Florida Conference rocks on with U2charist, Expression ’07

June 21, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011 
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0690}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

A member of the band from Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa waits for his cue before joining in on the next U2 song featured during the U2charist communion service at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #07-0608.

LAKELAND — The blaring sounds of the rock band U2 are an unusual way to start worship, but the U2charist service at the recent Florida Annual Conference Event did feature the band’s music and was anything but usual for a conference event.

The June 8 service was designed to create awareness about the fight against the global AIDS epidemic and extreme poverty and highlight what one person can do to make a difference through the ONE Campaign.

Its music and message were about global reconciliation, justice for the poor and oppressed, and the importance of caring for your neighbor, all of which has cross-generational appeal, but conference leaders hoped the music and style of worship specifically would appeal to younger members. Youth groups and campus ministries from around the conference were invited to the service, in keeping with this year’s emphasis on greater involvement by younger members at the conference event.

More than 1,100 people of all ages attended. Those unaccustomed to the loud music were told it was OK to use the earplugs being provided. Every pair was taken.

U2charist services are taking place across the country. They are an Episcopal (Rite III) Eucharist service featuring U2’s music, much of which is characterized by biblically rich and socially conscious lyrics, and a message rallying worshippers around the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. Created by Sarah Dylan Breuer*, a liturgical consultant in Cambridge, Mass., the U2charist is an opportunity to reach congregations and the larger community, specifically young people.

The eight Millennium goals target addressing extreme poverty, hunger and disease, lack of adequate shelter and exclusion around the world, while promoting gender equality, education and environmental sustainability. They address basic human rights — the right of every person to health, education, shelter and security. The goals are endorsed by many nations, churches and denominational groups, including the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church.

A young artist works on a painting that will eventually read, “We are ONE together,” onstage throughout the U2charist service. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #07-0609.

The ONE Campaign is an effort to rally Americans, one by one, to fight AIDS and extreme poverty. ONE organizers believe allocating an additional 1 percent of the United States’ budget toward providing basic needs, like health, education, clean water and food, would transform the futures of an entire generation in the world’s poorest countries. At the service a number of members purchased ONE T-shirts and wristbands and signed the campaign’s declaration that the United States join other countries in addressing the issues raised through the Millennium goals.

The General Board of Church and Society is also a partner in the ONE Campaign, along with such organizations as Bread for the World, World Vision and Heifer International and celebrities like Bono.

The worship band at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa belted out such U2 chart toppers as “Sunday Bloody Sunday, “Vertigo” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Although not there in person, Bono, U2’s lead singer and ambassador of the Millennium goals, was there in spirit, through both his music and a videotaped clip in which he called people worldwide to a deeper faith and engagement in God’s mission.

The Rev. Magrey deVega, associate pastor at Hyde Park United Methodist Church, delivered the evening’s message from Matthew 25:31-36. He said the challenges facing the world today were also addressed centuries ago in the region called Antioch, now Turkey.

deVega said religions were struggling to relate to one another, just as religions today work to understand each another. He said Jewish synagogues were found next to early Christian house churches in the ancient ruins archeologists have unearthed. deVega ventured there must have been tense dialogue between the two faiths.

deVega said the scripture also tells of a people experiencing a crisis in dealing with the suffering of that time. He said Christians were being killed and tortured for their beliefs.

At the same time, people were hanging on, waiting for Jesus to return and rescue them. He said people then, just as now, don’t have to wait because Jesus is here, in the eyes, faces and hands of everyone. In seminary terms, deVega said, that’s called “realized eschatology,” which means the future is now.

“Jesus said ‘Lo I am with you always,’ ” deVega said. “Jesus is already here.”

If the book of Matthew is correct, he added, “a lot of things have got to change.”

The Rev. Magrey deVega, associate pastor at Hyde Park United Methodist Church, tells members attending the U2charist service there’s no need to wait until Jesus comes; he’s here now in every person. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #07-0610.

“We’ve got to change the way we see others, ourselves,” he said. “We’ve got to change the way we see, the unchurched, poor, hungry, diseased, non-American, the AIDS baby, parent on welfare. The person in the margin who is broken, abused, ignored, needs to see Jesus from us.”

