‘You won’t break my soul’: Religious and Spiritual Life hosts Beyoncé Mass


Esther Lim/The Daily Northwestern

Toward the end of the service, attendees were invited to participate in communion regardless of their identities.

Esther Lim, Assistant Photo Editor

As the lights dimmed in Cahn Auditorium on Sunday, a traditional Christian worship service unfolded: a choir, a brief sermon, communion and, of course, music from pop icon Beyoncé.  

Beyoncé Mass is a service that uses the artist’s music to center the worship experience around Black women. Hosted by Religious and Spiritual Life, the program was created and curated by the Rev. Yolanda Norton, a visiting professor at the Moravian Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. Along with the Beyoncé Mass team, Norton led Sunday’s service.

Norton told The Daily the idea originated from a “Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible” class she taught at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. One of the assignments was constructing a worship service, but it became clear her students hadn’t previously been able to practice centering Black women’s experiences. 

“The (assignment) was a tool for them to think about how to center Black women and their narratives as sacred,” Norton said. “The idea was, ‘Let’s put together this worship service. We’re going to tell Black women’s stories, and we’ll use Beyoncé’s music to do it.’” 

When one of her students’ chapels requested they put on the service in 2018, the project went viral. Now, it tours churches and campuses worldwide. 

The Rev. D’ana Downing, assistant University chaplain, reached out to the Beyoncé Mass team to bring it to Northwestern. Downing said this year was perfect for the service. 

“Traditionally, folks are more used to a more buttoned-up, conservative type of experience,” Downing said. “Northwestern is at an excellent time with new administration, new things, new ideas. Why not?”

The service featured live music from musicians and vocalists from the Beyoncé Mass team as well as singers from the Chicago-based choir Favored Friday ABC and two Bienen student musicians.

Weinberg junior Chloe Porter, who grew up in a traditional Black Baptist church, said many aspects of Beyoncé Mass were unfamiliar to her, including a modified version of the Lord’s Prayer. Yet, she still found familiarity and comfort through its message. 

The use of the song “Break My Soul” particularly struck Porter, she said. 

“The message of ‘Break My Soul’ made so much sense for this service,” Porter said. “The idea of uplifting Black women and making sure that in a world that tries to bring Black women down, your soul isn’t broken.” 

Bienen junior and RSL programming assistant Olivia Moyana Pierce was able to participate in the service by reading the womanist texts for the congregation. They said they appreciated the service’s direct address of Black women. 

“I just got so used to people not talking about me when they’re speaking to everyone in the room,” Pierce said. “It was really crazy to be in a room where … they were specifically talking about Black women.”

Since her hiring as the first-ever Black woman as assistant University chaplain, Downing has been active in trying to incorporate Black narratives into RSL. 

Downing said they see Beyoncé Mass as part of these efforts. 

“It’s also something for me to show up as the first Black woman to hold this role here at Northwestern University,” Downing said. “Representation matters. And so I wanted to amplify the voices and center the lives and experiences of Black women with this service.”

A previous version of this article misidentified the groups that performed during the service. The Daily regrets the error.

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Twitter: @EshLim1213

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