Place of Worship, Place of Care

By Lloyd Gustaveson

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    The new meetinghouse maintenance program invites the Lord’s Spirit into our chapels by helping us keep them beautiful and clean.

    When he first heard of the revised program for meetinghouse preventive maintenance, Albert Erickson, a member of the Nampa (Idaho) Ninth Ward, volunteered to help. Brother Erickson walks with two canes, and his wife, who was ill, required close attention. But Brother Erickson wanted to do his part. So he was assigned to check and lock up his ward building every night for one week each month.

    One evening Brother Erickson arrived at the meetinghouse to discover that mud had been tracked into the building and across the tops of some upholstered chairs in the overflow area. At 11:30, he called the bishop to report that the building was ready for Church meetings the next day. It had taken work, but Brother Erickson had done his part to keep the meetinghouse clean.

    The Snellville Ward in the Tucker Georgia Stake is a large ward. Each Sunday the chapel and three overflow areas are filled. The bishop of the ward, which is the last of three wards to use the building, asked for help from ward members to implement the new program.

    The teachers quorum accepted responsibility to stack chairs in the classrooms and to dispose of all the accumulated litter after Sunday meetings. Each week when the teachers quorum president assigns quorum members to prepare the sacrament, he also assigns members to perform these two additional building maintenance chores. Although there may be an occasional grumble, the work gets done and quorum members are gaining an appreciation for the building in which they meet.

    Others in the ward are also getting involved. The Sunday the program was announced, the bishop asked members to help clean up at the end of the meetings. After sacrament meeting, there were only a few who started to stack chairs, return hymnbooks to their proper place, and pick up litter. Generally, there was the usual rush for the parking lot. Within a few minutes, however, members discovered that something was going on in the cultural hall, and they began to file back to pitch in. It took only a few minutes before the jobs had been completed.

    An interesting thing happened that Sunday. Youth and children got involved. Adults started visiting. Friendships were strengthened. Members were, once again, doing something together. Recalls one ward member, “There was an unmistakable feeling in our car on the way home from church that day. There has been ever since. Now, five months after that first Sunday, a person has to hurry to find a chair to stack.”

    Increased Member Involvement

    Increased member involvement is fundamental to the Meetinghouse Preventive Maintenance Program, which was developed under the direction of the First Presidency and the Presiding Bishopric. The voluntary contributions by members of time and effort in caring for, maintaining, and preserving our Church meetinghouses bring blessings both to the Church and to those who participate. How and when the program is implemented in any particular stake is determined by the Area Presidency and the local priesthood leadership.

    In early 1989 the Church Physical Facilities Department was assigned to prepare and implement a revised meetinghouse maintenance program. Only the stakes in the United States and Canada would be affected because meetinghouses were generally closer together and most were used daily by several large wards. Fortunately, pilot programs had already been conducted in several locations in the United States over a period of five years. These pilot programs gave the department the experience needed to fulfill the assignment to implement an approach that would achieve five significant objectives: (1) meetinghouse facilities should receive improved care; (2) custodian personnel matters would be administered in a professional manner; (3) maintenance costs were to be reduced significantly so that Church funds could be used more efficiently; (4) repair and maintenance work should be kept current to reduce the need for extensive and costly periodic remodeling; and (5) the useful life of each meetinghouse was to be extended to its maximum possible age.

    During the latter part of 1989 and throughout 1990, staff members from each of the area physical facilities offices, with directions from the respective Area Presidencies, introduced the program to the stakes in the United States and Canada. Although the program would not be introduced in the other parts of the world, it was assumed that elsewhere in the world members would be just as involved in meetinghouse maintenance as their brothers and sisters in the United States and Canada—only in different ways. Meetinghouses outside the U.S. and Canada are smaller in size, are much farther apart, and are used less by fewer members. A different preventive maintenance program is better suited to these circumstances.

    Introductory Video

    To understand this revised program, regional and local Church leaders and custodians view an introductory videotape. In the video, President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency explains the purpose behind the new program:

    “We have been blessed throughout the years with the resources needed to construct meetinghouses to match the population growth of the Church, and for this we are most grateful. But as the Saints use these buildings … [they] need to be maintained and refurbished so that their appearance always matches the dignity of the beauty of the truths taught therein. …

    “Over the years, the involvement of members in caring for buildings has dwindled and expenditures for professional services have greatly increased,” President Monson continues. “The Church has recently introduced a new maintenance program which will not only help custodians be more effective in their labors, but will also bring back the involvement of the Church members in this important effort. … When members help with these opportunities, meetinghouse custodians may then use their valuable time to work with larger cleaning tasks and detailed preventive maintenance requirements.”

    New Custodial Operating Methods

    Custodians are, obviously, still essential to the maintenance of Church meetinghouse facilities. Traditionally, custodians were hired, when possible, from within one of the wards occupying a meetinghouse. They were generally assigned to that building for all inside and outside work. They were instructed and directed by the stake physical facilities representative and then often left to do the best they could on their own.

    Two things in the new program help to improve the custodians’ efficiency and morale. First, there is effective supervision with continuing training and direction. Second, custodians are organized into two-person functional crews for inside cleaning, mechanical systems operation and maintenance, and outside grounds care.

    The two-person crews work at several buildings in their specialized assignments rather than at just one. This not only improves the quantity and quality of the work, but also gives the custodians greater feelings of accomplishment by being part of a more efficient, professional organization. Also, their work schedule has been standardized to regular daytime hours, Monday through Friday.

    The program is initially implemented by individual stakes in a “single-stake” version that sets in place the basic concepts of the program. This version gives local leaders, custodians, and members the opportunity to grow into the program and to experience the effects and results for which it was designed.

