To go by public testimony, millions of people across the world already recognize Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is a goddess incarnate. Now, San Franciscans have a chance to formally worship the reigning queen of pop when Grace Cathedral hosts a Beyoncé mass on Wednesday, Apr. 25.
Reverend Yolanda Norton, a professor at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, will lead the service as part of Grace Cathedral's the Vine, a series that infuses worship with pop music and progressive messaging.
Norton, who teaches a class called Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible at the Theological Seminary, says that the mass was already in the works before Beyoncé's historic Coachella performance, which broke YouTube streaming records as the most-watched festival performance of all time. "Even in class today, there was this great energy about continuing this conversation in the wake of Coachella, and what it means to do this worship service that taps into what I think is the essence of who Beyoncé is and how that relates to black women, how we relate to God, and how we are seen in community," she says.
Norton adds, "In the wake of the Lemonade album, these questions about how black women find their voice, how they represent the image of god, and how we as black women provide space for liberation — not only of ourselves, but of all people. I think you find that in songs like 'Freedom' and 'Formation.'"
Religious services that pay homage to black musical icons are somewhat of a San Francisco tradition: The Saint John Coltrane Church has existed in various incarnations since the jazz legend's passing in 1967, and the Jimi Hendrix Electric Church Foundation worshiped the rock great in the '80s.
Grace Cathedral, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic 1965 sermon, is a fitting location of the Beyoncé mass. The focus of Norton's service will be to "discover how [Beyoncé's] art opens a window into the lives of the marginalized and forgotten — particularly black females," according to Grace Cathedral's website.
This theme was certainly evident in Beyoncé's viral Coachella performance this past Saturday, Apr. 14, where she performed an epic two-hour set steeped in centuries of black history, musicology, and culture. Dressed as Queen Nefertiti, then the leader of her own fictional HBCU sorority, Beyoncé commanded a brass band, drum line, and legions of dancers in a comprehensive reinterpretation of her catalog, weaving in homages to “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the black national anthem; Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer and protest leader Fela Kuti; civil rights-era singer Nina Simone; and New Orleans rapper Juvenile. Throughout her set, she drew a thread through eras of African diasporic art as expressions of joy and resistance, connecting her own discography to a potent legacy.
"No other living pop star is as aware of her origin, or of the truth that any origin is porous and multiple," wrote critic Doreen St. Felix in the New Yorker after the performance.
The Apr. 25 sermon at Grace Cathedral is free, at 6:30pm, with seating on a first-come first-serve basis. Details here.