Beyoncé Mass: A celebration of womanism at Memorial Church

Feb. 24, 2022, 12:20 a.m.

As Beyoncé’s voice filled the building, Stanford students, affiliates and community members piled into Memorial Church on Wednesday night. They were there for the first in-person “Beyoncé Mass” in two years, organized by Stanford’s Office for Religious and Spiritual Life.

The Beyoncé Mass is a self-described “womanist worship service” that combines spiritual worship with the music and life of Beyoncé to empower Black women. Curated by Reverend Yolanda M. Norton, the chair of Black Church Studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary, the event has held services across the world since its 2018 debut in San Francisco.

Brianna, a teacher from San Francisco who traveled to Stanford for the event, said she was drawn to the event because of its theme of “taking what Beyoncé does in her everyday life and applying it to our own selves.” For her, it is important to have “a space where we can all show our connection and our appreciation for the work she’s done.”

The stage at the front of the church was decorated with purple banners and a screen that showed images and videos of Black women, interviews and scenes of resistance throughout the ceremony. The service began with an audio recording of Beyoncé declaring the “world wanted me to fail … I learned the beauty that comes with pain.”

The theme of womanism, which the worship service describes as “someone who is committed to the survival and wholeness of an entire people,” can be celebrated by all, Norton said. “It doesn’t matter the color of your skin, your gender, your gender identity, what country you come from, whether you’re conservative or liberal. You are welcome in this space.”

Throughout the ceremony, six female singers, along with several accompanying musicians, performed notable Beyoncé hits such as “Superpower” and “I Was Here,” as well as traditional Black spiritual songs like “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

The organizers also played video interviews with Black women affiliated with Stanford, including a conversation with Destiny Kelly ’24, who shared that though she was initially nervous to speak up in class at Stanford, she now feels “strong in my voice.”

Norton said that growing up, she felt surrounded by “Black superheroes” like Fannie Lou Hamer, who famously spoke in front of the Democratic National Convention calling attention to the injustices Black Americans faced in the South. “She questioned whether or not this is America, if we could allow the kind of harm that came to Black people to continue in this world,” Norton said.

The ceremony also included references to Christian religious ideas. “There are people here tonight who God has called to do new magnificent, extraordinary amazing things,” Norton said. Throughout the service, audience members stood in prayer and turned to neighbors to offer hugs, kind words or handshakes.

Toward the end of the service, audience members moved to the front to collect communion items. The ceremony ended with a recitation of an altered version of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Mother, who is in heaven and within us … deliver us into community,” they prayed. “For you are the dwelling place within us, the empowerment around us, and the celebration among us now and forever.”

For some attendees, the event was their first experience with Beyoncé Mass. Samuel Good ’22 said he was drawn by a curiosity of the event’s meaning. “I saw Beyoncé Mass and was a little bit confused by what that entailed, and wanted to find out a little bit more about it,” he said.

The event was more spiritual than he had anticipated, with a “true focus on God and bringing people together to worship and to really focus on what matters.” He said that the event, which “encouraged everyone to be a part of it,” felt very inclusive.

“I think a lot of times, religious services, if you don’t feel like you belong to that community, can be a very daunting place to be in,” he added.

Contrasting the event with her own experience with Catholicism at home, Anastacia Del Rio ’25 said that “having [her experience] reframed as a way to empower women of color and Black women definitely made the whole idea of religion a little bit more appealing.”

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