|Back to Home||Feature Article - February 16, 2012|
Barefoot in the churchBy Jule Koch Brison
Bare feet are not a usual sight in a church, but at a special foot washing service at the Harrowsmith Free Methodist Church last Sunday, Feb. 12, many members of the congregation let all 10 of their twinkies hang out while either washing someone else’s feet or waiting to have their feet washed.
The service was the idea of Rev. Patsy Schmidt, a retired minister who is a member of the congregation. The church’s pastor, Rev. Carl Bull, was going to be away and asked Rev. Patsy, who organizes the church’s monthly Gospel Jams, to fill in. While reflecting on what she was going to do, she came up with the idea of having the foot washing as a concrete demonstration of Christ’s teachings.
The Bible records that before his crucifixion, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet to demonstrate servant leadership to them, and he instructed them to follow his example. In those times foot washing was a low, menial task that was done by slaves, usually by the youngest children of the slaves, Rev. Schmidt said.
Over the centuries some, but not all, Christian churches continued to observe the practice. Two denominations that do so on an annual basis are the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, but Patsy Schmidt said that to her knowledge it had never been done in the Harrowsmith Free Methodist church. As an ordained Anglican minister, she was familiar with the practice, which is usually done on the Thursday night before Good Friday.
Sometimes it is the priest or minister who washes the feet of members of the congregation, but while Patsy Schmidt did her share of the washing, she saw no reason to limit participation. The only rule was that women’s feet would be washed by women and men’s by men; however, husbands and wives were also encouraged to wash each other’s feet.
Before the foot washing began, the children of the congregation were asked what made things more real to them – reading a book, watching a movie or watching something being acted out. One boy replied that seeing something acted out was the most real.
“We tend to spiritualise this teaching and think that all Jesus meant was that we should be nice to each other and do good to each other, but if that was what he meant to say, he would have stayed seated at the table,” Patsy Schmidt said in a short sermon before all members of the congregation were invited to wash or be washed.
Many in the congregation responded to the invitation and came to the front of the church, where basins of water and towels were waiting. Both young and old rolled up their sleeves and got down on their knees to minister to each other. On a practical note, the washers, mindful of the cold outside, were especially careful to dry between the toes. Many of those who came forward were visibly moved by their participation in the service, and there were tears and hugs during and after the washing.
Lois Kirkham, one member of the congregation who participated, said that since it was the first time it had been done, most people had no idea what to expect. She said it had affected her deeply and that the church would probably do it again in the future.