Clergy have pastoral needs, too

Churches and their clergy have played an important role in the rebuilding of New Orleans and the healing of the city’s people. But these clergy are just as vulnerable to the trauma experienced by victims of catastrophe. New Orleans Bishop Charles Jenkins, talks about his experience in an Associated Press article on the pastoral needs of clergy:

The sight of misery all around them — and the combined burden of helping others put their lives back together while repairing their own homes and places of worship — are taking a spiritual and psychological toll on the city’s ministers, priests and rabbis, many of whom are in counseling two years after Hurricane Katrina.

Almost every local Episcopal minister is in counseling, including Bishop Charles Jenkins himself, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Jenkins, whose home in suburban Slidell was so badly damaged by Katrina that it was 10 months before he and his wife could move back in, said he has suffered from depression, faulty short-term memory, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping.

Low-flying helicopters sometimes cause flashbacks to the near-despair — the “dark night of the soul” — into which he was once plunged, he said. He said the experience felt “like the absence of God” — a lonely and frightening sensation.

Churches and synagogues have played an important role in New Orleans’ recovery, supplying money and thousands of volunteers to rebuild homes and resettle families. But an April survey found 444 places of worship in metropolitan New Orleans — about 30 percent — were still closed 20 months after the storm because they were damaged or their congregations scattered.

The story features comments by other clergy and by mental health professionals, too:

For some members of the clergy, Katrina caused a spiritual crisis.

“I found myself praying, `My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ as Jesus did,” said the Rev. Susan Gaumer, whose own home was destroyed and who has also had to help with more problems — and officiate at more funerals — than ever before among her congregants at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. “I felt distanced from God, but God wasn’t the problem. I’m the problem. My prayer was, `My God, my God, why have I forsaken you?’

“Then with some time, healing time and some grieving of my own, and some good checking in with a therapist … my prayer began to be a prayer of thanksgiving, for strength and for what I call the graces of the storm.”

Jenkins, the Episcopal bishop, said he felt that the catastrophe exposed his failure before the storm to do enough to fight such evils as racism, poverty and poor education.

But helping rebuild lives proved to be a life-altering experience, he said: “This is the best time for the most authentic ministry as bishop that I’ve had in my 10 years.”

The whole thing is here.

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