'Homeless Jesus' statue at Fargo church prompts 911 calls

FARGO -- Emergency crews have responded at least twice since a "Homeless Jesus" statue was set up about a month ago in front of First Lutheran Church in downtown Fargo.

FARGO - Emergency crews have responded at least twice since a "Homeless Jesus" statue was set up about a month ago in front of First Lutheran Church in downtown Fargo.

The bronze depiction of Jesus huddled on a bench looks so much like a sleeping homeless man that passers-by have notified church staff and emergency crews, reporting that the "person" needed medical help.

Fargo Fire Department crews have responded at least once to the statue at 619 Broadway Ave. N. since it was installed June 4.

Battalion Chief Dane Carley said emergency crews treat every call as an emergency, even if they think they're being sent to a statue.

"There's a fairly high percentage of calls downtown that turn out to be someone taking a nap," Carley said.


Fargo police Sgt. Kevin Pallas said the police department has responded to at least two calls, one on Sunday, July 3, and another the week before.

"It's not a common call. It just shows we have concerned citizens who are willing to make the call," he said. "That's encouraging."

The Rev. Laurie Neill said the church's staff was expecting a few 911 calls about the statue based on similar calls in other cities where the statue has been installed.

A cast of the statue in Hamilton, Ontario, prompted some 911 calls.

"Thanks to those who reported someone laying out in the cold, thankfully it's the 'Homeless Jesus' statue," Hamilton's paramedic service tweeted in January.

Neill said the day after First Lutheran unveiled "Homeless Jesus," a Sanford Medical Center employee walked by and asked a church employee if they were aware there was "a homeless man sleeping on your bench."

She said the church's staff was told another time that there had been a dead man on the bench on its front lawn for a few days.

"I wish I could hear their reactions when they find out it's a depiction of Jesus," Neill said.


Carley said receiving calls about people lying down in public areas is fairly common. He said people sometimes don't check to see if who they're calling about actually needs help because they'll be driving by without having time to stop.

Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, who designed the statue, installed the first one at the University of Toronto in 2013. Casts of the statue have been installed in other cities, including Dublin and Detroit.

Pope Francis blessed the art in Rome in 2013, and officials in London rejected an application to install a cast of it near Westminster Abbey in April.

Neill said people have largely understood that the statue is meant to ask people if this depiction of Jesus would be welcome, and to challenge how people think about homelessness. She said one person left an anonymous note tucked underneath the statue's head, "a thank you note to Jesus," she said.

"We've had very, very positive comments," Neill said.

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