Meet the Queer Methodist Who Played ‘HOT TO GO!’ on Church Bells | Sojourners

Meet the Queer Methodist Who Played ‘HOT TO GO!’ on Church Bells

Katelyn MacDonald plays the chimes in Duke Memorial United Methodist Church’s bell tower. Courtesy Katelyn MacDonald.

On June 1, for the North Carolina residents of downtown Durham, the morning’s new mercies came in the form of Chappell Roan’s song “HOT TO GO!” being played from the century-old bell tower of Duke Memorial United Methodist Church.

As reported in the Raleigh News and Observer, volunteer bell ringer Katelyn MacDonald, who usually plays the church’s bells on Saturday mornings and has been doing so for about a year, played the queer pop artist’s hit song to celebrate the first day of Pride Month. MacDonald’s performance quickly went viral on TikTok, amassing more than 7 million views and 1.5 million likes — including from Roan, who reposted the video on her official channels. Afterwards, MacDonald uploaded several videos offering a “behind the scenes” look of her playing the song on the bells.

Roan, who grew up Christian but no longer identifies with the church, is a booming icon in younger queer and lesbian circles. A large part of this, MacDonald believes, is that the Missouri-based artist has demonstrated a comfortability with being “unquestionably queer.” MacDonald, who is a queer transgender woman, told Sojourners that Roan’s unashamed confidence and ownership of her identity inspires her.

“I’m at a point in my own journey, and also professionally, of not needing to apologize for myself and where I don’t need to prove my existence as a queer person,” MacDonald said.

As much as MacDonald personally loved Roan’s lyrics, energy, and fashion, there was another practical reason why she chose to play her music: “[Her songs] are just catchy as hell and so fun,” MacDonald shared, “but they were playable on those bells. You can only play so much with 10 notes.”

There was no official sheet music MacDonald consulted, but a mixture of pointed Google searches, music software resources, and her transposition skills bridged the gap.

“There’s only, essentially, a major scale on the Duke Memorial Bells, but that’s not necessarily the best key to play her music in,” MacDonald said. “It takes a bit of massaging and finagling to make sure I’m putting [her music] in the right key.”

In the tension of the historical, unchanging structure of the bell tower contrasted with the music she is able to play from it, MacDonald said she finds an opportunity for the church to proudly and tangibly proclaim queer inclusion.

“Once you install the bells, they don’t really change. You don’t tune them. They don’t really fall out of tune either, usually unless something happens,” she said. “I don’t think Meneely and Co., who installed this chime [system] 116 years ago, were expecting a lesbian pop star’s song to be played on it,” MacDonald said with a laugh.

Typically, the bells of the historic church ring to signal the start of a service for the community. MacDonald, who graduated with a Master of Divinity from Duke Divinity School in 2021 and is on track to be an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, said the bells are a “summons for the community to gather.

“Especially on the first day of Pride, it felt important for me to ring out a song that would show the community and loudly proclaim who we are,” she said.

When it’s MacDonald’s shift, listeners can expect to hear a steady rotation of Roan’s music to be playing throughout the year. While some have called it a blurring of the lines of the sacred and secular, MacDonald offers an alternative perspective:

“We should see queer sexuality as sacred,” she said. “If we think of human sexuality as a gift from God and part of who God has created us to be, then we should celebrate queer sexuality as much as we do heterosexuality. Queerness is a part of the image of God’s place within each of us.


Pop musician Chappell Roan performs during her “The Midwest Princess Album Release Experience” at the Gillioz Theatre in Springfield, Mo., on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023.

“In a very literal sense, Chappell Roan’s music is sacred. I don’t say that lightly, but I really do believe that theologically, all music is sacred, which also means that I really think queer music is also really sacred.”

For MacDonald, she also hopes that all churches in their own way can think of ways they can better care for the queer people in their midst, even if they don’t have church bells. “I think there’s still a lot of opportunity there that you can still reach those people, those queer people who are ready to engage with faith and spirituality, just given the chance. And sometimes all it takes is hearing this really gay song from an unexpected place. Sometimes it just starts with a hello or a welcome,” she said.

After seeing Roan retweet the initial video and after seeing that all three videos of her chime work had a combined total of 14.6 million views, MacDonald reached out to Roan’s publicity team on June 12 to express thanks for the support and for Roan’s kind words in an Indy Week article after the singer expressed excitement that her song was played in a church. A few hours later, Roans’ team contacted MacDonald and told her that she was added to the guest list for Roan’s show that same day in Raleigh. MacDonald said she had to figure out if she could attend as she had a conference to attend hours away after the show.

“We made it work and I don’t regret it at all,” MacDonald said. “Going to the concert and hearing ‘HOT TO GO!’ live and just screaming my face off was incredibly satisfying. That’s going to stick with me for a while.”

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