Church of the Week: Cathedral of Santo Domingo, Cusco, Peru

Cusco Cathedral was the first "church of the week" here on the Desperate Pastor blog, a series that has now featured 132 different churches.

It is formally named the Cathedral of Santo Domingo and is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cusco. It dominates the expansive Plaza de Armas in Cusco. The lovely Robin and I visited here in May 2009.

It is a Baroque-style cathedral built on the foundations of the palace of the Inca Wirachocha in Cusco. Construction began in 1550, using many stones looted from the site of the nearby Saqsayhuamán fortress, and was completed a century later. It is considered one of the most splendid Spanish colonial churches in the Americas. Among its many impressive features is the altar above, made of solid gold and studded with precious stones, and the central altar of the church, which is covered with silver.

Inside the cathedral are some examples of the Cusqueña school of painting, including a Marcos Zapata painting of the Last Supper with a local specialty, cuy (guinea pig), as the main dish (see detail, below). The painting also depicts bottles of chicha (a brew derived from fermented maize) on the table.

Other striking features of the church are the cedar choir (with carved rows of saints, popes, and bishops, all in stunning detail down to their delicately articulated hands) and the "black Jesus," or Nuestro Señor de los Temblores (Our Lord of the Earthquakes) which tradition says minimized damage to the chapel during a 1650 earthquake. There's non-Christian imagery in Cusco Cathedral, too, created by the natives the Spaniards used as craftsmen, such as figures of pumas, the Inca representation of the earth, carved on the enormous main doors, and the Virgin Mary statue robed in the shape of a mountain.

Adjoining the cathedral on either side are two smaller churches: the Chapel of the Sagrada Familia (on the left when looking at the cathedral) and the Iglesia del Triunfo or Church of Triumph (on the right).

Your Kind of Unique

The estimable Seth Godin, on his excellent blog, says there are two kinds of unique:
Sui generis—one of a kind, the one that defines the genus.

That's the goal of the best kind of marketing. To be the best in the world, because the world is defined by what you do.

The impossible way to do that is to be unique because you're famous. There's only one Oprah, of course, because the thing she's famous for is being famous. There will never be another. Louis Vuitton is in this category, 50 Shades of Grey is, and so is the next hearthrob teen sensation. There is no substitute because the attraction is that this is the famous one, accept no substitutes.

The smart way to do it is to be unique before you get lucky and become famous. Take a listen to an old Talking Heads record or a house designed by Wright early in his career. There were unique before they were famous. This takes more patience, more guts and a lot more weirdness because the thing you're doing is actually interesting before it (if you're lucky) becomes popular. You might not end up as Oprah, but your uniqueness is yours, and it can pay off long before the masses choose you merely because you're the famous one.
This applies not only to individuals, but to churches and church leaders. However, it seems to me that few churches take the time to consider if or how they are unique. They simply do what every other church is doing, and hope people will notice them and join them in their journey of being just like everyone else.

This probably worked better in the days when denominationalism was more prevalent and more positive. First Baptist was unique because it was, well, Baptist....and City Methodist was Methodist, etc. People generally knew what to expect from a Lutheran or Roman Catholic or snake handling church.

Not so much these days. Church leaders do themselves, their members, and their communities a favor if they give careful and frequent thought to "What makes us unique?" Or, put another way, "What can we offer to the people of this community....more so than anyone else? Is it the best preaching and teaching? The most uplifting worship? The most participatory worship? Our children's ministry? Our youth group? Our communion wine?"

I believe every church has something unique to offer, if its leaders will take the time and trouble to recognize it and capitalize on it.

So...what is YOUR church uniquely gifted and/or positioned to offer to a hungry, hurting world?

A Welcome Welcome

Jon Acuff, on his Stuff Christians Like blog, posted the church bulletin "welcome" message from “Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community,” and I couldn't agree more that every church should do likewise. Here's what the Our Lady of Lourdes church bulletin says:
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!
As Acuff says, "Bravo to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community! That should be made into a poster and hung in church offices around the world."


Hearing God

Dallas Willard, author of The Divine Conspiracy and The Spirit of the Disciplines (among others) and professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, is a giant of intellect and communication, and his book, Hearing God, is a fine example of his erudition.

