Posted by on April 23, 2018 6:07 pm
Categories: Column 3

Beyoncé‘s headlining performance at Coachella, one year after it was originally scheduled. Force and determination were evident throughout the two-hour concert. Credit Larry Busacca/Getty Images

It wasn’t a platinum record, a Coachella performance or perhaps even a higher power that got San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral to plan its Beyoncé Mass this week: It was a second year divinity student originally from Ankeny, Iowa.

Meet Sam Lundquist, who says his passion is to “open up the church — with a capital ‘C’ — to find new ways of connecting with people.” Mr. Lundquist, 33, had taken part in a Beyoncé Mass in February, and was attending the Rev. Yolanda Norton’s class “Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible.” At the same time he was an intern for the Rev. Jude Harmon, the director of Grace Cathedral’s Innovative Ministries who also hosts the cathedral’s weekly community night. Mr. Lundquist was, in the words of his mentors, “the hinge.”

“This isn’t about bringing pop music into the church,” Mr. Lundquist said. “It’s about giving people a new lens for Christianity, and showing them that it’s not about a bunch of old stories in an old book.”

Others disagreed. Detractors called it a publicity stunt, some mocked a singalong atmosphere and some outlets even implied that it was simply Beyoncé worship. None of that sat well with Ms. Norton, a biblical scholar at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

“There’s been pushback. There has been a misunderstanding about what we’re doing and even from people in the church,” she said. “But this is about bringing people together, not pulling them apart.”


Ms. Norton, 35, who will preside over the mass on Wednesday, explained what to expect. “This is a worship service,” she said. “There will be a sermon, we’ll be reading scripture, there will be communion. And we are very clear: All are welcome.”

And why Beyoncé? In Ms. Norton’s words: “She’s a unique embodiment of black women’s struggles.”

Ms. Norton is undecided about the final Beyoncé playlist, but she pointed out one track as personal and poignant.

“We use ‘Flaws and All,’” a song maybe she wrote for her fans or for Jay-Z,” she said. “But if you listen to the words in an ecclesiastical context, it’s a very faithful, honest, raw acknowledgment of the imperfect relationship we have with God.”

The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young, the dean of Grace Cathedral, said the event is about listening — and not just to the music.

“Young peoples’ voices are not heard in churches, women of color are not heard in churches and gay people are really not heard,” he said by phone on Sunday. “This is a chance to learn what’s going on with them.”

Mr. Young pointed to Grace Catherdral’s progressive attitude, going back to the 1930s. It has been at the forefront of San Francisco’s HIV/AIDS crisis and homelessness.

“There are a lot of issues politically and culturally that we have taken risks for,” he said. “This is one of those moments.”

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