About his original decision to go undercover as a homeless man, Bishop Musselman told the Deseret News, “As a bishop, I try to always be as giving as I can, and I was surprised at my own inability to have compassion. . . . I thought about some ways I could somehow convey the importance of not being critical … and sometimes the best way to do that is through experiences that go beyond just a talk in church. And so I just laid awake many nights just thinking about what I could do, and then this kinda popped into my brain.”
Now, he reflects back on the impact his little ruse had on his ward.
David Musselman can't say his experiment with homelessness three years ago changed many Mormons, but it did change at least one — him.
Flash back to 2013, when Musselman, then bishop of the Taylorsville 4th LDS Ward (congregation), concocted a plan to teach his flock about compassion and empathy. The lay clergyman enlisted a friend, who did makeup for Hollywood films, to transform his clean-cut look into a ragged, dirty, stooped, scarred man of the streets. He then plopped himself down outside his Mormon meetinghouse, along with a box and a sign, asking for food and money.
Even Musselman's wife and five children did not recognize him.
The grizzled man cheerfully called out "Happy Thanksgiving" as some fellow believers averted their eyes and scurried into the building. One attendee told the disguised Musselman he would have to move to the public sidewalk to panhandle, while another invited him inside and, when he declined, brought him a bottle of water.
The chapel filled. The service began. Members found their bishop strangely absent. Fifteen minutes later, the homeless vagrant entered from the back and slowly moved up the aisle to the front. Congregants, even children, watched in startled silence.