The Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, Brandon Crowley

Austin, Texas

To support and engage the public worship of African American congregations by creating a workbook that teaches pastors and local church leaders how to be more inclusive of Black women and LGBTQIA+ folx in their worship designs.

Project Summary

I am applying for this grant to collaborate with liturgical scholars and ministry leaders to serve  African American Christian worshiping communities by  creating a workbook for churches,  seeking to queer their liturgical designs and worship formats. The workbook will teach pastors and local church leaders how to queer their worship designs to be more inclusive of Black women and LGBTQIA+ folx, thereby aiding in dismantling the remnants of African American Christian, heteronormativity, sexism, and misogyny that exist in most Black church worship services. The fields of study include liturgics, theology, Queer Theology and womanist studies. 

What questions about worship and your discipline will be guiding your project?

If African American worship is to remain effective in the twenty-first century, what are the ecclesiological and liturgical designs needed to include Black Queer folx in the liturgy of African American worship? Is it possible to support and engage the public worship of African American congregations by queering the traditional notions of worship and liturgical designs in Black religious spaces? If queering worship means constructing liturgies, sermonic reflections, and worship formats where the aesthetic of African American Queer and female bodies and lives are explicitly mentioned in worship as sacred, pure, and innately holy, what are the religious needs of Black Queer folx? Should this project queer pre-existing Black church rituals or create new rituals? 

How do you envision this project will strengthen the worship life of congregations?

    I constructed a liturgical pronoun guide to use non-binary or female pronouns for the Divine when reading Scripture during worship. It also teaches congregants to use non-binary or female pronouns for God when singing hymns. Using varying pronouns for God in hymnody poses no threat to the rhythms and syncopations of most melodies because all pronouns are single-syllable words that are easily exchangeable with the word he.  If they or their become challenging to sing, the singer should use God and make God a contraction. Instead of singing He’s sweet, I know, you would say God’s sweet, I know. Using the noun God to describe the divine reflects more omniscience than the limitations of the male pronoun. I am confident this project will benefit a larger ecumenical audience of the Christian church because heteronormativity exists in most Christian liturgical contexts and designs. 

    What do you expect might be your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)?

    During our congregational listening sessions, a member of the research team and I discovered that queering public worship requires Black congregants to face their heteronormative assumptions and binary conceptions about gender and sexuality. This project has proven that Queering Black Worship is more complex than initially assumed. Most of the interviewed subjects showed great disdain towards changing the words of hymns and scripture to fit the current cultural climate. I have learned throughout this process that queering worship forces congregants to do the difficult work of deeply reflecting on how heteronormative ideas frame cultural expectations and social behavior. This pronoun resource exposes churches to divine truths about the inclusivity of God. 

    What do you hope to learn from the Grants Event and other grant recipients?

      Because some theological and liturgical research questions cannot be answered using only quantitative methods, I want to learn how other grant recipients are assessing the complex multi-component nature of liturgical research beyond the mere dichotomization of “what works”, towards “what works for whom when, how and why”. This type of focusing on the whats and whys would help me in my attempt to create a type of Queer intervention improvement rather than mere assessment.