The gospel according to U2 and Bono
Story in full BONO has declared that he is not a man of the cloth, "unless that cloth is leather". But the words of the charismatic U2 front man are nevertheless ringing out from pulpits across the United States.
The Irish rock band's songs and lyrics are being used by the Episcopal Church in so-called "U2 Eucharists" as a means of attracting young people who relate to the group's social activism.
Earlier attempts by churches to connect to youth culture have usually involved ministers in open-toed sandals strumming acoustic guitars and singing Kumbaya to the general embarrassment of all. Yet, in parishes from California to Maine, worshippers are flocking to hear U2 classics such as Beautiful Day, Pride and Peace on Earth rolled into a service of prayer.
However, ear plugs are passed out with the Bibles and hymn sheets for those who prefer organ music.
The U2 Eucharist was devised by the Rev Paige Blair, a parish priest in York Harbor, Maine, and it has since spread through word-of-mouth and on clerical websites.
At All Saints' Church in Atlanta, Georgia, organisers had planned for 300 worshippers, and instead had to contend with 500, while at the Grace Episcopal Church in Providence, Rhode Island, as many people turned up for a Friday night U2 Eucharist as normally turn up on a Sunday morning.
While U2 songs are not yet listed in the Episcopal Church's authorised hymnal, Ms Blair believes it is only a matter of time. She said: "I seriously think the day will come. There's a gift they have in speaking to the human soul."
She came up with the idea after a sermon about the One Campaign, the Bono-backed initiative designed to alleviate global poverty and fight AIDS. She quoted equally from Bono and the Bible and included the lead singer's line: "Where you live should not determine whether you live or die."
Instead of a hymn, the service began with one of U2's earliest hits, Pride (In the Name of Love). As the music played, pictures of famous believers, including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, flashed on a 10ft by 4ft screen behind the altar.
Other songs included in the service were Peace on Earth, which was inspired by a fatal bombing in Northern Ireland and which questions why God does not halt human suffering; during it, Bono sings: "Jesus, can you take the time to throw a drowning man a line." Also played was 40, in which Bono echoes the 40th Psalm, singing: "I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry."
Bono may favour black leather while on stage in front of an audience of millions, but to some believers, he can still act as a latter-day prophet, producing songs filled with Christian symbolism.
The Episcopal Church in the US has been among the first to recognise the band's power. A few years ago two of its priests edited a book of sermons based on U2 songs entitled Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog.
Yet Bono has provoked criticism from fans and even members of his own band for his close involvement with the US president, George Bush, a born-again Christian, whom he lobbied last year as part of the Make Poverty History campaign.
In February, he joined Mr Bush at the national prayer breakfast in Washington, and told the gathered clergy: "I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather ... I'm the first to admit that there's something unnatural, something unseemly, about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the south of France."
The gospel according to U2
IN HER sermon, the Rev Paige Blair quoted from both Bono and the Bible and included the singer's line: "Where you live should not determine whether you live or die."
As an opening hymn, the service played one of the U2's earliest hits, Pride (In the Name of Love).
On a screen behind the altar, pictures of famous believers such as the Rev Martin Luther King jnr were flashed up as the music played.
Other songs included in the service were Peace on Earth, inspired by a fatal bombing in Northern Ireland and which questions why God does not halt human suffering.
Another song was 40, in which Bono echoes the 40th Psalm when he sings: "I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry."