On Ash Wednesday this year, our worship service was centered around six prayer stations. We began the service in our usual fashion: call to worship, opening prayer, hymn, litany of confession and forgiveness, sung response, prayer of illumination, and Scripture reading. Instead of a sermon, however, worshipers spent 20 minutes moving between six prayer stations that were set up around the sanctuary. The stations were organized to reflect the movement of worship: creation, confession, centering, remembering, and sending. After 20 minutes, I led a pastoral prayer before the closing hymn and benediction.
The set-up for each station is included below. Click on the title to download a PDF file with instructions for worshipers and any other printed resources for that station.
I set up a table-top fountain with stones. Scripture verses related to creation were scattered on the table around the fountain.
I had planned to have drawings of the Jesus Prayer in American Sign Language. When I could not find images or draw them myself, I gave up and made this pretty terrible video of the Jesus Prayer in sign language. The quality of the video is terrible, but it worked much better than illustrations would have. I cannot say for certain that these are accurate ASL signs, but I think they are close. I used a projector to show this video in a continual loop on a wall so that worshipers could come up at any time to learn the prayer. You could show my video or make your own that looks better.
This station involves coloring mandalas as a way of finding our centeredness in Christ. I set up a table with instructions, mandalas (already cut into 5″ squares), colored pencils, and glue sticks. I used an easel to hold a sheet of black poster-board so that people could glue on their mandalas and make a quilt.
This station requires burning paper, so check with your building committee first. (Or go with the “ask forgiveness” route, like I did.) You will want a fairly deep metal bowl filled about halfway with sand. Put a single candle in the center so that it does not stand taller than the rim of the bowl. On the table around the bowl, place strips of blank paper and pencils, along with instructions. I also kept a pitcher of water nearby, in case of emergency.
I included imposition of ashes among the six stations. I gave the ashen cross to each worshiper as they came forward and then gave them a guide for meditation.
Here worshipers had an opportunity to engage their sense of taste. Homemade bread would be best, and should be already sliced. Even better if you can bake it at church so it smells nice, too. I filled bathroom-sized paper cups with water and left a few extra and a pitcher on the table. The scripture verses were scattered around the table.
A word on setting up the worship space:
Our sanctuary is fairly large and has a reasonable amount of open space. I brought in a few small folding tables and set them up as needed. Only the Mandala station had chairs, too. I chose to use the sanctuary instead of our gym because of the sacred feeling of the space. We had 30 worshipers, and the sanctuary worked well. If we had more than 30, I would have needed to duplicate some of the stations to accommodate everyone and might have needed a larger space with more flexible furnishings.
I printed 2 copies of instructions for each station. In retrospect, it would have been better if each worshiper had his/her own copy of all instructions, maybe with some journaling space. This would have made it easier for everyone to read and re-read the instructions without bumping into one another as much.
Before people started moving around, I explained that I would ring a bell every 3 minutes to help people have a sense of how much time to spend at each station. I also explained that no one was bound to move at the bell, but that each person could stay at the stations as long (or as briefly) as desired. I played recorded instrumental Taize music in the background.
The Fountain of Life, Embodied Jesus Prayer, Mandala Quilt, and Bread for the Journey were adapted from prayer stations developed by Deb Guess and used at Presbyterian Youth Triennium in 2016. You can find all the resources from the PYT Prayer Center here.
Returning to Dust was adapted from a prayer station by Theresa Cho, found on her blog.