The Scout-Beehive breakfast had been a big success. Everyone had eaten and now it was time for the big hike. The last pancakes had barely missed the light of day when the shout went up, “Let’s get in the cars and head up the canyon!”
As they piled into cars, Sister Larson, the wife of the Scoutmaster, remained quietly behind with the ward custodian and his wife to clean up the mess. But Steve, who had planned the activity, asked his patrol to stay and help with the cleanup. The word spread. Cars that had been full of anxious hikers emptied. The tables and chairs were put away in record time. The mess in the kitchen was wiped and shined away. Soon not one syrupy fingerprint was left. Now it was time to head up the canyon.
In another ward the young people were assigned to take care of sections of the meetinghouse garden. They grew their own plants, watered them throughout the summer, and weeded, pruned, and pampered them. Not only has the ward won civic beautification awards year after year, but “we never have any trouble with misbehavior in our building. Everyone knows it’s the Lord’s house and that it’s up to us to keep it clean,” said the ward custodian.
Both groups of Aaronic Priesthood-age youth know the elbow action needed to make a meetinghouse suitable for worship. They care about the house of the Lord and recognize that fast breaks should be limited to activity night basketball games and not chapel exits. The way you and your friends act will reflect on others’ ability to feel a reverent and spiritual environment. Some young people have spent sunshine-filled Saturdays cleaning kitchen cupboards and straightening ward supply cabinets rather than lounging at the beach. Others have vacuumed stairways and hand-polished podiums while their friends mopped floors and squeegeed taller-than-tall windows. But there are other young people who need to see and follow these examples.
“I don’t think most youth are basically ill-mannered. They don’t mean to be rude or tear up the buildings. Maybe they aren’t totally conscious that this is a house of the Lord,” said one custodian in American Fork, Utah.
Although the phrase “the house of the Lord” refers specifically to temples, meetinghouses, like temples, have also been dedicated to Him. But the quiet reverence and respect common in temples is sometimes lacking in ward houses.
“We’ve had coatracks pulled off the walls by youth swinging on them as they run around the halls playing tag. We’ve even had curtains on the stage ripped by someone swinging on them,” added the custodian.
“In the three years I’ve been here, we’ve replaced six stolen fire extinguishers and several windows inside and outside the building. Most of the broken windows are caused by slammed doors or balls thrown against the side of the building. Almost all broken windows are accidents, but they shouldn’t happen.”
Even in chapels you will often find papers stuffed in hymnbook holders, programs strewn about, songbooks torn apart, and gum on the floors. Carelessness has led to broken microphones, piano benches, stage props, and chalkboards. One bishop walked into the rest room to wash his hands just in time to see flames reaching up the wall by the sinks. Someone had overturned the wastepaper basket and set it on fire. He stamped it out before it did much damage, but the wall was blackened.
What causes rowdiness in buildings? Does the old cliché “boys will be boys” excuse wrestling matches in the foyer?
Most reverence problems in meetinghouses aren’t malicious. Whoever set the trash on fire in the rest room probably didn’t want to burn the building down. One custodian for several buildings put it this way: “The youth don’t mean to cause trouble. The problem is, they just don’t stop to think what they are doing. Maybe they’ve never been told in their homes how to behave and have respect. But a lot of times kids don’t stop to think that somebody is going to have to clean up after them. If the boys would have to help me clean up the rest rooms each week, they’d think twice before they emptied the trash cans all over the place again.”
Actions are expressions of attitudes. People misbehaving in meetinghouses don’t stop to think where they are. And if they don’t stop to think where they are, they probably don’t pay any attention to why they are in church either.
“On Sunday when the older youth should be in sacrament meetings, some of them are roaming the halls,” said another custodian. “I have to lock the rooms, because if there happens to be an open one, I find the chalkboards written on and chairs turned over. Many of the young people who do stay in the meetings sit on the back row and talk. I would have to say that our basic problem is lack of reverence.”
A lack of reverence. Thoughtlessness. Failure to realize where you are. These are the problems.
What can you do? First, if your ward or branch has a reverence problem, be sure you’re not part of it. Then you and your friends get to work on the solution.
“I like the new program of youth leadership. I think it’s great. I was involved as a Scoutmaster,” said one custodian, “and if the kids want to, they can really carry the program.”
Young people are really the ones who can solve problems of misbehavior. If you and your friends put pressure on those who are acting up, it won’t be “the thing to do” anymore.
To find out what the warning signals of irreverence are, the bishop’s youth committee of the Butler Second Ward, Salt Lake City, was asked to detail some of the problems they’ve had with misbehavior and how they solved them.
“One of the first things to look out for,” said Brad Townsend, “is people standing around with nothing to do. Be sure your friends don’t come to activity night too early or stand around for hours after it is over.”
“Leaders should never leave before everyone is out ot the building,” added Mike Heiner.
“During activity night, the rowdier the activity, the rowdier the kids are going to be,” said Dianne Hansen.
“And if everybody is dressed in their grubbies, they will tend to act grubbier,” said Lori Burt.
“Be aware of who is interested in certain activities,” added Kim Asay. “Something may interest the priests but bore the Scouts. Be sure your activities are geared for the right people.”
“If something is poorly planned, watch out,” added Karen Graehl. “Nothing can cause rowdiness like an activity that falls through.”
The Butler bishop’s youth committee had one real problem to take care of—the back row at sacrament meeting. It was always full; and it was generally noisy. Whispering and giggling could even be heard during the sacrament. The committee decided to do something about it. They started a “Sit with Your Parents” campaign.
At first it wasn’t easy. The leaders would go to their friends and suggest they sit with their parents during meetings instead of on the back row.
“They thought we were a little weird to ask them,” admitted one class president, “but after they tried it, they began to like it. They found it was much easier to listen and enjoy the meeting when they sat with their parents.”
Anyone sitting on the back row gets pretty lonely now.
The youth committee also came up with several suggestions for problems that many wards face:
Start and end activities on time. This really does help keep reverence.
Plan activities thoroughly. Gear them to the ages of those participating.
Set an example. If someone sees the president of the class goofing off, he’ll goof off too. If youth leaders set the proper example, problems will disappear.
Dress according to the activity. If you come to activity night in grubby pants, then you feel like acting grubby. You act differently when dressed up.
Remind each other about your conduct in the meetinghouse. “I know my mom has told me many times to be quiet,” said one Laurel, “but if I hear it from a friend, it stuns me. If your friends remind you to act your age and they mean it, you are going to listen.”
Remember that the meetinghouse is for your use. It is dedicated to the Lord, but you have a responsibility to keep it reverent. You wouldn’t run and shout in your parents’ front room when company is there; why should you in the meetinghouse?
The bishop’s youth committee’s ideas are good. And they appear to have worked for others as well. One ward spent a lot of money on broken light fixtures. During basketball season the past three years, it had been necessary to replace all the lights in the halls around the cultural hall. Boys bouncing basketballs off the ceilings in the halls caused the problem. When the Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidents met with the bishop to discuss athletic programs, they set down a rule. “No bouncing of balls outside the gym.” They enforced it themselves.
So far this year not a single light fixture has been broken.
President David O. McKay once said, “I do not know how to define reverence, but I do know how to classify or place it as one of the objectives of nobility, indeed, one of the attributes of Deity.”