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Ken Collins’ Website

How to conduct a foot-washing service

Foot-washing is a special, optional feature of the Maundy Thursday service. It exists in all the major churches, though may lay people aren’t aware of that. It is practiced, though infrequently, in eastern Orthodox churches, Anglican churches, Roman Catholic churches, and all major Protestant denominations.

Adapting the Order of Worship

In John’s gospel, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet during the Last Supper, but before the part that has become our Communion service. So foot-washing is appropriate for the Maundy Thursday service. Use your normal order of worship with Communion at the end. Insert the foot-washing immediately before Communion. If you have the Tenebrae after Communion, you will have a liturgical re-enactment of all the events surrounding the Last Supper.

Following the custom of the time, Jesus and the disciples would have had their feet washed by a servant when they entered the Upper Room, so it wasn’t necessary to wash them again for the purpose of comfort or cleanliness. Jesus’ foot-washing was not to clean their feet but to make a point about humble service. At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, but the disciples did not wash each other’s feet nor did anyone wash Jesus’ feet. So I think it makes the best biblical and liturgical sense if the pastor washes the feet of four or five representative members of the congregation and no one washes the pastor’s feet.

Incidentally, the garment Jesus took off to wash their feet and put back on afterwards was a himation, a rectangular piece of cloth that was worn something like an Indian sari.

The Book of Occasional Services 1994, on page 93, contains a brief address that Episcopalians can use to begin the Foot-Washing Portion of the Service.

Advance Preparation

For the people whose feet are being washed:

For the pastor who is washing the feet:

Some churches have a tradition of a foot-washing service in which everyone washes everyone else’s feet. I don’t think that is as effective, because it takes too long, and at the Last Supper, the disciples did not wash each other’s feet and no one washed Jesus’ feet. However, if you do it that way, you have these additional considerations:

Conducting the Service

Before the Foot-Washing

The Foot-Washing

After the Foot-Washing

The Maundy Thursday service resumes with Communion, followed, if you like, with the Tenebrae.