By Stan Friedman
AUSTIN, TX (June 12, 2013) – The unusual racial mix and outreaches of Vox Veniae, an Evangelical Covenant Church congregation, led the New York Times to publish a feature on the church last week.
Vox Veniae, which means “Voice of Grace,” was started in 2006 as an independent church pastored by Chinese American Gideon Tsang with the intent of ministering to the city’s Asian American community. It had emerged from Liquid, a college ministry at Austin Chinese Church in the north part of the city.
At its founding, the congregation was 99 percent Asian American. The Times article notes that at a recent service, whites are now the majority in the congregation with an average attendance of 200 people, but added the church still has a strong mix of Asian Americans, Hispanics, and African Americans.
Click here to read more of the Times article.
Although multiracial churches are becoming more common, the path to Vox Veniae’s diversity has been different. “Racially diverse churches are often led by white pastors who recruit in minority communities, usually by hiring nonwhite assistant pastors. It is less common to see an ethnic church attract whites,” according to the article. “Whatever the reason, white churches sometimes succeed in drawing minority worshipers, but minority churches rarely attract white people.”
The church meets in its multipurpose building, dubbed Space12 because it is located on 12th street. Even the events leading to the church purchasing the building were unusual.
According to the congregation’s website, Tsang was riding his bike and came across the white one-story building. “Its boarded up windows and overall neglected state gave it an attractive, affordable appearance. The building turned out to be the former location of Chesters Nightclub, a “BYOB bar that housed such neighborhood attractions as prostitution, drugs, underage drinking and Sunday male dancer night.”
The facility now hosts art shows, concerts, computer classes, dance classes, and a book exchange program to residents in their building. Much of the ministry is done in partnership with local neighborhood associations and organizations.
In a 2008 Covenant News Service story, Tsang said friends suggested he consider encouraging the church to join the Covenant denomination. “Being a non-denominational type community, we weren’t interested,” he recalled. “By the third referral, which was unrelated to the first two, I decided to make a phone call.”
The church was impressed with the denomination’s commitment to ethnic ministry and church planting. It was adopted into the Covenant during the 2011 Annual Meeting.
The Times notes that, “This means that Vox Veniae is a multiracial church that began with Chinese roots and has recently acquired Swedish Lutheran roots.”
The church also is growing more diverse in the age of its attendees. The average age has gone from 22 to around 28, Tsang said.
The Times reporter observed when he attended a service that, “I sat behind a woman who must have been in her sixties. When she had trouble reading the passage from I Corinthians on the monitor above, her neighbor, about 40 years younger, whispered the words in her ear.”
Click on the main photo on the Times website to watch an accompanying video. Click here to see additional video about the church and its history.