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Church unveils mural at World AIDS Day service

Sara and Parker Cunningham perform a song at the 2015 World AIDS Day Service on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at Expressions Church in Oklahoma City.
Sara and Parker Cunningham perform a song at the 2015 World AIDS Day Service on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at Expressions Church in Oklahoma City.

A  colorful mural featuring flying birds and blooming flowers was recently unveiled as part of the 2015 World AIDS Day Service at Expressions Church, 2245 NW 39.

The Rev. Neill Coffman, the church’s pastor, said the mural was created in a space that formerly served as Expressions’ first AIDS testing area. He said the artwork, crafted by artist and musician Parker Cunningham, was a way to honor the growing collaboration between agencies, individuals and organizations battling against HIV/AIDS. The mural is entitled “Together We Can.”

“The scissortail birds represent the unity and collaboration of all the agencies here and the flowers show that we started blossoming” and expanding, Coffman said.

The minister said the World AIDS Day Service seemed a fitting time to debut the new mural.

Held on Tuesday, Dec. 1, the service drew an estimated crowd of 100 people for music, prayer, a dramatic reading and guest presentations.

Red ribbons outside the church paid tribute to people who have fought the AIDS battle, while inside, people placed red roses on an altar area to honor those who have died battling the virus or who are living with the virus.

One of the guest speakers, Andy Morrow with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, talked to the crowd about how far the fight against HIV/AIDS has come.

Morrow said he has born in the early 1980’s and has never known a world without HIV/AIDS. He said there was initially a lot of mystery surrounding the AIDS virus and it quickly spread from about 100 cases in the U.S.  to about 1,000 the next year.

Morrow said eventually, medication was created to battle the virus but many people didn’t talk about the ways to fight against it and eradicate it.

“At some point, we realized that silence equaled death so we made noise – we held hands, we chanted, we sang songs, we stood together,” Morrow said.

“The thing is, it worked. Legislation was passed. Funding was allocated, ” Morrow said.

He said today, AIDS is a chronic illness that can be managed and “in fact, we have everything we need to stop this pandemic.”

Morrow urged the crowd to share information about AIDS prevention and testing to help curb the spread of the virus.

“No one else has to get infected. We have the science and finally we have the greatest resource which is you. You can be a beacon of hope in the world,” he said.

Meanwhile, during another portion of the service, mural artist Cunningham and his mother Sara Cunningham performed a musical selection together. Sara Cunningham is the author of the book “How We Sleep At Night,” which chronicles her spiritual journey to accept of her son as a gay man.

Sara and Parker Cunningham perform a song at the 2015 World AIDS Day Service on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at Expressions Church in Oklahoma City.
Sara and Parker Cunningham perform a song at the 2015 World AIDS Day Service on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at Expressions Church in Oklahoma City.

Coffman, Expressions’ pastor and founder and CEO of Expressions Community Center, said the mural and service reflected the church’s desire to honor all of the individuals, agencies and organizations that have come together over the years to help fight against HIV/AIDS.

He said the church was formed about seven years ago and became a site for weekly AIDS testing about five years ago. Coffman said for the next three and a half years, Expressions expanded so that it now meets in what is called the Expressions Community Center, which includes meeting rooms for support groups, a coffee shop where homeless teens meet three days a week and office areas for different agencies.

Coffman said the church began in one corner of NW 39 and Youngs Boulevard, known as the heart of the gay social district.

Expressions Community Center now includes the building where the church holds its services, plus other buildings that make up a campus that now occupies the entire corner of the same intersection. Agencies like Red Rock Behavioral Health Services, Guiding Right Inc. and the Latino Community Development Agency offer free HIV testing. He said other agencies such as the state Department of Human Services have offices at the center, helping to connect individuals with services like housing and employment assistance.   

Be the Change sponsors the Ground Floor homeless youth outreach at the center, along with a separate weekly youth group from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.          

Carla Hinton

Religion Editor

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<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-807a0d3476e302df4af94d30a92e0a2d.jpg" alt="Photo - " title=""><figcaption></figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-08d3d76d2bf1921a2cd82888e13bc205.jpg" alt="Photo - Sara and Parker Cunningham perform a song at the 2015 World AIDS Day Service on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at Expressions Church in Oklahoma City." title="Sara and Parker Cunningham perform a song at the 2015 World AIDS Day Service on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at Expressions Church in Oklahoma City."><figcaption>Sara and Parker Cunningham perform a song at the 2015 World AIDS Day Service on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at Expressions Church in Oklahoma City.</figcaption></figure>
Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›

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