• 68°

‘Homeless Jesus’

DAVIDSON (RNS) — In a small college town 20 miles north of Charlotte, “Homeless Jesus” is provoking more conversation than a month of Sunday sermons.
The life-size sculpture depicting a figure asleep under a blanket on a park bench lies outside St. Alban’s Episcopal Church. The nail-scarred feet peeking out from under the blanket are the only indication that Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz is making a religious statement about Jesus.
The hollow, bronze piece bolted to the park bench is a $22,000 gift from a church member intended to support public art.
That’s a small price to pay to get people thinking about what it means to be a Christian—and what it means for “Homeless Jesus” to take up residence in a community of 270 townhomes and single-family homes, said the Rev. David Buck, the rector of St. Alban’s.
“You love it, you hate it, it makes you think,” said Buck, who has been happily overwhelmed by the thousands of responses he’s personally received or read online. “It’s gone viral!”
St. Alban’s neighbor John Chesser, who walked past “Homeless Jesus” on the way to pick up his mail one sunny Sunday morning, had another response: “It’s a little creepy.”
It makes sense that “Homeless Jesus,” a copy of Schmalz’s original work, found a home outside St. Alban’s. Buck says the congregation of 800 members fills a “liberal, high-church niche,” is gay-friendly and embraces the arts and sciences. The church draws a number of faculty, staff and students from Davidson College a mile or so down the road.
Buck, 64, led a Southern Baptist church outside Charlotte until the Southern Baptist Convention grew too conservative for his liking. He switched denominations and says he never dreamed he’d have the chance to serve a church like St. Alban’s.
The saga of “Homeless Jesus” has stirred Buck’s juices more than he could ever have hoped.
With the church in the middle of an upscale community, the congregation agreed that it’s the perfect place to display a piece of public art.
“Homeless Jesus” was bolted down in February, beside a bronze plaque with the familiar words from Matthew 25:40— “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
The news stories started coming almost immediately: The Charlotte Observer, The Christian Post, The Huffington Post.
Public reaction quickly followed on both sides.
Buck said someone attached a note to the sculpture saying this isn’t the way to remember Jesus. A reader posted a somewhat sarcastic response to The Christian Post story: “The Episcopal Church, huh? Shocking.”
Chesser, the neighbor walking to get his mail, calls the piece “dark” and “macabre” — so dark and macabre, it never occurred to him to think about whether it belongs in a community like his. Neighbor Jerry Dawson wrote a letter to the editor at the online davidsonnews.net saying it doesn’t belong.
“My complaint is not about the art-worthiness or the meaning behind the sculpture. It is about people driving into our beautiful, reasonably upscale neighborhood and seeing an ugly homeless person sleeping on a park bench.”
Bob Cameron, president of the St. Alban’s Square Neighborhood Association, said he invited Dawson to air his concerns at a board meeting. Meanwhile, the association has not taken a position on “Homeless Jesus,” and neither has he.
Supporters have spoken up as well, in and out of St. Alban’s.
“It makes us all more aware of homelessness, that there are others who are not as fortunate as we are,” said church member Alice Mietz, who lives about 20 yards from the piece.
As Buck was seated on a bench outside the church, making the case for the sculpture, Mike Schaefer of Roanoke, Va., stopped his car in front of “Homeless Jesus” and jumped out to snap a picture before heading home.
“As Christians, we need to be more aware of the homeless among us,” he said.
“Attaboy!” Buck exclaimed in response. “Quote him!”
Such is the brouhaha that the Rev. John Kuykendall, who lives a mile or so from church, drove over one day to see what all the fuss is about.
The retired president of Davidson College and a Presbyterian preacher, Kuykendall believes St. Alban’s is prophetic for welcoming Jesus in the guise of a homeless man asleep on a park bench. There are more references in the gospels to Jesus’ relationship with the poor than anything else, Kuykendall says. “Where it says the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head, that means he’s homeless.”
Before heading home for Sunday lunch, Buck had one more point to make: There’s a good reason why the artist left room for one person on the bench next to “Homeless Jesus.” Perhaps people will take a seat beside Jesus and pray.

Comments

Comments closed.

Local

Rowan Sheriff’s Office K-9s to receive bulletproof vests

Crime

Man charged with sex offense, raping teen

Business

Commissioners receive analysis of county’s development application process

Crime

Man arrested in Spencer in connection with Charlotte murder investigation

Local

County government losing assistant manager, social services director

Education

RSS will collect information on full K-5 return

Education

KCS sees smooth transition back to classes, unlikely to transition to all in-person for K-5

Nation/World

Barrett emerges as court favorite; Trump to pick by weekend

Local

Tillis says Trump will extend offshore drilling pause to NC

Coronavirus

12% of all Rowan COVID-19 cases currently active

Crime

Blotter: Concord man faces drug charges after hotel disturbance call

Crime

Rockwell teen charged with rape of a 14-year-old girl

Crime

Police: Charlotte man caught stealing funeral home employee’s truck

Local

Rowan Social Services director takes new job in New Hanover County; Heidrick to retire

Ask Us

Ask us: Will masks be required in Rowan County polling locations?

Elections

Political Notebook: Tillis, Cunningham differ on when to fill SCOTUS vacancy

Local

Local state trooper, firefighter returns home after Army deployment

Local

Blast from the past: Concordia Lutheran Church opens time capsule from previous century

Crime

Blotter: Salisbury man charged with damaging video camera, tresspassing

Crime

North Carolina man faces over 300 sex-related charges

News

Coastal flooding along Outer Banks closes roads

Nation/World

GOP hopeful Supreme Court battle will help shift election

Education

‘Better chance of succeeding’: Moody, colleagues reflect on tenure, retirement

News

Collecting garbage: Locals work to beautify High Rock Lake during Clean Sweep