I was a mailman one summer. I was a carny for a few hours until they fired me. I worked at a convenience store. I delivered papers. I sold shaved ice from a cart. I have done many weird and wonderful jobs in my life, but one thing I have never been is a janitor.
Facilities coordinator. Building manager. Custodial artisan. Whatever you want to call it, I have not worked as a janitor. I have a lot of respect for what they do. It is an often thanks-less job. It is the kind of work that when done well goes unnoticed and when done less than perfectly brings loads of criticism.
The worst week in the life of a janitor has to be Vacation Bible School. I say that because this is the week where the number one nemesis of the janitor, children, is increased exponentially. This is the week where we try new things with glue. Where we bring in petting zoo animals and big blow up toys and a million other things. It must be a nightmare.
Since this is VBS week for a lot of people I thought it might be nice to do a small, mildly sarcastic tribute to the janitors around the world that keep our churches moving along smoothly. That said, here are the five phrases that every janitor should never, ever want to hear from someone at church:
1. “Do you have anything that will get that out?”
The specific “that” doesn’t matter a whole lot, does it? Some substance has permeated some surface and a church member or staff member is asking if you can get it out. You have an arsenal of chemicals and solvents. You are like Batman with the utility belt. You can remove anything, the black from coal if you wanted to. But although the answer to this question is inevitably “yes,” it’s still not fun to hear.
2. “How many snakes do you think are in kudzu?”
I know a guy named Jarrett. He is creative and funny. One time he wanted to cut down a bunch of kudzu and put it on the stage at church. (Kudzu is a big, leafy vine that grows like crazy in Georgia.) I forget what message he wanted the kudzu to connect to, but the facility manager eventually talked him out of it because of the potential bugs and critters and snakes that might be lurking in the kudzu.
3. “It’s just glitter.”
Glitter is what is known as a “craft rabbit.” OK, it is only known to me that way, but let me explain. Glitter, much like a rabbit, has the unbelievable ability to multiply. When you drop a handful of glitter on the floor, don’t be surprised when three handfuls somehow magically appear. When a whole container is spilled during VBS, don’t be surprised when you see pink and blue and silver glitter for the next decade at church.
4. “I used to think that chain reaction vomiting was an urban legend.”
Group vomiting is really an activity best suited to youth group but occasionally this happens in Sunday School or even Vacation Bible School. One person gets sick and then the next person sees them and gets sick and then so on and so on. Fear not though, janitors have secret vomit clean up powders in secret closets you didn’t even know existed. I’m not sure they still use this stuff, but when I was a kid, janitors had bags of treated sawdust they would throw down when someone threw up. I probably did not become a carpenter because I can’t see sawdust without smelling throw up. That and the “nightstand incident” but I’m not ready to talk about that.
5. “We’re not sure how it got up there. But hopefully you’re not afraid of heights.”
Helium is not very expensive. This is great news for youth groups. This is bad news for janitors. I know it’s probably not true, but sometimes it feels like some youth ministers play a game I like to call “rafter rock.” It’s a simple game, you just try to put as many items as possible into the rafters or roof of your church as possible. Balloons, balls, Frisbees, anything and everything is eligible. You leave them up there as long as you can until the senior pastor finally complains. Then you call the janitor and say, “We’re not sure how it got up there. But hopefully you’re not afraid of heights.”
If you have a janitor that has stood boldly before the onslaught of VBS and survived, please print this out like they did for the cleaning person in the British version of the Office. Whoa, two Office references in a row. Three makes it a problem worth intervening. I’ll keep you posted.