We Went to “Beyoncé Mass” and It Was Glorious

Grace Cathedral’s congregation is “Crazy in Love”…with Jesus.

A San Francisco church held a worship service Wednesday night themed on the teachings of… Beyoncé.

Grace Cathedral, an historic episcopal church known for its commitment to social justice, hosted its “Beyonce Mass” as part of a weekly worship series intended to uplift the experiences of women and appeal to young worshippers. The unconventional service featured a sermon about liberation struggle, readings from a speech by civil rights leader Ella Baker, scripture readings by black women, a traditional communion, and of course, the singing of Beyoncé songs. A gospel soloist backed by a choir and live band performed Beyonce’s songs “Listen,” “Freedom,” “Flaws and All,” and “I Was Here,” as well as “Survivor,” a hit by Beyonce’s original girl group Destiny’s Child.

News of the planned service appeared in more than two dozen local and national news outlets—including the New York Times. Not surprisingly, the church was mobbed. Ushers estimated there were about 900 people in attendance—Grace’s Wednesday night service normally attracts 50 or so.

The sermon was delivered by Rev. Yolanda Norton, a professor at the San Francisco Theological Seminary who specializes in black feminist interpretations of the Bible, and who helped organize the service. The notion of a Beyoncé mass ruffled some feathers, with conservative Christian voices mocking the idea or claiming the church was deifying Beyoncé—as if she’s not been deified already.

Norton rejects that claim: “Our goal is to have a worship experience that honors the fact that we’re all created in the image of God,” and stipulates that that image “includes black women,” she told me. A note on the church’s website adds that the service was intended to show how Beyoncé’s art “opens a window into the lives of the marginalized and forgotten, particularly Black women.”

Beyoncé received acclaim for her 2016 album Lemonade, which was widely interpreted as a reflection on both the hurt that black women sometimes experience in romantic relationships and the trauma they’ve endured over generations from the double-whammy of being black and female in America. But the lyrics to many of her songs, when viewed as a conversation with God, are ripe for use as hymns, Norton adds.

As an example, she cites “Flaws and All” from Beyoncé’s sophomore album B’Day: “She talks about being a train wreck. She talks about, ‘When I need attention I tend to nag.’ All the things that she says in there, whoever she’s talking to, if we make that in our worship a song to God, that’s exactly what we do,” Norton says. “So put that into that context and then have this chorus, ‘I don’t know why you love me, and that’s why I love you.’ That to me is a perfect conversation with God.”

Beyonce has identified herself as a “devout Methodist.” The name of her girl group was also drawn from a Bible verse.

Here are a few more highlights I shot at Beyoncé Mass:

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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