May the Lord slay with you, and also with you.
Admittedly, we were a bit skeptical about how a religious gathering centered around Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter would play out; how her sultry musings and uplifting ballads would come together in a holy, theological experience inside the lofty Grace Cathedral. How could such provocations as the surfboard and "Yoncé all on his mouth like liquor" play in hallowed halls? Would we be asked to get in some sort of reverent formation at the drop of a wide-brimmed, black hat?
But when, on Wednesday night, the first snippets of "Flawless" reverberated off the celestial ceilings and pinged "God damn, God damn, God damn!" off that old stained glass, we knew we were in for a mass unlike any other.
After warm introductions were made by Grace Cathedral dean Malcolm Clemens Young, God's house came alive as a rendition of "Survivor" marked the beginning of the pop-cultural service. The opening number shook out our midweek listlessness; you could literally feel the vibrational energy shift in the room. No matter how we woke up that morning, we—and 899 of our closest friends—were now in the presence of Beysus. All was good in the world.
As the over hour-long mass ebbed and flowed between the modern hymns—including such hits as "I Was Here," and "Listen," "Flaws and All"—we were encouraged to divest ourselves from exclusivity and sin, to deliver ourselves into inclusivity and love. To view Beyonce's catalog of music as not a summer pool party playlist, but as a steadfast example of moral and ethical integrity; Lemonade was unapologetically steeped in black culture, as was her now history-making Coachella performance, all in the face of an industry that pedestals white palpability. In a culture of conformity, Beyoncé—and by extension, the mass held in her honor—preaches the importance of resisting against such societal erasers and of celebrating diversity.
Service opened with the choir’s performance of Survivor by Destiny’s Child #BeyonceMass https://t.co/j453R2dWLa— Brandon Patterson (@Brandon Patterson)1524707246.0
So, when "Freedom" rang throughout cathedral, the tone couldn't have be more fitting: We all felt we'd been freed to some extent, washed over by a sense of non-negotiable belonging.
But perhaps the most inspiring, transfixing portion of the night was the sermon given by Reverend Yolanda Norton, a professor at the San Francisco Theological Seminary who specializes in womanist interpretations of the Bible. Never mind that the notion of a Beyoncé mass had inevitably ruffled some feathers in the theological community, with conservative Christian voices mocking the idea of the church deifying Beyoncé (as if hordes of literally millions haven't already done so)—nevertheless she persisted.
Black feminist theologian Yolanda Norton delivers the sermon. She says Beyoncé’s Coachella performance reminds us t… https://t.co/LTo1Sd7nXU— Brandon Patterson (@Brandon Patterson)1524708170.0
"You see, society's created an empire out of racism, hetero-aggression, prejudice, transphobia, xenophobia, and belittling those who don't fit into a certain box. I want you tonight to call [these social injustices] not by their common name, but as 'empire.' Call them 'empire.'" Norton demanded from the pew, pontificating toward the crowd of hundreds to embrace love—not rage—in this age of overarching "empire."
"You'll feel angry, aggressive even when your beliefs are attacked. I have, we all have. But let me tell you this, rage does not breakdown empires, only love does. No matter how slowly, empires created out of malice can never stand in the presence of profound love."
From where we sat, it seemed every single person who left that cathedral Wednesday night felt not only loved, but empowered to love without bounds. Because what our melodious lord and savior would want: to Bey good in the world.
// The Beyoncé Mass was presented as part of Grace Cathedral's The Vine, a pop-cultural worship series held Wednesday nights at 6:30pm; 1100 California St. (Nob Hill), gracecathedral.org/thevine.