On April 25, 2018, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco held a Beyoncé Mass as part of their progressive The Vine worship series on Wednesday evenings. This service was centered around the SFTS course titled “Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible,” created and taught by Assistant Old Testament Professor Yolanda Norton. Attended by approximately 1000 people, the Beyoncé Mass has been covered worldwide by many media sources, some offering misleading information. Professor Norton has created this web page to provide a resource expressing the theology, witness, and mission of the Mass and Beyoncé & The Hebrew Bible course.
“This is not a service deifying Beyoncé. 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 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.”
Reflections on the Beyoncé Mass
By Rev. Yolanda Norton
May 2, 2018
I haven’t said much about the Beyoncé mass since the worship service occurred. I haven’t responded to people’s commentary on the service. Mainly, I have not known what to say. The Mass was not what I expected. It was so much more. I had a mentor—Dale Andrews—who would always say, “I’ve got more questions than I have answers, more problems than solutions; and of these gifts I freely give.” As I sit with my students each week, Dale’s words sit with me.
I do my best to help students contend with some of life’s greatest mysteries and problems. My hope and prayer is that all the issues that we address in our womanist readings of the Bible complicate the simple answers that people often attach to the text. The “simple” answers often lead to white supremacist, sexist, and oppressive approaches to reading Scripture. I think that my students can do better. I believe that the Church can be better. As we worked on the Beyoncé worship service each time, I saw my students wrestle and evolve. Ultimately, we walked together and created a worship service that was not intended for your average church member.
This was a service of welcome and healing; this was a service for affirmation of Black women and healing. I am proud of the work that we did, and I am proud of my students.
Giving Voice: “Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible”
By Rev. Yolanda Norton
April 25, 2018
In the past week since the announcement of my Beyoncé Mass at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, I have been asked over and over again, “Why Beyoncé?”
My research and teaching, my vision for this worship service is not/was not a response to Coachella. Beyoncé is one year older than me. As I have grown up, I have watched her career evolve. In some ways she has provided a soundtrack for my life. As I watched Beyoncé evolve as a public figure and artist, I saw much of the Black female experience represented. My life is not nearly as glamorous. There are not nearly as many people in the world who will ever hear my name. And I am great with that. However, as a Black woman I know what it means to have my body and clothing policed; people judging my hair, makeup, and style choices, and making judgments about my appropriateness. As a Black woman I know what it means to be consistently underestimated. I know what it means to have to do more and better than my peers, and still not be taken seriously in my craft. I know what it means for my value to be attached to the men in my life. Beyoncé’s unique status in the world gives me the unique opportunity to narrate the realities of Black women in the church and in the world.
A lot of work has been done by Christians to separate the church and the world in ways that Jesus never did. Jesus was out among the people. When he saw that people were hungry, he gave them food. We he saw that people were wounded, Jesus healed. He didn’t ask questions about their social status, he didn’t put qualifiers on his love. The commission of the Gospel is love. The calling of God requires a willingness to meet people in all spaces and places. This work is not about some sort of gimmick. Long before all the media attention, this is the work that I was doing, and when tonight is over, it is the work that I will continue to do. This is my way of giving voice to the nameless Black women that have never been seen or heard.
The church and the theological academy are in the middle of a unique moment. We must continually ask questions about relevancy. The need to lift the same white, male voices excludes and ostracizes all sorts of people who were created in the image of God. These individuals and communities deserve to be acknowledged and affirmed. If we can not rise to the occasion of God’s commission because of our limited, legalistic perceptions of God, we misrepresent God’s church. I am not presuming that my model is perfect, but it is my faithful attempt to “draw the circle wide.”