Coming Clean

When they show up for Mutual, they end up scrubbing, sweeping, and polishing. So why do they still show up?

Daniel Schlegel looks at the reflection of the Detroit Michigan Temple in the stake center window. The window is dirty, covered with water stains, and dimly mirrors the temple just across the parking lot. He sprays the window with cleaner, and the image disappears in streaks of blue liquid. As his hand moves in circular motions, the image slowly reappears. When he’s finished, the reflection of the temple is bright, and he moves on. There are plenty of windows to clean and not much time.

It doesn’t sound like something that would lure youth to Mutual, but cleaning the meetinghouse every week is what they’ve been asked to do, and the youth keep coming.

When the bishop first asked the youth in the Bloomfield Hills First Ward to clean the stake center, they didn’t exactly shout with joy. Who wants to finish off each activity night by scrubbing the building? There are more exciting ways to end Mutual activities, like shooting hoops or just chatting with friends.

But after the youth had cleaned the building for several weeks, they realized it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be. And after a few more weeks, they even began to enjoy it. Now they say cleaning the church has changed the way they feel about the building and about themselves.

A call from the prophet

Three years ago, the First Presidency requested that ward members take more responsibility for cleaning Church meetinghouses. They recommended that the youth take on the responsibility as part of their weekly activities. The Bloomfield Hills youth knew this meant them.

“It cuts costs so we can provide more money for missionary work and temples,” says Rob Montierth, a priest who helps clean the building each week. “But it also teaches us responsibility and to respect the house of the Lord.”

Rob’s words echo the promise the First Presidency gave in a letter sent to bishops and stake presidents in the United States and Canada when they requested that youth clean the buildings. “From this service, young people can deepen their reverence and feelings of respect for the house of the Lord.”

Christina Wirthlin, a Laurel, says taking the call from the prophet seriously and cleaning each week makes her feel personally responsible for the cleanliness of the building. “It just makes me look out for things more. When I see papers on the floor and when I see things that need to be put away, I feel more responsibility to do those things. Before, I would just look past it because I figured someone else would do it.”

A 15-minute flurry

The Bloomfield Hills stake center isn’t a small building. The task of cleaning it seems a bit overwhelming. There are windows to polish, carpets to vacuum, hymnbooks to straighten, floors to mop, chalkboards to dust, a courtyard to sweep and weed—the list goes on and on. But the youth are not only willing to clean; they’re anxious to get started.

It’s almost like a tornado has hit the inside of the stake center. But unlike other tornadoes, this whirlwind of activity puts things in place.

The storm of activity is intense for about 15 minutes as the sound of vacuums squealing adds to the chorus of a squeaky wheel on the mop bucket and the rhythmic sweeping from the brooms in the courtyard. People are wiping down cabinets in the kitchen, making sure there are hymnbooks at every bench, pushing mops across the gym floor, and pulling tiny weeds out of the cracks in the courtyard cement.

Then, just as quickly as the cleaning supplies came out of the closet, the activity settles, and Mutual is over. When the youth leave, the stake center is spotless. Everything is in its place, and the building is ready to welcome them on Sunday morning.

A house of order

As people file into the meetinghouse on Sunday morning, everything is in its place. And if something is out of line, or there’s a scrap of paper on the floor, you don’t have to tell the youth to take care of it; it has become instinct.

“I think that since we’ve been cleaning the building, I notice more when it’s clean,” says Diana Parker, a Mia Maid. “And I think the fact that the youth clean it makes a big difference because it’s something we can do to help invite the Spirit into the building.”

All the youth agree that it’s easier to feel the Spirit in a clean place. “When the building is clean, it just makes a better feeling, and the Spirit is stronger,” says Christina. “The Spirit is more willing to come in when it’s clean.”

Cleaning the building in preparation for Sunday has taught the youth respect for the building, but they have also learned that the building isn’t the only thing that needs Sunday preparation.

Just as the building needs to be cleaned, so do the people attending church, says Kay Smith, a Laurel. “We don’t just come to church in regular clothes; we come in Sunday clothes.”

Rob says that, as well as cleaning up our appearances, we have to do some deep cleaning. “We clean up our thoughts and our minds so that when we come to church we can have more of a spiritual experience.”

Coming clean

Before Mutual starts and before anyone signs up for specific cleaning responsibilities, Bishop Kunz asks the youth to especially make sure the windows and doors are washed. He says the glass doors are the first thing people notice when they walk into the building, and nothing is worse than water stains and fingerprints on glass.

Daniel, a teacher, is one of many who help fill the bishop’s request. Like the other youth, he wants the building to look good for Sunday. Even though the windows become spotted and require plenty of polishing, Daniel is up for the task. The crisp reflection of the temple in the spotless window is the reward he gets from his work.

Although the meetinghouse only takes a short time to clean each week, the youth have learned an important principle from doing it—respect.

“There are places in the world where they don’t even have ward buildings,” says Laura Hansen, a Mia Maid. “We are so blessed to have this building, and I think we should feel some responsibility, even if a janitor did what we do, because it is the house of the Lord.”

Just like the building, the youth know that their appearance can be a reflection of what they value and can influence how they behave. And they know that it’s more than just coming with a clean appearance to church; they also try to come spiritually clean. Cleaning the stake center has helped teach them this lesson. That’s why, when it’s time to get ready for church, they are eager to come clean.

[photos] Photography by Matthew Baker