Foot washing was once a very contentious issue and on one particular occasion quite a number of years ago it took place during the Sunday service and some people were unprepared for it – not just visitors. This has shaped our policy, which rules out having it as part of Sunday service, and our practice of making sure we don’t “spring it” on people. Over the years some members have felt strongly about foot washing and would not participate – mostly I think from personal sensitivities rather than theological objection.
More recently, there was a short sermon series on footwashing and the elders put a proposal to the business meeting proposal in Nov 2002 as follows:
‘The Elders would like to recommend to the church that footwashing be continued every quarter as part of members’ communion. We consider footwashing to be an important Christian discipline, which Mennonites have normally practised. Our sermon series explained the biblical basis for footwashing and dealt with some of the issues, such as relevance, around it. We don’t envisage having footwashing on a Sunday morning or at other times, unless this is discussed with members.’
The business meeting accepted this with the proviso that dates for footwashing in members’ communion must be clearly advertised in advance, in our case most often by being put on the schedule. There was some willingness to revisit the question of use of footwashing on Sunday at some point in the future but in practice this hasn’t happened.
(Members’ communion is a closed meeting (with meal and communion) for members/those exploring membership and invited visitors. So it is easy to ensure that everyone who will be present knows in advance that footwashing will be involved.)
To give a little more detail on our practice, we usually divide into groups of 4 or 5, each with a basin and towel and comfortably warm water, and then wash the feet of someone in that group, often concluding with a hug. We are quite informal, feeling free to talk or laugh while we are washing each other’s’ feet, which helps us overcome embarassment. Where the configuration of the group makes this practical, we often use same-sex groups.
On an even more practical note, because we combine this with a meal, we also try to pay attention to washing our hands between foot washing and eating.