Recently one of the most surprising things I encountered was the much-talked-about and now-beloved Beyoncé Mass at Grace Cathedral. I wasn’t sure about it at first, as I’m not really a Beyoncé fan. My vague knowledge of her music didn’t strike a chord with me, no pun intended. Friends encouraged me to attend anyway. So I dragged my jet-lagged self up and went.
I can say in all honesty that it was a struggle all the way to the doors of the sanctuary. Church has always been a nice, quiet haven for me. I knew that night would be anything but quiet. I’d never had a chance to attend The Vine, Grace Cathedral’s Wednesday evening contemporary service who was presenting the Mass, until that night.
Walking in, the vibe was electric, like opening night of a major show. People already seated and the place was full—few spots remained. I found some friends and squeezed into the pew behind them. Surrounded by strangers on either side, I worried about my anxiety flaring up and about falling asleep after my cross-country flight. Thankfully neither one happened!
As we sat there waiting, the countdown on the screen ticked away the seconds until Mass started. I wondered how “Mass-like” it would really be.
0:05 I knew it was put together by a college class led by the amazing Rev. Yolanda Norton. If you ever get a chance to hear her speak or preach: run don’t walk!
0:04 The atmosphere was filled with excitement. What type of Mass was it going to be? People wondering if Queen B would make a surprise appearance. “How long are these things anyway?” someone asked their friend.
0:03 Last minute arrivals file into the sanctuary. A quick look around: every available seat is filled.
0:00 Beyoncé Mass was here!! The great light system shining out hues of purple and blue setting the mood for a fun time, accompanied by loud cheering. This crowd was ready!
From beginning to end it was Mass, albeit a little more relaxed and a bit more compact than Sunday morning. Grace transformed into a community of all. It always amazes me how the cathedral does that. The strangers next to me became my dancing friends. We all sang along to Beyoncé lyrics instead of hymns, and Bey’s songs seemed to transform into modern-day hymns, if you will. The lyrics complemented the readings and the sermon flawlessly. Again, a true thank you to God for Rev. Norton and her college class.
It was something completely other, in the best way possible. People who clearly didn’t know one another before walking in were dancing, singing and fully enjoying each other’s company without any questions.
The biggest thing that stood out to me about it was the warmth, love and pure joy that filled the sanctuary. Mass was normal length, about an hour, but everyone stayed longer. We danced, hugged each other and laughed. I know I probably won’t see most of them again, but for that night we were family tied together by something other than religion or Beyoncé. Dare I say it was hope. It was love. It was that sense of belonging that we all crave.
This is what Grace Cathedral is like, not always Beyoncé Mass level all at once, but in smaller bursts with just as much heart. Grace Cathedral and The Vine shared Rev. Norton’s vision and arranged the liturgy, band, musicians, lighting and more, welcoming almost one thousand people to celebrate the spirituality and lift up the voices of Black women.
Grace is there to spread hope, love and joy in a time where they are rare.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On this beautiful spring day you are so much on my mind. I am very grateful for our ministry together. God blesses us with each other.
You may have noticed news reports about a special worship service that will be happening here next week with music and a message inspired by the popular singer Beyoncé. You may have heard criticisms from our fundamentalist brothers and sisters that Grace Cathedral worships Beyoncé rather than our Lord Jesus.
As supporters of the cathedral you know how important it is for us to be involved in the public life of our city and the world. A longing for justice lies at the heart of our identity. We have a tradition of engaging popular culture on issues of social justice that stretches back long before our controversial Duke Ellington Jazz Service in the mid-1960s.
I thought that it might be helpful for you to know a little bit more about this Beyoncé Mass.
The Vine, our Wednesday night (6:30 pm) contemporary worship community, was inspired by the Grace Cathedral Year of Truth theme and initiated a preaching series specifically to raise up the voices of women. Last week we focused on Mary Magdalene.
For our April 25 Vine worship service, the Rev. Yolanda Norton, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at San Francisco Theological Seminary, will be preaching. Rev. Norton created a “Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible” class at the Seminary that draws on Beyoncé’s music to raise awareness about the spiritual experience of Black women and the issues they face in our society.
We have been surprised by how much attention we have been receiving about this and do expect a large attendance at this worship service. Your friends may ask you about this. You might want to remind them that God is in all the world and that Beyoncé is made in God’s image. The church has not treated women of color fairly and it is time to face this truth.
You are welcome to join us at the Vine. Please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions you might have after this Sunday’s 11 am service here at the cathedral.
The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young