Last month nearly 1,000 people gathered at Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal congregation in San Francisco, to participate in a worship service notably referred to as the Beyoncé Mass. Several of Beyoncé’s songs, including “Survivor,” “Flaws And All,” and “Freedom,” were sung throughout the liturgy. The service included a reading from Ella Baker and two versions of the Lord’s Prayer, the traditional English prayer and a modern Womanist version. The timing of the mass fell just weeks after Beyoncé’s stunning two-hour performance at Coachella (#Beychella), the first time a black woman headlined the event.
Conservative Christians had a field day attacking the Beyoncé Mass–and the Episcopal Church as a whole–on social media. At their mildest some critics simply insisted that such a gathering could not be a true worship service but merely a “Christian Beyoncé concert.” Others condemned the gathering as blasphemous, even satanic, for its idolatrous celebrity worship. When I shared my support of the service on Twitter, I was nearly instantly served a serious dose of mansplaining–that just because I was ordained didn’t make me an authority on such matters and that perhaps I should “take a break from Christianity” and “return to the basics.” Whatever that means.
The main criticism, at least the ones folks were willing to articulate, was that a Beyoncé Mass could not be a faithful expression of Christianity. What nobody said but what any of us could read between the lines is that folks can’t stand the artistry of a strong, talented black woman taking up space in the church.