A journey of costly transformation

Bruce Nolan of The Times-Picayune tells the story of Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana. It is a story of both trauma and transformation, a story of the scars inflicted by Hurricane Katrina and the spiritual journey that this very storm initiated. Jenkins speaks honestly about his diagnosis of PTSD, and at the very same time he speaks of the spiritual transformation that has connected him to the poor and the forgotten and to cause him to cross both denominational and racial lines for their sake.

Three years after the storm flooded Jenkins’ home and nearly destroyed his city and diocese, the bishop is both damaged and transformed.

He is damaged in that he lives, medicated, with a formal diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He said the condition is worsening, so much so that after nine years in office he has announced he will retire as 10th Episcopal bishop of Louisiana by year’s end.

And he is transformed in that he is no longer entirely the man, priest or bishop he was before the storm.

Jenkins is exploring a new dimension to his Christian vocation.

Its shape is still evolving. And Jenkins acknowledges his journey of discovery might be halting, occasionally off course.

“I don’t know if I’m on the right road, but I think I am,” he said recently. “I know that God is with me on that road. And I hope than in trying to please him, I do. I’m searching for God. And also searching for myself.”

Fundamentally, Jenkins has embarked on a personal re-education in which he seeks to see the city through the eyes of the poor. And that education inevitably yields a new personal mission: to work for citywide racial reconciliation and for purging the social injustices Katrina laid bare.

Before the storm, “I thought Christianity and priesthood were primarily about the cult,” Jenkins said. “And doing the actions correctly — holding my fingers correctly at Mass, not wearing brown shoes when celebrating the Mass. That it was getting all those right.

“And I was missing the larger picture of the dignity of humanity and the world for whom Christ died.”

In the spring of 2007, with that personal transformation well under way, Jenkins preached that imperative to his recovering church.

He said he feared less what might happen to his damaged diocese than what might not happen — that his community of 54 congregations might shirk the need to confront social evils Katrina had exposed.

The Episcopal church’s new mission, he told them, would be not merely to dispense charity, like the New Testament Good Samaritan on the Jericho road, but to remake the road itself and fashion a just civil society — what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. famously called “the beloved community.”

“Let me be clear,” he told a meeting of Episcopal clergy in the fall of last year. “I do not want much — just a revolution. A revolution of values.”

Read it all here.

Past Posts