Plight of a Church Custodian

By Lora J. Asay

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    We talked long into the night. “Should we or shouldn’t we?” The bishop had announced in priesthood meeting that they needed a full-time custodian for the stake center. My husband Ace had inquired about it after the meeting and had been told to talk it over with his wife and then meet with the three bishops the next evening.

    Would he like such a job? It was a large church house that served three wards and a stake. With all the activities, there would be plenty of work. I would undoubtedly help, dusting the organ and piano and washing a few windows. Since we lived close by, he could come home for lunch and also reduce transportation expenses. There would be no more long hours working in the sun, rain, wind, and snow that his present job with a plumbing supply company demanded, and no more need to work a second job at night as a warehouse custodian. But at age fifty-nine it’s hard for a man to change jobs. Suppose the new job didn’t turn out well?

    Monday the big decision was made. We would take it! Ace gave his employer notice that he was quitting Sunday; we went to church and for the first time really looked at the building. There was a lot to do.

    The first task we undertook was to clean the stairways on each end of the hall. One was four feet wide, the other six feet wide, each with seventeen steps. It had been some time since they had been cleaned and they were a dull gray, covered with black marks from shoes, spills, etc. For two hours we worked with suds, cleanser, and steel wool. How pleased we were, though, to discover they were a light, cream-colored vinyl with dark streaks that resembled marble.

    Ace found there was always something that had to be repaired or replaced. He changed all the locks on the outside doors and replaced the latches on the rest room doors and cultural hall doors. He fixed the showers in the girls dressing room and this does not mean “bolted them shut” but “bolt (anchor) them to the floor” the lockers (which were in the middle of the floor for some unknown reason) back into place. He mended several broken classroom tables that had been stacked in the furnace room.

    We hadn’t been working long when construction was started on a new stake president’s office and high council room in a cemented area that had been used as a patio. The laborers worked just a short time each day, drilling and crushing cement and creating dust that permeated the building. We would just get the building cleaned when they would start working again. The ward members didn’t understand the situation, so there was a lot of criticism. This went on for about three months.

    One day we were told they were going to have a youth conference in the Junior Sunday School room. The leaders asked if it could be fixed up a little special, so we really went to work. We washed all the windows and woodwork, scrubbed and polished the floor, and even sent the curtains out to be cleaned. Everything just sparkled. After the meeting was over I asked Ace if they were pleased. He said, “Well, one of the counselors in the bishopric asked if we couldn’t be a little more careful about dusting the chairs.” They had needed extra chairs for the large crowd, so someone had brought them from the construction area! We had a good laugh, realizing for the first time that it was not the things we did that were noticed but the things we didn’t do.

    It took some time to get all the plastered walls throughout the building washed. We started with the rest rooms, then did the foyers and halls, the Relief Society room, the high council room, and the classrooms. We painted all the heat convectors, door frames, stair railings, entrances, and various other places. The carpets in the foyers and the Relief Society room were worn and soiled with several orange punch stains that were impossible to remove. Ace asked the bishops if someone could be hired to shampoo the carpets but was told not to bother since they planned on replacing them right away. After waiting a few weeks, Ace rented a shampooer and cleaned the carpets himself. This made an immense improvement. Little by little the building began to shape up.

    After two years of custodial work, another ward was added to our building, making a total of four. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday we had Relief Society, with the officers arriving as early as 8:30 A.M. The Relief Society room, foyer, kitchen, south steps, nursery, and rest rooms had to be ready. While Relief Society was in session, we cleaned the rest of the classrooms, the chapel and the cultural hall.

    Then at 3:00 the Primary officers began to arrive. The relief society room, nurseries, kitchen and rest rooms had to be checked and cleaned if needed. When Primary was over we picked up, swept, straightened chairs, and cleaned backboards to get ready for activity night. This went for about a year; then two wards moved out of the building. It seemed like we were on vacation!

    One beautiful morning a salesman sold us a can of chemical cleaner to be used on stainless steel sinks, drinking fountains, and other types of metal. I decided to try it out on the brass light switch plates, which were covered with film and grime. After polishing a half dozen with good results, I went into the boys rest room where there was a larger plate with three switches on it. I wiped it off with the chemical, and was reaching for my damp sponge, when I heard a crackling sound. I turned to see flames shooting out of the plate clear to the ceiling! I raced down the hall shrieking. “Fire! Fire! I’ve set the church on fire!” Ace came bounding down the hall into the rest room. The fire was out and it was pitch dark. The switch box had completely burned out. I learned that chemicals and electricity don’t mix.

    Last summer we began our two-week vacation on a Monday morning. Ace insisted on coming home both of the following Saturdays in order to clean the building before Sunday. I was feeling rebellious at having to come back before our vacation was over. As I cleaned, I said to myself, “This is absolutely stupid. Nobody cares whether this place is clean or not. If they did care they wouldn’t throw trash around. Nobody will even notice that the work was done.”

    All at once I felt as if someone was there with me. It seemed as though someone spoke to me and said, “I care. It is my house and I care! Suppose we had visitors tomorrow and the house was dirty? What would investigators think? I would be embarrassed.” I was really shaken. It was such a strong impression. Never again have I begrudged the time I have spent cleaning His house.

    During our first few months as custodians we were either ignored by the members or treated with what we felt was condescending sweetness. Gradually as we became acquainted, their attitudes began to change. Ace was always there, ready to set up tables or help in any way. He made friends with the children and young adults, letting them in the building to play basketball or volleyball whenever he was there. They reciprocated by trying not to track up the foyers, especially on Saturday when he had it all cleaned for Sunday.

    After the first year or so people began treating us more warmly. Some of the Primary teachers and classes brought us goodies and baskets of fruit for Christmas. One year a group of boys made a nativity scene for us out of cardboard and molded sugar. They also brought a wreath made of pine cones and nuts. Another Primary made a lovely poster with all their names on it telling us how they loved us and appreciated the way we kept the building clean.

    The Relief Societies invited Ace to eat lunch on work day. Once we were even invited by the stake presidency to have dinner with them and the high council while they entertained the visiting General Authority at conference time.

    We retired last spring after six years of keeping house for the Lord. We have worked hard; we have laughed; we have cried. We have made hundreds of friends and hope we have made no enemies.

    The tears and troubles have been many, but just the same, this has been a wonderful experience in our lives!