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Press Release

Working Toward a Better World, Together

November 29, 2016

Working Toward a Better World, Together

Rothko Chapel continues “Concept of the Divine” series, Dec. 15

HOUSTON – Nov. 29, 2016 – What would it look like if leaders from various faiths joined forces to further social justice and change in the community? The Rothko Chapel is offering a glimpse into the power of that type of effort.

At 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 15, the Chapel is hosting “Houston’s Faith Elders: Social Justice, Social Change in the Presence of the Divine,” a conversation with Rabbi Samuel Karff, Rev. William Lawson and Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza. The event will be moderated by award winning local journalist Melanie Lawson.

The conversation will be followed by a reception. There is a suggested donation of $10 to attend. The Chapel is located at 3900 Yupon St.

The three clergy have worked together on social justice issues in Houston for decades. The event will offer a window into their interfaith efforts – and the leaders will explain how these programs have influenced their own personal spirituality and ministry.

Rabbi Karff is Rabbi Emeritus at Congregation Beth Israel, where he has served since 1975. He spent several years as an Air Force Chaplain and has also served congregations in Boston, Massachusetts, Montgomery, Alabama, Hartford, Connecticut; Flint, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois.

An honor graduate of Harvard University, he was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion where he earned a Doctor of Hebrew Letters degree in Rabbinic Theology.

Rabbi Karff is the author of “Agada: The Language of Jewish Faith,” “The Soul of the Rav,” and “Permission to Believe: Finding Faith in Troubled Times.” He also wrote the chapters on Judaism for the textbook “Religions of the World.”

He has taught at Notre Dame, the University of Chicago Divinity School and Rice University. He also serves as a visiting professor in society and health at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

Rev. Lawson is the founding pastor of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. He earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology at Tennessee A. & I. State University, before attending Central Baptist Theological Seminary for his Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees.

Rev. Lawson came to Houston after graduation from seminary to serve as director of the Baptist Student Union and Professor of Bible at Texas Southern University. He served in that position for ten years and also became director of Upward Bound, a pre-college program for high school students on the TSU campus.

During his years at TSU, a number of residents of the neighborhood persuaded the Lawson’s to establish a church near the university. Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church was born in 1962.

In 1996, his 50th anniversary of being a minister, the Houston community honored Rev. Lawson with the creation of a non-profit advocacy agency called WALIPP, the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

Rev. Lawson is the author of a book of meditations called “Lawson’s Leaves of Love.”

Archbishop Fiorenza is Archbishop Emeritus of Galveston-Houston. He began studies for the priesthood in 1947 and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Galveston-Houston in 1954.

He served as an assistant pastor in Houston for three years, and then became the professor of medical ethics at Dominican College and chaplain of St. Joseph Hospital in Houston.

From 1959 to 1967 he was the administrator of Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral. He was pastor of several churches from 1967 to 1973, when he was named Chancellor of Galveston-Houston.

Pope John Paul II named Fiorenza the Bishop of San Angelo in 1979, and he was named the Bishop of Galveston-Houston in 1985. He became Galveston-Houston's first Archbishop in 2004.

Archbishop Fiorenza has remained an advocate for social justice issues and a supporter of interfaith collaboration for positive social change across all social and economic borders.

He also served the Church on a national level as the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. His memberships have included the Bishops' Committees for: Black Catholics; Science and Human Values; Foreign Missions; and Social Development and World Peace. He has also served on the board of trustees of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Catholic Relief Services, the University of St. Thomas, Houston and the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C.

“Working together, these men have addressed some of Houston's most challenging problems, including homelessness, juvenile incarceration and fair housing,” Rothko Chapel director of programs and community engagement Ashley Clemmer said. “This will be a unique opportunity to see how a shared concept of the divine can inspire three diverse faith leaders to collaboratively address issues of social justice.”

The conversation is the second event in the Chapel’s new series, “Concept of the Divine,” which provides the opportunity for speakers to explain how their personal concept of God has changed over time and shaped their lives, their service to the community and their understanding of their own identity.

The series began in September, with a sold out lecture featuring internationally best-selling author Brené Brown.

“Concept of the Divine” continues on Tuesday, Feb. 21 with a poetry reading and conversation with Willis, Aliki and Tony Barnstone, followed by a conversation with acclaimed writer and speaker Asma Uddin on Thursday, May 25.

“An important part of our mission here at the Chapel is the notion of spirituality and interfaith relations and dialogue,” executive director David Leslie said. “For many people, their sense of spirituality changes over a lifetime. It’s not static.”

He explained that the lecture series allows the Chapel to shine a light on individual spiritual journeys.

“We thought it would be very interesting to get some people to share their own experiences in how their understanding of the divine has changed – and how that impacts their life, their sense of vocation, their commitments and where they see themselves in the cosmos,” Leslie said.

He added that the series works at the intersection of the identity of the Chapel and a response to conversations happening in the larger community.  

“We are hoping to spark dialogue, but this is also reflective of a discourse that is already going on,” he said. “Hopefully, through these sorts of programs and discussions, we take something that might be unfamiliar and make it familiar and personalized. We want to strengthen the fabric of relationships across borders and boundaries that are both real and conceptual that keep us from being the best community that we can be.”

For registration, and for more information about the “Concept of the Divine” series, the Rothko Chapel and the full calendar of upcoming programs, workshops and events, visit or call 713-524-9839.


About the Rothko Chapel

The Rothko Chapel is open to the public every day of the year at no charge and successfully interconnects art, spirituality and compassionate action through a broad array of free public programs. Founded by Houston philanthropists Dominique and John de Menil, the Chapel was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary. Today it stands as a monument to art, spirituality and human rights. As an independent non-profit, non-governmental organization, the Chapel depends on contributions from foundations and individuals to support its mission of creating a space for contemplation and dialogue on important issues.

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