By Nic Calilung and Chino Lauron
For our Sociology and Anthropology topic, we chose to attend a Protestant mass, to be specific, the mass we attended was a Born-Again mass. Our informant was Tita Wendy, the aunt of Nic. The worship area was Word of Hope: A Christian Family Church. It was a building located across SM North Edsa. At first, Nic and I thought that it wasn’t a church since it was a tall building that wasn’t surrounded by open spaces for parks, but we were assured by Tita Wendy and her husband that that was the place of worship.
When we entered the building, there were people handing out pamphlets with an envelope for donations, community announcements, and a schedule of worship and ministries. There is also a school inside the building named Hope Christian Academy which is also connected to the church itself. It appears as though the church was still expanding its community of worshippers. Also, we arrived for the 10:30 AM worship service so we were able to see the exit of the people who just came from the 8:00 AM service. We noticed that many of them crossed a footbridge to SM North Edsa, so it appears that many of the early worshippers go to that scheduled worship so that they can go to the mall immediately after.
The architecture of the auditorium where the service occurred is not the usual room for services which is a plain rectangle or square. The auditorium was like an hourglass shape wherein the pastor and the choir is situated at the small center. It’s not an ideal place for a mass celebration because the pastor always has to go back and forth facing the 2 sets of crowds but the amplification of sounds is great because the auditorium is a closed space.
As opposed to a Catholic mass, a Born again worship appears to be more festive and less formal, as to begin with, there is no church to speak of, instead they used two auditoriums as the places of worship. When we entered, it appeared as if they were preparing for a concert, not a mass since we saw drums, a keyboard, guitars, brass instruments, and all of them performing a sound check. While the band was performing the sound check, we noticed that there were two floors in the auditorium. Tita Wendy explained that the second floor was for the deaf people who attended the service, and that there were interpreters up there to assist the deaf people who attended the service.
Tita Wendy said that it was the 10:30 service that the head pastor of the Word of Hope Church holds the service and that is the time that people usually go. About five minutes into the sound check, a pastor started lecturing about how God is good, and how He was great, essentially praising the Lord and we noticed that there was no formal start to the service, instead, a pastor starts talking. That introduction of praising and worshipping the Lord indicated the start of the major portion of their mass, the Praise and Worship, which is essentially singing their hearts out to the Lord. After about five minutes, the singing part of the service began. From 10:30 to around 11:15, the choir and the band play a medley of songs praising Jesus. One thing we noticed about the lyrics was that they did not refer to themselves as Born Again, rather, they referred to themselves as Christians and they believed that all of the Christians worshipped Jesus. For us, it showed that the Born Again are more open to other religions than Catholicism. Tita Wendy told us that the choirmaster was also a pastor, and so were the men sitting on chairs at the side of the stage. While the choir was singing, there were female dancers with tambourines and male dancers with flags. Both the choir members and dancers were very emotional during their performance, with some even weeping in joy and admiration for the lord. The people also joined in on the passion, putting their hands up in the air while singing mass songs wholeheartedly.
Before the service began, on the way there, I felt apprehensive about going to the worship since I wasn’t too keen on going to a mass to begin with, however, as I entered the worship area, I thought that this might be interesting since I saw what looked like a concert being prepared. When the pastor started the service, I noticed that there was no formal start to the worship, such as the sign of the cross for Catholic masses, rather, they just went straight to the service. When the choir started singing, we were standing up, and we noticed that many of the people were either raising their hands up, towards the choir or to the ceiling, some were dancing to the rhythm, and some were very enthusiastic about the whole service. Personally, I felt very energized by the energy that the pastors and choir were expressing during the worship. The crowd was ecstatic, singing their hearts out to every word in the songs that were played. I also noticed that the only prayer that we recited was The Lord’s Prayer and it was also recited at the end of the service acting like an ending to the mass and also there was still no sign of the cross at the end, implying that the service wasn’t a prayer itself, but it is a way of preaching God’s teachings to the people.
When I checked the pamphlet that was given to me by the people who receive the churchgoers, I saw an envelope with a space for my personal details, and a breakdown of the donation that was to be put into the envelope. I asked Tita Wendy what it was for and she said that it was so that the donations could be broken down according to how you want to give the money, but it was not mandatory to give. I also noticed that the donations here were for many purposes, such as funding education in some far-flung areas, a blood drive, and a worship team to visit Germany, where Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses and started the Protestant movement. Another thing that I noticed that the church was counting the number of people went to worship after events such as the blood drive. My inference to counting the service goers after the service after blood drive was to inform the parish of how far they have expanded their population of service goers.
Tita Wendy also explained that the head pastor only attends one of the many services every Sunday since he is also a missionary, and that he has been to many places, such as India and Nepal. She also explained that their communion is only given once a month and that instead of giving a host, their host is a square piece of bread and that the wine is grape juice. She said that it is more sincere to give communion once a month because receiving communion every Sunday and it loses sincerity because people kind of treat it as a tradition rather than something that is deep in their hearts.
Our presence did not influence the scene much, as the service goers were few today, since many were out of town due to the long weekend. Another reason why we were not noticed much was because they were not very strict about religion in the worship, and that any catholic denomination may attend because we were treated as any other people were treated. They are very open to people with different religions attending their masses because they want them to experience what being a Born Again Christian feels like, and might even persuade them to convert to them. They also preach in public places, giving people the opportunity to be exposed to the Born Again culture and persuade them in joining them in prayer and on a much bigger perspective, their religion. The pastor announced to the crowd that when they were doing their preaching along Edsa, 5000 people heeded their call on praising the Lord together and they were all celebrating the fact that 5000 people joined their service.
Towards the end of the service, the pastor asked the crowd, “Who wants to let the flames of God inside them burn brighter?”. I asked Tita Wendy what the pastor means and she just said that those are the people that want to delve deeper into their faith and to be closer to God. Those are the people that want to have a deeper relationship with God, like taking it to the next level. After the pastor called them out to the front, he started talking to the crowd like let them receive the blessings. Only they can receive the full blessings of God and they are the ones who should be rewarded. He then proceeded to say that people who do not pray or do not devote their lives to God should not be given full blessings because they are not deserving of it. They have to work hard to receive God’s full blessings like the ones who came to the front. I was baffled by those statements because I doubted my faith for a while but then I realized it was just a strategy of the pastor into expanding their population knowing that there are some people attending the service who are not Born Again Christians.
However, we noticed that one old woman fainted at the end of the service because she was jumping so much with joy and just fell. When she fainted, no one panicked or even called for medical services. Instead, they acted as if it was usual for people to faint during worship and kindly asked people to move to the side. Tita Wendy explained that some people fainted after pastors lectured since they were that moved by the Lord. She also mentioned of one American pastor who preached in Luneta; his effect on people was so much that they fainted when he gestured in his general direction.
Born Again Christians are very common in the Philippines. Although not as common as Catholics, they still comprise a significant number of the Christians in the Philippines. Another thing we noticed was that plenty of people went to the mall after service, so it shows the mall culture that Filipinos have. Also, we noticed that some of the people who went to service were converted into the Born Again faith, rather then being born into it. We also noticed that the people who went came from all walks of life and social standing, so the group was very diverse, but we noticed that they were very sincere with their prayers, and were very moved by the pastor’s lectures.