Cleaning Houses of Worship Is a Source of Inspiration

By Ryan Soderlin next time you’re at church, temple, or any house of worship, look around. Who picks up the used programs and tissues left on the seats? Who sweeps the hallways and takes out the trash? How do the cloths get washed, the cups cleaned, the decor dusted? We don’t have a team of holy elves to thank. Many houses of worship rely on good-hearted volunteers to do the dirty work.

“In my own parish of St. Bernard’s, parishioners clean the church,” said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor for the 23-county Omaha Archdiocese. “They vacuum, they water the plants, they wipe down around the windowsills of stained-glass windows. They mop floors, clean the bathrooms.”

It’s hard work that few are willing to do. Events aren’t limited to weekend services. There are weddings, funerals, and weekday meetings to keep volunteers busy. With everything people have going on in their lives, why would anyone sign up for such a task?

“Keeps me sane,” said Peg Worthing, 80 years old, laughing. She calls cleaning the Holy Name Parish in Omaha “a form of therapy.” And that makes sense. To many people, their house of worship is a second home and improving its appearance is a source of pride.

When vandals hit the Desert Springs Community Church in Goodyear, Arizona, hundreds of volunteers showed up to clean the space.

“I felt like it was my home that was personally vandalized,” said volunteer Kimberly Spencer. The high school senior grew up going to the Desert Springs Community Church until her family moved up north. She drove 2 hours from Prescott Valley to help clean.

The thankless hard work and dedication of these volunteers serves as an inspiration. Ryan Soderlin, a photojournalist at the Omaha World Herald, recently captured the work of volunteers cleaning Holy Name Parish. He was inspired by memories of his mother and other volunteers cleaning the church in my childhood home of Newell, S.D. Newell, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Áine O’Dwyer, an Irish harpist and musician, also recorded a series of improvisations on the organ in St. Mark’s Church, Islington called Music for Church Cleaners. As the title suggests, the recording was conducted in the presence of the (occasionally audible) cleaning staff.

It’s easy to overlook volunteer work and take clean spaces for granted. The next time you visit a church or temple look around and appreciate the clean environment. You may even want to thank the person you see waiting in the back with a broom.

Source: Omaha World Herald

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .