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.
What insights were gained from participation compared to just learning?
We gained a better insight into the energy and emotion that people feel during the service. We also noticed the effect that a very motivational speaker has upon crowds of people; it was as if the pastors were working a sort of magic upon all of the service goers that made them express their faith very enthusiastically. Aside from that, by experiencing the event first hand, we also learned why it is difficult to see why people within a certain religion find other religions very unusual or, in the case of the Born Again Christian service, very casual. Apart from that, there are some qualities of the service that must be felt first hand, rather than just watching a recording, or just hearing about it from someone else. These qualities are the ones that cannot be easily sensed by the five senses, rather these are the ones such as the energy in the air, the general mood, the random phrases or words or actions of the pastors that you notice but they do not, and other things such as that. You feel the atmosphere of the place by being in the event itself, you could also see how passionate the people are when it comes to worshipping.
What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
Having a key informant helped us understand more of the context of the details and nuances in the service. Our key informant, Tita Wendy was very open to our questions and even contributed additional data about parts of the service that we did not notice to us. For instance, if we did not know about the people fainting after they have been moved by the words of the pastor, we would have merely dismissed that event as the staff of the Word of Hope Church as inexperienced or uncaring about events such as that one. If we did not have a key informant, we may tend to judge things based on how we see it like for example, we saw rainbow decorations on top of the auditorium and I thought that the religion showed their stance on the LGBT community but when I asked our key informant, it was purely aesthetics.
What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview might miss?
How intense the emotions and energy of the service is, also, what we may view as unusual. You can’t really feel how vibrant the atmosphere is from a questionnaire or an interview. You have got to feel it for yourself to know exactly the things that the interviewee or the questionnaire might day about the event. We will also miss the qualities of the event that cannot be seen, heard, felt, smelled or tasted; we would miss the qualities that are beyond the five senses when perceived. We will also miss our personal influences in how we perceive the event itself. While yes, it is essential that our observation be culturally relative as opposed to ethnocentric, we understand there will still be bias in our observation by our nature of being human. The tendency to compare to what we are accustomed to is also there and it may hinder acquiring deep understanding of the event.
For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
Participant observation is still the better option if you need information about a particular event because you get to see things unfold first-hand. But there are some instances wherein outsiders are allowed very limited participation like only staying outside or looking from afar, or even worse, not being allowed in the activity altogether. Interviewing a person from the event is also a great thing because we could gain insights from a person who is very knowledgable about the event that we could not get if we observed by ourselves. We can also get information from their point of view that comes with their bias and it could give more substantial information about the event unlike if we participated by ourselves, the bias will come from us and it might be a problem because we will only see the negative side of the event because we will keep on comparing it to the events that we are familiar with and not see the other side of the coin, where the people there are very knowledgable.
Using our cafeteria observation exercise as reference, what insights did you gain about Philippine society and culture from the event that you observed and participated in?
We noticed that in the service, there was an almost complete absence of religious items, such as the chalices, altar and such. Tita Wendy said that the Born Again only needed a cross as their single religious item. They also do not believe in the imageries of Christ, and those saints that are not mentioned in the Bible. We took this as the Born Again not being very materialistic or not putting priority upon worldly possessions. It was also evidenced by the people being very simply dressed and many of them choosing to commute rather than take a car straight to the Word of Hope Church. In contrast, some Catholics are very materialistic, going to mass in very fancy outfits, or travelling to and from mass in luxury vehicles. However, we also saw the mall-going culture of Filipinos because after the service, we saw flocks of people crossing the footbridge going straight to SM City North Edsa. It shows that Filipinos like places that are near each other. The Word of Hope has so much churchgoers and maybe because of the proximity of the church to various places like SM North Edsa and TriNoma where lots of people go to right after service usually to eat because a lot of people go to service usually at 8-10am, exactly the opening of the malls or at 10:30-12:30pm, just the right time for lunch.