They go about their work efficiently and without a lot of fanfare. In fact, many parishioners likely take what they do for granted. But it’s the deep faith of those involved in church cleaning ministries that motivates them to perform a vital parish service.
At St. John the Evangelist Church in Goshen the cleaning committee has shrunk from about a half-dozen regulars to two or three regulars. Sacristan and church cleaning coordinator Donna Elchert said they’ve had members pass away, and others have had to drop out due to advancing age and declining health.
Elchert, along with Cheryl Kenawell and sometimes Alice Wheeler, generally clean the church after the 8 a.m. Mass on Friday — with the exception of first Friday because of eucharistic adoration — so that it’s ready for the weekend Masses. Other volunteers help out from time to time. The large Hispanic community at St. John schedules different ministries each week (to clean after the final Mass each weekend, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, so the church is clean for upcoming weekday Masses.
Elchert and her husband, Deacon Dave Elchert, have been members of St. John the Evangelist Parish since 1989. They were members from 1978-81 but moved away for a time. When they returned, Donna started cleaning the church and became part-time sacristan.
“I kept joining things, and when I retired in 1991, I went full force,” she said.
Kenawell began assisting with the church cleaning committee to help out another former member, Nancy Glon, when she would go to Arizona for the winter. A recent shoulder injury has taken Glon out of the committee for the foreseeable future.
What drives Elchert is her sense of the sacredness of the church. “I don’t think it’s right, and I couldn’t stand to have a Mass said if the church is dirty,” she said. “This is Jesus’ house — it shouldn’t be dirty.”
The ladies make sure furniture is in the right place and change the water in the baptismal font Some of the other duties the women perform include cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, dusting the statues and candle stands and ensuring the seats and pews are clean and dusted. They also sweep and clean the entryways and windows and remove gum and wax off the carpeting as necessary. They also keep track of when candles on the altar and the votives need to be replaced, and they check for damaged hymnals and missalettes.
“And a lot of little things along the way,” Kenawell said, “and there are some surprises that are not always pleasant.”
Donna’s grandson, the St. John the Evangelist School custodian, takes care of cleaning the church basement.
Both women desire for the church to be clean and ready for parishioners: Kenawell also cited it as the reason she chooses to help. “To show respect, yes; and you want it to be clean and ready for people.”
She added that she hopes a clean church will encourage parishioners to want to keep it that way.
Besides the satisfaction and sense of pride that comes when a cleaning job is completed, participating in this ministry helps Donna and Kenawell in other ways, too.
“When you’re spending time here and doing your work there’s a lot of things going through your mind and there’s a peace in that,” Kenawell said.
Donna agreed that especially after Mass, when the church empties, it gives her “a sense of peace.”
They also believe the church being clean and tidy helps parishioners to not be distracted when they come to pray.
After her cleaning work is done, Kenawell often stays to do just that — sit and pray, and ask the Lord, “Where do I take this day from here?”
“I’m more conscious about praying for others at those times, too.”
Donna shared that she has silently prayed a rosary while cleaning, or sung a hymn to herself , and that she appreciates that time.
The women encourage others to consider ministries of cleaning, “for the very reasons we do it,” Kenawell said.
“You don’t need experience — anyone can clean,” Donna said, adding that there’s usually not a lot of time involved.
While it may not be as visible as some other church ministries, it’s a necessary one; and those involved have hearts for service.
“I just love this church,” Donna said. “I don’t want people to have to come into a dirty church.”
Many hands, light work
Hispanic ministries of the parish alternate Sunday afternoon cleaning duties at St. John. Those ministries are acolytes and married couples, Sunday choir, lectors, eucharistic ministers, sacristans and ushers, apologetics, adult education, children’s evangelization, baptism couples, Catholic Christian Family Movement, Catholic Charismatic Renewal, evening adoration and the women’s and men’s Christ Renews His Parish teams.
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