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A&E | Vol. 11, No. 31, August 20, 2009

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Breaking through the Methodist "Horizon"

by Josh Encinias

FUMC hosts Pensacola's first U2charist

The week U2's new album came out I was living in New York City, and I expected to see them perform from a rooftop, but that never happened. Instead one afternoon I let "No Line on the Horizon" narrate a walk to the Upper East Side. Bono, to quote him a "small man with big ideas," colored in a grey winter day. When First United Methodist Church in Pensacola announced they were hosting a U2charist it came as no surprise to me that they would use the music of U2 to supplement the traditional Eucharist service.

Eucharist means thanksgiving and is a celebration service to God. The different U2charists, however, only have one unifying element: raising money for world missions.

In 2006, ABC's Nightline reported from All Saint's Episcopal Church in Briarcliff Manor, New York. The church estimated 70 percent of their U2charist participants were visitors. They danced and sang karaoke style from their pews. This summer Brambleton Presbyterian Church in Ashburn, Virgina didn't use liturgy, and the visitors certainly didn't stand in pews. The church instead had an all-out rock concert including oddball performances of "Vertigo" and "The Fly," both obviously devoid of spiritual meaning.

The U2charist was created for a generation of people who are uninterested church. "I think many young pastors are frustrated with the way in which the church conserves their tradition and loses track with relevancy in the popular culture," said author Christian Scharen.

First United Methodist Church's ICON service was created to solve the problem of integrating liturgy with today's culture.

Their U2charist will call people to worship with Jeb Hunt and his band Banner's rendition of "Beautiful Day." Hunt read lyrics from the baptismal and swept around, hands in pockets, almost emulating Bono's stage persona during a practice two weeks before the service. Reverend Geoffrey Lentz, Hunt's brother, swayed back and forth in his chair, hands folded, and smiled dutifully.

This duo is setting a precedent in the Methodist Church. They're some of the first in a batch of Methodist churches presenting a U2charist.  

"U2charist is an art-embracing church service which combines the spiritually themed music and lyrics of Irish rock band U2 with the traditions of the church," says Hunt. "It was really pioneered by the Episcopal church. Not many Methodist churches have done it before. But it fits perfectly for our vision of church here."  

Their vision is to be art embracing and tradition rich. Older members have embraced ICON and to date the service averages over two hundred people. But why incorporate liturgy, when many consider it a dated form of worship?

Reverend Lentz says, "Liturgy helps us tell the Christ story every week, even if the preacher forgets it. It forces us to keep the story alive, and brings you into the story as an actor. The drama speaks to us in our post modern age where we're looking for a story. It gives us a story, the story of Jesus's birth, life, death and resurrection. I'm not interested in keeping history alive, I'm interested in keeping us alive."

The first "traditional" liturgical U2charist was held in Baltimore, Maryland in 2004. The service has the normal progression of a liturgical service, but one of the main differences is in the offering.

When ICON's band performs U2's "One," an offering for world missions will be collected. "Bono's organization is called One, and it raises money for world poverty," said Reverend Lentz. One of the conditions to use U2's songs in this service is to collect money for world poverty.

"I don't want to break any of the rules for the U2charist, so the offering from this service is going to World Vision, though U2 doesn't give you any specific company to donate to," said Hunt.

The service ties into an annual church tradition. First United Methodist's youth have a fast every year to raise money for world missions. The youth's money, and that raised at the U2charist, will go towards projects promoting sustainable resources.  

There will be U2charists on Sunday, Aug. 23 at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. As an added bonus to morning visitors, two tickets to U2's show in Atlanta will be given away. It is still undecided how the tickets will be given away, but you can be sure that they won't be raffled. Reverend Lentz assured IN the Methodist Church does not support gambling.

The later service includes more songs from U2's newest album, "No Line on the Horizon." Newer songs were not going to be included, but just a few weeks ago the album's sheet music was released. The band could have played U2's new song "White as Snow" because it's to the tune of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," but Hunt is a music purist and wanted the exact music. The addition of newer songs means the evening service will be thirty minutes longer.

As the U2charist rises in popularity there are sure to be variations. Be on the lookout for Fray-charists or Coldplay-charists, as ICON may be the first to host them.

WHEN: Sunday, Aug. 23, 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: First United Methodist Church, Wesley Abbey, 6 E. Wright St.
COST: Free, offering collected for World Vision
DETAILS: 432-1434 or