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  • Jillian Lenae

SonYe: The Power of Kanye's Sunday Service

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

March 31, 2019 was an emotional day for the country. It was the day we lost Nipsey in yet another senseless act of violence. He wasn’t just the love of Lauren London’s life or a community activist. Ermias Joseph Asghedom was a son and a father. He was a king! Just a few short days later, I logged on to Facebook and read a post that shook my soul. Vejurnae Leal, a super dope sista who attended U of I with me, recounted her experience at Kanye West’s Sunday Service – which took place on a mountain top in LA on the same day Nipsey was murdered. If you haven’t checked out the writeup she did that was picked up by Vibe, please do so. It’s a must read!

I remember hanging on to every word as I read her post. I felt, based on the vivid picture she painted, that the service was nothing short of life changing for at least one person who attended. This feeling was underscored by the following comment she made:

“What he’s doing will potentially change the way that millennials interact with church. It’s a needed shift. One guy we sat with said, ‘If church was like this, I’d never miss a Sunday.’”

I was left wishing I had been there to experience what Vee and the other folks were so blessed to experience.

Fast forward to 9AM on the morning of Saturday, September 7th when I got an email from WGCI. The subject line read “BREAKING! KANYE WEST IS BRINGING SUNDAY SERVICE TO CHICAGO!” I immediately logged into my Live Nation app to check the details. FREE tickets were going to be available starting at 11AM. I opened my laptop and signed into my Live Nation account from there as well and left it in the background as I did some work. I sat my alarm for 10:55 to ensure I didn’t miss my beat. At that point, I learned there was a queue. Unbelievable! Here I had been preparing to get my tickets for two hours and realized five minutes before it was time that I could have joined the queue well before then. I clicked the button only to be hit with a screen that said there were 2,000+ people in front of me. In other words, it wasn’t looking too good!

I got a message from a member of his choir stating that there would be 9,000 tickets and for me not to worry. I stayed in line and waited my turn. The numbers eventually began to decrease until there were 45 people in front of me; and then there was only one. I got excited because I was next in line. As soon as I reached the front of it, I got hit with the following message:

“Sorry! We could not find any tickets that meet your requirements. Please adjust your criteria and try again.”

I changed my settings from two tickets to one – still nothing. I felt like I had been robbed! Robbed of a chance to experience the gospel in a very different, but meaningful way. I sat in disbelief for a few minutes and then took to my social media accounts. I asked my followers to do me a solid and take me with them if they had an extra ticket. Would you believe I ended up with 4 FREE tickets?! Well it happened! It happened for me because I try my best to do right by and look out for people. When you operate with integrity, the Big Homie tends to look out for you. The saints call it favor; the aint’s might say it was luck. Either way, I was about to experience something in the next 24 hours that I knew would feed my soul.

Meanwhile, I ran across a few posts on social media that disturbed my spirit. Folks were so pressed about the whole ordeal. Some made mention of Kanye being a Trump supporter. Others felt the need to remind us that he’s not an ordained minister. Another called him a racist. There was even a post made by a church that was a bit shady - if you ask me. They boasted about folks not needing a ticket to come to their Sunday service. That wasn't the shady part because that's actually true. What made it shady was the picture of Kanye they put on the announcement flyer. While it may not have been the intent (or perhaps it was), it came off as shade towards those who wanted tickets but couldn't get them. Here's the thing. This could precisely be the reason why 9,000 folks aren't lining up to get to a FREE (ticketless) Sunday service in the church house week after week. Folks are so religious that they forget to be a Christian. I could write an entirely separate post on this though, so I'm going to flag it to be continued. At any rate, folks were pressed – ironing board pressed, you hear me?! So I took to social media to express my concern about people’s decision to drag Kanye and judge others for wanting to attend the event. To be clear, I am a Christian. I consider myself both religious (as I attend church Sunday faithfully) and spiritual (as I have a close relationship with God). Here was my rationale for why I (and anyone else) should have been allowed to attend the event free of judgement:

“As a Christian, I do my best to extend grace and mercy towards others just as I’d want extended to me. I’ve done things that other folks didn’t like. As an active mourner, I say things that don’t always land well. I was a very controversial (school) leader.  Because of these things, I’ve often felt misunderstood. Like Kanye, I’ve also lost a mother - something that’s very traumatic and can lead to unusual mental and emotional struggles. I believe there’s a space for us to exist and love one another in spite of our shortcomings.

