Jesus offered his disciples, and continues to offer us, forgiveness. We believe that no-one is beyond the loving heart of God to forgive.
A sense of guilt, of unworthiness, of obstacles in your life to being the person you want to be and which God made you to be, is a common and corrosive feeling.
Guilt is one of the most serious negative forces in our lives today.
God asks us to repent and so receive forgiveness. Repent doesn't just mean saying sorry. It doesn't even just mean truly being sorry. It means changing your mindset and your life.
We all try to do this, whether as part of our effort to be better disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ or as part of our periodic efforts to "get our life in order".
Confession - owning up to the ways we fall short - is part of our regular prayer as christians, and we do it in most services in church.
For many it is part of their private prayer life.
For all who strive to be better christians it is part of our constant struggle.
Many people find that enough. Naming and shaming your demons in private prayer or secretly within a service followed by the offering of forgiveness - sometimes called absolution - by the priest allows us to reflect, change and move on.
However Jesus himself offered a rather more hands-on ministry in his own time on earth, one in which he offered God's forgiveness and healing personally to those who turned to him. This power to bind God's forgiveness was handed to his disciples, and thence by them to his church today. A priest has the power to listen to a person's account of their wrong-doing, hear their commitment to a change of heart, and offer them the assurance of God's forgiveness.
We therefore offer the sacrament of confession. This is much more Anglican than some people think. Even the 1662 Prayer Book expects it to be offered, saying that it is for those who want it. All may receive forgiveness in this manner, it says, none must and some should.
Going to a priest and naming out loud your failings is tough, and not for everyone. Our Archbishop, Justin Welby, says of it:
“It is enormously powerful and hideously painful when (confession) is done properly …
it’s really horrible when you go to see your confessor –
I doubt you wake up in the morning and think, this is going to be a bunch of laughs.
It’s really uncomfortable.
But through it God releases forgiveness and absolution and a sense of cleansing.”
The clergy at All Saints offer the sacrament of confession to those who want it. We publish times for hearing confessions in preparation for the celebration of Christmas and Easter. However, we can also offer confession by arrangement at other times. We offer absolute confidentiality, and never refer to anything you have said, even to you outside of confession. It is normally offered in the church or in the Parish Centre. It is a very vulnerable experience, so we try to ensure that there is someone else about, well out of ear-shot for protection of both the penitent and the priest. There is a simple order of service - some introductory prayers, a time to say what is on your heart, if appropriate some discussion or advice, the giving of a penance (a simple gesture, like reading a particular psalm) and then the priest pronounces God's forgiveness and blessing.
Many people prefer to go outside their own church to make their confession - the cathedral and a number of other churches provide this ministry quite extensively.