I wipe the sweat from my brow on the sleeve of the white jumpsuit. The red smear left behind on the sleeve is unexpected. Leaving the hammer drill on the partially-tiled floor, I stand up to look in the large mirror on a nearby wall. Sure enough, there’s a tiny nick on my forehead. I step around another brother dressed in white to reach the box of tissues concealed beneath a cover of white yarn on a matrix of plastic. Satisfied that the bleeding has stopped, I adjust my earplugs, grab the Hilti, and continue tearing up the tiles of the baptistry.
The evening hasn’t gone quite as I anticipated.
The Sunday prior, the High Priest Group Leader announced that my in-laws’ ward was assigned to clean the Bountiful Temple from 9:30 to 11:30 on Thursday night. I thought it sounded like fun, so my hand quickly raised with Dad’s to indicate our availability.
Wednesday he and I attended an endowment session. Sitting in the room representing the presence of God, I was struck by the simple circle motif decorating the tall, beautiful room. Light from the setting sun streamed in through two of the high, round windows, connecting in my mind the light of Christ and Husserl’s predicted human mental ability to perceive such Platonic truths as perfect circles.
My knees each rest on a loose square tile six inches to a side on the floor of the the rinse-off shower area of the boys’ changing room adjacent to the baptistry. A bit of dust hangs in the air over the pile of tiles and tile fragments to my right, and the heavy hummingbird beats of several other hammer drills seep past my ear protection, joined by the scream of a concrete saw. Besides the red smear on my sleeve, I’m dusty and my white shoes have been cut up by sharp tile edges and dampened by water used to lubricate and cool the saw.
Thursday Dad and I returned to the temple to help fulfill his ward’s cleaning assignment. Our party of 23 changed into simple white clothing, symbolic of our unity before God in his house and the purity Christ’s spilt blood affords us. As we filed into a small room to sign in and receive instructions on our duties for the evening, the fellow from Custodial Staff verified that we were all there for a cleaning assignment. “There is another group coming at 10:00 to help with demolition in the baptistry.” He explained the need to replace copper pipes that were interacting with chlorine in the baptismal font water, among other changes. “Oh, I just remembered, THAT’s what I came to do,” joked the bishop.
One brother and I were assigned to dust the recessed light cans and the tops of the columns in the downstairs entry. We took turns securing the ladder and ascending it to clean, admiring the columns hand-painted to look like marble. I also used a backpack vacuum to clean out the square cut-out directly above the center of the room which houses fluorescent bulbs providing indirect light. While my partner vacuumed around the edges of the room, I was sent to polish a flight of marble stairs, which was the only place I actually found much dirt to clean up.
The permanent custodial staff of 11 is assisted five times a week by people like us: members of wards in the temple district. While we dusted in our area, others dusted elsewhere, and 10 of our group were vacuuming all over the building, taking care not to get too close to the wooden baseboards. The organization was flawless, the directions clear, and the attitudes cheerful, so the work proceeded quickly. Before we began the temple was impressively clean; our task was clearly to keep it that way by removing any trace of dirt or dust left behind during the day’s holy work.
By placing the chisel tip of the hammer drill bit right at the edge of a tile at an angle of about 40 degrees from the horizontal, squeezing the trigger, and applying just a bit of pressure, I can pop the entire tile right out of the thin-set mortar in a couple of seconds, though occasionally it comes out in pieces. My father-in-law and his neighbor and friend of 30 years fill up plastic-lined wheeled bins with rubble and cart them out to the dumpster. Two other members of their ward attack the floor with hammer drills nearby.
We finished our work, leaving the temple ready for Friday’s patrons. As we headed toward the changing rooms, we were asked if any of us wanted to help with the demolition work. Dad’s neighbor (who was also our ride) was already down there, so we went down to check it out. The beautiful carpet was covered with tough plastic that seemed to stick to it. From the hallway we could look through a huge window to see the baptismal font resting upon the backs of twelve symbolic oxen. Beyond it we could see some men from another ward doing something involving power tools to the floor. Other brethren carried the occasional solid-core door out of the area into a gigantic utility room filled with enormous ducts. We found our driver, arranged for his sweet wife to ride home with another couple and call our wives, donned work gloves and ear plugs, and the Temple Engineer put us to work.
Now it’s 1:15 am. I’ve cleared all the tile out of the shower area. Underneath the mortar I can see an older layer of square tiles two inches to a side. I think that the 3-inch layer of concrete under them is supposed to come out as well so the floor around each drain can be resloped, but my fellow recruits from the cleaning crew are about to head for home. We were asked to work for two hours each; we’ve worked – and how! – for almost twice that. I can feel dust between my teeth and my orthodontic aligners. We remove our dusty, damp, torn up shoes and socks before stepping off of the plastic-protected part of the carpet. In the changing room it seems almost silly to change back into Sunday dress.
As we exit the building and emerge into the parking area, I think of others who have physically labored on temple sites. Some of my own flesh and blood worked on the early temples of the Restoration. I feel a new and peculiar kinship with my temple-building people, for in my own small way I have physically labored alongside them to build a House of the Lord. The chisel shape of the hammer drill bit matches some of the stone mason’s tools, and the shovel and cart echo similar equipment available a century and a half ago.
More broadly, most of those who sacrificed to build temples in the days before general contractors are my brothers- and sisters-in-covenant (as are many of those employed by the contractors). The process of making and keeping covenants with Almighty God necessarily involves us in each others’ lives, and much of our individual renovation takes place as we interact with one another, each a chisel God uses to shape the others, or a cart God uses to haul away the heartache. Dad climbs into the back seat of the car leaving the front seat for me. Our brother starts the car, and appropriate to its design, the temple sends us to Home and Family.