Seen a bride and groom wash each other’s feet?

Heather Jose

Heather Jose

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Heather Jose

Foot Washing:
As a wedding ritual?

Foot washing by UK artist Dinah Roe KendallBy BENJAMIN PRATT

After a long career in ministry, I was astounded when I first heard the idea.

A friend said, “I attended a wedding recently and for the first time witnessed a mutual foot washing by the bride and groom. Have you ever seen that?”

“No,” I said, “I am flabbergasted, but I love the idea of including a foot washing for all that it symbolizes.”

Since that conversation I have asked many clergy and friends about the idea, and nearly all were as surprised as I by the concept. I extended my question to some of my colleagues in the ReadTheSpirit circle of writers and, finally, I did begin to get some responses from others who have seen this idea taking hold. Paul Hile, a young caregiver who occasionally writes columns about his experiences with his wife Grace, says that they have attended more than one wedding where a foot washing was included.

The more I ponder this idea, I am grateful. And, I am challenged.

How about you?

Pope Francis certainly seems to understand the challenging symbolism of this act. One commentator used the phrase “beautiful iconoclasm” to describe Francis’s public appearance last year to perform a foot washing ritual at a juvenile detention facility where the inmates who he served on bended knee included a Muslim girl. This was the first time the world’s news media paid any attention to his approach to this ancient discipline, but it turns out—in later news reports—that he had a longstanding practice back home in Argentina of foot washing in jails, hospitals and caregiving facilities, including pregnant mothers and AIDS patients.

Foot washing as a symbol of humility, hospitality and service has been a part of many faith traditions for centuries. It grounds a relationship in equality and promotes humility towards—and care of—others. We are told of Jesus performing foot washing in John 13: 1-17, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” The Qur’an says “For Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean.”

In our ritual-starved society, mutual foot washing as a wedding symbol could deepen our life-long commitment as marital partners as we live “for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.” Remember, love is what you go through with someone, as I have written before.

As a caregiver for my wife during the last few years, I have often had to attend to her bodily needs when she was not able to do so. At other times in our marriage, she has reciprocated. Simple daily gestures of love and care demonstrate our commitment to be here for each other through the muck and mire of life’s needs. We are not in this journey alone; we are on the journey together as equals.

When we celebrate a marital union, the inclusion of mutual foot washing could deepen and dignify the marital commitment to be life-long caregivers and receivers on life’s journey. With so many of us living longer lives, the vast majority of us will likely become a caregiver of our partner. But, caregiving and receiving can be part of our lives early in the marriage also, as my friend Paul Hile reveals in one of his columns.

So what better way to symbolize our long term commitment to love, service, hospitality, presence, and hands-on equality than including mutual foot washing in our wedding ceremonies? This single, prayerful, powerful symbol could deepen wedding celebrations significantly.

DO open your mind and heart and enter a dialogue on this subject by placing a comment below.

Care to read more?

The British artist Dinah Roe Kendall has worked for many years on surprisingly fresh visions of her Christian faith. Her images often place traditional Bible stories in common, contemporary settings—like her painting of the foot washing scene in John 13, re-envisioned in a circle of middle-class British men and women. The artist lives in Sheffield, where she has produced a long series of artworks that eventually reached the attention of American Bible scholar Eugene Peterson. The two collaborated on a book that we highly recommend: Allegories of Heaven: An Artist Explores the Greatest Story Ever Told.

(This column was originally published at and can be reposted and shared with this credit line.)

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  1. Pastor Sandy Wright says

    I have heard some people in my congregations say they have attended weddings where the bride and groom experienced the foot-washing of each other. The people in attendance were surprised and yet excited at the same time. I would be JUBILANT over the idea. What a model to set for their journey together AND for those who witness it just how important being there in all circumstances of life, even washing their spouses feet! Oh, I pray that one day I will be asked by a couple if they could include it in the service! I would say “Let it be so”! Praise be to God!

  2. Emily Brothers says

    Deep meanibng in this as an ritual act. Could be used when couples renew their vows later on. The “wedding candle” id meaningful but the act of washing feet is servanthood and seems to me to be a level playing field for we are all servants of God.
    Emily Brothers

  3. Duncan Newcomer says

    I love this idea and have an additional take on it. I have often preached that Jesus was inspired to his foot washing event with the disciples by his earlier anointing and foot washing by Mary. The recent work of Cynthia Bourgeault on Mary Magdalene makes the additional connection that personal romantic love was apart of the mutual life between Jesus and Mary. Rev. Dr. Bourgeault makes more of this connection in her own book, “Love is Stronger than Death.” So the sacred representation of marriage in mutual foot washing has deep resonances,if also shocking or surprising. Wonderful,I think.
    I know of a couple in Washington, D.C., who used large papier mache statues of Mary and Jesus to dramatically role-play mutual forgiveness in a marriage crisis–each putting themselves in the place of Mary or Jesus with the other.

  4. Duane G. Grage says

    We included a foot washing ritual for our wedding (Duane & Sue) in an outdoor setting on Labor Day weekend in 1989; we are approaching our 25th anniversary this year. We wanted to express the meaning of servanthood in our relationship along with a meal by a lake and the blessings of friends and family in an creation setting. peace, Duane

  5. Tim Jost says

    My wife and I washed feet at our wedding in 1982. I don’t know where the idea came from, other than footwashing is very important in our Mennonite tradition. Several years later when we were at an impasse on an issue in our marriage, our pastor, to whom we had turned for counseling, brought out a bowl and pitcher and reminded us of our commitment. It was a very moving experience that brought us together to work through the issue. Both of our children who have married so far have incorporated footwashing into their weddings. Marriage is a commitment to serve each other, and what better way for Christians to exemplify this than the example that Jesus set for his disciples.