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by Karen Courtney, Newsletter Coordinator, Christ, Church Covington

One love, one blood;
One life, you got to do what you should
One life with each other Sisters, brothers
One life, but we’re not the same
We get to carry each other, carry each other.
One, One.
-“One,” U2

Jesus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Someone else: “Okaaay. But, what if they’re a—”
Jesus: “—Did I stutter?”
-Conversation that may (or may not) have happened about 2000 years ago.

What do you get when you combine the traditional Anglican liturgy with the iconic songs of Bono and his band, U2? More than 400 Christ Church parishioners and guests learned the answer to that question on Sept. 10, when they packed the church for its first ever U2charist. For the first time in history, Christ Episcopal church became “standing-room only,” teeming with people, and the energy was palpable.

The original U2charist was held in 2004 at an Episcopal church in Maryland, after its creator, Sarah Dylan Breuer, recognized that the spiritual themes of U2’s songs and Bono’s oft-stated goal to “change the world” through assistance to the poor and the downtrodden made the band’s body of work a natural pair for the liturgy.

The idea for the U2charist at Christ Church was sparked when it was announced that U2 had added a Sept. 14 performance at the Superdome of its concert marking the 30th anniversary of its blockbuster “Joshua Tree” album. Father Bill, a longtime U2 fan and an admirer of Bono’s philanthropic organization, One, which works to end poverty and disease, especially in Africa, had attended the same “Joshua Tree” concert in Houston in May. When he found out that the group had scheduled a New Orleans appearance, he decided the time was right for a U2charist at Christ Church.

“It was as if the stars aligned for us,” he told Keith Spera, music reporter and reviewer for the New Orleans Advocate, in an interview published just before the Sept. 14 concert. “(U2’s) philosophy is very much aligned with Anglicanism and with the Episcopal Church,” he said in the interview. “It’s not in your face. It seeks to be more open. It’s ‘we’re all on this journey together.’ Questions are not only allowed; they are encouraged. They are how we discern truth.”

The timing for the U2charist and its message of the importance of joining with others to do good became even more timely after Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast on Aug. 25, inundating Texas with record flooding that left thousands without a home, car or job. Christ Church and McMath Construction were among the first to respond to the tragedy. On September 7, with hot food in tow, they delivered to Houston $50,000 in relief supplies and $10,000 in gift cards for those in need. Father Bill and Youth Minister, Blake Burns, made to the trip to Houston, where they helped serve jambalaya prepared by the McMath volunteers to over 700 people in the parking lot of Gallery Furniture, a store owned by Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, who has been lauded worldwide for opening the doors of his two stores to people who needed a dry place to sleep in the wake of the flooding. Father Bill spoke about that experience in his U2charist sermon, titled “Mattress Mack, Bono and Jesus” or “We Get to Carry Each Other” (which you may listen to here). He described the joy and satisfaction that comes when people from all walks of life, faith backgrounds and ethnicities forget their differences and work together to help others.

The musical interlude, following the sermon, was U2’s “One” which reflects the universal message of Christianity: although we are all different, we are one in the eyes of God. The offering collected during the service was donated to Episcopal Relief and Development, in keeping with copyright laws that require that all proceeds from U2chartists go to a nonprofit or nongovernmental agency that supports the ethos of the Sustainable Development Goals: to assist those in need. The Christ Church congregation and visitors raised over $1800 for the ERD during the Sept. 10 U2charist.

Music for the service was directed by Crispin Schroeder, a professional musician who is also the pastor of the north shore’s Vineyard Fellowship. He put together the set-list and provided musical direction along with vocals and guitar during the service. He was joined by members of the Christ Church Celebration Band, including vocalist Ashley Lemmler, jazz pianist Matt Lemmler, Ronnie Boudreaux on guitar, Keenan Knight on bass, and Dan Caro on drums.

Other U2 songs featured in the service were “Pride (In the Name of Love),” the band’s tribute to the Rev’d Martin Luther King, Jr., “When Love Comes to Town,” “Gloria,” “Where the Streets Have no Name,” “Grace,” “Love Rescue Me” and “Bad.” The recessional was “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which Father Bill in the New Orleans Advocate interview said was his favorite U2 song. “It’s their most profound theology,” he said. “In it, they encourage the question, which is really for me what the spiritual path is all about. We’re on this journey, and we’re not sure where it starts or where it ends.”

The congregation’s reaction to the U2charist was extremely positive, and drew many comments on Facebook. Jennifer Ross Nicaud said she loved it, describing it as a “fun and touching” service. Michelle Mann said “the music and message were outstanding. One of my all time favorite services.” “It was beyond amazing,” wrote Jean Crotty. “Haven’t ever seen that many people in church since I joined in 1978!!”

-Karen Courtney

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