Several stake presidents meeting in a regional meeting recently in Dallas, Texas, noticed a young family entering the meetinghouse. As the mother of the family washed the glass windows and the father began vacuuming, they watched as the two children, approximately 10 and 8 years old, began walking down the hallway while dusting the tops of the molding that lined the walls.
The little girl, slightly ahead of her brother, suddenly stopped, turned to him, called him by name and said, "You've got to hurry faster."
Her brother put his hands on his hips, and replied, "Mommy said this is Heavenly Father's house and it has to be done nice."
The recent call by the First Presidency for members to assume a greater responsibility for the care and cleaning of Church meetinghouses was meant to be a blessing and not a burden, said Presiding Bishop H. David Burton.
In a letter issued last fall to priesthood leaders in the United States and Canada, the First Presidency urged members, especially Aaronic Priesthood quorums, to play a prominent role in the care of meetinghouses.
"This new program is pretty simple," explained Bishop Burton. "It basically amounts to inviting members of the Church to participate in the cleaning of their buildings in such a way that by their sacrifice, they will come to honor and respect and love these beautiful houses of worship.
"When you think about it, next to your home, and next to the temple, where do the important events of life take place? The meetinghouse becomes a center of spiritual and social activities for our families. Here we worship the Savior every week. Here we partake of the sacrament and remember His atoning sacrifice. Here we listen and learn the doctrines of the kingdom. Here we bless our children.
"Today, it is so easy for us to slip over to these meetinghouses and treat them as any other ordinary building we may enter during the week," he said.
Members caring for meetinghouses is not a new practice in the Church. For many years, meetinghouses were built and maintained by the sacrifice of ward or branch members.
But in recent years, member participation in the care of meetinghouses has largely come in the form of paying tithes, with an occasional service project.
"The same opportunities to sacrifice for the kingdom do not exist today as they once did," Bishop Burton said.
With an increase in member participation comes a corresponding decrease in the responsibility of the facilities management groups that currently care for meetinghouses.
These management groups will now enter meetinghouses once a week and assist the cleaning efforts of the members by performing the more difficult maintenance responsibilities, such as refinishing cultural hall floors, cleaning the grouting in rest rooms, and shampooing carpets. They will also maintain the equipment used by members and stock the cleaning supplies necessary for members to perform their role.
"We realize that members come at a sacrifice and it would be very disappointing to them if they couldn't get into the closet, or if supplies were limited and the equipment did not function properly," Bishop Burton said.
The main point of coordination and leadership of this program is through stake presidents, the high councilor assigned as the stake physical facilities representative and the bishops and branch presidents, Bishop Burton continued.
Coordinating the efforts of both groups will assure that meetinghouses will continue to be the beautiful edifices they currently are.
In the letter from the First Presidency, bishoprics and branch presidencies were encouraged to "enlist their youth to be part of this weekly activity" so that "from this service, young people can deepen their reverence and feelings of respect for the house of the Lord."
"Our youth need opportunities to work," added Elder Robert K. Dellenbach of the Seventy and general president of the Young Men. "We've lost a lot of that perspective. That's the challenge we've got to change. I didn't like cleaning a smelly chicken coup when I was a teenager. But I had to do it. Part of galvanizing our youth in the gospel comes in teaching them to work. In the process, they will come to revere these buildings, just as their grandparents revere the buildings they helped construct in their day when they sacrificed of their time and means."
"The most important thing to understand," continued Bishop Burton, "is that this program was not primarily instituted to save money. This is a program to develop personal character and receive eternal blessings.
"Those priesthood leaders who teach their people that this is an opportunity to sacrifice and to build the kingdom will find success in their efforts," he continued.