Few people do “spring cleaning” anymore. In case you’ve never heard of it, it was the practice of thoroughly cleaning a house in the springtime. Its history is debated but in most cultures, spring was a time of new beginnings which called for the cleaning out of the old.
The origins of spring cleaning are thought to go back to the Iranian Norouz, the Persian New Year, which falls on the first day of spring. Iranians practice “khooneh tekouni” which literally means “shaking the house” before the New Year begins. Scotland and Japan also have “New Year’s cleaning” on December 31.
In northern climates, whether in caves, huts, teepees, sod houses, wooden or brick structures, spring cleaning meant that you had to have enough light and warmth to take draperies and rugs and even mattresses outside in order to clean them. You had to open the windows and the doors to let a fresh breeze blow out the stuffiness and let in more light which is always good for cleaning!
Traditionally the Church had a thorough cleaning of the altar and everything associated with it on Maundy Thursday.
Which brings me to my point. Have you looked around your church building lately? Do you have a lot of clutter? Do you have rooms that you don’t use much any more and they have become clutter magnets, collecting every old thing brought into or made in the church? Take a look at the backside of the pulpit. Could you do an archeological dig of every children’s sermon in the last year (or more)?
Just like Jesus “cleaning the temple,” I can tell you stories about cleaning out storage areas in a church only to be met with harsh criticism. “You threw away what?” Whatever it was, we hadn’t used it in years. One particular thing that really upset an elderly woman in the church was so faded you could hardly recognize what it was. My husband threw away a raggedy cardboard donkey (who hadn’t gotten the lead in a Christmas play or Palm Sunday parade for years) and he got a real dressing down! People don’t always like you to mess with their clutter!
But it is all worth it! You see, when we have a lot of clutter around our churches, especially in public spaces for all to see (not just new people or visitors), it says that we live in the past, not in the future. We’re hanging onto stuff that we don’t need and in fact keeps us from being free, nimble, and even new. Our old stuff is more important than dreaming and creating fresh expressions of being church, telling the story, and living unencumbered by all the old.
De-cluttering our buildings from literal papers, props and stuff may actually help us de-clutter some other things like old hurts, “we’ve always done it that way” excuses, and too much looking back and inward instead of looking forward and outward. We could all really use some spring cleaning in our hearts, minds, and relationships!
There’s a meme on Facebook that says: “Instead of giving up sweets for Lent, give up clutter! Each day fill a bag (any size) with things that you no longer need/use and donate to charity.” It might be a little late to do the full Lenten practice but even if you just do it for a few weeks or Holy Week—at church and in your own life—you might find the de-cluttering of your house, church, heart and soul.
God is always seeking to do a new thing in us and through us. Give God some space to work, open the windows and doors of your life for fresh breezes and more light, beginning in your building and moving into your heart and mind.
Enough for now, I’ve got some de-cluttering to do. What about you?
~Bishop Sally Dyck