A Lesson From My Father: Washing Feet
I often think back to the day my dad told me that God had called him to be a pastor. Even though my dad had worked as a construction supervisor all of his life, at the age of 48, my dad had been asked to help a large church in our community start a new church in another part of the city. He would be a bi-vocational pastor.
When my dad announced this to me, I remember wrapping my arms around his neck and telling him that I would help. I could never have imagined all the lessons I would learn as I “helped.” My greatest assignments were visiting people in the community on Saturday mornings with my dad, and playing the piano for the congregation on Sunday.
Visits with Mr. Lunn
I will never forget our first Saturday visit with Mr. Lunn. He was a crotchety old man. I remember thinking that his wrinkles met in odd places around his face, especially when he smiled. Maybe that was why he didn’t smile much. At first, it was amazing to my eight-year-old mind that my father wanted to visit him every Saturday morning. On our very first visit, Mr. Lunn had made it clear he would not be attending my dad’s new little mission church. But he did say we were welcome to visit him any time, so my father took him at his word.
My father and I began our Saturday mornings at a small, local restaurant, and then we would begin “visitation” – starting with Mr. Lunn. He and my dad would sit in the rocking chairs on the front porch, and I sat on the steps. On the third visit, Mr. Lunn asked me if I wanted a grape Nehi drink, and of course, I did. He didn’t seem so crotchety after that.
I don’t recall my father ever inviting Mr. Lunn to church again. I do remember my father and him talking about fishing and world news. In fact, they talked about a lot of things and always ended with Mr. Lunn saying, “Come back anytime,” offering a pat on the head for me.
I asked my dad, “Why do we keep visiting Mr. Lunn since he said he is not coming to church?” My father explained that visiting Mr. Lunn was one of the most important things we could do on Saturday. He said, “We are washing Mr. Lunn’s feet.” I was really confused.
My dad reminded me about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples to show them that serving people was the way to do everything. By visiting Mr. Lunn, we were serving him even if he never came to church. “Besides, I really like Mr. Lunn,” my dad said.
After months of regular Saturday morning visits, my dad heard from a neighbor that Mr. Lunn was in the hospital. We went immediately. He was so glad to see us; I knew something had changed.
When Mr. Lunn came home from the hospital, we took him soup and cornbread. My dad changed light bulbs and repaired minor things in his home. I sang to him. He smiled a lot more now and instead of a parting pat on the head for me, he hugged my dad and me. He always told us, “Thank you for coming."
Even though my dad did not mention coming to church, he did talk about Jesus. My dad told Mr. Lunn about the difference Jesus had made in his life. Mr. Lunn sometimes asked questions, and my father patiently listened and responded to each one. I thought my dad was so smart because the questions seemed pretty hard to me.
At eight years old, I served as the pianist for our mission church. I had been playing since I was five, but my repertoire was still small. No one seemed to mind. One Sunday morning, as we finished singing, I looked at my dad who was staring toward the back door of our church. There was a tear unashamedly rolling down his cheek.
I looked immediately toward the door, and I could hardly believe it. There was Mr. Lunn in his Sunday best. At the end of the service, Mr. Lunn walked straight down the aisle to my dad. Mr. Lunn told the whole church that morning that he didn’t know the Bible well, but he did know that he wanted what the preacher had. He had come to understand that it was Jesus that made the difference. He said, “I want Jesus to live in me, too.”
Several months later, Mr. Lunn became very ill. As my father and I visited him in the hospital and at his home, we heard how much our visits had meant to him. We met his family, and he introduced us as his "good friends." One day Mr. Lunn told me he had an important favor to ask of me. After a few quiet minutes, he asked if I would sing at his funeral, and of course, with tears flowing, I promised I would. I knew it would be the last way I could wash his feet as my dad had taught me.
Serving Changes Everything
My father taught me the simple act of caring about someone and how serving them changes everything – literally.
Even though my father died over 30 years ago, I remember his amazing example of service to others, not just to Mr. Lunn, but to countless others who seemed to always call in the middle of the night and knew my dad would respond.
I often return to those hours spent with my father in my mind, remembering how my dad listened, loved, and taught me. I know now that he was washing my feet, too.
By Phyllis Hennecy Hendry
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