It’s Time for the LDS Church to Hire Janitors Again

In a 1999 post on the churchofjesuschrist.org website, Bishop David Burton explains that, “Members of the Church are invited 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.”

Bishop Burton insists, “The most important thing to understand is that this program was not primarily instituted to save money. This is a program to develop personal character and receive eternal blessings.”

When I was younger, I half believed/hoped this to be true. I used to volunteer–or be volunteered/assigned–to clean church buildings. We would pile our children into the mini-van on a Saturday morning after a long, exhausting week and meet up with another young family at the church. While our kids dusted/ran around the building, we hurriedly vacuumed and scrubbed, trying not to think of the piles of laundry and messy rooms waiting for us at home. We pretended not to watch the small window of Saturday we had together as a family shrink as we cleaned.

Sometimes, we waited until the evenings, so we could leave the kids with a babysitter and clean before going out on a double date. Our commitment was admirable and it’s probably true that I was the only one of the four harboring secret resentment about this task. I know I was the only one openly complaining about it.

I wasn’t then, nor am I now, above janitorial work. It isn’t the vacuuming and scrubbing itself that began to irk me. It’s the assumption that “The same opportunities to sacrifice for the kingdom do not exist today as they once did” (Burton). It’s the belief that this cleaning “opportunity” is a necessary spiritual one that members are not achieving as they simultaneously fill their spiritual cup/calendar with FHE, seminary, singles activities, primary/youth activities, family history work, temple attendance, family and individual scripture study, Come Follow Me lessons, feeding the missionaries, creating handouts for lessons, planning lessons, cleaning the temple, education, member missionary work, preparing for Sunday on Saturday, using Sunday as a day of rest, working one or more jobs during the week, parenting, home care, volunteering at school/in the community, attending meetings for callings, building up food storage, supervising homework, going on dates, building friendships, finding uninterrupted family time, etc…

Janitors should be hired to clean and preserve church buildings weekly, with members contributing in maintaining this cleanliness. The LDS church can afford to offer well-paying, desirable, respected janitorial positions. Respecting the buildings requires more deliberate, experienced, focused care then they are currently receiving.

Instead of the call to clean the building creating an increased respect, it is often another duty completed by a few and dreaded by many. In fact, how often are we assuming that it is someone else’s duty to clean that week/month, rather than a shared task? LDS church buildings are not maintained as they should be because of many factors, including lack of experience, lack of time, apathy, exhaustion, and over-commitment.

Members should show respect for the building by emptying trash, cleaning white boards, cleaning up after messes, and generally picking up after themselves. We should show church buildings regular care and take responsibility for our messes. We should do this and hire janitors. Wouldn’t it be better to know LDS buildings are professionally deep-cleaned and respectfully maintained by members? Wouldn’t it be better to create jobs that help individuals and communities and to have immaculate, well-maintained buildings?

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46 Responses

  1. nicolesbitani says:

    Yes! I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never seen a ward or branch where this responsibility was actually equitably distributed and the cleaning adequately and reliably done. This seems like a wonderful opportunity to provide someone with the dignity of steady work for which they could be properly compensated.

  2. Julie C Moore says:

    Amen! And Amen!

  3. Johal521 says:

    Yes. I have never felt spiritually uplifted vacuuming a hallway or classrooms that look just like a high end office building. My husband found it to disheartening trying to twist members’ arms to clean that he just decided to do it himself. And now, ironically, my law enforcement son-in-law does it himself on Saturday mornings so that he can spend a little more of his already stretched time with his family. He says it takes him less time to clean the entire church inside or outside himself than supervising families who inevitably leave trails behind them. Plus employing and paying people would be a good look.

  4. Dot says:

    “The most important thing to understand is that this program was not primarily instituted to save money. This is a program to develop personal character and receive eternal blessings.” Ha. This is pure BS. I wonder how much time Bishop Burton or any of the other general authorities (the male ones, especially) spend cleaning their chapels. Please.

