Beyonce Mass celebrates the Black experience


Aakash Manandhar

Reverend Yolanda Norton reciting a prayer during the event Beyonce Mass at Centennial Hall on Wednesday, April 13, 2022.

Anh Bui

On April 13, 2022, Augustana College welcomed “Beyoncé Mass,” a womanist Christian worship service that celebrates the lives, beauty, culture, spirituality and experiences of Black women, according to the official website of the service. 

The creators of Beyoncé Mass use Beyoncé’s music as a means to deliver this empowering message. “Womanism,” according to Merriam-Webster, is “a form of feminism focused especially on the conditions and concerns of Black women.”

Pastor Melinda Pupillo, campus chaplain and director of spiritual development, said the purpose of the event is not to worship Beyoncé.

“I think part of it is to start a conversation, which has definitely been happening, and I think interest has been coming. I think more and more students are beginning to understand what’s actually happening. The best part of this worship service is that it lifts up the Black female experience in worship and really celebrates that,” Pastor Pupillo said.

Junior Trey Graff said he didn’t feel the point of using Beyoncé’s music is to attract non-religious people to join Christianity.

”It’s a Christian worship with communion. That’s just what it was. But the point [of the mass] is to connect to womanist theology, which is theology from the perspective of Black women. In the church, especially in our college which is Lutheran, that is something we don’t see enough in the Christian community. They focused on love and regeneration and hope,” Graff said.

According to Graff, highlighting Christianity from a Black woman’s perspective has been long overlooked. 

“I really liked the message,” Graff said. “I personally don’t really listen to that much Beyoncé, but the uplifting music, as well as the voices of people blending together created such a powerful picture.”Senior Mary Baril said the way the songs were being interpreted in order to worship God intrigued her. 

“Who could have thought a love song like “Halo” could be interpreted as a song to honor God? Or “Survivor” to represent the resilience of Black women despite the hardship that they have to suffer? It’s a good step in the right direction for these really famous songs to be used for worshiping,” Baril said.

Reverend Yolanda Norton, the leader of the service, enlisted the help from the campus community. Norton uses students and faculty to shape and craft the worship service. 

“It’s not just something that we’re bringing to campus, but it’s something that is lifting up the stories of people on campus,” Pastor Pupillo said.

Baril said she appreciated how the service is also meant to empower all women. 

“I sat down and I saw all these beautiful Black women standing up there, and it truly gave the message that they are all about empowering women, but more specifically Black women. They do it in such a way that makes everyone feel included. They always find a way to reiterate that message,” Baril said.

Graff hopes to welcome the Beyoncé Mass on campus in the near future once more because of the different voices that were given a spotlight on campus.

“I hope that this is not a one time event and that it is just the beginning of a conversation. There is so much more that we could learn from this service, [like] the experience of Black women in this society,” Graff said. “The lyrics and the messages that they were giving, I personally never would have thought to see Christ in that way.”