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The Tale of Pastor Jeremiah Steepek and the Homeless Man

Circulating message tells the tale of a newly appointed pastor who posed as a homeless man before meeting his congregation for the first time. The message features a photograph that it claims shows Pastor Steepek dressed as the homeless man.

homeless man asks for help, on black background close-up

© Olga Yastremska

Brief Analysis
The story remains unsubstantiated and is likely to be just a religious parable created to illustrate an idea. The image does not show a Pastor Steepek, but rather an actual homeless man in Richmond, Surrey. Moreover, the only references to the alleged Pastor Steepek are those in the circulating message itself.  The idea for the story may have been derived from the experience of Tennessee Pastor Willie Lyle, who lived as a homeless person for a week and later used the experience in a sermon to his new congregation.

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Pastor Jeremiah Steepek (pictured below) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service, only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food - NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.

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.


Image Credit: Brad J Gerrard

Detailed Analysis

This message circulates via email and social media posts and has been posted to numerous blogs and forums. The message tells the tale of newly appointed Pastor Jeremiah Steepek who taught a valuable lesson to his congregation by posing as a homeless man before his first service. According to the message, the congregation was rude and judgemental towards the disguised Steepek and none were willing to help him. The story relates how the Pastor was able to use the experience to berate his wayward congregation for their lack of charity and, using scripture, pointedly remind them of their Christian duties.    

The story features a photograph that it claims depicts Pastor Steepek dressed for his role as the homeless man.

However, the story is almost certainly just a modern parable. The photograph used in the message does not depict Pastor Steepek at all, but rather a genuinely homeless man who lives in Richmond, Surrey.   The image was snapped by photographer Brad J Gerrard and can be viewed on his flickr Photostream and elsewhere on the Internet.  Brad describes the photograph on an October, 2011 tumblr post:
I was walking down the street in Richmond, saw this man talking to someone, could see he was quite a picture in the making. On the way back, when he was free I had a short conversation with the gentleman and he agreed to let me photograph him. I liked the result. He was very friendly
The author of the message apparently saw fit to take a copy of the image and re-purpose it for his or her own needs.

Moreover, I could find no references to a Pastor Jeremiah Steepek other than in the circulating message itself. If he were the head pastor of a 10000 member church, then he would almost certainly have garnered at least a few references and reports. And, at least some news media outlets would have likely reported such a story.

Thus, its seems likely that there is no Pastor Steepek and the events described in the message are fictional.

That said, it seems plausible to suggest that the piece was inspired by the real-life story of pastor Willie Lyle of Clarksville, Tennessee. Soon after being appointed as the new pastor of Sango United Methodist Church, Lyle had a dream in which he believed God instructed him to live as a homeless man for a week.  He was able to use his experience for a sermon on the following Sunday. The LeafChronicle reports:
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.

The sermon title was “The Least Used Parts of the Body” and based on I Corinthians 12:12-15. According to Pastor Lyle, “Often the least used parts of the body are the ones that mean the most, like our heart and mind. We need to understand that there are no small or least used parts in the body of Christ.
“Too many of us only want to serve God one hour each week. That doesn’t cut it. That is not God’s plan.”

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 200 people gathered that morning, he went from looking like a homeless person to the new pastor of the congregation.

One wonders why the author of the Pastor Steepek story chose to invent a scenario and steal a picture to go with it when the real life story of Pastor Willie Lyle is a lot more interesting and considerably more credible.

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Last updated: July 24, 2013
First published: July 24, 2013
By Brett M. Christensen
About Hoax-Slayer

Homeless Man, Ricmond, Surrey
Brad J Gerrard Photography
Sango UMC's new pastor lives as a homeless man before installation