CHAMPAIGN — The city’s Vietnamese Buddhist community will soon have a new temple.
The new building, which will be built next to the Tu Vien Thien Tuong Meditation Center, is meant to accommodate the current temple’s growing congregation.
On Tuesday, the Champaign City Council unanimously approved the site plan for the new space, which will obey traditional Pagoda-style design, with two stories of roofs that curve upward.
A number of monks live in the Thien Tuong Temple at 1512 N. McKinley Ave. Currently, worshipers pack into the garage for prayer and services.
“I live just off of McKinley and drive by this location frequently, and what a spectacular improvement they have created as a gathering place for people of faith,” council member Tom Bruno said. “It’s a celebration of their religion and their culture, and I’m glad they’re establishing a foothold in Champaign.”
Once the new temple is built, worship will move to the new space while the monks continue to live in the existing building.
The monastery sees about 20 worshipers attend each week, with 80 or more coming in for larger ceremonies, according to monastery leader the Venerable Sakya Minh-Quang.
The larger gatherings put them over the building’s 49-person capacity, Associate City Planner Tina Marie Ansong said.
“The congregation outgrew the existing building and needed a larger space,” she said.
Sakya is the “thay” — Vietnamese for teacher — of the temple. He became a practicing Buddhist monk about 40 years ago as a young man in Vietnam. Sakya studied abroad in Taiwan for about nine years before coming to the United States.
Sakya moved to Champaign a decade ago to earn his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in East Asian cultures and language. He taught a class on introduction to Japanese culture in 2016 and 2017.
“Buddhism teaches regarding passion, wisdom, understanding to guide people to live peaceful lives, meaningful lives,” Sakya said.
Both Champaign and Urbana have decent- sized Vietnamese communities, he said, but without a same-language temple in the area, some Buddhist practitioners would have to make the trip to Chicago to find one.
Though the temple and location are centered on Vietnamese cultural practices, attendees don’t have to be Vietnamese to learn at the facility.
“We also want English-speaking people to listen to the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha, to practice balance in their life,” Sakya said.
On occasion, worshipers will recite chants in both English and Vietnamese.
Champaign firm Andrew Fell Architecture and Design has been working with the monastery to design the new temple for the last year or so, said project architect Adrienne Kim.
Kim has closely consulted the monks on stylistic notes and religious requirements for the new space, which has already been rendered. The firm is going through the bidding process, looking for interested contractors to build the space.
The firm also designed the Hindu Temple in north Champaign, built in 2013. Like the Hindu space, the new Buddhist temple will feature a walk-around area outside of the building. Other than that, the projects are “very different,” Kim said.
“It’s fun for us,” said firm owner Andrew Fell. “This is a specific style of building that we have never done before and most likely will never do again.”