A London home for the controversial Jesus the Homeless sculpture has been found at last – as long as Westminster Council agrees.
The sculpture shows Jesus under a blanket sleeping on a park bench. It is one of 10 produced by Canadian artist Tim Schmalz and was turned down by the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square when the artist approached the church authorities earlier this year.
Now, though, the acclaimed work has been accepted by Methodist Central Hall Westminster (MCHW), which has approached Westminster Council for permission to erect it outside the building.
Superintendent minister Rev Martin Turner said: "We were honoured to be offered the artwork, especially as we will be the first Methodist church to have one world-wide.
"It is very appropriate that Jesus is outside the church and not inside; it will remind us of the heart of Jesus for the poor and marginalised."
Reflecting on the church's position next to the Supreme Court and the Houses of Parliament, he said that it was a "prophetic voice of art".
MCHW has a ministry to homeless people and a close working relationship with The Passage homeless project, focusing especially on Good Friday when homeless people carry the cross in the procession of witness.
Turner said: "There is a space to sit on the bench, right by His pierced feet. This is a most powerful personal experience." He added: "Although we have found a home for Jesus the Homeless, in fact Jesus sleeps on every park bench across the world, God with us."
He stressed that permission had not yet been received. Westminster Council has previously clashed with charities and churches over their support for homeless people, which it says encourages homelessness.
Sculptor Tim Schmalz told Christian Today: "If they reject the Homeless Jesus sculpture, they are rejecting one of the most sacred aspects of Christianity – that when we see the least of these our brothers and sisters, we should see Jesus and act accordingly."
He said that he was "delighted" by MCHW's acceptance of the statue and "chagrined" by St Martin's rejection. "I believed their reasoning was not really well founded," he said.
According to the Church Times, St Martin-in-the-Fields rejected the sculpture because of a rule banning anyone from sleeping or lying down inside the church.
"It would open us to ridicule," said the vicar, Canon Sam Wells. "People would say: 'Jesus does it: why can't I do this?' It sounds trivial, but it is significant that we have a whole-site policy that doesn't allow people to lie down on our site."
He also described placing the statue at St Martin-in-the-Fields as "sending coals to Newcastle".
He said: "We don't need a statue; we are the real thing."
Wells also said it did not represent the reality of being homeless in central London, where more people slept on overnight buses than on benches, and it also "objectified" the very people St Martin-in-the-Fields was trying to help.
"They are called Peter, or Sally; they are not just homeless people, but people with a past, and a future, and an identity. It could be in danger of encouraging stereotypes, and trying to turn people into issues. The homeless are not a different caste. They need to be the chief drivers of their own redemption rather than being objects of pity or concern."
Schmalz told Christian Today: "It's not necessarily bad to objectify the homeless, if it objectifies them as sacred beings."