Fresh off the heels of Beyoncé’s legendary, record-breaking performance at Coachella, one California-based church is getting in formation by honoring the superstar singer and philanthropist with her own designated mass service. Grace Cathedral recently announced that its contemporary worship service, the Vine, will host Beyoncé Mass on Wednesday, April 25, to highlight the “Halo” singer’s music, specifically as it relates to Black female spirituality.
Though everyone is still buzzing about Queen Bey’s headlining set at the music festival and what she has planned for her second performance, the idea for this mass was conceived long before Beyoncé blessed the stage. In fact, the concept was born when Sam Lundquist, a pastoral intern for the Vine, took a class led by assistant professor Yolanda Norton at San Francisco Theology Seminary entitled “Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible.”
“This is not a service deifying Beyoncé,” Professor Norton tells ESSENCE. “This is a service that uses Beyoncé’s music as a tool to engender positive, empowering conversation about Black women. The premise of this work [Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible] is that if we look at the personal life, career trajectory, music and public persona of Beyoncé, so much of her life reflects aspects of Black women’s stories.”
According to Reverend Jude Harmon, founding pastor of the Vine and director of innovative ministry for Grace Cathedral, the Beyoncé Mass will be a mixture of her classic songs and signature hits, as well as Bible readings, preaching, praying and Communion. But Harmon also notes the mass is “the beginning of a much larger and long overdue conversation.”
“To that end, women of color are leading every part of the worship service they can, from singing and reading Scripture to lamenting and protesting the structural injustices of our world — Professor Norton will preach,” Harmon explains to ESSENCE. “We are so grateful to her for sharing her vision with us, and for agreeing to let us lift her and other female voices of color up in this service.”
The Beyoncé Mass is part of a three-part series to be held at the Nob Hill church called “Speaking Truth: The Power of Story in Community.” The series was created with the intention of lifting up the voices of those largely marginalized and oppressed by the Church, particularly women, skeptics and communities of color.
On the surface, including an artist who is, arguably, more famous for her secular music than she is from her humble beginnings singing in the choir in Houston, seems odd for Grace Cathedral. However, upon delving deeper into the artistry of the 36-year-old musical icon, the deliberate imagery of spiritual deities sprinkled in her televised performances and interspersing of religious odes at her concerts have always been present throughout the course of Beyoncé’s 20-year career.
There was her awe-inspiring Grammy performance in 2017, where she embodied African goddess Oshun, as well as her recent rendition of the African-American hymnal, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at #Beychella. Not to mention, her pregnancy photos and the captivating portrait of her newborn twins posted on Instagram in July 2017 drew comparisons to the Black Madonna and challenged the traditional acceptance of the white Virgin Mary.
“Over the course of her career, people have judged her body, clothing, marriage and motherhood,” Professor Norton says. “She is expected to be superhuman while simultaneously being underestimated. Every product that she has released, every performance that she has done has been beyond everyone’s expectations. Why are people still surprised when she excels? Simultaneously, when she succeeds people of various ilk are quick to dismiss or disparage her.”
“All of these things are a part of Black women’s stories,” Norton adds. “We are dismissed, used, underestimated, and asked to perform Herculean tasks. In spite of all these things, Beyoncé, like most Black women, have found mechanisms for survival and thriving — found our own God language and developed strong agency.”
The Beyoncé Mass is just one of many programs and services Grace Cathedral has implemented to elevate the conversation surrounding Black women, immigrants and the LGBTQ community.
“I am committed to leading a community that is not afraid to engage hard conversations about what it means to walk with God in a world still beset by structural injustice,” Reverend Harmon tells ESSENCE.