Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
January 27, 2019
How many of you attended the Beyoncé Mass last Monday night at the University of Redlands? About 600 people turned out for the Beyoncé Mass and the reviews are in. Karen Rose called it “Powerful! Evocative! Thought-provoking!” Loring Fiske-Phillips said, “It was like the best concert and church service you ever went to.” Barbie Fiske Philips said, “Definitely felt old and out of place going in and revived and inspired leaving – yep, that’s the church!” Mary Melcher said, “I’m so emotional. I have no words.” As one born and raised in Redlands, I found myself saying during the service, “Beyoncé Mass in Redlands? This is actually happening in Redlands?” It is difficult to capture the complete essence of the experience, but what I walked away believing in the depths of my soul is that we need to hear the voices of black women more often.
What is the Beyoncé Mass? While some may call it blasphemy, the service does not deify Beyoncé, but the Beyoncé Mass uses the music and life of Beyoncé as a tool to cultivate an empowering conversation about Black women—their lives, bodies, and voices. After my experience of the Beyoncé Mass, I have to conclude that Beyoncé is a better theologian than many of the pastors and preachers in our churches today. In her music, not only does she use strong religious symbolism where she honors female African deities, the Last Supper and the black Madonna, but she also sings such songs as “Love on Top” – “You’re the one I love; You’re the one I need; You’re the one that gives your all; You’re the one I can always call.” By the way, we sang “Love on Top” while taking communion in our seats – but we couldn’t stay seated – there we were dancing – with our little wafer and little cup of grape juice which we were trying not to spill – but couldn’t help but dance. And I thought – yes, this is way to do communion – it is a celebration of the one who triumphed over death, after all – it is a celebration of liberation.
The Beyoncé Mass is a womanist worship service. What is womanist theology? Womanist theology is a term coined by Alice Walker, which seeks to liberate and empower the African American woman. Womanist theology associates with and departs from Feminist theology and Black theology. Feminist theology often focuses on the white woman. Black theology often focuses on the black man. Womanist theology focuses on black women and women of color. Yolando Norton, the creator of the Beyoncé Mass, teaches a class entitled “Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible” at San Francisco Theological Seminary. She preached a most powerful sermon on Monday night about liberation and what it means to be a stranger in the land of your birth and what it means to encounter empire. Inspired by the life of Beyoncé, Yolanda says, “You do things your way. You don’t do it on demand. You don’t do it for your oppressor. Never give up your song.”
Too often, the church has not been a place for women’s voices to be heard, not for women of color, and not for the LGBTQ community. The Beyoncé Mass gives the chance to hear from people who have been silenced by the church. After all, Jesus chose Mary of Nazareth and Mary of Magdala, two women of color to be the prophets of the resurrection. God trusts and believes in the diversity of creation more than the church does.
Although I am not a black woman, in the end, I walked away from the Mass feeling liberated. Liberated to be me just as I am. Freed to free others, affirmed to affirm others, loved to love others.
God creates a mosaic from the human experience. “For we are God’s handiwork…” writes the author of Ephesians. Jesus puts it this way, “You are light, bringing out the God colors of creation.”
A mosaic, in general, is an art form made of pieces of different colors, shapes and sizes. These pieces were once part of something else; they have a history. We, too, are made up of different colors, shapes and sizes – coming from different places, perspectives and life experiences (we once were part of something else and have a history) and we have come together in this time and this space and the Divine Artist creates a magnificent work of art, a mosaic masterpiece through us. It is our individual uniqueness that makes the mosaic.
We gave the name “Mosaic Hall” to the new building because we want to affirm both our diversity and our unity. We want to affirm radical inclusivity. Each person plays a critical role in the beauty of the whole. The church is a mosaic. Mosaic speaks of our connections as a congregation, and it speaks to our art heritage (Art for Heaven Sake) and to the physical mosaic we plan to install on the front of the building.
The mosaic on the front of the building is being created by Tom Medicott – the same person who created this stain glass cross window as well as the stain glass windows in Covenant Hall. He is creating a tree of life mosaic for the front of Mosaic Hall. Originally, we had hoped to have that mosaic in place for today’s dedication. But in December, as Tom was putting together 10,000 pieces of glass to create the Tree of Life mosaic – he discovered that this is a bigger project than he had originally thought. So, the Tree of Life mosaic will be dedicated when it is finished, hopefully in the next few months. But this says something about the work of mosaics.
Mosaics take time. It takes time to gather the pieces together. It takes time to figure out how the pieces fit together. It takes time to make sure that each unique piece is represented. It takes time to capture the Divine’s vision for wholeness, transformation and inclusion. Each piece, each person, each voice matters. No piece, no person, no voice can be judged inadmissible and the more pieces, people and voices that are added to the mosaic, the clearer is our picture of the Divine. May we, Redlands United Church of Christ, take the time to honor the sacred mosaic of beauty and diversity in our very midst. As a glorious mosaic of humanity may we go forth to dedicate Mosaic Hall for the glory of God. Amen.