    After this single-stake version has been fully in place and functioning for a period of time, there is normally a desire by local leaders to expand to a “multistake” version to achieve even greater efficiency. In some locations, primarily in metropolitan areas where there are higher concentrations of Church members, stakes find it advantageous to share the preventive maintenance work with several neighboring stakes. When conditions are right for such a program, local leaders request Church headquarters, through the Area Presidency, for authorization to expand their maintenance program. If the request is approved, the local leaders and area office staff members cooperate to set up a multistake group.

    Some of the advantages of the multistake version include: (1) the assignment of custodial crews to Church buildings without concern for stake boundaries; (2) daily management and supervision by a full-time, qualified preventive maintenance supervisor; (3) a centralized Church custodial payroll system that makes sure paychecks are issued promptly and withholding taxes are accurately deducted, relieving the stakes of this difficult and challenging responsibility; (4) the payment of operating and maintenance expenses from the group office for all facilities within the multistake group, again relieving the stakes of these details; and (5) improved management of purchasing practices and inventories for more efficient use of Church funds.

    Early Results

    Although no actual figures have been released, indications from early reports are that the cost savings are substantial. But highly important also are the less-tangible, but nonetheless very real, blessings that have come to individual Latter-day Saints.

    Scott Lystrup, a North America Central Area physical facilities representative, reports remarkable changes in the stakes in his area. Custodians have responded to their new assignments in a positive manner, and Brother Lystrup has observed a noticeably higher level of cleanliness and much greater attention to small details and repairs. Other benefits include increased morale, improved interpersonal relationships, and better cooperation on custodial staffs.

    Other Latter-day Saints are benefiting as well. Many members at first did not view the changes with a great deal of enthusiasm. One stake president came to an introductory meeting feeling certain that he was not going to be able to support what he expected to hear. But by the meeting’s end, he knew the new program was inspired and was prepared to support it fully.

    Gladys M. Osborne, public communications director in the Cleveland Ohio Stake, reports that stake members have caught the spirit of the new preventive maintenance activity. “The care of the buildings has increased by both custodians and members alike. Custodians have found their time is now focused on the overall maintenance of the meetinghouses. Members have taken on those extra projects that help beautify the interior and exterior. …

    “Families, by personal choice, have taken responsibility for a room and care for it each week. Other members have chosen to help beautify the landscaping. A Cub Scout den planted flowers in five beds at one of the buildings.”

    In the video prepared to introduce the new program, Bishop Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, gave concluding comments: “The key to the success of this program is the involvement of the members. Two things can happen when they become enthused about the assignment they are given by their priesthood leaders. First, there is a minimization of cost. … But another blessing comes … as they get a feeling of not just involvement but of ownership. … My hope and the hope of the Presiding Bishopric is that all of the priesthood leaders and all of the members can see the great opportunity there is for them in this wonderful new custodial program for the Church.”

    Member Involvement in Meetinghouse Care

    Church members of all ages now have opportunities to take part in the care of the meetinghouses they use. Members are not asked to do any of the difficult, detailed cleaning tasks requiring special skills in the use of custodial equipment and chemicals. That work is done by the custodial crews. However, members can help greatly by—

    1. Cleaning up after meetings or activities. This includes sweeping, vacuuming as necessary, and placing trash in the outside refuse collector. The meetinghouse should be returned to the same clean and orderly condition as at the beginning of the meeting or activity. Extensive cleanup after Sunday meetings is not expected, although the meetinghouse should be kept tidy by members at all times. It may be necessary to replace paper supplies in rest rooms during Sunday block schedules.

    2. Preparing the meetinghouse for Sunday use following meetings or activities held after normal custodial hours.

    3. Unlocking and locking meetinghouses for meetings and activities.

    4. Setting up and putting away tables and chairs, Sundays included.

    5. Making nightly checks of the meetinghouses to make sure all windows and doors are securely locked.

    6. Filling the baptismal font, then draining and cleaning up following baptismal services.

    7. Cleaning up the sacrament table.

    8. Setting up and securing sound and video equipment.

    9. Turning on and off lights, sound, organ, and mechanical equipment (where the controls cannot be preprogrammed).

    10. Encourage the supervised use of meetinghouses in an appropriate manner.

    11. Preparing for and cleaning up after wedding receptions and other approved non-Church use.

    12. Cleaning serving areas, ranges, ovens, refrigerators, utensils, and tools.

    13. Cleaning and maintaining library and office equipment.

    14. Planting and maintaining flower beds. (These are not part of the designed landscape plan or normal custodial program.)

    15. Participating in special projects to clean up the grounds.

    16. Removing snow from sidewalks, where applicable, for meetings and activities after normal custodial work schedules.

    17. Making small repairs according to available member skills.

    When members help in these ways, meetinghouse custodians can concentrate on accomplishing the larger cleaning tasks and do the detailed preventive maintenance our buildings require. Stake leaders and bishops can help by organizing instructions for members and making sure they have access to the equipment they need to clean up after meetings and activities. This equipment should include at least vacuums, dust mops, brooms, dust pans, dust brooms, wet mops, mop buckets, snow shovels, rock salt (an ice melter), plastic garbage bags, cleaning rags, a utility sink, and rest room paper supplies.

    Photography by Steve Bunderson

    Show References

    • Lloyd Gustaveson is Operations and Maintenance group manager in the Meetinghouse Field Operations Support Division of the Church Physical Facilities Department. He teaches a Sunday School class in the Mt. Jordan Fifth Ward, Sandy Utah Stake.