Where the Streets Have No Name.Beautiful Day.I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.Yahweh. For fans of the Irish band U2, these are familiar rock songs. But to a growing number of Christians, they’re becoming tunes for worship, and for the Eucharist.
Services using U2’s music, commonly called U2charist, were begun by Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation. The services combine the music of the rock band with traditional communion. They focus on a message of global reconciliation, justice, and care for neighbors as advocated by Bono, the lead singer of U2. Bono, a dedicated Christian, is also a global ambassador for Millennium Development Goals, a movement by the United Nations to eradicate poverty and disease by the year 2015.
U2charist first took hold in the U.S. at St. George’s Episcopal Church in York Harbor, Maine, drawing 130 people. Many of those in attendance were in a younger demographic and did not usually attend the church. Since then, dozens of the services have been held worldwide in churches of many denominations.
In a U2charist service, the liturgy remains the same, although the music is markedly different. U2 songs are repurposed as the opening hymn, song of praise, sermon response, and offertory. Most of the songs are seen as metaphors, with lyrics that are layered with meaning.
“In church, you hear [the music] in a different way. It’s like new,” said Natalie Williams, a 17-year-old who attended a U2charist at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Briarcliff Manor, New York.
Eric Johnson, who attended the service at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Lakeland, Florida, had no doubt about the effectiveness of the music.
“The crowd, the enthusiasm, the energy—I felt like the Holy Spirit was in the room. The message was getting through, and we were worshiping together,” he said.
The offerings that are collected at U2charists go to charities fighting extreme poverty and AIDS, as worked out in an agreement with the band’s publishing company. Paige Blair, rector of St. George’s, estimates that more than $36,000 has been raised from the U2charist services for the cause.
“People are learning there is something they can do to change the world,” she said. “And they leave feeling that they really can.”
At St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Encinitas, California, the U2charist service was well-received by young and old alike. Teens connected to the “hip factor,” while adults found deeper meaning in the music.
At St. Andrew’s, the service drew a crowd that compares to normal Christmas or Easter attendance. St. George’s is beginning a U2charist team to help others implement the service. And this year, a U2charist service will be broadcast in Great Britain on Easter Sunday.
“It spread like wildfire,” Blair said. “We’re giving people a way to engage their faith in a meaningful way.”
And letting them rock out at the same time.
This week we will start a three part or four part series on U2, God and Faith.