By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Cathedral of Hope Oklahoma City United Church of Christ (UCC) will bestow their 2018 Hero of Hope award to activist Sara Cunningham on January 28. The presentation will take place during Cathedral of Hope OKC’s Sunday evening service at 6 p.m. in the sanctuary of Church of the Open Arms, 3131 N. Pennsylvania Avenue. A reception will follow at 7 p.m.
The public is invited to attend both events.
Each year the Cathedral recognizes one of its members as the Hero of Hope for taking courageous stands for the rights of people. These individuals are honored for working to change how the others think about LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) people, how LGBTQ people think about God; reaching those who are marginalized – particularly isolated teens living in small towns; and for redefining Christianity as an including faith rather than an excluding religion.
Cunningham is being honored for her activism, which embodies the church’s founding principles of “Extravagant Grace, Radical Inclusion, and Relentless Compassion,” according to Cathedral of Hope Rev. Kayla Bonewell.
“I met Sara for lunch two years ago and instantly knew I had found a kindred spirit,” said Bonewell. “She eats, sleeps, and prays for love and equality to be a reality for all of God’s people, especially the LGBTQ community. Sara has a will and a drive that no one can stop. We are so blessed to have her in our Oklahoma City community.”
Cunningham is an Oklahoma City mother whose mission began after her son told her he is gay. This experience went against the Christian teachings she had believed – that being LGBTQ was a sin.
“My son officially came out to me when I was in the middle of a personal split from a church I called home for 20 years, and at the same time the world’s attention was on the Gay/Human Rights conflict between the Church and State,” Cunningham said. After wrestling with her faith, Sara came to embrace every part of her son’s identity, while re-establishing her Christian faith in a more loving way.
Cunningham’s book, “How We Sleep at Night: A Mother’s Memoir,” published in 2014, chronicles her personal journey. It is now a resource for other parents whose children have come out as LGBTQ.
Sara is the founder of OKC Free Mom Hugs, part of a worldwide movement of parents who stand up for the LGBTQ community by giving hugs to those whose own parents no longer embrace them.
“Today I am not only the proud, loving mom of an LGBTQ child, I hope to be a powerful advocate and ally,” Cunningham said on Facebook. “I offer Free Mom Hugs and am committed to putting a face on the Transgender community, one that I consider to be precious and the most misunderstood.”
Last year, on Mother’s Day, Sara took the Free Mom Hugs movement on the road to the birthplace of the LGBTQ Civil Rights movement – the Stonewall Inn, in New York City. To this day she continues to share her message with moms, the LGBTQ community, and Christian organizations.
Sara has been involved in helping to organize the annual OKC Pride events, and has been active in the Transgender Day of Remembrance and World AIDS Day services. She also reaches out to non-affirming churches and agencies in an effort to cause a more positive stand for the LGBTQ community.
Past Hero of Hope honorees include Rev. Bruce Lowe, Southern Baptist minister and author of “Letter to Louise”; Jim Roth, attorney and former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner; Kay Holladay, co-founder of PFLAG-Norman (Parents, Families and Friends and Allies united with LGBTQ People); Robert D. Lemon, equal rights advocate; Dr. Ed Shadid, Oklahoma City Councilman; Mr. Ginger Lamar, community activist and entertainer; Rev. Scott J. Hamilton, LGBTQ advocate and minister; Mary Arbuckle, executive director of Other Options, Inc.; and Paula Sophia Schonauer, advocate, educator, and author.
The Cathedral of Hope OKC welcomes everyone regardless of faith background, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ability, legal status, or race. Its mission is “to empower all people to experience the presence of God, to grow toward wholeness, and to act in love.”
For more information, visit the Cathedral of Hope website.