Our church doesn’t have a janitor. Well, the truth is that we don’t have a paid janitor. Instead, we consider ourselves a church of janitors. We all pitch in to keep the building clean and hospitable. When someone wishes to use the building, they consult with the leaders or the pastors to make sure it is available and then they are reminded to “leave the building like you found it or better than you found it.” When outsiders ask to use the building a similar instruction is given. We simply assure them that no janitor exists and that we would greatly appreciate it if they would make sure that they leave the building like they found it. People do sign up to take turns mopping, vacuuming the carpets, and cleaning bathrooms and the kitchen each Saturday in preparation for our worship gathering on Sunday evening, but throughout the week it is up to the individual users of the building to care for the building.
Does it always work out? No, not always. Sometimes people are tired at the end of a long meeting and have the intention to return ‘later’ to clean up their mess, forgetting that someone else might be intending to use the building in the intervening time. Occasionally we arrive only to discover the building untidy and dirty. Sometimes people are just lazy and choose not to abide by the expectations, believing someone else will pick up the slack for their slackness. Of course, people also clean to differing standards so one person’s ‘clean enough’ is another person’s pig sty. Because of this, our leaders get to occasionally practice their conflict resolution skills. We always encourage people to come early to configure the building the way they want it configured and to make sure things are cleaned to the standards they might expect. Most of the time things work out fine, but on occasion we get to deal with conflicts. People do come to recognize they are part of our community and that they bear responsibility to each other and to God to care for and maintain the beautiful building and grounds God has given us to steward.
Most every member has a key to the building or can have one if they want one. If a member needs access to the building they need only secure a key by asking someone who is a member to borrow theirs. Most of members are part of small groups, called Pilgrim Groups or a larger group, called Monastic Communities. Folks can usually secure a key from multiple sources within those groups. It is rare that a pastor or a leader needs to open the church doors. We gladly open our doors to almost any kind of neighborhood group, with the caveat that a member of our community must choose to be responsible and present while the building is in use. We put the responsible party’s name on the calendar so that we know who is obligated to leave the building like they found it. ‘Groups’ aren’t responsible to care for the building, individuals are. That makes it much easier to resolve issues and disputes.
We recognize that a well-used building will experience normal wear and tear. Things will get broken. A microwave will stop working, a toilet will back up, a chair will break, or any of a myriad of things will happen that could be just normal maintenance, neglect, misuse, maliciousness, or a combination of any of the above. Things will happen. We have regular work days where we do things like clean out the refrigerators, trim the trees, and catch up on maintenance. Everyone is invited to come fix up what needs fixing, replace what needs replacing, and clean what needs cleaning. Sometimes we have to call a plumber or a repair person to fix what is broken and we need to make sure funds are available so leaders step in to make sure those issues are resolved appropriately.
Not having a paid janitor has been a wonderful thing. Families and friends work together to make sure the building is cleaned and cared for. Most everyone in the community feels responsible for cleaning up after themselves. There is tremendous peer pressure to clean up your own mess and to fix what you break. When no one is responsible, people soon learn that we are all individually responsible and rise to the challenge. We cook and serve a meal as part of our worship each Sunday. The cook is always responsible to clean up after themselves but it is rich and wonderful to watch people step in to wash, dry, and put away the dishes while engaging in good conversations about life. Several of the children have learned from their parents to go from person to person asking if they have finished eating and if they might clear their plate and recycle their soda cans or water bottles for them. It is fun to watch children learn to also take responsible for what God has given us.
The garbage and recycle trucks come on Monday. My co-pastor and I still haven’t quite figured out how to get people to drag the trash containers out to the street on Sunday nights after worship for the Monday morning pickup. I don’t think anyone in the congregation ever thinks about that task, so invariably the pastors, who are normally the last to leave the building Sunday night, get to take a few minutes to wheel the garbage cans to the street. That seems good and fitting.