Kanye West. The name itself is polarizing. His career has taken many a turn, his music has gone many directions, his personal life (thank you Kardashians!) has been in the public eye for many years. Kanye West, whether you like him or not, is an institution. So, it should come as no surprise that the latest iteration of Mr. West is just as polarizing. In addition to starting his own church, Kanye West is now running for president.
Kanye West: Religious Leader
In addition to Kanye West has started a church. If he has anything to say about it, Kanye West’s church will become the future of organized religion.
It was early in 2019 that Kanye West’s church service first started. In this weekly event, Kanye treats attendees to gospel-filled music as well as delivering sermons. Yes, this is Kanye West’s non-church church.
How Kanye West’s Church Began
Kanye’s wife Kim Kardashian West was the first to announce on her Instagram stories that the couple would be launching Sunday Service, to the delight of fans and to the confusion of others. What is a Sunday Service, according to Kim Kardashian West? Kim appeared on an episode of The View and said she felt Kanye started Sunday Service as a way to “heal himself”. She elaborated, “Kanye started this, I think, just to heal himself. It was a really personal thing, and it was just friends and family. He has had an amazing evolution of being born again and being saved by Christ.”
While Kim speaks about the why of Sunday Service, its choir director Jason White who recalls how it all started and just how skeptical he was. Mr. White received a phone call from producer Ray Romulus asking him if he’d be interested in putting together a choir and a band. It was needed in short order and it was for a project for Kanye West.
Details were slim for Jason but he put everything together. The night he met up with Kanye he could see things were different. When they started to rehearse songs, Kanye explained to him he didn’t want to sing those particular words. When Jason asked which words, Kanye told him he didn’t want the cursing, the profanity. He wanted re-writes to the lyrics. He wanted the music to be Godly, to be Christian. And so it began. What Jason and company thought would be a gig lasting a few weeks surprisingly kept rolling on. After the fifth week Jason found himself adding drummers and horns to the band, “…and I’m like, what is this turning into? Then Mrs. West calls it Sunday Service, and it took on a whole ‘nother spin.”
What Is Kanye West’s Church Really?
Kanye West’s Sunday Service is not a physical church, it is more of a traveling ministry. As Kim Kardashian West explained to The View, “For the most part, it’s just a musical ministry,” she says. “[West] doesn’t have his 501(c)(3)” — registered nonprofit organizations exempt from federal tax — “yet to make it an official church, but it is for God and it is a Christian church. It started off healing for him and now it’s become something that he really wants to share for everybody else.”
Kanye West’s church shows up at different venues each Sunday and continues to grow by leaps and bounds. West has performed Sunday Service at his home studio in Calabasas as well as the surrounding forests and hills of Los Angeles. He’s held it at secret locations in Burbank and Kanye West’s church once held court at the Adidas Headquarters in Portland, Oregon. One of the major highlights for Sunday Service was its performance at Coachella on Easter Sunday. Another, more recent biggie just happened. Kanye West’s church performed Sunday Service at the mega-sized Lakewood Church where he teamed with Joel Osteen and over 16,000 of his devoted followers.
When Kanye West’s church was first conceptualized, Sunday Service began as a small gathering of family and friends… and by invite only. Invites went to A-listers only at first, though recently Kanye’s church has opened up to more as evidenced by Coachella, Lakewood Church and gatherings in Dayton, Ohio, Wyoming and Chicago, where the general public was invited. But in its more intimate places, an invitation was needed to attend and many A-listers have RSVP’d that.
Some of the many big names that have been in attendance at Kanye West’s church include Brad Pitt, Gwen Stefani, Blac China, Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom, Courtney Love, and Tyler the Creator. Of course, the Kardashian’s and Jenner’s are frequent guests also. The fly in the ointment of these intimate gatherings is that guests are required to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and video is not allowed to be taken, though Kim Kardashian West has posted many video clips of Sunday Service. That means we don’t really know what’s going on there, at least not at the more secret locations used by Kanye West’s church gatherings.
Kanye West’s Church Is Growing
But what word is Kanye spreading? Is Kanye West’s church actually a Christian Church? Kanye himself does not call himself a minister, the services themselves are non-denominational, though he does get up and speak the gospel. It’s been rumored that he oftentimes goes on rants, raising controversy when he spoke about Michael Jackson and R. Kelly. And his proclamation, “Now the greatest artist that God has ever created is now working for him,” during at Sunday Service at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church, hit the wrong note with some.
Putting those rants aside, many say they understand what Kanye West’s church is striving for. Cousin and collaborator, Tony Williams, explains it simply as, “the goal is to be able to communicate love effectively.”
Kanye does not do all the performing at Sunday Service. His choir and band continue to grow in numbers. The choir started at 100 but has seen its number rise to 120. The performances are a slick production, put together by musical director Phillip Cornish and as mentioned above, the choir was assembled by Jason White. The choir is held to a dress code of Kanye’s selection. By most accounts, the choir does not get their attire until a day or two before Sunday Service, though all come with a zero-price tag. It has also been noted by those in attendance at Kany West’s church that there appears to be a dress code for attendees as well. West brings in pastors to speak at his Sunday Service. In fact, many of the places Sunday Service is held, West will typically let the local pastor deliver his message.
Critics Of Kanye West’s Church
While many seem to embrace Kanye West’s church, critics often point to the invitation-only requirement as being suspect. They also point to Kanye’s more than checkered past. They point to the fact that West sells merchandise at Sunday Service, most famously $50 socks at Coachella. They point to the fact that West is trying to trademark his Sunday Service merchandise. The naysayers aren’t going anywhere.
But do the complaints and suspicions do anything to keep people away from Kanye West’s church services? His followers say no. They are in it for his message. And while his church is not a true church, West is doing his best at spreading the gospel as he sees it.
How Kanye West Sees The Future
Maybe Kanye West’s church is his way of searching for redemption. Kayne appeared on the Netflix show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman and had this to say, “It’s just an idea we had to open up our hearts to make music that we felt was as pure and as positive as possible and just do it for an hour every Sunday, and have something where people can just come together and feel good with their families.” And it all could be true. Maybe Kanye West’s church, maybe invitation only celebrity driven services, are in fact the future of religion.