Watching a master monk from California pray and beseech Buddha to enter their temple was a major moment for many of the faithful who attended the two-day ceremonies blessing Chua Tung Lam, Wilmington's first Buddhist temple this weekend.
For the Vietnamese people of Wilmington, it's already become a symbol of community and unity in just the four months since monk Thay bought the former church property at 6222 Gordon Road. The temple had its grand opening on Saturday and Sunday welcoming hundreds of people from across the United States, including 11 monks and three Buddhist nuns.
In the weeks before the ceremonies, the congregation shipped a huge golden Buddha sitting in a bubble gum pink lotus flower from Vietnam, along with some smaller statue to inhabit the temple sanctuary. And the men of the congregation worked each Sunday morning extending a patio behind the temple for a garden altar complete with snarled bodhi trees, sacred in Buddhism as a symbol of wisdom.
Wilmington resident Trang Sergeef hopes coming to the temple will help her 3-year-old boy learn more about his cultural heritage.
"This is really great because the Vietnamese community is a lot, but we're spread out so we don't always see each other," she said. "I haven't been home for New Year in a long time so this feels like home." The temple hopes to have its own Vietnamese New Year ceremonies on Feb. 10.
To add to the hospitality of the day, the women of the congregation spent the morning wrapping hundreds of vegetarian egg rolls, making sticky rice packaged in banana leaf pyramids, chopping piles of lotus for a sweet drink and making spicy rice and tofu soup to feed people who came to support the temple's opening.
Monk Tam Luong traveled from Pho Da Temple in Santa Ana, Ca., to help with the ceremonies.
"We hope the temple will become the center of the community culture," he said.
Having the temple in Wilmington also helps the Vietnamese population when a loved one passes. Chau Ngoc Nguyen's husband passed recently, and she was able to come to the temple during her mourning period to pray for his spirit in the Ancestor's Room to the left of the altar.
"It's a real blessing for my mom. It's comforting for her, too," said her son Lam Nguyen. "We have Vietnamese here who are Christian but also come for the community."