First Presbyterian mixing faith and U2 in its service
A trend that has captivated churches across the nation since 2004 will come to Sarasota on Sunday when First Presbyterian Church holds a worship service built around the music of the rock band U2.
The "U2Charist" will feature the band's recordings of its own music, and First Presbyterian's live band performing some U2 songs. It will be accompanied by not only U2 concert snippets, but also images from the Qatsi series of documentaries about life in war-torn and industrialized countries.
And as important as the U2 theme, said associate pastor Clay Thomas, is a call to "active discipleship," which he describes as discipleship that "takes into account the suffering of the world and tries to do something about it." Attendees will be asked to sign up for three different community service projects.
Thomas coordinated the service with the help of a church worship team and his former seminary colleagues, with whom he communicated through a Facebook thread dedicated to the topic. He hopes the U2Charist will uniquely reach both First Presbyterian's relatively sizeable youth membership and people who assume church is just not for them.
"Some people feel alienated from the church because they feel the church is self-serving," Thomas said. "This service is all about going out and serving the world."
The U2Charist is a concept first established by Episcopalian churches -- and in particular author and priest Sarah Dylan Breuer -- in 2004. In recent years, other denominations including Methodists and Presbyterians have established their own version of a U2Charist.
The idea is inspired by the band's socially conscious -- and sometimes blatantly spiritual -- lyrics, and lead singer Bono's long-term commitment to fighting poverty in Third World countries. In particular, Bono helped establish the Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight human justice goals undertaken by the United Nations.
Thomas, a U2 fan, said the band's lyrics also demonstrate the spiritual struggles universal to all people. "Their faith has ebbed and flowed just like everyone else's," he said.
First Presbyterian's U2Charist is the first in Sarasota by any denomination, and also the first such service in a series to be conducted nationwide by Thomas' colleagues in the next four months.
The service makes greater use of symbolism and poetry than a typical Eucharist, Thomas said, a quality that some more traditional worshippers might find challenging.
"Its message is not as explicit as we often see," he said. "But at the same time, Jesus was a man of parables, and he challenged listeners to be able to hear: what is the word in that for them?"
Thomas also emphasized that he and his worship team are committed to ensuring the service is more than simply a multi-sensory experience, and stays grounded in its original purpose of worship, communion and biblical callings.
"It's really important that this be about: How can people worship and have an encounter with God that inspires them to a higher level of discipleship?" he said.