As always, Willard is thorough, reasoned, and biblical in his approach to the question of how we can hear God's voice clearly and develop an intimate partnership with him in the work of his kingdom. I listened to it on audiobook and though it was quite long, it was thoroughly enjoyable and helpful.

Anyone who wants to go beyond a one-sided prayer life and longs to hear from God and follow his guidance should read this book--and perhaps not once, but repeatedly.

Church of the Week: St. Julie Billiart, Hamilton, Ohio

A local treasure here in Hamilton, Ohio, is St. Julie Billiart, a Roman Catholic church on Dayton Street, just two blocks north of the Butler County Courthouse Square.

St. Julie's was formed in 1989 when three parishes--St. Stephen, St. Mary, and St. Veronica--merged into one. The parish is named for the founder of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The former St. Stephen's building dates from 1854, and features a beautiful sanctuary, above.

The baptismal font, above, and the view from the front of the sanctuary looking back toward the entrance (below) are striking.

The church was not originally cruciform in shape, but in 1893 the sanctuary was enlarged and a new transept added.

Along with the 1893 expansion, two Rose windows were purchased for $800, one with Jesus at the center and the other featuring Mary.

A few years later, hand-carved Stations of the Cross figures were commissioned from South Tyrol, Austria. They and the art glass windows lining the sanctuary make a beautiful impression from virtually any angle.

St. Julie's offers services in English and Spanish. The current pastor is Rev. Michael Pucke.

Six Reasons to Prepare Sermons A Month in Advance

I've posted on this blog about writing sermons two weeks in advance (here) and planning an annual preaching calendar (here), so it may not surprise the regular readers of this blog (both of you) that I totally agree with Mark Pierce, in this article on
It’s Tuesday morning early in July. I sit down at my laptop computer and begin planning for the next worship experience at Church Requel. I’m not working on next weekend, five days away. I’m working on August 5th – almost a month away!

Such working ahead does not come naturally to me. In college I was the guy who could type (yes, we used a typewriter back then) his paper the night before. As the pastor of a small church I used to get my week’s work done “just in time”. From many conversations with lots of my pastor friends, I know many of you are also working frantically at the last minute to finish everything for the coming Sunday.

Now that I’m working a month out, I never intend to go back to those pressure-filled days. Here’s 6 reasons why working well in advance of deadlines works so well for me.

#1 – My work is better. Instead of one crack at the sermon, I now have approximately a dozen opportunities to rewrite, rethink, and polish my work. When I do the artwork for the slides, I’m thinking about the sermon. When I copy it into YouVersion LIVE, I’m thinking about how the parishioner might respond. This, I believe, honors the LORD more – giving Him my best offerings. It also benefits my congregation, making the most of those precious 30 minutes each week in the pulpit.

#2 – My work is more focused. If you are a pastor, you know what it’s like staring at the blank screen. There’s nothing worse, especially at the beginning of your work week. I used to waste so much time just trying to come up with what I should be working on. Not any more. I come up with game plans for weeks at a time – at times scheduled for that creative “blank page” project. So when I sit down to start my work I can dig in right away. I’ve also learned the secret of ending my previous work session mid stream so it’s easy to pick right up where I left off.

#3 – My work is more flexible. You might think that this working a month ahead limits my flexibility. I can already hear some who say they wait until the last minute so they can better respond to changes in the congregation’s needs, or societal trends, or the Spirit’s leading. Getting my work done well before deadlines makes me MORE flexible, not less. It’s easier to change and adjust than to create from scratch. And on those few occasions when I have completely changed up a worship service, nothing was lost. The sermon writing and worship planning can always be used on another weekend. As for the Spirits’ leading, He is more than capable of leading 3 – 4 weeks ahead of time!

#4 – My congregation can be more involved. Working well in advance not only is good for me, it’s also great for my congregation. The pastorate is my full-time job. I’m devoted to it 24/7. It’s easy to forget that members of my church have full-time jobs and loads of other family commitments beyond what they give to church. Asking someone to help out with the worship service the week before (or – let’s be honest – the day before) severely limits who can participate.

#5 – More volunteers can serve routinely. One might think that large churches with dozens of staff members must work ahead, while smaller churches can more flexibly get things done at the last moment. My experience of serving both on the staff of a mega-church and as a church planter has convinced me that it’s even more important for the small church pastor to work well in advance. People so want to help. But they need to know what’s coming well in advance so they can schedule their own volunteer time. For example we now have a woman in our church, who completely edits and prints our weekly programs. I give her everything she needs from me – including a detailed semon outline – by Tuesday each week.

#6 – I can better respond to pastoral emergencies. Let’s face it. Leading a small church is not just about writing sermons and planning worship services. It’s also about leadership and shepherding. There are weeks when I have not only taught on Sundays, but also sat beside family members in the hospital, consoled loved ones at a funeral, and led the joyous celebration of a wedding – sometimes all in one week! And the way things usually work out, there will be a board meeting stuck in there too. What’s the response of the last-minute pastor? Grab something… ANYTHING out of the archival files. The response of the work ahead pastor? This prayer of appreciation: “Thank you LORD for providing ahead of time for my needs!”
Look, I know that pastors are insanely busy. Their schedules are unpredictable. That is all the more reason to get--and stay-well ahead in preparing your preaching and worship experiences. I advise an annual preaching plan (subject to revision, of course) and at least two weeks ahead in sermon writing. For the reasons above...and for many more.

How to Steer in a Crisis

Yesterday on this blog, I featured a review of an excellent book on a critical period in Salvation Army history. Entitled 1929: A Crisis That Shaped The Salvation Army's Future, a former general of The Salvation Army, John Larsson told the story of the constitutional crisis of 1929, in which an ailing General Bramwell Booth (son of the Army's founders) resisted efforts by nearly all the movement's highest leaders to bring about a change in leadership and in how the general's successors would be chosen.

The book should be of help not only to those with an interest in The Salvation Army; it also provides a primer of sorts for Christian leaders, boards, and organizations on how to steer through a crisis. The riveting story depicts how most of the Army’s leaders (piloted in large part by the man who would become Booth’s successor, Edward Higgins) got it right in a very difficult situation. In so doing, the book provides many lessons for Christian leaders in times of crisis. Here are just a few of the lessons I took from the book:

1. Go to the source.
Too often in a crisis, everyone talks about a person (or persons) rather than to them. When emotions run high, this tendency (a sinful one, usually) gets worse. The book depicts the Army’s leaders making every attempt to call upon General Booth and speak with him. When they were prevented from doing so, they made appeals to him in writing. Circumstances made much contact impossible, but there seems little doubt that every attempt was made to go to the source.
2. Maintain love and respect.
I have personally witnessed situations in which people, in the midst of a crisis, begin to cast aspersions, question motives, and even conduct character assassination campaigns in the most shameful ways. Sometimes it seems no one is worse than the church at disagreeing without becoming disagreeable, even abusive. But I was struck with how the Army’s leaders, throughout a highly charged atmosphere, consistently expressed sincere love and respect—publicly and privately—for the man who was sure to be most affected by their actions.
3. Follow the rules.
Too often in a crisis I have seen leaders give scant attention to proper conduct and procedure—even when they themselves wrote the rules! Not those Army leaders of 1929. They assiduously strove to make sure that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14:40, KJV), even when those rules made their job much more difficult and their hoped-for ends much less likely.
4. Be circumspect.
Though the High Council of 1929 was the victim of spurious gossip and reprehensible actions, most of the participants refrained from spreading rumor and trying to slander the cause of those with whom they differed. This is too seldom the case in times of crisis.
5. Resist the drawing up of battle lines.
It was only right and fitting, according to procedure, but still it was striking to me that the High Council of 1929 respectfully included the ranking members of Bramwell Booth’s family in their deliberations—most vocally, the general’s wife and daughter Catherine (thought by many to have been the general’s handpicked successor). No one was treated as “the opposition” or “the enemy.” Care was taken to preserve an attitude of prayer, and of everyone being on the same side, difficult as it was.
6. Admit your mistakes and do your best to correct them.
At several crucial points in the crisis of 1929, the Army’s leaders had to “push pause,” in effect, to correct a point of order or address a mistake they had made, even at great cost, personally and financially. But they did it. They chose to be deliberate and painstaking in doing the right thing, rather than pushing and rushing to the desired conclusion.

