Bread, wine and rock ’n’ roll

U2 Eucharist rocks convention in support of millennium goals
June 30, 2006

U2’s One filled the room as the crowd waved open cell phones in the air, the electronically glowing faces standing in for the flickering Zippo lighters of decades past. It was not the typical Episcopal worship service, to be sure.

Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation channeled the star power of U2 frontman Bono’s music and the wall-shaking enthusiasm of Michael Curry, bishop of the Diocese North Carolina, to increase the buzz at General Convention about the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The goals, which the church strongly supports, include eradicating global poverty, combating diseases like AIDS and promoting gender equality.

Congregants at the June 13 service joined booming sing-alongs to U2 songs and shimmied to the music of the band’s faith-affirming lyrics. “One love, one blood, one life, you got to do what you should,” they sang along to One. “We get to carry each other, carry each other.”

About 700 people attended, packing the room and spilling into the hall. “I am completely surprised. I never knew how God-centered Bono’s lyrics are,” said Alcurtis Clark, who attends Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.

U2’s religious lyrics can do more than spice up an Episcopal service – they may help spread the word to people who would not otherwise feel comfortable at church, Clark said. “I am ecstatic.” Others had a more mellow reaction. “It was very moving to spiritually jive,” said Megan Anderson, 18, who represented Province VIII at convention.

The service aimed to get people excited about the Millennium Development Goals, said Bishop Arthur Walmsley of the Diocese of Connecticut. “We’re hoping that this will be an energizer for the church making [the development goals] a priority in the next three years.” And Walmsley approved of the tunes. “I’m an old guy, but I’m impressed with what Bono has done,” he said.

Eighteen-year-old Richard Hogue from the Diocese of Eau Claire said he enjoyed the message more than the medium. “I think that the [millennium] goals are more than noble,” he said. “I prefer it more high churchy, myself.” But many other music fans enjoyed the casual service.

“I love U2, oh gosh yes,” said Bev Fawcett, 74, from the Diocese of East Carolina. “I have four sons, and if they ever hear that I went to an Episcopal service with a bishop and U2 music, they’re going to ask, ‘What are you on, Mom?’”