Shoes Stay On for Maundy Thursday

Few Protestant traditions continue the footwashing that Jesus did at the Last Supper. Some want a revival of the practice.

Americans get cold feet when it comes to footwashing, experts say.

Maundy Thursday is a Holy Week service marking the Last Supper. In some faith traditions, that service has included footwashing from the example in John 13, where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet during the supper and says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (v. 14).

According to interviews with theologians and pastors, footwashing is now a rare practice even in churches that consider it a part of Maundy Thursday or regular worship. There do not appear to be recent surveys of how often US churches participate in the ritual. A 2009 survey found a decline in footwashing in one Anabaptist denomination, despite the tradition’s high view of the practice.

Most evangelical traditions have historically embraced John 13 as an example of sacrificial love rather than as a specific commandment for a worship ritual. That approach was clear in a widely discussed Super Bowl ad this year from the He Gets Us campaign featuring footwashing. Other traditions like Pentecostalism that do include footwashing in church services don’t practice it very often.

“Other than Maundy Thursday service, the practice is few and far between,” said Lisa Stephenson, a theologian at Lee University who has done research on footwashing, especially among Pentecostal churches.

Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, does footwashing in church every few years.

It can be a “a visible sign of an invisible grace,” said Ben Sloane, the pastor of missions at Eastminster. But he added with a laugh, …

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