Foot washing the faithful

First Baptist Church members washed feet during Holy Week ceremony
Friday, April 6, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:02 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008
The Rev. John Baker washes Ken Hammann’s feet at the First Baptist Church on Wednesday during Holy Week. The ceremony symbolized the description in the Gospel of John of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples before Jesus’ death.

Many Christians celebrate the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples on the Thursday before Easter, reflecting the story told in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. This year, First Baptist Church chose to observe “Holy Thursday” on Wednesday evening with a new service, “Being a Servant of All.”

The service was based on the dinner and washing of the disciples’ feet described in the Gospel of John, which has a different timeline than the other three major Gospels of the New Testament.

John did not describe the Last Supper as a Passover meal, so some Christians believe it is likely the meal would have fallen on a Wednesday instead of a Thursday, First Baptist Church’s senior minister John Baker said.

Holy Week, the culmination of the 40 days of Lent, is a time for introspection and anticipation for Christians.

“Lent for me is always a question of how am I doing as a disciple, with the goal being seeking to live a life that’s like Christ,” Baker said.

The theme of Wednesday’s service was servanthood. A dinner of grapes, olives, bread, olive oil and water was served. “The biggest part of it will be the community of faith around the tables,” the church’s associate minister Ed Rollins said before the ceremony began.

In the Gospel of John 13:1-11, Jesus knew that his death was imminent.

“Then he poured water into a basin,” John wrote, “and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.’”

First Baptist congregant Barbara Wyatt was one of the first to have her feet washed at Wednesday’s service.

“It was very meaningful for me, especially remembering Jesus’ last week and remembering what an important part of his life serving was,” Wyatt said.

Charles Hunter washed Wyatt’s feet. She has known Hunter his entire life because he grew up in the church. Wyatt has been a member of the church since she came to Columbia as an MU student 50 years ago.

“To have this young man that I admire so much as a great Christian washing my feet was a humbling experience,” Wyatt said.

Not everyone washed their feet or had their feet washed, but everyone participated in one way or another.

“I wore stockings,” congregant Colleen Ostercamp said, lifting up her leg. “I knew I was going to play music during the foot washing ceremony, so I knew I wouldn’t have to deal with that because it seemed uncomfortable. It seems way out of our cultural experience, but I think that’s why we have to do it. I think the closest thing we have in our culture is when a teacher wipes a child’s nose.”

Baker says that the foot washing is intended to show equality between the washed and washer.

“It’s a community building lesson that happens that builds over time,” Baker said. “I’m hoping to provide a spiritually enriching Holy Week experience. I will get satisfaction if I can teach in even a small way the importance of the servanthood of Jesus.”

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