“…dismantle systems of power, tear down strongholds of racism, sexism, homophobia, and cisgenderism, which we [humans] have made sacred”. -Read by Reverend Norton’s students.
Such words found their way into the pew-filled University of Redlands Memorial Chapel this past Monday, Jan 21. Along with this statement, the lyrics of celebrity artist Beyoncé, full name- Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter. This rather rare collaboration of a Catholic Mass and influential pop-star found its way to the U of R campus in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Beyonce Mass team also gave a special thanks to University provost and chief academic chair, Kathy Ogren, as well as the rest of the Redlands faculty and staff.
The Beyoncé Mass was created and led by Reverend Yolanda Norton, the H. Eugene Farlough Chair of Black Church Studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary. Reverend Norton holds a Master of Divinity and a Master of Theological Studies from Wesley Theological Seminary.
Prior to the opening of the service, there was an acknowledgment to bring recognition to the legacy and ongoing dream of Reverend King. Within the statement demonstrated the desire and intention to address the continuous awareness and concerns regarding the rights of women of color and liberation of all.
At the start of the Mass, a few of Beyoncé’s songs were sung by a purple, grey and black-clothed choir, some of which were “Run the World (Girls)”, “Save the Hero”, and “I Was Here.” As these well-known songs were sung, there were intervals consisting of videos. Black and white film showed women of color, each sharing their own wisdom and truths regarding the roles of women in the world and within the Christian faith. Amongst these women were influential leaders of our times (i.e.- Barbara Jordan, Sister Souljah, Michelle Obama, Oprah, and more…)
As part of these pauses, Reverend Norton’s students read the story of Moses in the book of Exodus of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament Scriptures). Yet, these readings focused on the telling of strength, endurance, courage, and integrity of the Hebrew women who gave birth to infant boys and the Egyptian midwives who aided them during a time that ensured infanticide.
For those who may be unaware or in need of a refresher—the story of Moses begins in Ancient Egypt. Moses was born into an enslaved Hebrew family after the Pharaoh had called for the genocide of all male Hebrew children in Egypt. After months of concealing him, Moses’ mother could no longer do so and sought to send her beloved son downstream in a basket, baring no other option that could ensure his survival. After doing so, the baby Moses was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter. The princess assumed Moses’ Hebrew descendants to be the cause behind his lonesome circumstances. Nevertheless, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted the Hebrew infant, raising him as an Egyptian under the roof of the Pharaoh himself.
As the choir concluded, Reverend Norton drew connections between all modern women of color and the enslaved Hebrew women and resistant midwives of Ancient Egypt. However, Reverend Norton’s particular interest was in the Epytian Princess, who resided under Pharaoh’s roof and, therefore, among the giver of an edict of genocide.
“The most courageous woman of them all, Pharaoh’s daughter,” Norton said.
Reverend Norton noted an unfortunate yet realistic, connection between the roles of modern society and Egypt, claiming that more often than not, people stand by while others endure marginalization and cruelty. Entreating attendees to consider what a country would look like should its inhabitants lay aside privilege, the Reverend described that the world is in need of more ‘Pharaoh’s daughters’,
“women and men who understand that no matter what your proximity to power, [their] call in this world is to tear the system down,” Reverend Norton said.
After the service of the Eucharist, Reverend Norton asked the people to share that the ‘Me Too Movement’ is a way of life and with a powerful quote by Beyoncé herself, ended the sermon.
“I beseech you… see one another, love one another, and in all of our differences, please ‘Get in formation.’”
The Reverend’s journey with the Beyoncé Mass, along with information regarding the team, can be read here.
Photo contributed by Redlands Bulldog photographer Caillie Roach.