The Over-Enthusiastic Volunteer Syndrome

Damaged Spanish Jesus fresco

One of the best characteristics of many Small Churches is that everyone wants to pitch in.

One of the worst characteristics of many Small Churches is that everyone wants to pitch in.

Sometimes that volunteer spirit has great results. Sometimes…not so much.

The split-screen photograph in this post is an especially hilarious example of the not-so-much part.

On the left side is a small fresco of Jesus, painted by Elias Garcia Martinez in the 19th century. It has hung on the wall of the Santuario de Misericodia church in Borja, Spain for over 100 years.

It’s a beautiful painting that became seriously damaged from weathering over the last century-plus.

In 2012, the granddaughter of the artist decided to donate the painting to a local archive. But when the archivists showed up to assess it, what they found shocked them. Someone had painted over the existing fresco, leaving it looking like the deformed figure on the right side of the photo.

After the desecration was made public, an 85-year-old church member named Cecilia Giménez confessed that she was the unintentional vandal. She’d been upset by the fresco’s wear-and-tear, so she grabbed brushes and paint and went to work “fixing” it.

Not being an artist herself (oh sure, it’s obvious now!), she told them the project “got out of hand” almost immediately, so she kept adding more paint in a futile attempt to repair her repair.


Only in a Small Church

When I read about this incident a few months ago, I immediately had one response…

…only in a Small Church.

If you’ve been in a Small Church for very long, you’ve experienced it, too. The Over-Enthusiastic Volunteer Syndrome.

We’ve all dealt with…

  • The musician who’s more passionate than talented
  • The repair-person who’s more likely to break things than fix them
  • The newcomer who promises to be the best helper you ever had, only to disappear as quickly as they showed up.


Adding Insult to Injury

By the way, if you’re thinking it was unkind of me to expose this well-intended elderly lady by telling you her name, I agree. Most news outlets initially left her name out of the story for just that reason.

But recently, this strange saga has taken an even stranger turn. After turning a beautiful fresco into what people have call “Beast Jesus”,  “Werewolf Jesus” and “Monkey Jesus”, the Over-Enthusiastic Volunteer is demanding the church pay her for her work.

You read that right. She wants to be paid!

Why? Well, the news exposure about her faux pas (I think that’s French for Only In a Small Church) has turned the fresco into a tourist attraction.

The tourism has increased church donations. And Cecilia Giménez wants a cut.

That’s right. A cut. Of her church’s offerings. As a reward for vandalizing church property.

So, what can we learn from this twisted tale? Here’s my eight cents:

    1. With some volunteers, we need to hide the paint
    2. When the paint isn’t helping, stop painting!
    3. Innocent mistakes should be treated with grace
    4. Greed should exposed for the sin it is
    5. Perfection is impossible – stop expecting it and you’ll be disappointed less often
    6. Sometimes it’s cheaper to pay a professional
    7. This is why mom says we can’t have nice things
    8. Old, damaged beauty is better than clean, new mediocrity


How about you? Have you had any experience with The Overly Enthusiastic Volunteer Syndrome you can share with us?

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