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Florida's Biggest-Ever U2Charist
In his wonderful keynote sermon at the 2005 Interfaith Convocation at the National Cathedral in Washington, the Most Rev. Njongonkulu W. H. Ndungane, spoke about how he was called into the ministry by the God of Surprises during his time in prison at Robben Island in South Africa.
Many of us have experienced that God of Surprises in one form or another, sometimes through unexpected results in our work to help alleviate hunger and poverty.
I'd like to highlight the experience of Eric Johnson, a ONE activist from Tampa, Fla., who tells us a wonderful story of how a huge U2Charist became one of the highlights of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in Lakeland, Fla., this summer.
Rev. Paige Blair, an Episcopal priest, and Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, are avid promoters of the U2Charist (based on the Episcopal Church's informal Rite III). The service uses music from U2 and calls on people of faith to rally around The Millenium Development Goals. The U2Charist was the brainchild of Sarah Dylan Breuer.
Eric, one of my Facebook "friends," had already helped plan a very successful U2Charist at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Fla., in October 2006, which drew 600 people. "My partner in coordinating our first U2Charist, Warren Pattison and I, met several weeks afterwards, in an attitude of dreaming big with no expectation that it would ever happen, we joked about how cool it would be to do a U2Charist worship at the Florida Annual Conference," said Eric.
But the God of Surprises gives us the gift of vision and the gift or perseverance.
"With an expectation of being turned down, we sent an email with our idea of doing a U2Charist worship service as part of the 2007 Annual Conference to the primary event coordinator," said Eric. "She had heard about our service in October and thought it was a great idea. A quick meeting with Bishop (Timothy) Whitaker, and the next thing we knew we were on the schedule!"
Eric had no doubt that he was merely an instrument. "What an amazing act of God providence, to provide us this tremendous opportunity to share the message of the Millennium Development Goals, ONE.org, and the fight against poverty and AIDS to a huge delegation of clergy and lay leaders from the entire state of Florida," he said.
This fits with Bishop Ndungane's words at the 2005 Interfaith Convocation: "This is God's work, and this is the year that we have an unprecedented opportunity to make a difference," he said, referring to the emergence of The ONE Campaign and other similar worldwide anti-poverty efforts.
God's grace was evident in the actual event. "Over 1,500 delegates and guests attended the almost two-hour service, almost 300 signatures were added to the ONE petition, and $127,000 was raised to fight hunger and poverty in Africa and at home," said Eric.
Click here to read a wonderful account about the U2Charist at the United Methodist Gathering (courtesy of the Florida United Methodist News Service).
Rev. Paige Blair, who helps promotes U2Charists around the country, was amazed at the amount of money that was raised at this one event. Said Rev. Blair: "In one service we more than doubled what we'd raised in the course of two years. WOW!"
More importantly, it looks like U2Charists are going to become commonplace in Florida. Said Eric: "Only a few days following the Annual Conference, we received several inquiries on details, and word that one of the largest UMC congregations, located in Orlando, was going to plan a U2Charist for this Fall. Our God is an amazing God..."
(The above painting was created by Kaley Madden of Flagler University. She put it together especially for the U2Charist held at the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church).
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