Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church founder Rev. William Lawson dies at 95

Rev. William A. Lawson, the founding pastor of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, has passed away at the age of 95.

On Tuesday, the church said, "He has completed his time of service here on earth and is now enjoying eternal rest."

The Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church was established in the home of Rev. Lawson and his wife, Audrey Hoffman Lawson, in June 1962. He retired in 2004 and was honored as Founding Pastor Emeritus.

"In his nearly 96 years, Reverend Lawson has served as husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather, as well as preacher, professor, and civil rights leader. But whatever title you may have used to describe him, it has been said many times that Reverend Bill Lawson was ‘Houston’s Pastor,’" the church wrote.

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Born in St. Louis, Mo., and raised in Kansas City, Kan., Rev. Lawson graduated high school in 1946 and then went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at Tennessee A. & I. State University. He attended the Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, earning Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees, and marrying his wife during that time.

In 1955, the family moved to Houston. Rev. Lawson served as director of the Baptist Student Union and Professor of Bible at Texas Southern University. After a few years, he founded the church near the campus.

Rev. Lawson is remembered as a civil rights leader.

"Beyond the walls of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, Lawson has helped change the face of Houston, by leading the battle to desegregate the city. He joined the national civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by setting up a local office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Dr. King remained a close friend of Lawson’s, until his untimely death," the church wrote.

He is also remembered as an advocate for the poor and disenfranchised.

"He was part of a powerful trio of religious leaders, including the late Rabbi Samuel Karff and the late Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, who were dubbed the Three Amigos. They tackled many of the city’s major issues including the homelessness, racism and inequality, even the creation of a public defender’s office, among so many other efforts on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised. Lawson, in particular, was known to help build bridges between the powerful and the powerless, as a champion of social justice and community service," the church wrote.

The church asks for prayers for Rev. Lawson’s family.

"We are so grateful to God for the life and legacy of Bill Lawson, and we ask for your prayers for his family, including three surviving daughters, Melanie, Cheryl and Roxanne, his granddaughters Robyn and Raven; his two great grandsons, Amadeus and Ronin, his extended family, and the entirety of his beloved Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church."

Rev. Lawson will lie in state from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 23 at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. A Community Service of Celebration will follow at 6 p.m. The Congregational Service of Celebration will be held at 11 a.m. May 24.