Dr. Yasir Qadhi

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yasir2Yasir Qadhi was born in Houston, TX, to Pakistani parents. His father was one of the first Muslim immigrants to Houston, arriving in 1963, and helped found the first mosque there. Yasir grew up between Houston and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (where his father became a professor at the newly founded King AbdulAziz University), and eventually completed a B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering. It was during his undergraduate years that he decided to pursue a full-time career of Islamic scholarship, which led him to a ten-year stint at the University of Madinah, Saudi Arabia, where he completed a second Bachelors and his first M.A. (in Islamic theology).

The tragic events of 9/11 caused him to return to the States, in order to, as he puts it, ‘…build bridges of understanding between Americans and Muslims.’ He completed an M.A. and an M.Phil from Yale University where he completed his PhD in Theology.

Along with these academic activities, he is also the Dean of Academic Affairs of AlMaghrib Institute, the largest advanced Institute for Islamic Studies in North America; the religious adviser to MuslimMatters.org, an award-winning and highly-read Islamic blog; and a lecturer at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN.

He currently resides in Memphis, TN with his wife and four children.

Watch PBS's Finding Your Roots episode: featuring Pastor Rick Warren, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, and Shaykh Yasir Qadhi here.

Ms. Waliya Lari

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waliyaWaliya is a three time Emmy Award winning television news producer. Her career has taken her to numerous jobs, everything from the Today Show in New York City to small-market television on Texas-Mexico border and resulted in a variety of awards and honors.

She currently produces the 10pm newscast for the ABC affiliate in Houston, the station’s flagship show and the most watched newscast in the market. Her expertise in news media and the Muslim community is heavily sought after by local and national groups.  

She’s spoken at dozens of conferences and special events including ISNA’s national convention. Waliya graduated with honors from the University of Texas at Austin as a Senior Fellow of the School of Communication. She earned a Bachelor’s of Journalism with a broadcast concentration and minors in Communications Studies and Islamic Studies.

Waliya will be the Master of Ceremonies at Houston United 2013!

Rabbi Steve Gross

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48 light blue bkgRabbi Steve Gross has nurtured profound, spiritual connections with us since he began serving our congregation in 2005. His enthusiasm, creativity, and warmth help generate dynamic environments for learning.

Rooted in the belief that all faiths strive to meet the same human needs in different ways, Rabbi Gross adopts and promotes an optimistic and highly universalistic approach to our faith. From this perspective, Jewish hopes are primarily articulated through modern rationalist thinking; moral laws are essential guideposts for Jewish identity; and concerns for social justice are paramount in translating the teachings of our heritage into our daily lives.

Rabbi Gross grew up in La Jolla, California. He received a B.A. in Education from San Diego State University. He received his rabbinic ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1996.

From 1996 to 2005, Rabbi Gross had the privilege of serving as an assistant and then an associate rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, Texas. During these years, he has come to understand his role as a rabbi to be a sacred responsibility.

Rabbi Gross has been serving as the rabbi at the Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism since 2005.  His passion for education; his compassionate heart; and his ability to transmit the values and teachings of Judaism to members of all ages creates environments for learning and worship which are dynamic, warm and welcoming for all.

Rabbi Gross brings to the pulpit energy and enthusiasm as he uses his guitar to shape the worship experience for young and old alike.

He is married to Beckye and they live with their four children Elliot, Lily, Simon and Aiden.

Dr. Jim Bankston

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BankstonA bullet list of Dr. Bankston’s professional ministry and areas of service would impress even the "un-impressible," but a list could never capture his heart nor the depth of his far-reaching service. His 36 years of dedication to the United Methodist Church are filled with testaments to his deep love of God and all of God’s good creation as well as his remarkable pastoral and leadership abilities. He has served as delegate to six Jurisdictional Conferences of the United Methodist Church, three General Conferences, and two World Methodist Conferences, providing leadership in the exhibition of radical hospitality and Christ-like acceptance of everyone in God’s family tree.

He has been senior minister of St. Paul’s since February 1995. Immediately prior to that he served two years as District Superintendent of the Beaumont District, and before that he served in several other churches within the Texas Annual Conference. His passion and excitement is with the local church. And at St. Paul’s that local church is the heart of the community in one of the most diverse cities in the nation. He loves the urban setting that fosters St. Paul’s eclectic congregation and broadness of thought. “People here probe the depth of the Christian experience, tested by their own Christian experiences,” he said. “For the most part, people here are not looking for simple answers to life’s complex problems.”

He has embraced the interfaith ministry of the City of Houston, building relationships with leaders in the Jewish and Muslim communities and beyond. A past president of the Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, he continues to sit of its board as he also is on the board of the Anti-Defamation League’s Coalition for Mutual Respect and the advisory board for the Institute for Interfaith Dialogue, a Muslim organization. Along with David Rosen, Senior Rabbi at Houston's Congregation Beth Yeshurun, Dr. Bankston was a recipient in 2004 of the ADL's Julie and Ben Rogers Ecumenism Award "for work in furthering greater harmony and cooperation in our communities."

A native of Malakoff, Texas, he was valedictorian of his high school class and continued to earn academic honors as he progressed through Lon Morris College, where he earned the Founder’s Award, and Southwestern University, from which he graduated cum laude and earned the David Knox Porter Theology Award. He completed his Masters of Theology at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, in Dallas and his Doctor of Ministry from Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri.

His additional boards and other leadership roles, past and present and advisory, include the Institute for Religion and Health at the Texas Medical Center, Center for Faith and Health Initiative, Methodist Mission Home, Preschool for All, Perkins School of Theology, Board of Ordained Ministry, Lakeview Conference Center, and Interface-Samaritan Counseling Centers of Houston plus the Hispanic Ministry Task Force. He is as likely to be operating a chain saw after hurricane cleanup, and at 7 each Wednesday morning, he leads St. Paul’s Men’s Lectionary Bible Study Breakfast, which is attended by men from all across the city.

Married to his high school sweetheart, Sandy Andrews Bankston, together they have two daughters and five grandchildren, all of whom also are active in the life of St. Paul’s.

Dr. Bankston will retire at the 2013 meeting of the Texas Annual Conference. His successor will be Rev. Tommy Williams, a former St. Paul's UMC Associate Minister, now Senior Minister at Westbury United Mehodist Church in Houston.

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