AT the close of a conference on homelessness earlier this year, I had the privilege of supporting three members of the YMCA community to reveal a moving tribute to those who sleep rough in our city.
The event, called ‘Homeless and Rough Sleeping – Who Cares?’, took place at Liverpool Parish Church on the Pier Head on Thursday 4th April.
The church commissioned a bronze sculpture called ‘Homeless Jesus’, and invited our residents to unveil it, and meet other guests, including the Lord Mayor, and the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool who prayed for a blessing on the statue and all whom it represents.
The statue is in the garden of the church, better known to locals, including the homeless people who seek shelter there, as ‘St Nick’s’.
Not your typical portrayal of Jesus, the three-dimensional sculpture represents a homeless person lying on a bench.
The figure is shrouded in a blanket with its face covered – the only indication that it is Jesus is the visible wounds on the feet.
Engraved on the flagstones is the message behind the artwork: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’, which echoes the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 25, verses 35-40.
There is enough room left over for one person to sit on the bench – this was done to make people think: ‘Would I sit next to a homeless person on a bench? Would I sit next to homeless Jesus?’
Rev Crispin Pailing, the Rector of Liverpool Parish Church, said the sculpture offers a way to portray the suffering of Christ in a way that connects him with issues today – such as homelessness:
‘The piece is therefore not ‘only’ about homelessness, it is more a challenge to the ways in which homeless or marginalised people are portrayed or understood and equally, the ways in which Jesus Christ is portrayed or understood.’
It is a very thought provoking piece of public art – do visit next time you are in Liverpool.
At the unveiling, former YMCA resident Stephen Foley read a poem he had written reflecting on his experience of sleeping rough in the city. You can read it below or hear him read it in this Youtube video.
There was once a man who used to sit alone,
People used to mock him, and people used to gloat
You might find that funny but I implore you,
What if you were in the same boat?
Someone once said always treat others
How you expect to be treated
So now I ask is it OK to abuse that lonely man
Till his soul and personality are crushed and lay defeated?
Then one day, simply because he had enough
A thought suddenly occurred to him why life was so tough
Out of the abyss of sadness and loneliness you grew
No matter what curveball life threw at you
Out of the ashes like a phoenix you rose
Full of resentment and hate for the life you chose
Look out over the horizon and you will surely see
That the future is bright for you and me
Just remember no matter what people say you are
Each and every one of us is a shining star.
by Stephen Foley
Speakers at the conference included Karl Smith, a former rough sleeper who now advocates for homeless people, who spoke movingly about how people acknowledging his humanity meant so much when he was at his lowest:
‘Show us some humanity, a little light. That’s what saved my life.’