Expressions: Already so many things
by Sara Ritsch
Expressions Community Center, located in OKC on the famous “strip,” has so much to offer the LGBT community, from youth outreach to support groups to various HIV/AIDS services.
The Community Center is located on NW 39th Street and also acts as a safe place for homeless LGBT youth.
Walking through the door is described by some as being “embraced by a sweet, tender hug.”
The expansions the Center has had in the past have thrust them forward in their development. Oklahoma City’s community helped fund the new face of the church. Nearly $85,000 worth of items were donated in a 10-day period, including chairs and a new sound system for the sanctuary and group room.
Support groups meet all throughout the week at the Center. Prevention counseling, testing and referrals by Red Rock Behavioral Health Services, Guiding Right, and Latino Community Development Agency; along with meetings, services and opportunities through Oklahoma DHS, Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA), LifeChurch for victims of domestic violence, OKC Pride meetings, 12 step meetings, ESL courses, and much more.
Pastor Neill Coffman, known as “Pastor Neill,” preaches at Expressions Church and runs Expressions Community Center. The Center is listed on the brochure as a nonprofit organization that is a “safe, welcoming, collaborative environment for HIV-positive and at-risk individuals” who need “high quality services in an effort to reduce transmission of HIV/AIDS and to improve the quality of life of those living with HIV/AIDS.”
Pastor Neill feels strongly that Expressions is a sanctuary for the fragile LGBT homeless youth to escape from their hardships and find shelter.
“They exist because of rejection,” Coffman says. “In a lot of cases, theology teaches parents that it is wrong to be gay. So when their child comes out as LGBT, they project that onto their children.”
Through community outreach, the Center has opened its arms to these homeless youth and even to their parents, hosting support groups such as Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and pulling it all together into a melting pot – a remedy to hatred.
Their HIV and AIDS prevention work, however, is what Expressions Community Center is known for. There you can receive free and confidential HIV and STD testing every Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sitting in front of their new mural, painted by Parker Cunningham-Jones, Pastor Coffman explains the significance behind the art. Its theme is “Together We Can,” meaning, “We started together as a few volunteers in my living room, and then we became many. They [birds and flowers] represent us all flying together, growing together.”
The Center, which needs new roofing, heating, and air conditioning, has a goal for its future despite the work that has been done over the years: Pastor Neill wants a full health clinic. He wants the center to be more than just a testing center and more than a home for prevention counseling.
But it’s already so many things.
Since gay marriage was legalized last summer, the community has been given a chance to heal and to unite – to practice acceptance. “It has opened up doors for me to work with straight pastors who are asking questions, who are starting dialogues and relationships with us.”
In this way the Community Center and the church are places of reconciliation and healing, building bridges with the straight community that were almost entirely unexpected. “Five years ago, our community was territorial to protect ourselves. This is because of rejection. All of us, we’re all guilty. But now, we’re all working together.”
The unconditional love that the Center gives to the gay community of Oklahoma City is directly reflected in the open arms of Pastor Neill himself. An overwhelming sense of understanding and acceptance lifts a burden off the shoulders of anyone who walks in – it truly is a sanctuary.
“Getting on this roof,” he starts, as he looks wistfully over the new mural, “You look out over the area, and you can feel, you know, the rejection…but you can also feel the love. The healing.
“And the people who know me know that I’ve been on this roof a lot.”
For more information, visit ECCokc.org or email ECC@ECCokc.org.
The Gayly 1/25/2016 @ 2:38 pm CST