Our story started with a question. An immigrant church by the name of Austin Chinese Church was interested in birthing a community that would be indigenous to the city filled with artists, creatives, and slackers (see 1991 film by Richard Linklater). They asked us with thick Chinese accents – “Do you want plant church for Austin?!” Out of naiveté and foolishness we said yes.
In 2006 a group of friends set out to learn how to be a church and Vox Veniae was born. Our hope was that we would be reflective of, learn from and reach the beautiful city we lived in. Being 99% Asian and college students, we were not off to a great start. Over the years we moved from campus to Hyde Park and finally now to East Austin.
Our first year was housed in an inappropriately hip and comfortable office in 501 studios on 5th street. Like most church buildings it went under utilized with the exception of staff meetings, lonely afternoons of sermon writing and an occasional heated game of nerf basketball. There was a glaring disconnect between asking people to be generous to the mission and serving the poor to our fierce basketball games in wood floors, spotlit artwork and view of downtown Austin. Our lease came up and we moved out.
For the next few weeks we set out on a search for the place where we could be the hands and feet of Jesus. We were limited by a lack of everything one needs to get into a new building: money, resources and an actual available building we were interested in. One day Gideon was riding his bicycle laboriously over the rolling hills of east 12th street and stumbled onto a 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 Nighclub, a classy BYOB bar that housed such neighborhood attractions as prostitution, drugs, underage drinking and Sunday male dancer night. Despite its aforementioned amenities, it was shut down as a result of a police officer shooting an unarmed young man, named Kevin Brown, in the back twice. We signed the lease, broke our backs renovating it (by breaking our backs we actually mean stepping on lots of nails), and opened it as a shared community space called Space12, since it was on 12th street (clever).
As Space12 opened its doors in 2008, we found many churches and non-profits doing great things but separately. Instead of starting inferior versions of existing organizations, our vision became to enable hospitality and collaboration. We partner with friends that send books to prisoners, facilitate peer-counseling and the creation of hip hop to East Austin youth, neighborhood associations, public school coalitions and a couple of churches.
Now a handful of years into our journey of learning how to be a church, we are becoming more diverse, less young, and learning to love God, our city and our neighbors. We welcome you all to join us in this journey.
[Photo by kronicred @ Flickr]