Taking care: Custodians have behind-the-scenes impact at houses of worship

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McCORDSVILLE — Randy Julian’s 10-year-old daughter cried.

She was going to be baptized at a church on Sunday. She wanted her dad to be there. He didn’t want to go.

He’s inside a church as he tells this story from years ago. These days, he spends a lot of time at church.

Julian, operations director at Outlook Christian Church in McCordsville, might not always be the most visible staff member to the congregation, yet parishioners see his work every week. He’s one of a number of people who serve in various custodial roles at Hancock County churches, giving attention to details and serving people they say they’ve grown to love.

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Joan Fearnow, who’s been serving as custodian at Fortville Christian Church since 1992, said it’s a blessing to be able to help people who come in and need help finding an item or setting something up.

“I like my job very much, but what’s enjoyable about my job just is the people that come in, and I get to visit with them,” she said.

A typical week on the job can include dusting, mopping, cleaning door knobs with a bleach wipe, or running children’s toys through the dishwasher to sanitize them.

“I want to do a good job because I feel like I’m working for the Lord,” she said. “I do it out of a love for the people here at the church … they have treated me so well over the years.”

Connie Wilson also has many memories made through the years with her congregation at Mohawk United Methodist Church, where she’s attended since elementary school and served as a custodian since the early 1990s.

She was married there, raised her children there, and sat beside her mother on many a Sunday in the years before her mother died.

“A lot of memories come back as I’m cleaning,” Wilson said. “Those members have been my family through a lot of difficult times. It means a lot to me. I take a good bit of pride in keeping the church clean.”

When Wilson started her duties, she worked with another woman. About three years later, she began cleaning solo, though she’s had help at different times through the years.

She used to fit cleaning in two nights a week, outside of her full-time job. Since she retired from that job about 10 years ago, she spends a couple of mornings each week dusting tables, wiping chairs in classrooms, cleaning bathrooms and mopping floors. These days, husband Ben is there helping.

Connie Wilson’s duties began those years ago after a church building project expanded the size of the church and therefore the number of rooms to clean.

Julian has seen the building of the church he serves grow and change, too. The church moved from Oaklandon, where it was known as Oaklandon Christian Church, to a new site and new name in McCordsville in 2009. Outlook Christian Church added to that new building several years later with a 25,000-square-foot expansion in 2015-16.

Through the years, Julian has seen himself grow, too.

Remember that baptism service he didn’t want to attend? Well, he finally gave in to his tearful daughter and went — and he said it wasn’t so bad. The children’s pastor was an old school classmate, and people invited him to a Saturday night service the church had at the time.

He started getting to know people at the church. They’d hire him for handyman work at their houses. Over pizza after one of those Saturday services, they learned he was into music and could operate sound and lights, so they recruited him to help the band.

Then they needed his skills for a three-week mission trip to U.S. Army and Air Force bases around the country.

It was a whoa moment for Julian. Does a non-Christian man go on a mission trip? He thought hard about what he really believed.

And then the guy who didn’t want to go to his daughter’s baptism approached a minister.

“I want you to baptize me,” Julian remembers telling him. “I’m ready.”

The mission trip that followed that decision amazed him. “I was surrounded by the most loving people I had ever been around in my whole life.”

Julian said he saw what he wanted for the rest of his life. So when a job was offered to him at the church — even though he had a good job in fabrication that he’d never expected to leave — he took a pay cut and made the switch.

Julian made the case for buying equipment such as a floor scrubber or a snowplow and bringing some of the services the church had been paying for in-house to save money. Then he began hiring middle school and high school students and teaching them to do some of the tasks, developing a program that gives the youth work skills and some mentoring from him and other adults on the team.

Julian said more than 70 students have gone through the Operations Team Ministry over the years. He’s been invited to weddings and graduations, and some of those students are now adults with children of their own.

He has found that rewarding. In fact, he said, the last 14 years have been a highlight in his life.

“I feel like God led me to this,” he said. “I’ve tried to lead others to have what I have, which is an awesome relationship with God.”