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Cathedral rocks as Episcopalians celebrate Eucharist the U2 way

The crowd clapped along to songs from the biggest rock band in the world.

Some sang all the words to "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "One."

Several even danced in the aisles.

But no -- none of this happened at a concert in HSBC Arena.

Rather, a traditional Episcopal liturgical service Saturday in St. Paul's Cathedral featured the music of U2 as hymns.

The diocese billed the gathering as "ain't your grandma's church service."

Clearly, the music appealed to the teenagers and college students who attended. But most of the 400 to 500 worshippers -- who nearly filled the cathedral -- seemed quite a bit older.

"I like Bono. My kids like Bono," Laurie Wozniak, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said of the band's singer.

Their bishop likes him, too.

Bishop J. Michael Garrison of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York, celebrant of the "U2-charist," sang along during many of the dozen songs played during the liturgy.

The bishop cited Bono's charitable work and activism aimed at reducing global poverty and improving world health.

"Bono's music really has touched a chord to find a way to be socially responsible amid the world's ills," Garrison said after the service.

The bishop praised the students who organized the service.

"It was a great service," he said. "I'm thrilled with how the kids put it all together."

"It's exciting to see all these kids," said Jo Meachem, 61, an academic adviser at the University at Buffalo who attended the service with her husband, Bob Martinson. "This helps show people the church is an accessible place and open to new ideas and to all people."

Since the first U2 Eucharist in the summer of 2005 in Maine, more than 100 have been held around the country.

Samantha Cutlip suggested holding a U2 Eucharist in Buffalo after she attended one in Columbus, Ohio, last summer.

"It captured me," she said.

Cutlip, 19, a University at Buffalo freshman and a leader for the Niagara Deanery Youth Group, worked with its members to select songs and to put together a slide show displaying lyrics and images.

"Rock music in the cathedral? Some people were shocked," Cutlip said.

But from the beginning, the response from diocesan officials was positive, she said.

"The cathedral is the home for everybody, rockers included," she said.

She said she was "vaguely familiar" with U2's songs.

But she grew more impressed with the music after listening to the lyrics during the Columbus service.

The lyrics from the song "One" prompted the students to play it after the sermon:

We're one

But we're not the same

We get to carry each other

Carry each other

All the money collected during the offering will be donated to two charities selected by the youths who organized the service: Millennium Promise, a nonprofit organization working with villages in 10 African countries to develop agriculture, health care, education and access to clean water, and People Funding People, a small group based in New Jersey that develops projects in Cameroon.

e-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com

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