Rev. David Buck sits next to the Jesus the Homeless statue that was installed in front of his church, St. Alban's Episcopal, in Davidscon, N.C.
A new religious statue in the town of Davidson, N.C., is unlike anything you might see in church.
statue depicts Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench. St. Alban's
Episcopal Church installed the homeless Jesus statue on its property in
the middle of an upscale neighborhood filled with well-kept townhomes.
is huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the
crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet give him away.
The reaction was immediate. Some loved it; some didn't.
woman from the neighborhood actually called police the first time she
drove by," says David Boraks, editor of DavidsonNews.net. "She thought
it was an actual homeless person."
That's right. Somebody called the cops on Jesus.
neighbor, who lives a couple of doors down from the church, wrote us a
letter to the editor saying it creeps him out," Boraks added.
neighbors felt it was an insulting depiction of the Son of God, and
what appears to be a hobo curled up on a bench demeans the neighborhood.
bronze statue was purchased for $22,000 as a memorial for a
parishioner, Kate McIntyre, who had loved public art. The rector of this
liberal, inclusive church is Rev. David Buck, a 65-year-old
Baptist-turned-Episcopalian who seems not at all averse to the
controversy, the double-takes and the discussion the statue has
"It gives authenticity to our church," he says. "This
is a relatively affluent church, to be honest, and we need to be
reminded ourselves that our faith expresses itself in active concern for
the marginalized of society."
The sculpture is intended as a
visual translation of the passage in the Book of Matthew, in which Jesus
tells his disciples, "as you did it to one of the least of my brothers,
you did it to me." Moreover, Buck says, it's a good Bible lesson for
those used to seeing Jesus depicted in traditional religious art as the
Christ of glory, enthroned in finery.
"We believe that that's the kind of life Jesus had," Buck says. "He was, in essence, a homeless person."
This lakeside college town north of Charlotte has the first Jesus the Homeless
statue on display in the United States. Catholic Charities of Chicago
plans to install its statue when the weather warms up. The Archdiocese
of Washington, D.C., is said to be interested in one, too.
creator is a Canadian sculptor and devout Catholic named Timothy
Schmalz. From his studio in Ontario, Schmalz says he understands that
his Jesus the Homeless is provocative.
"That's essentially what the sculpture is there to do," he says. "It's meant to challenge people."
He says he offered the first casts to St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Both declined.
spokesman at St. Michael's says appreciation of the statue "was not
unanimous," and the church was being restored so a new work of art was
out of the question. That statue found a home in front of the Jesuit
School of Theology at the University of Toronto.
at St. Patrick's in New York says they liked the homeless Jesus, but
their cathedral is also being renovated and they had to turn it down.
most high-profile installation of the bronze Jesus on a park bench will
be on the Via della Conziliazione, the avenue leading to St. Peter's
Basilica — if the City of Rome approves it. Schmalz traveled to the
Vatican last November to present a miniature to the pope himself.
"He walked over to the sculpture, and it was just chilling because he touched the knee of the Jesus the Homeless
sculpture, and closed his eyes and prayed," Schmalz says. "It was like,
that's what he's doing throughout the whole world: Pope Francis is
reaching out to the marginalized."
Back at St. Alban's in Davidson, the rector reports that the Jesus the Homeless
statue has earned more followers than detractors. It is now common, he
says, to see people come, sit on the bench, rest their hand on the
bronze feet and pray.