    The last time I helped clean the building before leaving the church forever, I deducted an hourly wage from my tithing. I recommend this as a solution since it is so difficult to pry funds from the grasping hands of church leaders. If everyone did this, the buildings would be cleaner, volunteers would be easier to find, and it would barely make a dent in the tithing income of the church.

  5. Janey says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. I used to be a church-cleaning regular, and some weeks it was fun, but whether the building actually got clean was kind of hit and miss.

    “The LDS church can afford to offer well-paying, desirable, respected janitorial positions.” I love this idea, but I highly doubt any church leaders would see it this way. I’ve had friends and family who have worked in the Church Office Building, and from anecdotes and stories, I’ve gotten the impression that the Church-as-an-employer wants to create blessings for its employees by underpaying or providing fewer benefits. Friends who worked IT for the Church got outsourced to be independent contractors so the Church didn’t have to offer health insurance. Another friend told stories about people retiring on a Friday and then coming back to work on Monday with a missionary nametag to keep doing their job for free. This meant someone else couldn’t get promoted or hired.

    The culture of volunteerism cuts against the Church offering good jobs to janitorial staff. I was raised in with the attitude that volunteering is wonderful. On my mission, I remember someone getting angry at me when we tried to volunteer for our service hours. “Why do you want to take a paying job away from someone!” I’d never thought of that before, but it’s colored my thinking since then. Why did the Brethren want to take paying jobs away from janitors? Why do they expect the members to do for free what other people get paid to do?

    It seems to me we’ve experienced a cultural shift away from volunteerism. The way wages have failed to keep pace with inflation means people are working more jobs and longer hours. The idea of using scarce free time to do something the Church could afford to pay for (and that should benefit someone who needs a job) is fading out of our collective consciousness.

    Good post. More people need to beat this drum.

    • Mindy says:

      Perhaps this was effective 20 years ago when it was a novel way to serve. But now it seems to go 2 ways. It often falls to a few or is a 1x or 2x a year assignment. I’m not sure that dusting once a year offers a deep appreciation for the building.

  6. Michael Pfaff says:

    The church spent at least $112 million dollars to buy a hotel in Hawaii last year. That’s $112,000,000.00. A hotel. But they won’t pay for professional cleaning of the local buildings. Go figure.

  7. Abby Hansen says:

    My friend had the calling to coordinate the cleaning and she was miserable. She was a single mom who dreaded bothering people to remind them of their assignment, and when they’d fall through she’d take her three young sons with her to the building and clean the whole thing herself. The whole program is a constant source of frustration and exhaustion for everyone involved.

  8. Beth Young says:

    I agree. Couching assignments as “opportunities to sacrifice” and “earn eternal blessings” is gaslighting members.

  9. Marianne says:

    Hire cleaners and free members to serve in their communities. We are too insular and think that serving each other or the Church suffices.

  10. Em says:

    I agree. At one point in our ward it was extremely well organized and the woman who ran it was very tenacious and fierce. The upside to this was that a cleaning assignment rarely took longer than 20 minutes because many hands make light work and she made darn sure that many hands were there. Our turn came up probably four times a year but it didn’t bother me because I knew we’d be in and out quickly. I was also able to reserve an assignment that works well with small children (e.g. primary room and nursery). That is no longer the case.

    Honestly if I had the job to coordinate cleaning I’d be super passive aggressive. I’m not cleaning that whole thing alone. If the assigned families don’t come, then we just don’t do those assignments. Overflowing garbage? Doesn’t sound like my problem alone.

    I wonder why we don’t have recycling bins. Most of the trash is paper from handouts/bookmarks/coloring. That should go in a paper bin.

    And yes we should be paying people. But then we should also be maintaining buildings and not running them into the ground. And we should be paying seminary teachers outside of Utah instead of expecting people do an extra part time job for free at the crack of dawn.

