In the churches that I pastor, the Lord’s Supper is reserved for the last month of each quarter. As I’ve been conducting it this month, I noticed again the number of people who choose not to participate in the foot-washing service. Even in a church that I’d describe as fairly traditional, there were more people in the sanctuary than in the rooms set aside for the service—and looking at the pews after the foot-washing, it was clear that quite a few had used the “break” to slip away from church.
So I did an informal survey, asking “Why didn’t you go to the foot-washing service today?” Here are some of the responses I received:
• “I didn’t know this was communion day, so I wasn’t prepared for it.”
• “I can’t get down on the floor to do it.”
• “It just disrupts everything for me to get up and walk to another place, and I lose the mood of the Lord’s Supper.”
• “I’d have to take off my hose.”
• “I’ve got really gross toenails, and that embarrasses me.”
• “I just don’t like it—I feel very uncomfortable having to talk with and touch someone I don’t know well.”
• “We’re visitors here. We don’t know anyone.”
• “I hate looking for a partner.”
How should we approach the foot-washing service? One of my church leaders said, “We need to push people to do it.” (Not easy to do; in my way of thinking, it’s a very personal thing.) Someone in the foot-washing room said, “Maybe people don’t understand what it means.” (If they don’t, it’s not for lack of explanations.) Someone asked, “If a person doesn’t do foot-washing, are they allowed to partake in the Lord’s Supper?” (I couldn’t find an official answer, but I’ve never stopped anyone.) As for finding a partner, I’m not inclined to blame unfriendliness; those in the men’s footwashing service, at least, tried to make sure everyone was served.
The foot-washing service is explained in our Fundamental Beliefs as a “renewed cleansing,” a “willingness to serve one another,” and the “unit[ing of] our hearts in love”—all areas where every Christian and congregation could use help. The Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual explains the preparation for and importance of the ordinance, but it doesn’t talk about what we should do when people don’t participate in it.
Loren Seibold is editor of Best Practices for Adventist Ministry. This article appeared in the December 14, 2011, issue.