There are many more lessons to be drawn from that crisis and Larsson's book, I'm sure. But those are the ones that leaped out to me, and which could and should serve as a guide in any crisis that confronts Christian organizations or leaders.

(The photo at top pictures some of the principals in the constitutional crisis of 1929, from left to right: Commissioner Catherine Bramwell-Booth, Mrs. General Booth, General Bramwell Booth, Commissioner Edward Higgins, Commissioner Evangeline Booth)


John Larsson was the general (international leader) of The Salvation Army from 2002-2006. As such, he was privy to historical records and other information about a fascinating and critical period in Salvation Army history: the constitutional crisis of 1929, in which the ailing General Bramwell Booth (second general and son of the Army's founders) resisted efforts by nearly all the movement's highest leaders to bring about a change in leadership and in how the general's successors would be chosen.

In his book, 1929: A Crisis That Shaped The Salvation Army's Future, General Larsson, now retired, weaves a fascinating and insightful account of the background and buildup to the crisis, as well as the crisis itself and the aftermath. Though I admit to getting bogged down a bit in the early explanation of the various deed polls (constitutional documents) that defined the struggle between the Booth family and others, I otherwise found the book thoroughly riveting and enlightening. The appearance in the book of many Salvation Army notables (in addition to the Booths) such as Edward Higgins, Gunpei Yamamuro, Samuel Logan Brengle, and others heightened the historical richness of the book.

Salvationists will, of course, be interested in the significant events that shaped the Army's future and still influence it today. And they, along with non-Salvationists, can enjoy a story that reads like fiction as well as an artful depiction of how godly leaders in sharp disagreement handled and weathered a crisis (some better than others, of course).

As someone who was raised in The Salvation Army, studied Army history, served in its ranks, and read scores of books on the movement's history, I couldn't more highly recommend 1929.

Church of the Week: Veritas Church, Monroe, OH

The lovely Robin and I worshipped yesterday (and I preached) at Veritas Church just off Cin-Day Road in Monroe, Ohio.

It's a fine church (and one I featured before in this space, in this post) led by my friend Chris Russell...who was on vacation this weekend. But he still gave the announcements and introduced me (quite generously) video.

I love the casual, laid back feel and the warm, welcoming fellowship. The worship singing set was very ably led by a band of eight or so musicians.

And the preaching--well, let's just say the church was kind and forbearing.

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Preach Better

This looks good:

The Preach Better Sermons Tour promises great content, a Chick-fil-A lunch, and a copy of Andy Stanley’s newest book, Deep and Wide. HERE is the website.

Beauty in the Mess

You must read David Santistevan's post entitled "Messy Ministry and the Beautiful Grace of God" on ChurchMag. You must. Seriously. Read it. Go here and read it. Just in case you missed it: read

An Altar in the World

Barbara Brown Taylor's book, An Altar in the World (A Geography of Faith), is a rich, beautiful book.

In it, she relates twelve answers to a question asked of her long ago: "What is saving your life right now?" She says in the introduction,
What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth....trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.
Thus, she offers twelve spiritual practices, exercises "in being human that requires a body as well as a soul," and each of which she says helps her live with her "longing for More." The chapters are:
The Practice of Waking Up to God (Vision)
The Practice of Paying Attention (Reverence)
The Practice of Wearing Skin (Incarnation)
The Practice of Walking on the Earth (Groundedness)
The Practice of Getting Lost (Wilderness)
The Practice of Encountering Others (Community)
The Practice of Living with Purpose (Vocation)
The Practice of Saying No (Sabbath)
The Practice of Carrying Water (Physical Labor)
The Practice of Feeling Pain (Breakthrough)
The Practice of Being Present to God (Prayer)
The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings (Benediction)
An Altar in the World has already begun to influence me. For example, on the way home today from a meeting, I took a new way, an unknown way, in a conscious effort to make the journey a sacramental experience. The chapters about those practices that are already a part of my spiritual practice (prayer and Sabbath, for example) were no less interesting and helpful, as they also encouraged and enriched me in those experiences.

Some of the portions I highlighted:
Many of the people in need of saving are in churches, and at least part of what they need saving from is the idea that God sees the world the same way they do (pp. 6-7).

