I have always had a dislike of having my feet touched. I grew up in a Mennonite church with foot washing as a twice a year ritual. Looking back it seems strange that I have never had a problem participating. As a matter of fact, I remember as a little girl looking forward to the day I would be allowed to join in. I consider it grace. The practice at my church was for the women to gather in one room and the men to gather in another. We always sang during the process. It is a fond memory for me.
When I went to seminary at Eastern Mennonite, I experienced my first foot washing where men and women mingled. I remember vividly how powerful it was to wash a man’s feet and to imagine what it was like for Mary to wash Jesus’ feet and dry it with her hair.
In 2005, my husband Dale was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. For a year, I watching him get sicker and sicker. By January 2006, we knew his time was short and we hired hospice. One of the things which was very important to Dale was taking his daily shower. It was proof to him that he was going to make it another day. Those last few months he would have to sit down on a shower chair. When he got out, he was not strong enough to dry off. It was my job to take care of that. Each day as I knelt before him and dried his feet, I knew I was in sacred space. I was blessed with a new understanding of the meaning of foot washing and servanthood.
In 2009 on a Saturday evening, I got a text message from my daughter Carolyn, who was at her church, asking if I would wash her feet. (She did not grow up with this tradition.) I was taken aback but said yes. When she showed up a short while later, she shared with me about the sermon that evening from John 4 about the Samaritan woman and living water. I asked her why she wanted her feet washed and why she had asked me. She said she had felt strongly an urging to ask me to do this but she did not know why. She had no idea this was a part of my church tradition. So we
read John 13 together and then I washed her feet. It was one of the most sacred things I have ever experienced.
Update: Last year my son’s family moved back to Salem from Montana. I have had the joy of my grandchildren asking to attend church with me. Last year, my granddaughter Samantha joined me on Maundy Thursday and participated in her first foot washing. I am glad to pass on the tradition.