  11. Now With Scrubbing Bubbles says:

    Oh, please. If there were no opportunity for me to clean toilets, they wouldn’t have any need for me at all. At least cleaning the men’s rooms doesn’t require priesthood. That is, I never see men doing it.

  12. Caroline says:

    Yes, yes, yes! I get so frustrated every time I think about the enormous amount of wealth the church has that it doesn’t even seem to know what to do with, and yet it asks members, already paying a large chunk of their income to the church, to clean its buildings for free. Just no. Time for this to end. I personally refuse to do it, so my husband usually does it by himself.

    • Mindy says:

      I used to joke, “I’ll pay 11% tithing if it will get us janitors again.” I now know this is full of privilege. I also refuse to clean for free.

      • Dot says:

        If (or since) the church won’t do it, hire out the cleaning yourself and pay 8% tithing. Or skip the tithing entirely—they don’t need it. Or donate to an organization that will use your funds and tell you how.

  13. Katie Rich says:

    Absolutely! There are other times I have said yes and helped clean the building on a Saturday, but I think of the times when I’d have a newborn and a toddler and a husband either out of town or just getting back from travel and feeling so tired and behind on my own housework that I just couldn’t. The buildings need better maintenance and care than asking exhausted members to give more time and energy to something they aren’t even trained to do well.

  14. JC says:

    I’ve felt this way for years. It is ludicrous that the church with its billions of dollars cannot pay people to clean the church buildings on a daily basis with the proper supplies, especially when church temples and the CES schools are cleaned daily and meticulously with multiple cleaning and grounds crews. It has always confused me why the church doesn’t give the same amount of care and attention to the church buildings as well. It’s gotten to the point where I refuse to use the bathroom at church and am quick to leave after meetings and activities. I can’t stand to be in filth for that long.

    I’ve volunteered to clean the church before and it was either a case of there being too many cooks in the kitchen with multiple trails being left behind or there were so few people volunteering that the job never got done anyway. It also doesn’t help that the cleaning supplies provided are so diluted, they might as well be water, and so it’s not like the building is **really** being cleaned anyway. After a handful of times, I threw in the towel when I saw that the situation wasn’t improving.

    It also doesn’t help that the lack of care given to our church buildings means that they turn into breeding grounds for germs in the bathrooms, mother’s room, nursery, and primary room. With those rooms only being “cleaned” once a week hurriedly and with a product that’s practically water, is it really any wonder that the children, their mothers, and the people associated with those callings **always** end up getting sick? There really is no excuse.

    Plus, what does the lack of care for our meetinghouses say to people not of our faith? To investigators? I feel like relying on volunteers to clean the building instead of hiring and paying a daily cleaning crew to do a proper job sends a bad message. It’s saying that the church doesn’t care about the building or the people who inhabit it, especially when they’re expected to clean the building on top of everything else related to work, callings, personal scripture study, temple attendance, and family activities that need to be done. It’s inconsiderate of other people’s time, plain and simple.

  15. Klee says:

    Could not agree more. The need for deep cleaning is immense. That cannot be accomplished by a quick once a week swipe that lands on a few already overworked people.

  16. Lily says:

    Never mind that many of us are physically unable to do that kind of work. My name just goes on the list. I ignore it. Its abuse of the saints. I really like the idea of deducting your hourly wage from your tithing. I wonder if that would do the trick.

  17. Mortimer says:

    Yes! Amen!!!!! A thousand times amen.

    My problem is that there is no way for me to serve except by cleaning or regurgitating. I can clean the building, clean as a Mormon helping hand, or read correlated content. Nothing requires “me”, nothing requires my unique talents. That’s a grim view, and I suppose that if I were a teacher or worked with youth or something, I’d feel more needed, but I don’t and I don’t.

    If I were a church employee- a special “custodian”’of a ward or a temple- I’d feel special, I’d have purpose. But no one has purpose now, we are all interchangeable cogs.

