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ETHNOGRAPHY 4: AN OBSERVATION OF A HOUSE OF WORSHIP

I. LOCATION

The ethnographic study was conducted at Victory Metro East, Robinson’s Metro East,
Cainta. Victory is a born-again Christian church which is part of one church meeting in 25 different
locations around Metro Manila, including Alabang, The Fort, Makati, Pioneer, Ortigas, Pasig and
Antipolo. The researcher attended the 1:00 pm service.

II. OBSERVATION PROPER

Most of the attendees in the Main Center where the researcher conducted her observation
were families with parents and their children, visibly seated together. Most of the children,
however, were grown, at the very least high school. Most grade school students and younger stayed
in other rooms of the center, where they are sorted according to age.

Victory, as a church, prides itself in excellence. The worship service began at 1:00 pm on
the dot, with a countdown slideshow based on the preaching series letting everyone know that the
service is about to begin.

The service consisted widely of verbal and non-verbal cues. There was clearly a pattern
and a routine which made what comes next as predictable to the congregation as it was to the
individuals running stage management and tech support, the worship team and the pastor
preaching.

The music team, a full-blown band with 5-6 singers, going up the stage and the music
playing was the cue for the rest of the congregation to stand on their feet. People clapped along to
the beat, or at least some tried to. Others were off beat. Majority of the congregation also sang
along with the songs. Although the lyrics were projected onto the screens beside the stage, it also
seemed that the congregation knew the songs very well, with some not bothering to watch the
lyrics carefully so that they can sing along.
The first two songs were upbeat and are usually referred to as praise songs. The next three
songs are slower and are usually referred to as worship songs. When the worship songs played,
most people raised their hands. Some closed their eyes.

When the song was over, one of the pastors went up the stage and prayed for the
congregation. Here some of the cues were verbal, such as when he said, “Let’s raise our hands in
prayer” and the room did so. Automatically, though, most of the congregations eyes were close
and their heads were bowed.
When he finished praying, the Pastor said, “Get to know the person beside you before you
sit down.” At this, the people started looking around and shaking hands with the people beside or
behind them. The smiled and said, “Hi” or their names. After which the crowd sat down.

The Pastor then introduced himself, made some announcements and read a verse on tithing.
Tithing is the tradition based on the commandment that whatever we have received from the Lord,
we set aside 10% and give it back to Him. After he gave the message, he said, “If this is your first
time, you are not obliged to give, but if you do so, we believe that the Lord will bless your faith.”
He then went down the stage and the music team performed again and ushers gave blue bags to be
passed around for the people to place their envelopes in.

After the tithes and offering, the music team went down the stage and the preacher went
up the stage and introduced himself as one of the Campus Missionaries in the church.

The preacher made jokes and asked the congregation questions, expecting a response. He
read the passage to be discussed that day and asked the congregation to stand in reverence to God’s

word.

After reading the passage, he asked the congregation to take their seats again. He then
explained what the passage means and how it can be applied in our lives. He continued to make
jokes and ask the congregation questions to engage them. The atmosphere was relaxed, with most
of the congregation visibly listening intently to what the preacher had to say.

Eventually the preaching came to a close and the preacher prayed for people. He called for
prayer concerns and people raised their hands to be prayed for if it was something they wanted to
be prayed for for themselves. In the end, he went down the stage and the other pastor went up and
prayed a prayer of blessing over everyone before officially ending the service.

III. REFLECTION AND CONCLUSION

The church, as I have come to know it, is very free and open. No one is coerced into
attending by the church leadership or staff. Attendance is neither required nor checked. It is
noticeable, however, that the entire 800-seating capacity room was packed. The church has six
services in the main center that day. The church rented the 200-seating capacity cinema of the mall
to accommodate more people. All of the services were full, some even had to ask attendees to
attend the next service because the room was full.

There were no list of rules upon the door or flashed on the projector screens. Except for
being asked to stand every now and then or told to greet the people around them, the congregation
wasn’t given a lot of explicit instructions. Even upon being asked to stand, someone who prefers
to remain seated is not approached by an usher.

In spite of this very free environment, however, there are, of course, existing unspoken
rules or guides on behavior and decorum. Members of the congregation were all dressed as they
wished, with some dressed in high-end looking clothes and others dressed in simple jeans and
shirt. It may be noted, however, that no one was dressed particularly skimpily.
I also didn’t notice anyone who stayed sitting when they were asked to stand or stood and
drew attention to themselves when they were supposed to be sitting. I didn’t notice anyone sleeping
or playing with their phones. Although, there have been occasions where people took photos of
what was flashed on the screen, usually preaching notes or verses.

It’s interesting that in such a free group and congregation, members still generally abide
by both spoken and unspoken acts and rules of decorum. Perhaps the greater question for me here
is what keeps the attendees coming week after week and what keeps them in line? What makes
them behave according to what is expected of them in church?

Perhaps it is the feeling or the need to be accepted and to belong. It could also be a need
for hope that things will be better. For others, they may be obedient out of fear of the consequences
of non-compliance. I’d like to believe, however, that for most people in the congregation, what
makes them regular attendees and compliant members of the church is the inexplicable love for an
invisible God.