“What If Nobody Came?”


“Don’t you get tired of the mess?” came the question. It was addressed to the man holding the door for the three women as they walked into the meetinghouse that morning.

“I mean, every Monday it’s the same clutter, isn’t it, Brother Richards?” another woman added sympathetically.

He followed them through the door, looking from one woman to another as they waited for him to acknowledge the pity they were expressing for him, the meetinghouse custodian.

Jack Richards is a former insurance executive who retired and wanted something useful to do. He has cared for the Holladay South stake center in the Salt Lake Valley for the last eight years.

Perhaps he was feeling philosophical that morning, the way a person feels when a sincerely asked “How are you?” invites something more than the usual, “Fine, thanks.”

Jack pulled the door shut in just such a frame of mind and began to explain, “I love this job. Coming to work is a pleasure.” The women at first smiled at his optimism, as if to say, “Oh, sure, cleaning up after children, polishing the gym floor, moving chairs meeting after meeting must be sheer pleasure.”

“I’m thrilled to do this,” he continued, in a manner that was sincere enough not to be misunderstood. Then he described the feelings that come to him as he wipes “a chalkboard illustrating a message about God for teenagers”; picks up “construction paper flower petals in the Primary rooms” where little ones cut blossoms of love for their mothers; even when he gathers up paper airplanes folded by boys whose bodies may be in the right place on the Sabbath but whose minds are not—yet.

He pointed to the glass doors through which the women had just come and said, “I can’t really say how my heart feels when I wipe smudged little handprints from the glass door. I guess I imagine the children who held it open yesterday for Mom—her arms full, carrying a baby, a diaper bag, and maybe some teaching materials.” Still thinking, Brother Richards added, “Or when I pick up the crushed cereal in the chapel that those mothers bring to quiet their toddlers … so others can worship during the sacrament service.”

With no trace of self-regard, Brother Richards spoke plainly, telling the simple truth as he saw it. The three women, stirred now by one lost in service and no longer smiling at the notion of repetitious, tedious work, listened.

“It’s a different kind of debris, a special thing, when the Saints get together to learn and worship. I am happy when I do this … here in His house. When conference comes and there is no meeting here, I think how grateful I am for this place and ask: ‘What if nobody cared enough to come? What if no one wanted to use this building to worship the Lord? How sad it would be if we had a clean, empty, unused building.’ I love to come here Monday morning and see that people have been to a house of the Lord.”

[illustration] Illustrated by Lapine Overy