    And our experience is drastically different from church leaders who are temple planners and builders, administer charitable programs, curate budgets and curriculums etc.

  18. Bryn says:

    Could not agree more as well! To add on, if our local buildings really are ours to bless and be blessed with and we use it for all the things (community outreach especially) and we maintained it together and decorated it together, with true shared ownership that might be a different discussion. I would still hire the janitor, but I could see how the idea of member maintenance works in that system. But what we have is a place for basic worship owned by a massive church that micromanages the building and its uses and they can afford janitors. There is something off putting about the size and scale of a wealthy church that runs more like a top down business like ours thinking this is what will make us better followers of Jesus Christ.

  19. Risa says:

    There’s a lot of reasons why the church getting rid of janitors and forcing members to be voluntold into cleaning chapels is gross. One of them is because we’re in a world-wide pandemic and every building should have undergone several deep cleanings by professionals at this point. Another reason has been addressed – a billion dollar church exploiting the free labor of already overwork members. Lastly, what does this say to non-member visitors at chapels that we don’t care enough about our buildings to hire janitors? I’ve literally never been to any other church that didn’t have a professional cleaning crew. I haven’t been in an LDS chapel in a long time until last weekend for a funeral. I was not impressed with the cleanliness of the bathroom, and overall, the general aesthetic of LDS chapels is depressing.

    • Tina says:

      Yes, yes, yes. All of this. My ward assigns cleaning by organization. Last year when church in-person had resumed (still with masks and zoom option) but my 11-yr-old who did not yet have access to a covid vaccine was still expected to show up and clean with the other YW. Not cool. I wonder if the lack of deep cleaning is why 99% of people in my ward still wear masks. I do not know what is going on with the people in the Church Office Building who made these decisions but valuing the experience of people in the building by creating an aesthetic environment conducive to a spiritual experience does not seem to be a concern.

      • wbl2745 says:

        Last week only about 10 people in our ward were wearing masks. Our stake president had sent a message quoting the governor (we’re in Utah if you haven’t guessed already) saying we didn’t need to wear them any more. Sorry, now we’re off topic…

  20. Bryn Brody says:

    I was offered the opportunity to serve as the cleaning coordinator and was told I would be reporting to the EQ president (with whom I had frequent disagreements). I declined with an expletive. The only thing worse than being the coordinated imo was being a coordinator who reported to a strict patriarchal man.

  21. LHCA says:

    Don’t know about you, but my meetinghouse is not a “beautiful house of worship” to begin with. I hesitate to invite anyone to a church service or activity where they might need to use the restroom, where they encounter decades-old fixtures and plumbing (and multiple signs warning them of what cannot be flushed…) AND obvious lack of sufficient cleanliness. So much is diverted to temple construction and maintenance, yet meetinghouses are bland and do not inspire.

  22. Pbj says:

    My uncle was one of the janitors fired when this began years ago. It was the only job he kept for more than a few months. I remember my mom being so angry about this for years.

    I used to work as janitor at BYU. We had assigned areas (cleaned the same area each day), good, working equipment and TRAINING.

    It’s time for this policy to change.

  23. Tony says:

    Burton went on to head the Utah Transit Authority for a few years.
    These men literally steal the widow’s mite to build high end shopping centers.
    And some steal hospitals. They present well, but are not nice people.
    “Theft of Marin General Hospital.”

  24. Thanks so much for this. I was just discussing this article/topic with my husband tonight and he reminded me of a new member in our ward years ago he was working with (he was the ward mission leader at the time) who was assigned the calling of cleaning coordinator. He thought this guy was so great. Within a few months of his calling, he was so discouraged to find that so few to zero members showed up. In the end he couldn’t believe that people cared so little (found feces in the baptism font!) about their place of worship, that he left the church. Despite words to the contrary, I have long believed this “plan” was nothing more than a cost savings measure, I would be very happy to see this program gone.

