A homeless man went to church, and this is what happened next…

By Caitlin Kelly

This is an extraordinary story, from a place that normally wouldn’t make the national news, and from the Mormon church, a faith that usually also receives little mainstream press.

English: Homeless man, Tokyo. Français : Un sa...
English: Homeless man, Tokyo. Français : Un sans abri à Tokyo. Español: Persona sin hogar, en las calles de Tokio. Türkçe: Evsiz adam, Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From NPR:

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Finally, this hour, a Mormon bishop in
Taylorsville, Utah, went to great lengths last Sunday to teach his
congregation a lesson. David Musselman disguised himself as a homeless
person with the help of a professional makeup artist friend. After
getting mutton-chops, a ski hat and thick glasses, the bishop waited
outside his church and wished congregants a happy Thanksgiving. To
describe what happened next, I’m joined by Bishop Musselman, welcome to
the program.

BISHOP DAVID MUSSELMAN: Glad to be here. Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Describe the response you got.

Well, I got several types of responses. I had some people that went out
of their way to let me know that this was not a place to ask for
charity and that I was not welcome and that I needed to leave the
property. I should also state that I had a number of people come and
were very kind to me. But I was most impressed with the children. The
children definitely were very eager to want to reach out and try to help
me in some way

From the AP:

Musselman, who told only his second counselor that he would be
disguised as a homeless man, walked to the pulpit during the service. He
finally revealed his true identity and took off his wig, fake beard and

“It had a shock value that I did not anticipate,” he said. “I really
did not have any idea that the members of my ward would gasp as big as
they did.”

Ward member Jaimi Larsen was among those surprised it was her bishop.
“I started feeling ashamed because I didn’t say hello to this man …
He was dirty. He was crippled. He was old. He was mumbling to himself,”
she said.

It wasn’t Musselman’s goal to embarrass ward members or make them
feel ashamed, he said. Instead, he wanted to remind them to be kind to
people from all walks of life not just at the holidays, but all year
long, he said.

“To be Christ-like, just acknowledge them,” he said

Musselman made the invisible visble.

Here is a powerful blog, written by a television cameraman who himself was once homeless, his effort to make this population of the poor, struggling and suffering visible and audible.

The population of homeless has risen by 65 percent in the eight years of New York City’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg; 21,000 New York City children have no home to go to beyond a shelter or whatever space they can beg from a friend or relative.

Here is one Manhattan shelter I’ve contributed to.

As we gather with friends, family and loved ones to celebrate the holidays — those of us fortunate enough to have a warm, clean, dry place in which to safely sleep — remember those who don’t. They can be, for some people, a terrifying sight, slumped on the pavement or dragging enormous overstuffed metal carts. Their utter desperation reminds us what the bottom of the ladder looks like — that there very much is a bottom — the place we work so hard and save so hard and cling to our jobs to stay clear of.

We could never ever become them.

Could we?

So much easier, then, to avoid their gaze or studiously ignore their outstretched hands or cups or their signs, scrawled on cardboard.

I have, and it shames me when I make that choice.

Please don’t.




23 thoughts on “A homeless man went to church, and this is what happened next…

  1. I can’t fathom why someone who is walking into a church to worship Jesus, who had a soft place in his heart for the poor and downtrodden, would stop to chastise a homeless person. Could they really be that clueless?

      1. Said, I can fathom it. There’s a lot I admire about my faith and much I still take from it, but one of its major cultural failings is a sense of smug self-righteousness and lack of empathy towards those on hard times and further down the social ladder. I’m thrilled to see a bishop tackle it head on with his congregation!

      2. We had a new young friend to lunch yesterday — whose boyfriend is Mormon and who horrified us by describing this exact sort of callousness she sees within his large and piously self-righteous family to suffering that was VERY un-Christian indeed. I was pretty shocked. If you’re going to flaunt your religious values, maybe you should also live by them?

  2. I am very thankful for this article because I was homeless just about a month ago. I was living with my cat ‘baby’ in my car, a Honda. It was hard and I was able to get food stamps. I also served this country as a Veteran during the 70s and 80s. After a lot of frustration with the system, I called my State Senator. He helped expedite my SSDI claim so I could find a place to live. For whatever reasons, there are many veterans and non-veterans who need help. It is indeed our responsibility to look beyond our own nose or look down upon others.

    Thanks for a poignant and powerful illustration of human suffering that occurs along with it. There is hope. The churches, state and private concerns do their best for the most part.
    My cat is lying peacefully on my new bed like she owns it. She purrs a lot more than she used to and I feel she feels happier because I am. I used to look at old sheds, or even places as a home. Now the dream is true and my severe anxiety disorder has one less obstacle to overcome.

