“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” – Matthew 25:35-36
Timothy P. Schmalz, a Canadian artist, has been creating large scale sculptures for more than 25 years. Schmalz primarily creates his work based upon a spiritual theme and views his sculptures as visual prayers.
Homeless Jesus, arguably his most famous work, can be found around the world. The sculpture has become so sought after that Schmalz limits one to each city. Locations include the Vatican, St. Anne’s Square in London, and as of September, outside of Trinity Church, Toledo.
Trinity Church had Homeless Jesus installed on September 3, and offered a blessing over the sculpture on September 22.
According to Schmalz, “the Homeless Jesus sculpture is a visual representation of Matthew 25. The sculpture suggests that Christ is with the most marginalized in our society. The Christ figure is shrouded in a blanket with His face covered with the only indication that the figure is Jesus being the visible wounds on the feet.” There is also room at the end of the bench for someone to sit next to Homeless Jesus.
While in the area on other work, Schmalz approached the leadership of Trinity in February 2017 to encourage them to consider installing one of his sculptures since Trinity is located in the heart of Toledo’s downtown business district and sees quite a bit of foot traffic on a daily basis. The vestry quickly chose Homeless Jesus, and, after quite a bit of thought, decided to place the sculpture right next to the church’s front doors on Adams Street.
Both poverty and homelessness are very prevalent in Toledo, with approximately 1 out of every 4 Toledo residents living in poverty and 1 out of every 662 being homeless.
Lynzi Miller, Communications Coordinator for Trinity Church, said that both parishioners and the community have had very positive reactions to the sculpture. “It makes them take pause and think about who Jesus really is,” said Miller.
Community members have also left gifts on and around the sculpture. The gifts are primarily food items and winter gear. Trinity partners with Food for Thought, located on the second floor of the church building. Any food that is left at the sculpture is donated to Food for Thought for distribution at their food pantries. Any other gifts are dispersed in a variety of ways including local elementary schools, the Next to New Thrift Shop, or other ministries of Trinity Church.
In Youngstown, a different sculpture of Schmalz’s was installed outside of St. John’s. The sculpture, When I Was Naked, was donated by the family of Michael Lowry, Jr., in his memory. Lowry died one year before the dedication after losing his battle with drug addiction. The family chose to dedicate the sculpture to Lowry and everyone who has lost their battles with drug addiction.
Approximately 125 members of St. John’s and the Youngstown community came together on September 5 to dedicate and unveil the sculpture.
Although they are not members of St. John’s, the Lowry family asked to have the sculpture placed at the church because of the church’s location. However, since the installation of the sculpture, the family has begun to volunteer in different parish ministries.
According to Schmalz, “in this piece, Christ is portrayed as a homeless man naked and clinging to a piece of cardboard to keep him warm. Based on Matthew 25, When I was Naked confronts our prejudices against the impoverished and compels us to look deeper for a glimpse of the divinity and dignity within them.”
Located less than a mile from St. John’s are First Presbyterian Church and the Catholic Cathedral, St. Columba. First Presbyterian has a different Schmalz sculpture installed from the same series, entitled When I Was Hungry and Thirsty. St. Columba will be installing Homeless Jesus.
Similarly to the Homeless Jesus sculpture in Toledo, gifts are being left at the When I Was Naked sculpture in Youngstown. Flowers are being left around the sculpture and coins are being placed in Jesus’ hand. According to the Rev. Gayle Catinella, rector of St. John’s, Youngstown, the majority of foot traffic in front of the sculpture is comprised of Youngstown State University students and community members who are going to participate in the church food pantry, the Red Door Café. “These aren’t rich people who are leaving the gifts,” said Catinella, “and that’s something really remarkable to witness.”