On Sunday, paparazzi captured celebrities including Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom, Courtney Love, and Tyler, the Creator filing into an exclusive event at a secret location in Los Angeles. So far, it’s just another weekend in Southern California. According to the Daily Mail, however, that event was for “the church started by Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.” Wait, what?
As it turns out, West has been hosting weekly church services—or something like them—since early this year. “Sunday Service,” as West calls it, has quickly become a phenomenon. But is it really a church? What’s going on here? Let’s break it down.
What happens at Kanye’s “Sunday Services”?
Music performances, mostly. Clips from this week’s program posted to Instagram by Kendall Jenner capture a joyful vibe, with a huge choir bouncing and clapping as they perform West and Jay-Z’s “Lift Off,” wearing what appear to be Yeezy jumpsuits. Performers including Kid Cudi and 070 Shake have joined West to perform. NME published a set list from the first event, summarizing the program as gospel versions of West songs including “Father Stretch My Hands” and “Heard ’Em Say.” In January, he also performed a new song, titled “We’ll Find a Way.”
Can kids attend?
Sure, at least if you’re North West. Kim Kardashian West recently posted several clips of her oldest daughter dancing at one of the services. Crowd participation seems to be encouraged.
So is it just a concert series?
Not exactly. At least once, West has delivered some ad-libbed spoken inspiration between songs. In January, an unfortunately timed riff on Michael Jackson and separating art from artist drew heat until his wife stepped forward to say he’d been misinterpreted. Last week, DMX led an energetic prayer in which he nimbly quoted from several Psalms, among other passages of the Bible. In an interview with TMZ, 112 frontman Slim compared West’s approach to church to his own nondenominational Christian upbringing: “You can take music that’s going on right now, and you change it and put ‘the Lord,’ ‘Jesus,’ you know, make it Christian,” he said. “It brings the youth to church. It makes church cool.”
It does sound cool. Where is it? I want to go.
Its location changes, but these are private events. Early images seemed to depict indoor performance spaces, often featuring dramatically monotone lighting. This weekend’s service took place outside, in a location with a grassy seating area, forested hills, and a dirt performance area. It looked like a beautiful day. You probably would have had a great time.
Isn’t there a history of Kardashian-adjacent figures starting churches?
Yep. Kris Jenner, the family matriarch, has been described as a founder of the California Community Church, an apparently nondenominational congregation that has met in Agoura Hills, California, for about a decade. Before being hand-picked by Kris to lead her church, Rev. Brad Johnson had resigned in disgrace from a larger congregation nearby. Johnson performed the televised marriage ceremony of Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom in 2009, and Kim has said he also took in one of the family’s dogs.
The family is also responsible for boosting several other telegenic pastors to stardom, including Miami-based Rich Wilkerson Jr., who married Kim and Kanye in Italy and later got his own reality show. Kylie and Kendall Jenner have attended the evangelical Hillsong Church, a favorite of celebrities including Justin Bieber. And the family has been photographed attending Sunday worship services together for years.
Still, it doesn’t really seem like “Sunday Service” is a church in the traditional sense.
That’s fair. And it may be ending anyway. West apparently told the crowd this week that it was “the last time on the mountain,” so the event’s future is unclear. The Daily Mail also reported that police broke up this week’s event due to a noise complaint.
Perhaps we can agree that “Sunday Service” isn’t a church, but simply a weekly upbeat all-ages gathering that happens to take place on Sunday mornings and attracts people who share a similar spiritual sensibility to enjoy participatory music performances led by a choir, to pray, and to soak up wisdom from a charismatic leader.