    1. I’m very glad you and your cat are now safely housed and are enjoying a new bed. I know that many veterans face ridiculous hurdles finding work or affordable housing, which is an insult to anyone who has served their country.

      I wish you the very best and really appreciate you reading — and sharing your story.

  3. CRGardenJoe

    I’ve noticed the “invisible” problem of aging. I’m 55 and appear to be 55–and slowly, to the world of the young, I seem to be fading away, which feels very odd. Empowering in a way, it’s part of the old-age licence to be ornery. I think it’s much worse for women, but our culture is placing increasing emphasis on the need to be attractive and young. Just heard a radio commercial that claimed whiter teeth make you appear 13 years younger, which prompted 2 thoughts: 1) It took me 55 years to look 55 years old, and I don’t want to look younger and 2) What an oddly specific number of years to associate with “whiter” teeth without even saying how white. Anyway, Your post has a provocative point about how none of use in the middle class can be smug about being that far away from being homeless, but I was just drawn to the other subtext. Not that fear of growing old is all that new–in classic Disney children’s movies, the villain seems often to be a powerful woman (weak women are more attractive) who is also not adjusting well to aging …

    1. I think the “fading away” is a combination of things…certainly this economy, riddled with age discrimination, doesn’t help!

      One reason I think seriously about returning to Canada in retirement is to avoid medical bankruptcy, a very real fear here. I fear old age poverty and am doing everything I can think of to avoid it. Jose and I save a lot of our income for retirement, (should we live so long and be healthy), and this means cutting back on plenty of more luxurious pleasures. You can’t have both unless you’re really wealthy.

  4. Cindi

    When I went through my divorce, my husband kicked me out of the home, changed the locks and told me if I ever set foot inside the doors, he would kill me. I had no place to live. My father and sister wouldn’t let me stay with them because they felt it was my fault my husband was beating me. Yeah, right! I slept in my car. I met a man in a restaurant (who later became my 2nd husband, we’ve been together for 31 years now) who said I could stay at his home. He snuck me into his bedroom at night but when his grandmother heard us, she kicked the both of us out. We continued to sleep in my car.
    Eventually, I won my divorce case (it was solely my money that was the downpayment on the marital domicile) and all of my money was restored to me. In the interim DH & I managed to rent an apartment, so my daughters and I had a place to live. Eventually, we bought a home. To this day, each and every night when I go to sleep, I am so thankful to have a comfy bed to lay in, a roof over my head and food on the table. You have no idea how important just those basic needs are until you lose them, even through no fault of your own.

    Be kind to the homeless, because one day, it just may be you!

    1. Nice first husband. Jesus. So sorry you went through such hell.

      I moved to the U.S. from Canada at 30 and married an American man when I was 35 — who walked out on me two years later at 10:00 pm on a Wednesday night. I had no job, no income and no friends here. I did have (thank God) a very tough pre-nup as it was also my family money that had created the down-payment for our apartment — the one I still live in and own with my second husband.

      I wish more women were better prepared, mentally and financially, for the holocaust of divorce. I also came from a family that would never have allowed me back to their homes so I knew I had to protect myself in every possible way.

      Glad you are happy, safe and thriving again.

  5. I’m glad this bishop tried to bring the cultural issues of homeless (including but not limited to suffering and non-belonging) and as you said, making the invisible visible to his congregation. Frankly mormons can culturally suck at acknowledgement of anything outside their realm of experience when they are the majority, which irritates the hell out of me (and is one of the many reasons I’m thrilled to be out of Utah). Luckily people like this bishop are working to change it.

    Thanks for this post. A timely reminder for both gratitude and perspective this season, as well as a reminder of our responsibilities to each other. I needed it.

  6. Wow.. that is an incredible story. I am not surprised by the children’s reactions– One of my nieces asked “how do people become homeless?” and after I’d explained all the different things that can happen and that it doesn’t make a person BAD she was on a mission to do something about it. She told all my other nieces and nephews as well. My Sister in Laws were pissed because they didn’t think it was appropriate for children to learn about such things, I never understood their reasoning.

  7. Such a provocative post. When I was in Muslim Azerbaijan, I saw such a difference in how the old, poor, and infirm are treated- and more respected, rather than discarded. It really caused me to question what affluent societies value and why. This is another brilliant way to ask the same questions. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. Reblogged this on Totally Inspired Mind… and commented:
    This is a fantastic story by Caitlin Kelly shared from her wonderful blog Broadside. Makes me realize I need to send some of the things I have been writing here and on The Political Think Tank to Mayor Villeagosi and the mayor of Orange County who isn’t doing a very good job.

    Paulette Le Pore Motzko

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