Claim: New pastor secretly poses as homeless man, then reveals himself to unsympathetic congregants.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, July 2013]
As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation...."We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek"... The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation.....The homeless man sitting in the back stood up... and started walking down the aisle... the clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him.... he walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment.... then he recited
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 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.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning... many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame... he then said... Today I see a gathering of people... not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples... when will YOU decide to become disciples? He then dismissed service until next week... Being a Christian is more than something you claim. It's something you live by and share with others.
Origins: This tale about a pastor who goes "undercover" as a homeless man is reminiscent of an urban legend based on the true story of an experiment conducted for a social psychology class at Princeton University in 1970, in which seminary students were sent on urgent assignments designed to take them past an actor posing as a person in need of assistance. Researchers measured whether (and how) students interrupted their pressing tasks to render help, and analyzed the results.
In the story reproduced above, the actor portraying a homeless man is no psychology researcher, however — he's Jeremiah Steepek, the new head pastor of a very large
But as for this particular version of the "incognito clergyman" tale, it appears to be a fabricated story. No one has yet identified a real pastor by the name of Jeremiah Steepek (or a similar variant of that name) or found any church, large or small, headed by a pastor with that name. Nor has anyone been able to verify the event described, even though it was supposedly witnessed by several thousand congregants.
Additionally, the photograph of "Pastor Jeremiah Steepek" that accompanies the online version of this story is complete unrelated to the narrative: it's actually a picture of an unidentified homeless man snapped by photographer
Pastor Willie's wife, Suzette, dropped him off in downtown Clarksville early Monday morning,
Early morning on June 23, Willie lay under a tree on the church lawn covered up by a big overcoat. He still had not shaved or combed his hair. He wondered how many people would approach him and offer him food, or a place to sit inside an air conditioned room, or just see how they could help. Twenty people spoke to him and offered some type of assistance.
While he preached, his daughter-in-law cut his hair and his daughter helped shave off his scruffy beard. He changed shoes, and beneath the overcoat, he was wearing his Sunday clothes. He put on a tie and his suit coat, all the while continuing to preach his message. Before the
The sermon title was "The Least Used Parts of the Body" and based on
"Too many of us only want to serve God one hour each week. That doesn't cut it. That is not God's plan."
At least five people asked David Musselman to leave the church property in Taylorsville, some gave him money and most were indifferent.
He said he disguised himself as a homeless man to teach his congregation a lesson about compassion. To make his appearance more convincing, he contacted a Salt Lake City makeup artist to transform his familiar face to that of a stranger not even his family recognized.
"The main thing I was trying to get across was we don't need to be so quick to judge," Musselman said.
He received varied reactions to his appearance at church, he said.
"Many actually went out of their way to purposefully ignore me, and they wouldn't even make eye contact," he said. "I'd approach them and say, 'Happy Thanksgiving.' Many of them I wouldn't ask for any food or any kind of money, and their inability to even acknowledge me being there was very surprising."
Bishop Musselman told only his second counselor that he would be disguised as a homeless man. The bishop purposefully walked to the front of the chapel and sat in the front row at the beginning of sacrament meeting. After his counselor's talk, the bishop had his counselor lean forward over the stand and he asked through a whisper if he could say a few words.
The novel begins on a Friday morning when a man out of work appears at the front door of Henry Maxwell while the latter is preparing for that Sunday's upcoming sermon. Maxwell listens to the man's helpless plea briefly before brushing him away and closing the door. The same man appears in church at the end of the Sunday sermon, walks up to "the open space in front of the pulpit," and faces the people. No one stops him. He quietly but frankly confronts the congregation — "I'm not complaining; just stating facts" — about their compassion, or apathetic lack thereof, for the jobless like him. Upon finishing his address to the congregation, he collapses, and dies a few days later.
That next Sunday, Henry Maxwell, deeply moved by the events of the past week, presents a challenge to his congregation: "Do not do anything without first asking, 'What would Jesus do?'" This challenge is the theme of the novel and is the driving force of the plot. From this point on, the rest of the novel consists of certain episodes that focus on individual characters as their lives are transformed by the challenge.
Parrish, Tim. "Tenn. Pastor Goes Undercover As Homeless Man for Week." WBIR-TV [Knoxville, TN]. 8 July 2013. Stevens, Abby. "Mormon Bishop Disguises Himself as Homeless Man ." Deseret News. 27 November 2013.