Just when I think religion can’t get any more odd, I read this is the local paper. I checked the date, it’s not an April Fool joke.
U2 church services are Bono-fied hit
It was a church service with an edge.
As the Sunday-morning sun streamed through blocks of scarlet, purple and green stained glass at Omaha’s First Christian Church, the militarylike drum cadence of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” greeted 140 people at the first of two U2 Eucharists.
A blond creative-writing teacher wearing dark sunglasses joined in, playing the electric guitar melody of U2 guitarist The Edge.
Images on a screen beside a giant golden cross flashed: a charred shell of an automobile, a crying child gripping a fence.
“Wipe your tears away, wipe your tears away,” the praise band sang.
The U2 Eucharist, a church service that combines the spiritual lyrics of rock band U2 with traditional Bible verses to encourage social activism, started with a tiny Episcopal church in Maine and has spread to more than 250 churches worldwide.
At this Disciples of Christ Church, for some members, it was an introduction to U2 lead singer Bono. For others, it was the reason they were there.
“Personally, I would have put him in the same category as Ozzy Osbourne,” Marj Frost, 65, said with a laugh. The Omahan said she knew Bono only by name.
But the service opened her eyes – enough so that she might listen to U2’s music instead of turning off those loud guitars.
“It was interesting,” she said. “It was a good experience. I’m glad I was here.”
The volume and intensity of the music were subdued compared with the environment at a U2 arena performance.
And the crowd was calmer than those at the four-member group’s packed shows. A few people clapped to one song, but most sang them like church hymns. Some just watched the lyrics on the screen.
But it accomplished the co-pastors’ goal: to get new faces in the church.
First Christian Church’s René and Rick Jensen were brainstorming themes for their contemporary service when they remembered reading about the U2 Eucharist, also shortened to “U2charist.”
They developed their own version, using Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the last judgment.
People sitting on one side of the center aisle would read part of the Scripture, then the other side would read, with everyone joining in to read lyrics to U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
Rick Jensen’s sermon used Bono as an example of someone helping the needy.
“He has taken his faith and Jesus’ demand for justice seriously, using his celebrity to get in the faces of the political and business leaders of wealthy nations,” Rick Jensen said of Bono.
Bono was named Time magazine’s 2005 Person of the Year, along with Bill and Melinda Gates, for their call to wealthy nations to forgive the debts of poor countries so that money could instead be used for basic necessities.
Bono also co-founded DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa), an advocacy organization to fight extreme poverty and AIDS in Africa, and the (PRODUCT)RED campaign, a consumer initiative.
Bono is still better known worldwide as a rocker who favors sunglasses and leather.
After learning more about him, Helen Cantwell, 57, felt like her cool quotient might rise with her 16-year-old daughter and others.
“I work with a lady who always says she loves Bono, and I never know what she’s talking about,” the Omahan said. “I liked the message to it, and I liked the rhythm.”
The pastors knew some churchgoers weren’t interested in rock music, so they kept their 8:15 a.m. service traditional.
René Jensen said the service, like all church services, was meant to glorify God, but also to draw those not attracted to a traditional service. She advertised on a sign at the church at 66th and Dodge Streets and in the University of Nebraska at Omaha newspaper.
Adam Stark, a UNO senior who is Catholic, brought enough friends and family members to practically fill a pew.
“It was U2 – that was all that mattered,” said Stark, 22.
The two U2 services each drew about 40 people more than normal, René Jensen said.
Chris Jenson, the Elkhorn creative-writing teacher and praise band lead guitarist, noticed the new faces. Since discovering the band at age 10, the now-36-year-old parent has attended six U2 concerts and played U2 songs in a cover band. But performing “One” in his church was special.
“To sing that song in a congregation while people are breaking bread,” he said, “it was moving.”
It was, in the words of Bono in the service’s closing song, a beautiful day.