  25. icm says:

    ^ Amen! On my mission I was ashamed to invite people to come to church on Sunday because the meeting houses were always so filthy, and the bathrooms even worse.

  26. TopHat says:

    Oh we definitely need professional cleaners. There are buildings, like the Interstake Center in Oakland, that hosts some public events (piano competitions and such) and the public deserves better than volunteer cleaning. It has multiple cultural halls/gyms and chapels and dozens of classrooms.

  27. Fantum says:

    It would make sense to hire a person in the Wards that needs a job.

  28. Bill says:

    When I was growing up in California, the Church built a home next to the stake center when it was also being built. The home was for a full-time caretaker who did a wonderful job of keeping this huge building clean. Later on they hired another caretaker, who lived in another Church owned home nearby. It seemed to have worked fine.

  29. nedreberg says:

    The original move to do away with paid custodians in the church was to save not only wages but health care costs. At least it correlated with the federal requirement to pay health care for anyone working over a certain number of hours. It’s sad how many people lost jobs because of that move. Running the church like a business makes it so I want to treat it like a business meaning and nothing more.

    • Dot says:

      I did not know that. That’s even more disappointing than I thought. God forbid the church provide health care for anyone besides general authorities and mission presidents.

    • Risa says:

      I have to validate that this is absolutely true. I worked for LDS Family Services as an adoption caseworker from 2007-2013. They went from 2 full-time caseworkers (with benefits, retirement, etc) to 4 part-time caseworkers. We weren’t allowed to work over 19 hours a week or over 999 hours a year lest we qualify for benefits. I had a particularly busy year one year and went over the 999 and they were forced to offer me a simple IRA with matching up to 3%. The fact that a billion dollar church doesn’t want it’s employees to be full-time so they can save money on health care and retirement benefits is super gross.

  30. Ernie Aldo says:

    I can’t tell you how much I agree. I try to be a good neighbor even though I’m no longer active, so I’ve kept doing this job in the past. Just this past week I found out we are assigned to clean our church in May. I told my wife I’d do this because we are on the list. However, she also knows its the last time I will agree to do this. The church can afford a professional cleaning crew! Hey LDS Church…take this brick off the back of your members!

  31. spunky says:

    I dunno. I don’t live in the US, so the church bankroll here is very limited; I’d prefer to clean the chapel then use the excess funds for youth activities, if there are excess funds. In my area, and where I lived previously, there was a high amount of unemployment on church members, creating a high fiscal reliance on the church– in part, IMO, because women were being told be be SAHPs. That being said– I don’t attend church more than once or twice a year, so cleaning once in a while doesn’t bother me. (We also have professional cleaning equipment in our’s and they do training on how to use it properly).

  32. Eric Facer says:

    I’ll add my “Amen!” as well. Thanks you.

  33. Margaretida says:

    What I see in the majority of these comments is a need for an attitude adjustment. Each complainer sees themselves as something separate from ‘the church’. See Sister Aburto’s talk in April 2022 conference – we ARE the church! If you take the same position about taking care of the cleanliness of your home, you may want to consider this attitude adjustment there, too!
    If you are not using this opportunity to work WITH your children and teach them to respect and care for the place where they worship and share their knowledge of God, doing their very best work, you are missing the point.
    The point is not just to get the cleaning job done – or to do it quickly and efficiently. It is to raise a generation – a generation of reverent disciples who are willing to make even a ‘mundane’ cleaning chore into a spiritually uplifting experience – for themselves and for others.
    And I know that is a possible outcome for I have personally received many uplifting insights as I have done janitorial chores in church buildings – and at home. And I know what a challenge it is to turn the focus around – from the (external) chore itself to the (internal) blessings we can give and/or receive through reaching for the goal.
    God bless us all to find the pearls hidden in the little, seemingly onerous tasks He lays before us in this temporal world!

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