What I find to be problematic is this culture of cancellation when people don’t move, act, and live the way we want them to. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Find it problematic (based on your own personal views) for you to “support” Kanye. When you say things like that about others, it feels very judgmental and shallow. We all fall short. Some of us are out here having one too many drinks, fornicating, walking right past our own brothers and sisters who are struggling all while having a sharp tongue. How are we any better than Kanye? We like to throw stones at folks while living in a glass house and it saddens me. As a Christian, Christ asks me to love my neighbor as I love myself. I don’t have a heaven or hell to put nobody in. Besides, I wouldn’t want people to stop rocking with me just because I have a different view on life than they do. 

What’s more and perhaps is a little unclear [for you if you’re not a religious person], is that we all fall short of God’s glory. That doesn’t stop us from praising and worshipping Him (together). Going to Kanye’s Sunday Service does not mean I support his actions and views. It simply means that I will not allow a person’s shortcomings to get in the way of my relationship with God. It’s no different than going to church every Sunday. The pastor says and does things I don’t support or agree with, but I keep going. It’s not about the person, it’s about the experience.”

In another post, I warned my followers that I’d be going live and that they should hit the snooze button for the next 30 days before the event if they’d like. I knew I was going to be extra with it and I didn’t want or need any negative energy behind it.

I went out that evening to a backyard boogie, but I made sure to leave at a decent time so I could prepare. I had to go home, decide what I was going to wear, and get some sleep so I could get there by 7:30 for the 9 o’clock start time. I love wearing clothes that speaks to my beliefs while also challenging others’ way of thinking. I knew I wanted to be a walking billboard for the nonbelievers. So I thought long and hard about what I’d wear. I laid my clothes out as if it was the first day of school. I laid down and couldn’t hardly sleep behind my excitement.

I woke up at 6 to get ready. My Facebook post at 7:54AM on Sunday September 8, 2019 read: “I’m walking up to the venue and all I hear is Total Praise acapella and with so much soul. Y’all probably think I’m lying when I say it’s giving me chills. I’m ready to burst into tears already! #BelieveTheHype” I wasn’t even in there yet! Like…the event hadn’t even started; they were just warming up! Whew!

While standing in line, there were several people canvasing the area asking to buy tickets. By this time, I had made a post letting people know that I had 3 extra tickets for anyone who could make it in time. But even still, I couldn’t believe people were buying and selling tickets to a FREE event. At this point, a friend texted me to ask if I still had an extra ticket and I did. She asked if I was going to sell it to her of if I was blessing her with it. I sent her the bar code with a message attached “DO NOT sell this ticket if you can’t make it.” It was gifted to me, so I wanted to make sure it was gifted to someone else. How dare I try to make money off of it or allow a few dollars to keep a person who is seeking the gospel to keep them from the experience?! I have to insert this side note here before I can get back to the experience:

Folks who chase money will never keep it. People who do right by people will never have to chase it! [I’M PEOPLE! Don’t be those folks, please!]

Kanye could have easily sold tickets to this event (even if just for $1, he would have made $9,000). He chose not to for very good reason. It’s his mission to spread hope to people free from barriers. If your heart allowed you to sell a ticket to this event, I encourage you to do some soul searching. I want you to win, trust me! But it won’t happen nickeling and diming every chance you get.

