog, Nearing Kolob, projects that the Church saves $50 million per year in janitorial costs worldwide by having members clean the chapel. This estimate has not been confirmed by the LDS Church.
In my ward, we share the task with two other congregations, so it becomes our turn every three months. Because I was inactive, it was a great opportunity to get involved and serve at a level at which I could do so. I have since resumed regular activity in the Church (and I may have to change my user nickname :lol:). Participation in this effort is not a criterion for temple worthiness.
But how, when, and why did this practice evolve? This practice began with a letter from the First Presidency sent to various Church leaders in the Fall of 1998 calling upon the membership to assume a greater responsibility for cleaning and caring for Church meetinghouses. As a result, a number of full-time janitors became redundant as professional cleaning became restricted to big-ticket items such as carpet shampooing. In an article published in the June 1999 edition of Ensign, then-Presiding Bishop H. David Burton explained the change more fully. While Bishop Burton admitted that this was partially prompted by the fact that members no longer donated excess funds above normal tithing and fast offering levels, reducing available revenue to pay for fully professional cleaning, the real issue was that respect and appreciation for Church buildings by the membership, particularly among young people, had eroded. The change provided a greater opportunity for individual Church members to develop greater personal character and receive more eternal blessings by participating in the cleaning of their buildings; their sacrifice would prompt them to accord greater honor and respect and love for our beautiful houses of worship.
Additional refinements were announced in June 2010. The main point of coordination and leadership of this program is through stake presidents, the high councilor assigned as the stake physical facilities representative and the bishops and branch presidents. The LDS Church published "Cleaning Cards" which laid out the weekly tasks. Typical tasks for Church members 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; emptying trash and relining wastebaskets; setting up and putting away chairs and tables; 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. Most often this is done on Saturday. Depending on the number of people who show up, the tasks can take anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours.
For the tougher cleaning tasks, facilities management personnel 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 also maintain the equipment used by members and stock the cleaning supplies necessary for members to perform their roles.
Personally, from the perspective of one who has participated in this endeavor frequently, there is another reason this is a good idea. Cleaning the chapel can be a humbling experience. It reminds us not to get too full of ourselves. It further reminds us that, although not all work is equally valued by society, the Lord believes there is equal dignity in all work. It might even persuade us to behave more charitably towards the "hewers of wood and drawers of water" in our society whose jobs we don't want to do but whose products and services we're quick to use.