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Finding Unity in Gratitude

November 07, 2016

Finding Unity in Gratitude

Interfaith Thanksgiving Service Continues 32-Year Tradition at Rothko Chapel, Thursday, Nov. 17

HOUSTON – November 7, 2016 – The Rothko Chapel is preparing for its annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service – an opportunity for the community to gather around a shared belief in the sacred beauty of giving thanks.

The event will be held at the Chapel at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17 – and will bring together nine different religious traditions.

The service started 32 years ago in response to the bombing of a storefront mosque.

“After we raised money to support the mosque in the necessary repairs, we wanted to find a way to come together in some public way,” co-founder Garland Pohl said. “We came to realize that thanksgiving was the one common idea shared by all the major world religions.”

Initially, participants represented Judaism, Islam and Christianity, but within three years, Buddhists, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Baha’i, Hindus and Jains joined the service.

Co-founder George Atkinson explained that the creation of the event was a milestone in the development of interfaith dialogue in Houston. “There’s historical significance in the beginnings of this service,” he said. “When we started, there was nothing like this going on in Houston. That was a generation ago. Everybody said it was the first time they had experienced praying in the same room like that with such diverse faith traditions represented.”

For Atkinson, the event was tapping into a desire that was already present for Houston faith communities. 

“That first meeting included the rabbi of one of the two biggest congregations in Houston,” he said. “He told us he had been waiting all his life for something like this. There had already been people in Houston for a long time who were open and tolerant and accepting, but this was the first public event where we were able to express that.”

Momentum from the event continued to inspire more connection between Houstonians of varied faiths.   

“Since that time, the service has been the anchor for a lot of other dialogues between traditions,” he said. “It wasn’t exactly like dominoes for future events, but it seemed to us there was a breakthrough with that first service and a much greater awareness of each other after that.”

This year, the theme of the service is “Building Relationships,” which was inspired by Mayor Sylvester Turner, who said of Houston, "In this city, we do not build walls, we build relationships. We recognize that in our diversity is our strength."

The quote was from a recent event honoring Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed fighting the war in Iraq in 2004. The family, who lived in Houston when they first came to the US, came to national attention during the 2016 presidential race.

Atkinson said building relationships is at the heart of the service every year.

“We are trying to reach a deeper level of discourse, and the purpose of it is friendship,” Atkinson said. “This is important in creating a fundamental human connection. We have to say that there is something within our traditions that points to something deeper, and our traditions are an effort to bring that to expression.”  

In tune with the spirit of the event, Pohl points out that the Rothko Chapel was a natural fit as a venue for the service. “The Chapel is perfect because religion, justice and art are the three things at the center of the nonprofit’s work,” she said.

It’s a partnership that the Chapel relishes.

“The service is an institution in this city, and it’s a privilege for us to host it,” Rothko Chapel executive director David Leslie said. “It is totally congruent with our mission as a community gathering place. The interfaith service is the type of event we are committed to every day, 365 days a year.”

He added that the service provides an ideal opportunity for individuals from diverse backgrounds to connect around a common theme. “This is a place that’s all about listening to one another and respecting one another, not trying to convert people to a certain viewpoint,” he said. “We have a message of inclusivity. The service will fuel the work we continue to do at the Chapel.”

For Pohl, the service is something that every Houston faith community should embrace. “It is so important for us to come together as religious people and to support each other in our city, which has such great diversity and which has such peaceful coexistence among the traditions,” she said.

For registration, and for more information about the Rothko Chapel and the full calendar of upcoming programs, workshops and events, visit rothkochapel.org or call 713-524-9839.

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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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