Before the confession we take round baskets of stones, and everyone who wants one is given the opportunity to take one.
The leader says: "Now we are going to have out time of repentance and forgiveness. Today we are going to use stones and water as symbols. As you take a stone you may like to think of the things you have done this week that have saddened God and for which you are sorry."
Silence is kept until all the stones have been given out.
We then use a simple responsorial confession.
At first we asked people to come and place their stones in the bowl, but this did not work very well. We then tried taking a basket round to collect the stones.
However, this seemed to add extra steps into the process (both practically and theologically!), so now the bowl is carried round and people place their stones directly into it.
The leader says: "We are now going to gather up the stones. As they are being washed we are reminded of how Jesus washes our sins away." While the absolution is given, water is poured over the stones.
Sometimes we place the stones on or near the altar; in the season of Easter we placed them in front of a picture of Jesus carrying the cross.
"Lord, we heard that you were hungry and we did not share our food..."
One of the confessions we use begins with this line. To symbolise this a child takes up an item of food (tin of beans, soup or a packet of rice) and places it on the floor.
The confession continues with "Lord we heard that you were thirsty and we kept our drink to ourselves..."
We symbolise this with a cup of water.
It also includes "Lord we saw you as a stranger..." (a picture of a child's hand held by an adult's hand) "Lord we discovered you were sick" (bandage or ointment) and "Lord, we heard you were in prison..." (a chain).
The congregational response is: "Forgive us, Lord, forgive."
In Junior Church we talked about the things we do that cut us off from God.
The children suggested "Greed", "Bullying" and "Lying" and drew pictures to illustrate their ideas.
We also discussed how we can ask for forgiveness from other people and from God, perhaps by saying sorry or doing something to put things right.
We stuck the pictures onto yellow card.
The children wrote the word "Forgiven" on the back of the cards in gold pen and decorated them with stickers.
At our All Age service we gave the cards (and a few pictures) to a group of children and adults who were asked to read out the words on their cards and show the pictures.
We then said the confession together.
Before the absolution the group were asked to read the word "Forgiven" from the back of the cards, which were then placed on the altar.
Through the waters to freedom
We used this during an All Age service on the theme of Moses and the People of God escaping from Egypt.
People were asked to lay down their burdens at the foot of the cross. On this occasion we used stones, but other symbols could have been used. It was made clear that our burdens included worries, cares and regrets.
We covered two large screens with green and blue cloths and created a passageway between them. Having symbolically left their burdens at the cross, people were invited to walk through the waters to freedom.
At the far end of the passageway was a lighted candle, symbolising the light we are journeying towards.
Everyone was invited to take a glass pebble which had the word "Sorry" written on it in red felt pen.
After saying the words of the confession together, the congregation was asked to place their glass pebble in the bowl of water. As the word was washed away, the water turned red.
with thanks to Janet Bunker
On the road
We used the wooden figures to tell this story:
Every Sunday when we come to church we have a time to confess our sins... I wonder what sin is...
There are many different ways of talking about sin. It can be difficult to find the right words to explain what sin is. Sin is what separates us from God. (Lay down the road, Jerusalem and Jesus).
Christians are trying to come close to God. We are all on a journey together.
But sin is like turning our back on God. We say, or think or do things that hurt God or hurt other people. Sin makes us lose sight of where we are going. We step off the road. (Turn people round and move them off the road)
The good news is that we can turn round and find our way again. All we have to do is say sorry. We say sorry to God and he forgives us. Sometimes if we have done something to hurt someone else we might have to say sorry to them as well. (Move people back onto road, some approach each other)
When we have said sorry we are back on the road again. We can be close to God. We have been forgiven.
Everyone sins, every day. We can't help it because we are human. Only Jesus never sinned. That is why every week in church we have a time to say sorry for the things we have said or thought or done. Then the leader tells us that God has forgiven us. But we don't have to wait for Sunday to say sorry. We can say sorry any time we want to. (Move Jesus figure amongst the people)
On a different occasion, with a larger congregation, this same story was told, but with real people.