Eucharist meets rock in Episcopal U2charist

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God works in mysterious ways. So does Bono.

At least that’s what church leaders at All Saints Episcopal Church hope as they prepare for their first U2 Eucharist, or U2charist.

On Sunday night, the Sacramento church becomes the latest to hold the special worship service featuring music by the Irish rocker and his band, U2. Instead of traditional hymns, recordings of the band’s music will echo through the church sanctuary.

Worshippers are encouraged to sing, clap — even dance in the aisles — to such hits as “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “One” and, of course, “Mysterious Ways.”

Lyrics will be projected on a large screen.

“A lot of their songs can be seen as metaphors for faith and justice,” says the Rev. Betsy Monnet, who co-pastors the church with her husband, Michael. “So it’s a great way to raise awareness about these issues.”

The service will blend traditional worship elements such as prayer and communion with the music. Or as the billboard outside the church says, “Ancient Ritual/Rock and Roll.”

Church leaders hope U2’s music resonates with congregants. U2charists are being held across the country to highlight the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2000, when it pledged to eradicate extreme poverty and disease by the year 2015.

Bono, a Christian, is the global ambassador for the campaign. At a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., earlier last year, Bono described the goals as “the Beatitudes for a globalized world.”

The U2charists began in 2005, and their popularity quickly spread. Roman Catholic, United Methodist and Lutheran churches and others have held U2charists, but most of them have been at Episcopal churches.

The special services were started by the Rev. Paige Blair of St. George’s Episcopal Church in New Harbor, Maine. Blair is such a big fan of the group that she proudly says, “If I were stranded on an island, I would take their music.”

She thought the band’s music was a good way of bringing attention to some of the church’s highest priorities.

“The issues of poverty and justice are important to the church, and U2 has been consistent with their support of social justice issues,” Blair says.

But the popularity of the U2charists has taken her by surprise. In the past two years, 128 U2charists have been held, with more scheduled for this year, including one in England that will be broadcast on the BBC on Easter Sunday. Blair is writing a book on the U2charist movement.

So far, she has not heard from Bono and doesn’t know what he thinks about the U2charist movement. “I think he’d be happy it’s getting people to church.”

Monnet expects a full house Sunday night at the Sacramento church. Youth groups from other churches are planning to visit. The service will start with “Elevation” and end with “Beautiful Day.”

Although she knew some of its music, Monnet wasn’t familiar with many of the band’s songs until she started preparing for the service. Now she’s a fan.

“I think the music is very powerful,” Monnet says. “I just hope people are motivated to get involved.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
Sacramento Bee, USA
Feb. 17, 2007
Jennifer Garza

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This post was last updated: Mar. 1, 2007