While a seminary student, deVega said he worked at an overnight homeless shelter. His supervisor, a Catholic monk, asked him what he thought happened in the shelter at night.

The ever-clever deVega thought he knew the answer — people come in for a hot shower, hot food and a warm bed. The even more clever monk told deVega two kinds of people came to the shelter each night — people who came in through the front door and people who came in through the back door. The monk explained that the people who came in through the front door possessed real needs; the people through the back door had a feeling and need to contribute to something larger than themselves.

“You want to know what happens when the two meet?” deVega said. “Church happens.”

What the church can do now is pass on to the next generation a society that is better than the one it inherited, deVega said.

In his video clip, Bono talked about the commandment to love thy neighbor. He said Christianity is about more than “pie in the sky when I die.” He said people today have an opportunity to put an end to “stupid poverty.”

deVega ended his sermon by declaring today’s generation can be the one to put an end to stupid poverty. He encouraged those attending the service to join the ONE Campaign and add their names to 2.5 million people worldwide supporting the initiative.

Members did take action that night by giving to the annual conference missions offering, which will support the East Angola-Florida Partnership and initiative to provide backpacks and school supplies for at-risk Florida students. Slightly more than $127,307 was given that evening.

Expression ’07 allowed younger members the opportunity to express themselves and their faith through the works of art, film and music they created and shared June 8 following the U2charist service. It also gave older members a chance to get to know this younger generation of Christians a little better. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #07-0611.

After the service many of the youth and young adults and some older members migrated to nearby Florida Southern College for Expression ’07, a combination art, film and music festival, All the pieces featured were provided by youth and young adults.

Art was displayed on the walls, student films were shown and the music was so loud eardrums throbbed. Youth and young adults rocked to be thunderous beats and loved every minute of it.

They sat on the floor listening to music, while others were clustered together in front of the stage. Some of the more brave older members ventured close to the back of the auditorium.

The Rev. Andrew Sistrunk, probationary deacon at First United Methodist Church, Port Orange, said the intentions of Florida Conference leaders to include younger members have been good and he hopes they continue in the years to come — that it becomes automatic to include youth/young adults in all aspects of the annual conference event.
 
“It’s been good for them (youth) to know they matter,” he said.

That’s exactly what the Rev. Beth Gardner of First United Methodist Church, Bunnell, wants to see happen, too. She attended Expression ’07 with three youth from a neighboring church.

“I think this is wonderful,” she said as removed her earplugs. “It’s been great this year to see youth and young adults participating.”

Joe Solomons, attending conference as a representative of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, was also pleased with the night’s catering to youth/young adults.

“I think this is great. The kids are enjoying it, fellowshipping with one another,” he said. “This is something I have been pushing for for years.”

Solomons is so committed to getting youth/young adults involved he encouraged his 24-year-old son to attend, even though it would mean missing work and losing money. He said he paid his son to make up for the lost income.

“I think it’s important that he be here,” Solomons said. “He’s seen me come to annual conference for years. I think it’s good that he and others see that the church is run by democracy, not some hierocracy.”

Heather Kovalesky, a member of First Baptist Church in Plant City, said it’s a good idea for the church to be reaching younger generations.

Kovalesky, 22, attended with another church member who received news about the event the way most young people do — via MySpace.com on the Internet.

The Rev. Roy Terry (right), pastor of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples, rocks to the music of U2 during the U2charist service June 8. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #07-0612.

Barbara Ray, a youth director at Palm Bay United Methodist Church, said the idea of getting youth/young adults involved is more than a one-time thing.

“I think this is wonderful, and I hope we do it next year,” she said. “It’s our function to pass the faith on. If not, what’s the point?”

The Rev. Roy Terry of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples said the U2hcarist was a highlight of the annual conference event for him. Glen Wood, a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Sarasota, agreed and said he didn’t even need the earplugs.

Videos, photos, summaries and additional information about the conference event are available on the Florida Conference Web site at http://www.flumc.org.

* This article originally credited the creation of the service to the Rev. Paige Blair, an Episcopal priest. e-Review learned this was inaccurate and made the correction 7/26/07.

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This article relates to 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.


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