Go Ahead, Stare

In late 2023, The Washington Post decided to publish previously unpublished graphic images of the aftermaths of mass shootings. Understandably, reaction to the decision was mixed. Some believed it added to the trauma already suffered by people directly affected by these heinous acts, but others—including some people directly affected—hoped the gruesome images would shock the public into taking action to avoid these shootings in the future.

Whatever the reaction to this decision, it’s clear that visuals carry an emotional punch that words sometimes fail to deliver.

Effectively communicating injustice is particularly tough. Many of us have never experienced injustice up close. Here’s an idea for a visual sure to spark some curiosity, maybe some questions, and, if you’re lucky, enough uncomfortableness to motivate us to action. 


Who’s Sleeping in My Church?

The idea is simple: in your church narthex or lobby or near the entrance—wherever most worshipers will pass through—recreate the scene in the picture with as much realism as you can (consider using pillows for the human figure). Don’t post any explanation or station someone nearby to explain. Let those gathering wonder for a bit.

In the worship folder or perhaps as part of the message, refer to the scene and wonder with each other, young and old:

  • Have you ever come across people who are homeless? If so, do you know their names?
  • Why do you think they are unsheltered?
  • Do you think they have family?
  • Do they, or did they, go to school or have a job?
  • Are they members of a church? Do they or would they attend our church?
  • Where do they go to take a shower or to get something to eat?
  • Where would this person go if they get sick?
  • What should our city, our church, or we as individuals do about those of us without adequate shelter?
  • Is there something that we think might help them but might actually make the situation worse?
  • Have you ever been homeless, or can you imagine what it might take for you to become homeless?
  • What do you think Jesus would want us to do if we see someone without a home?


Perhaps after introducing this visual and reflecting on the questions you can invite someone who works with the unhoused in your community to help you better understand the challenges and unjust or failed systems that lead to homelessness. Then consider how your church can work to bring about change.


Dean Heetderks is a member of Covenant Christian Reformed Church in Cutlerville, Michigan, and art director of Reformed Worship. Show and tell him about your experiences at dean.heetderks@gmail.com.

Reformed Worship 151 © March 2024, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.