Trinity Episcopal Church in Toledo Ohio was consecrated on April 5, 1866. The corner stone of the building was put in place in 1863 during the Industrial Revolution. Toledo itself was still in its infancy having been founded in 1833. It must have been an exciting time those first years for our faithful ancestors; different in so many ways than who and what we are now, and yet, I imagine that a common identity could still be sourced tracing back in time through the decades.
As Trinity approached its sesquicentennial- aka its 150th birthday, the church gave some serious thought to that lineage, our heritage, and as a result identified a number of ways to celebrate and honor the ministry connecting us to both our past and our future.
Around that same time, the church was contacted by Canadian sculptor, Timothy Schmalz. Since 2013, this artist has been designing and installing life-size bronze statues all over the world with over 100 installations to date. One of his most famous sculptures, “Homeless Jesus,” depicts Jesus as a homeless person, sleeping on a park bench. His face and hands are obscured, hidden under a blanket, but if you stop and look carefully, you see nail wounds on his feet revealing his identity.
These two moments, the sesquicentennial and the invitation to consider installing a piece by Timothy Schmalz seemed to come together in wonderful symmetry; what better way to honor the legacy, mission and future of Trinity, than to acquire and install a sign of witness and a symbol of the gospel mandate to extend love and care and welcome for all. After lengthy discussion and planning we are now on the eve of the delivery and installation of our Homeless Jesus statue. Between now and the end of August we will be working with a local artist and Schmalz’s team to prepare and then install the statue right outside the main Adams St. doors.
In September, our ministry partner Toledo Streets with be featuring this installation in their paper with interviews and photos of the process. I will be writing more about this decision and piece of art in that edition as well, but for now I wanted to share my response to one of the questions I have been asked:
Question: How do you hope that Trinity members or passers-by will react to the sculpture? Do we have something to learn from people who are homeless?
Answer: I am so delighted that we will soon have an incarnate and perhaps, visceral reminder of the gospel mandate as summarized by our building’s banners to “Love God, Love Your Neighbor, Change the World.” I hope that all of us, members and passers-by will simply HAVE a reaction. In other words, too often those who are marginalized by circumstance or social location are often ignored or invisible. I believe much of what Jesus did throughout his ministry was help everyone see, really see, beyond the external forces that often divide- race, class, status etc. This statue is a shocking invitation to stop and maybe rethink who we actually see and acknowledge.
And finally, as far as what we might have “to learn from people who are homeless?” This is a complicated question. On the one hand I want to believe that people, all people have a common humanity that connects and binds us one to another as long as we can move through the superficial things that too often divide. On the other hand, I have had many years of serving and working with those who are without stable housing and their stories and insights provide a perspective shattering the myth that differences don’t matter- they do, and to see and hear those realities can change all of us. So, in the end, my answer is simply I want us to think intentionally about ways that being homeless is sometimes an identity, other times a condition, and maybe even still a reality that defies our ability to explain.
I pray this statue will be a constant reminder that each of us, regardless of where we lay our heads at night, is God’s beloved- broken and blessed, loved and loveable, and always, always, worthy of dignity and respect.
May you never forget that you are loved.