By Devlin Smith
The Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Ore., is hosting a U2charist service on Saturday, Jan. 16 at 5 p.m. in Kempton Hall. The service’s offering will benefit the African Well Fund.
Joseph Rose, chief organizer of the service, answered a few questions about the U2charist and shared what attendees can expect on Saturday.
What is your role in the hosting of this U2charist service?
I’m a long-time U2 fan; my first U2 album was “The Unforgettable Fire.” At about the same time, I started attending an Episcopal church with my high school friend, John. My faith has always made me a stronger U2 fan, made their music richer. U2 has, in many ways, made me a stronger Christian, and, for more than two decades, U2 has been a constant in my friendship with John, who now lives in Michigan. I am the chief organizer (and band manager) of the U2charist at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Ore.
Can you describe the service for people who haven’t attended one?
It’s not hard to imagine: A traditional Eucharist service (that is, a service with traditional liturgy and communion) weaved together with U2 songs rather than the standard hymns. Instead of reading the psalms as a congregation, we will sing the song “40” together. The song is based on Psalm 40. Instead of reading the prayers of the people, we will sing
“Yahweh” (“Take these hands/Teach them what to carry/Take these hands/Don’t make a fist/Take this mouth/So quick to criticize/Take this mouth/Give it a kiss”), which is very similar to the prayers found in the Book of Common Prayer Rite I (“… we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies …”).
The songs–12 altogether–will range from the obvious (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”) to the challenging (“The First Time”). A band of child musicians, playing everything from an electric guitar to a bass clarinet, will perform “One” during the offering. Since Jan. 16 falls in the week of Epiphany 1, which is the feast of Christ’s baptism, and the offering is going to the Africa Well Fund, water will be a big theme. The Old Testament lesson will be the story of Hagar in the wilderness from Genesis, where God creates a well in the desert. That was one of Nathan LeRud’s ideas. He is a young priest at the cathedral who will be officiating. During “Mysterious Ways,” the congregation will be “sprinkled” with water as a kind of absolution.
Why did your church want to host a U2charist service?
We’re blessed, Portland is known as an “unchurched” city where religion isn’t really part of the mainstream, but in recent years scores of young families have started to attend Trinity. At some point, we started introducing U2 songs into our family services. From there, the idea sprung up to hold a U2charist. Certainly, we’re not the first to do it but I think we’ve got a few new twists and turns planned. For instance, my friend Shepard Fairey, the artist who created the iconic Obama “Hope” poster, has given us permission to use some of his art work to promote the event. We’ll also be auctioning off two of his signed, limited-edition prints created to raise awareness of Africa’s struggle.
We’ve also got this huge room, Kempton Hall, where it will be held. plenty of air to raise your hands up to the sky or just pump your fist as you sing “I Will Follow.” Of course, I think there were some who thought the idea was perhaps a little too punk rock for a storied old place like our stone-walled cathedral. I’ve been talking about it for years. I think people started taking the idea seriously after Bono was named Time’s Person of the Year for his work on peace, justice and poverty issues. I hope the skeptics wind up seeing the cathedral in U2.
How did you decide to have AWF be the beneficiary of this event?
There’s an obvious link between your campaign and the music of U2. Indeed, it was the band’s music and message that lit the flame for your amazing organization. With U2, there would have been no African Well Fund.
In order to use U2’s music for these church services, the money raised from the offering must go toward a charity linked to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals for the developing world. Among those goals [are] ending poverty and hunger, universal education, bringing environmental sustainability, gender equality, maternal health and child health. It’s amazing how building a well in a village helps meet all of those goals. If a mother doesn’t have to walk 10 miles for a can of bacteria-infected water, she’s healthier. Same with a child (he can go to school rather than spend his days marching for water). I could go on. Plus, on a spiritual level, water has a sacred place in the Christian faith. It just made sense.
What are your goals for the event?
We’d love to raise enough money to build an entire well in a far-off community, no strings attached. Actually, the only strings that we’d attach are that the people who drink from the well live, grow, laugh, learn and dance. U2 borrowed this line from Jesus in the song “Miracle Drug,” “I was a stranger and you took me in,” that’s what an event like this is about. Short of that, we hope to raise awareness of your extraordinary work, the challenges of Africa, the grace of Christ and the realization that rock ‘n’ roll and faith can be brothers.
Is there anything else you would like to share about the U2charist service to be held at the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral?
We are a peaceful and welcoming community. Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist–everyone is welcome. Bring your joy, your singing voice and “coexist.”
For more information on the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral’s U2charist service, click here.
By Devlin Smith