Okay. Now back to the event. As I’m standing in line to get to the gate, I smell weed in the air and alcohol on folks standing close to me. My excitement grew! This event was doing just what it intended to do – bring hope to the people AND reach people who otherwise wouldn’t be reached. The crowd reaffirmed for me what I knew in my heart all along (this picture with the image of the USA flag hovering over a sea of people rang the alarm for me)! People (of all races, ages, and sexual orientations) are hungry! We are desperate for any bit of hope and encouragement we can get. We are not beyond repair. In fact, we are searching for ways to heal from our brokenness. Some people went to see Kanye, not knowing they were going to meet Jesus while there. MY GOD!

I get inside the venue and grabbed a seat. I pulled out my phone to go live as I promised. The Service was (almost) everything I thought it would be. The choir saaaaaaannnnggg! You hear me?! They sang traditional gospel songs such as “Excellent” and even put a spin on some others – their version of “Balm in Gilead” was straight fire! The service was about an hour long, but felt shorter than that given the atmosphere.

I must admit that I didn’t experience the level of intimacy that Vee wrote about experiencing while on the mountaintop in LA. There were about 150 people total – including the choir in LA. There was over 9,000 people at Northerly Island here in Chicago. If I had to choose between getting the intimate experience and allowing more people to have access, I’d definitely choose the ladder. People needed this. Chicago needed it! The vibe that was created by the beautiful voices coming from the souls of so many Black kings and queens was one I had never experienced. No, Kanye is not an ordained minister. And he doesn’t need to be. If you know the Word, then you know that it says where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them [Matthew 18:20]. It wasn’t a traditional church service, but He certainly was present!

It wasn’t just me who felt and witnessed the transformation that took place at the Sunday Service. In another post I read on Facebook, someone shared:

“When walking away from Kanye’s Sunday Service today a dude behind me lit up a blunt... the girl he was with said “you always smoking “ ... the guy said “ i know right but I didn’t want to go to “CHURCH” high today, I haven’t been to church in years... but that was crazy...they had me crying in there.””

My heart smiled and my soul was nourished. If that young man never steps foot in a church again, he will remember the feeling he had at Kanye’s Sunday service. This was what it was all about.

I left Northerly Island and went to get something to eat in preparation for attending the 12 o’clock service at Fellowship. I got to church at 12:05. There were police cars blocking the street and there was nowhere to park. This was unusual for an average 12 o’clock service. I pull up and into a spot right across the street from the church. You can’t tell me the favor of God ain’t on me! I walk in and see lots of folks standing on the wall. I thought it was crowded because it was the church’s 69thanniversary. I walked over to the section I normally sit in and saw a seat. The male usher was telling folks there were no more seats and that we’d have to stand. Then a female usher came over where I was standing and told me to come on. You know she walked me right on up to the seat in my normal section, right?! FAVOR!

The pastor starts talking about the history of the church and announced all the special guests – Jonathan McReynolds, Rev, Jesse Jackson, Sonya Blakey, and…Kanye West! That’s right! It was time for round two! They tore that church house down baby! They did many of the same numbers, but did a few new pieces as well. Of course the traditional gospel songs were repeated. In addition, they sang gospel lyrics over well-known beats to mainstream music. Kanye’s idea to remix what has been known as “secular” music into music of the gospel was a brilliant one! Aly-Us’ “Follow Me,” Aaliyah’s “I Don’t Wanna” and Ginuwine’s “So Anxious” were all remixed into gospel songs. I, as well as most of the congregation, was on my feet the entire time. The members of Kanye’s choir was spread out around the sanctuary, creating a surround sound affect. That coupled with the genuine praise and worship in between each song gave me the intimate feel I craved as a result of Vee’s experience. My Sunday had been made!

Closing Messages

To Kanye: Well done, Kanye. You are a true Son of God. Keep making Donda proud!

To Everyone: It’s ultimately up to you to decide how to build and nurture your relationship with God. Just know this…God is Dope! Please believe the hype!

To those who still don’t get it:

Here's a snippet from the church experience. There's more footage on my personal Facebook page if you're interested.

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