Recently, we signed up to help clean the church one Saturday morning. (In our church, the members rotate the cleaning responsibility.) There were about 4 or 5 families/couples who showed up at 8am and the lead family handed out assignments. We were actually a few minutes late (oops) and luckily for us, the vacuuming had not yet been claimed. Here's something about me -- of all household chores, I love vacuuming! I love to run the vacuum because I find it relaxing. The hum of the vacuum helps me tune everything else out and believe it or not, I can solve a ton of the world's problems while vacuuming. Not to mention, I get the instant gratification of creating those perfect vacuum lines in the carpet! //squeals in delight//
I digress. My husband took the large commercial vacuum and was charged with the hallways and classrooms. I grabbed the regular vacuum and headed for the chapel - looking forward to it actually. Something about being in the Lord's house and serving Him in this way was very spiritually gratifying. Plus, I knew there was no way the huge monster vac could fit between the pews. I also knew, given the fact that we have approximately 480 parishioners and that half of those are under age 18, the chapel probably held a few misguided cheerios from the previous Sunday.
As I began, most of the aisles between the pews were in good shape - the anticipated lost cheerio or occasional forgotten crayon here or there. But then, I came upon a row and found myself utterly disgusted. Fruit snacks and cheese crackers mashed into the carpet - a pile so large that no one could miss it if they would have just looked! I'm going to give the family who sat there the benefit of the doubt and assume they did NOT check their surroundings before exiting their pew. I just can't accept that if a mother or father saw the mess their kids made in THE LORD'S HOUSE they would simply leave it there. (Right? Please tell me I'm right!)
As I went on my dust-sucking journey of creating clean lines in the beautiful chapel, about every 4th or 5th row, I'd come upon something similar to the earlier scene. Again, appalled. I know some churches don't allow food/treats even for small children in their chapels or sanctuaries. I also understand that it might not be completely realistic in a congregation of our size to implement that type of rule. But I was a little disappointed of just how often I came upon a rather large pile of forgotten treat crumbs. In one pew, I found a pencil that someone had manually ripped into shreds and then stuffed into the hymnbook rack. In the row behind that I located a few small hairbands and a little plastic snow pony, just laying there in plain sight. My morning of anticipated respite in serving was quickly beginning to shrink as defeat set in. Had I been giving my fellow worshippers too much credit? Are we just so used to living our fast-paced lives we don't stop and take two minutes to clean up after ourselves?
I remember while growing up my parents taught us church was not only a place of fellowship and faith, but also a place to show our gratitude and reverence to God for all that He has given and that reverence also includes respect. We weren't even allowed to lean our feet up against the hymn rack or pew in front of us. We weren't permitted to stand on the benches or run in church either. My parents taught us to treat the Lord's house better than our own. We understood this was a special place. And when it was time to leave, I can still hear my mother's voice admonishing us to "gather up our things" and check around us for any garbage. We not only cleared our own small toys or crayons, but often others' too.
Let's compare this to Disneyland - y'know, the "happiest place on earth"? Yeah. One of the corporate Disney philosophies is that EVERY team member is responsible to keep their parks clean. If they see trash, they stop and pick it up. It doesn't matter if they are the custodian, a groundskeeper, a ride operator, or an executive. And yet did you know that there are only 4 workers per shift that are responsible to drive around and empty the trash bins? FOUR! In a park as huge as Disney World or Disney Land, that's incredible considering the immaculate state we usually see.
Well, in my opinion, shouldn't our churches be one of the happiest places on earth too? Shouldn't we all take on the responsibility of keeping our sanctuaries just that - A Sanctuary? Should we not be teaching our children this? I can't tell you how many times in church I've instructed my kids to pick up a gum wrapper or other trash from the floor, whether it be in the chapel or the hallway. When they were little, they used to say, "but I didn't put it there." Now they understand. I hope they do this even if I'm not around to ask them.
By no means am I trying to call anyone out for their child making a mess in church. I just think if we all took an extra minute before leaving to check and clean our surroundings, and if we all picked up trash when we notice it (even if we didn't put it there), we would grow spiritually and deepen our connection with our Lord, both within the walls of our churches and out.
Something to think about, anyway.