All good things cast shadows. Do we build God a house so that we can choose when to go see GOd? Do we build God a house in lieu of having God stay at ours? Plus, what happens to the rest of the world when we build four walls--even four gorgeous walls--cap them with a steepled roof, and designate that the house of God? What happens to the riverbanks, the mountaintops, the deserts, and the trees? What happens to the people who never show up in our houses of God? (p. 9)

In biblical terms, it is wisdom we need to live together in this world. Wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right. Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right (p. 14).

I have an easier time loving humankind than I do loving particular human beings (p. 27).

Reverence can be a pain (p. 32).

Deep suffering makes theologians of us all (p. 42).

This is the central claim of the incarnation--that God trusted flesh and blood to bring divine love to earth (p. 48).

God loves bodies. I mean that in some way that defies all understanding. God means to welcome risen bodies and not just disembodied souls to heaven's banquet table. The resurrection of the dead is the radical insistence that matter matters to God (p. 62).

While many of [Jesus'] present-day admirers pay close attention to what he said and did, they pay less attention to the pace at which he did it (p. 66).

I learned to pray the way a wolf howls (p. 110).

According to the rabbis, those who observe Sabbath observe all the other commandments. Practicing it over and over again they become accomplished at saying no, which is how they gradually become able to resist the culture's killing rhythms of drivenness and depletion, compulsion and collapse (p. 134).

The most ordinary things are drenched in divine possibility (p. 201).
As I said, a beautiful book. I'm glad I read it. I highly recommend it.

Church of the Week: Hamilton-Richmond Pentecostal Church, Hamilton, OH

It's for sale:

I don't know if it's stopped operating or not. If so, it has only been recently.

A friend once told me it was a snake-handling church, at least at one time. I've long wanted to stop in but never have. If I missed my last opportunity, I'm disappointed.

Oh, and since it must be one of the last churches in the area to have only an outhouse (it once had two, but one collapsed a year or two ago), it's likely to be a tough sell. I'm guessing any new owner would have to install actual indoor plumbing. Bummer. Otherwise I might be interested.

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Dante, Hell, and LEGOs

This is impressive. Romanian artist Mihai Marius Mihu has created a fun series of LEGO sculptures to represent Dante's nine levels of hell. Here's Limbo:

For the others, go here.

Get a Life Outside the Church

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her fine book, An Altar in the World, says,
Many years ago now I met with the other clergy in my small town on a monthly basis. We whined a lot, as most clergy do, about how hard our jobs were. We also encouraged one another, pooling our wisdom about how to keep our sense of vocation alive.

I felt most deeply for my Baptist colleague, whose religious tradition compelled him to preach three different sermons every week without falling behind on all the other tasks of keeping a medium-sized church going. If he stayed home until noon to work on his sermons, people complained that he was not available. If he came to the office to work on his sermons, people knocked on his door all morning long. What saved this guy, as far as I could tell, was the clown outfit in his closet. On his day off, he put it on and went wherever he could make people laugh: children's hospitals, nursing homes, charity benefits. Without the makeup, he was a pretty serious fellow, so it made perfect sense that his exercise in freedom required a wild orange wig. One day he was telling us about his Saturday gig when the Presbyterian among us interrupted him.

"I just figured out what I'm missing," he said. "I mean, what the rest of you have that I don't. All of you do something else besides church." He was right. The Methodist was a volunteer fireman. The Catholic taught Italian at a community college. I wrote books. All of us were committed to parish ministry, which was our main vocation. What allowed us to keep answering the call to do it, however, was knowing that there was something else we could do too.
I hope you recognize--and reflect in your life--the wisdom in those words. I honestly believe that having at least some kind of life outside the church is a MAJOR self-care issue. It is a MUST for your mental and spiritual health. In those times when your field of ministry is more struggle than celebration, it can be a literal lifesaver to have a pursuit, an escape, that will remind you that God is still good, you're not useless (at least not totally), and some things in your life still work.

So join the Clown College. Or the community orchestra. Or the gardening club. Or my fan club. It'd be nice to have somebody else attend the meetings.

Sherlock Holmes Can Help You Read and Study the Bible

As a fan of the Bible--and of Sherlock Holmes--this post by Eric McKiddie hit the mark for me:

10 Tips on Solving Mysterious Bible Passages from Sherlock Holmes