A supposed faith leader named Pastor Jeremiah Steepek is taking social media by storm. But there's no definitive proof that the man, who is gaining esteem and praise for supposedly posing as a homeless man before meeting his new church congregation, actually exists in the first place.
Despite the uncertainty, Steepek's story has been shared incessantly on Facebook, message boards and through e-mails, but rumor-dispelling websites have, thus far, concluded that the details surrounding the pastor cannot, at present, be substantiated.
If you haven't heard or read the tale, the story that is circulating claims that the preacher "transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor."
An example text that is posted by Hoax-Slayer claims that the preacher arrived at the church 30 minutes before congregants came and that only three people greeted the "homeless" man as he sat in the pews. He asked for money and food, but no one helped, greeting him only with dirty looks.
The story continues:
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.'
From there, Steepek supposedly dismissed the congregation until the next week. While the story, a convicting one, has the power to make readers examine the way in which they treat the homeless and those in need, it seems that some creative license has been taken. Both Hoax-Slayer and Snopes -- two sites that look to dispel myths -- have said that the story is unsubstantiated, with the former claiming that it "is likely to be just a religious parable created to illustrate an idea."
The photo shown along with the message is also not said to be Steepek. In fact, a Flickr image that was posted in 2010 by a man named Brad Gerrard features a homeless individual. While this same photo is being circulated with the pastor's story (proponents claim that Steepek is shown), the caption for the three year old photo reads, "This man a popular gentleman in Richmond, agreed to allow me to take his photo."
The man in the picture, according to Gerrard, is named Surrey and he is an actual individual in need -- not a pastor. Plus, there's the additional fact that Richmond is in England, not in the United States.
Reaction to the photo has been swift, as people have taken to Gerrard's Flickr page to notify him of the picture's improper use in telling the Steepek tale. Here are just a few of the responses:
Hoax-busting websites point to another recent story -- that of the Rev. Willie Lyle of Sango United Methodist Church in Clarksville, Tennessee. His real-life tale was recently documented on TheLeafChronicle.com, where the story of his experiment of living four days on the streets is documented. After experiencing life as a homeless man last month, here's how the outlet details Lyle's subsequent actions:
Throughout the week, Willie kept a small journal of what he was experiencing. These notes become the foundation for the sermon he delivered at Sango UMC on June 23, a sermon that caught the congregation off-guard. Only four people at the church knew what Willie was doing.
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.
So, it's entirely possible that Lyle is the basis for the Steepek story. Why the real-life story about the pastor's experiment wasn't simply told isn't known, but it seems that the message and photo spreading on social media, based on what we know, aren't rooted in total accuracy. Snopes notes that there are other past similar stories as well that it might be based on.
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