Spit and Polish

By: Dr. Steve Kellner

Our military services are known for their obsession with “spit and polish”, the cleaning and maintenance of weapons, facilities, vehicles, and equipment, and ensuring their readiness for use. As a student years ago at the Armed Forces School of Music my classmates and I cleaned the entire school at the end of every duty day, though there was hardly anything that needed cleaning. This included not just normal tidying up like dusting, vacuuming, emptying the trash, and cleaning the latrines, but also polishing all the brass door handles and stair rails, and buffing the floors.

On Wednesday evenings we held a “field night”, a deep cleaning of the school. To give just one example of the level of spit and polish I’m describing, we scraped up the old floor wax with our dog tags and lit the newly applied wax on fire because melting it made the floors shinier! We had to keep our barracks just as clean, and we were required to clean our instruments weekly.

Though we complained endlessly about all this we understood its purpose. With hundreds of students using the buildings every day, dirt and disorganization could quickly take over if not for vigilant cleaning and maintenance. A music school depends on working instruments, and training time would be lost if equipment wasn’t stowed properly for easy retrieval. And something else: walking into a gleaming building every morning made us feel like we were doing something important, and we felt a sense of pride that we had done the cleaning ourselves.

I recently visited a corps community center on a weekday and was pleased to see how clean and orderly it was. Everything was ready for Sunday morning, the Sunday school lessons and crafts neatly laid out on the tables, the nursery well organized and stocked with baby supplies, the spotless sanctuary ready for worship. A room that I remembered from a previous visit as being a filled with junk was now a spacious game room. As the saying goes, you could have eaten off the floors.

I wasn’t surprised then to learn from the corps officers that more than 60 students from the local university volunteer in the corps every week and that community center attendance is up. The building itself sends a message that everyone is welcome, all has been made ready, and that something important is happening inside. And this before anyone has spoken a word.

It’s easy to poke fun at spit and polish, and admittedly it’s not as important as having a heart for God and others. But it is often an accurate barometer of how committed a corps is to reaching others for Christ and meeting their needs. Our buildings make a first impression on newcomers, for better or worse, and affect the way regular attenders feel about the corps as well.

So, some questions: Does your corps building make newcomers feel welcome? Is it obvious that preparations were made for their coming? Is the building safe for children? Is the room in which you worship God clean and orderly? Do your corps members feel a sense of pride in the condition of the corps building? Do they feel comfortable bringing new folks to corps meetings and programs? Do the instruments and sound system work properly? Can important supplies be located quickly?

If you don’t like your answers to these questions, try a little spit and polish in your corps. It’s more important than you might think, for newcomers and old timers alike. But don’t burn the building down when you light the floor wax!