My first experience of shoe shining on Maundy Thursday was with the wonderful Tim Sledge in Romsey. Today was the first time we have done it here in Nottingham. Tony Porter, my suffragan bishop of Sherwood, sited ourselves outside St peter’s, Nottingham. This is a very busy thoroughfare for shoppers. We were joined by the vicar, Christopher Harrison, the vicar of St Nic’s, Steve Silvester and a few other volunteers. We also had lots of media popping in to see us, including live radio on BBC Nottingham. What was fascinating was the reluctance of people to areally was for free; everyone expected there to be a catch of some kind. There was no catch we were simply offering a freee shoe shine. In doing so we were aiming to recall the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet. We hoped to raise the awaome very ineteresting conversations that showed a high level of ignorance about the Easter story, and certainly an enormous distance between the delights of a holiday weekend and any connection with the Christian faith. There is an enormous challenge for us in the church to simply tell afresh the story of Jesus to a society that either thinks it knows it, but holds a distorted view, or readily admits that it knows nothing of the story at all. There is also the gulf between wanting to know it and making any connection with every day life. This observation is nothing new but is frshly striking when 2 hours have been spent connecting with the reality face to face.
Another fascinating aspect of these 2 hours was the speed with which people who had never met either of the bishops before started telling us deep truths about their own lives. Was there something about us being on our knees with eyes focussed on the shoes yet wearing clerical collars that meant people felt able to confide so deeply and so speedily? It ceratinly illustrates the need people have to be able to share their loneliness, their anxieties, their concerns about work, family and life in general.
Shoe shining is nowhere as intimate as footwashing. It is a token of the same approach of service to others. That point was made to us by some who said, ‘It doesn’t quite feel right a bishop cleaning my shoes’; that’s part of the point. It didn’t seem right in the disciples eyes to have Jesus washing their feet; but he insisted because serving is God’s way of doing things. Perhaps that’s why so many looked for a catch, or simply avoided us completely – the way of service is not popular and runs counter to so much our culture has come to expect. But as follows of Jesus we can do no other than serve, and learn to accept being served, by one another, and even by God.