'U2charist' combines U2 music, Eucharist
Feb. 19, 2007
A UMNS Report By Sandra Brands*
MONTPELIER, Vt. (UMNS) - When the Rev. Mitchell Hay heard that local café owner Jay Ekis was starting an '80s cover band with three musician friends, he asked the guitarist if they knew any U2 music.
"It sounded like a good idea," said Ekis about playing the songs of the popular Irish rock band. "We love the music, we love U2, and we definitely wanted to share it with people."
Hay had just the venue in mind: Montpelier's Trinity United Methodist Church, where Hay is pastor. He suggested the idea of holding a "U2charist" worship service - combining the music of U2 with the celebration of Eucharist.
So on the Sunday evening of Jan. 21, Ekis and his band Sputnik launched into "With or Without You," "When Love Comes to Town" and other U2 songs as Hay and parishioner Heather Nielsen told stories from the Gospel and PowerPoint images flashed on the screen beside the altar.
Hay's wife, the Rev. Barbara Lemmel, conference minister for the Troy Annual Conference, invited people to come forward to share the bread and cup of Holy Communion.
The service drew nearly 90 people of all ages and backgrounds. During the music, many rose from their seats to dance in place, in the aisles or at the back of the sanctuary.
"While I was dancing with a group of 5- or 6- or 8-year-old kids, I could see a 70-year-old Episcopalian grandma next to a uniformed Norwich (Military) Academy cadet next to a Rastafarian and I thought, 'You know, this looks like a taste of what the Kingdom of God should look like'," said Hay, noting that Jesus "hung out with the poor, with the marginalized, with those put down by the religious elite."
The U2charist service began in 2005 at an Episcopal Church in York Harbor, Maine, and services since have been held in England, New Zealand, South Africa and throughout the United States and Canada. The services raise awareness of the United Nations Millennium Development Goal and the One Campaign to speak out against hunger, poverty and HIV/AIDS. Through an agreement with U2's publishing company, churches holding U2charists donate freewill offerings to a charity that is fighting extreme poverty or AIDS.
The idea behind U2charist is to invite a wide mix of people-churched and unchurched, music fans and ecumenical worshippers, agnostics and believers-to a service that is meaningful and fun, but not "churchy." Hay said while U2 music speaks the language of the unchurched, the band's lyrics use language that is Biblical, spiritual and prophetic.
"When (U2 lead singer) Bono sings 'she,' it can mean a relationship with a woman and it can also mean the Holy Spirit. For a post modern audience, they're OK with (that ambiguity). They can hear it both ways. It's not an either/or."
While Ekis has not been a churchgoer, he said he and his band definitely would play for such a service again. "I had fun doing it," he said. "I liked the melding of the spiritual aspect of life with the music, telling the story and bringing the music to a particular Eucharist service. It worked for me."
Hay said he would like to hold similar worship and outreach experiences in the future - "something cool within a worship setting, but it may not be a U2charist. I'm going to talk to the band and talk to some people and see where the spirit leads," he said.
Such approaches are a way to reach out to both believers and seekers and to spread the Gospel. "I am an evangelical Christian," Hay said. "That doesn't mean I'm called to shove a particular version of an Americanized Jesus down people's throats. I'm called to invite people into a relationship with the Jesus I meet in the Gospels, and to do it in a spiritual and Biblical way, a way people understand."
*Brands is director of communications for the United Methodist Church's Troy Annual Conference.
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