Foot-washing is part of church's Good Friday observance

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Preston - posted Mon., Apr. 25, 2011
Richard Eighme (right) portrays Jesus in the annual washing of feet at Preston City Congregational Church on Good Friday. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Richard Eighme (right) portrays Jesus in the annual washing of feet at Preston City Congregational Church on Good Friday. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

How do you think it would it feel to have your feet washed by someone else?

In Bible times, barefoot or sandal-clad travelers’ feet would have been filthy. Modern feet in shoes and socks are tidier – but still, it’s not a job most people would do willingly.

Yet every year for more than a decade, Richard Eighme has done just that, in his annual Good Friday portrayal of Jesus at the Preston City Congregational Church.

In one of the church's downstairs classrooms April 22, quiet prevailed, as a costumed guide explained the story of the Last Supper to small groups of children. Jesus, portrayed by Richard Eighme, solemnly washed the children’s feet, enacting the Gospel tale by which Christ demonstrated to his apostles that they should be the servants of all people.

Eighme, a senior at Eastern Connecticut State University and a sixth-grade Sunday school teacher, has got his “script” memorized: the words from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus tells his apostles, “Now that I, your lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”

The message is that Christ’s followers must serve others, not expect privileges for themselves. “It’s all about how he’s their lord and teacher, yet he’s washing their feet. It’s not something someone of his status would be doing,” said Eighme.

Admittedly, having someone wash your feet is an odd experience, one that some of the children found giggle-inducing, especially Eighme’s Sunday school students. Eighme and his assistants, who narrated the story and provided background music, focused on keeping the experience reverent, in spite of its unusual nature.

“It’s not my favorite thing to do, but the message it sends out there is good,” he said.

The re-enactment of the foot-washing was the most solemn of the children’s activities at the church on Good Friday. Upstairs, the mood was far lighter, as more than 40 children spent the afternoon choosing from a wide variety of Lenten and Easter-themed activities.

In the church kitchen, Wendy Abrahamson and Megan Maynard helped children form ropes of bread dough into pretzels for baking. A sign explained that pretzels were originally designed to mimic the shape of praying hands, and long ago were given to children as rewards for learning their prayers.

Other craft tables offered Easter egg coloring, decorating of wooden crosses and birdhouses, making cross shapes out of fronds left over from Palm Sunday, and planting pansies in decorated clay pots. Supervising each activity were teenagers from Sunday school along with adult volunteers, including 89-year-old Arthur Dawley, who oversaw the birdhouse painting. Children as young as 5 could choose their activities and place their finished projects in an Easter bucket to take home afterwards.

Religious education director Sandy Dudek said that the buzz of activity is a long-standing Good Friday tradition at the church. “The church is just filled with kids on Good Friday,” she said. “I tell them that’s the best place to be.”

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