Reflections from Louisiana

Bishop Jenkins gives thanks for church’s aid, prepares for long-term recovery
October 31, 2005

Editor’s note: Bishop Charles Jenkins, displaced from his diocesan offices in New Orleans, his own home uninhabitable, spoke to Episcopal Life’s associate editor Nan Cobbey from the temporary, but perhaps long-term, loaned offices at St. James Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge. To learn more about specific needs and ways to help the church in Louisiana, the bishop suggests visiting the diocese’s frequently updated website at

In the offices, we had falling water, water through the roof and we will need a mold count.

It depends when they get us power. The water is not drinkable. Nor are you supposed to wash with it. I had to move our freezer and refrigerator out to the street.

Next to the diocesan office, on a block that is mostly owned by the cathedral, is an old Bed and Breakfast called the Glimmer Inn.

One of the most difficult things [we face] is our inability to deal with peoples need to minister. The Episcopal Church is generous. The Episcopal Church has a need to express that generosity and not only with money and gifts but also with presence. We are an incarnational church. We are a sacramental church. We need to be present to one another.

What we hope to do with the Glimmer Inn is establish an urban ministry center. With it, ministry teams can come and be with us in New Orleans. Also, we need an office for our disaster relief folks as they can go to New Orleans… and I haven’t stopped to count how many families of displaced clergy I have.

Absolutely. Our needs are going to be long term. ERD thinks they may be with us eight to 10 years.

God bless the Episcopal Church! The generosity has been incredible.

Where have I not seen it! The promises and the reality of prayers: We had three brothers from the Society of St. John the Evangelist here in the initial days of our trauma. You need to realize that everybody on my staff, including myself, are displaced persons. And some on my staff are homeless. So we are trying to minister to the needs of others, and enable others to minister to the needs of others…

The [brothers] prayed when we could not pray. They prayed for us. They prayed through us. They prayed with us. They maintained the daily round of prayer here [at St. James]. They went to the morgue and were trained and did volunteer work at the Disaster Morgue dealing with the families that came in to identify bodies. But that’s just one example. We’ve had gifts from all over the world. Sunday schools all over the world are making little greeting cards… We are passing those cards out at the shelters. Our shelter here continues to repopulate.

Over 10,000. And the gifts have been pouring in from around the country.

Let me just tell you what we do not need. We do not need any more clothes. The second wave of a disaster is used clothes.

The things that we need right now are

  • Clorox. You can’t buy Clorox around here. That kills mold.
  • We need personal hygiene supplies: antiseptic cream, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, toothbrushes. Those kinds of things.
  • We need ant poison, believe it or not. Fire ants. We are blessed with fire ants and Formosan termites. They will raft up together until they come to something stationary like a house and invade.
  • We need squeegees, with the long handles, so that you can move mud out of a house.
  • We need large chainsaws with extra blades.
  • We will need portable showers and after my experience in New Orleans yesterday, we may need a water filtration system. Portable.

We would prefer that they call here [the St. James office], 225-387-5141, and ask for our disaster relief office. They will tell exactly where to send things and how.

We need teams of right now, self sufficient teams that can come and help. But they need to be self-sufficient. For the longer term, we are going to need cots, and some bedding. I hope we can make the second floor of the Cathedral offices a dormitory. It is obvious that the Glimmer Inn is not going to be sufficient for all of the needs that we have. And that’s where we could use some portable showers as well.

Well, we don’t know. You can see the strain. Baton Rouge is living beyond its capacity. It’s the largest city in Louisiana and we do not know the answer to that question yet. If our experience resembles that of 9/11, then we will have a wonderful renaissance and a great rebuilding. I’m trying to help raise the vision of our business and civic and industrial leaders about how that could be…

Not yet. The entire region depends on New Orleans. The North Shore and so many communities around – people drive into the city to work. All those businesses are gone. If they are going to come back remains to be seen. They are trying to jump start the Port of New Orleans. That’s an important industry, the chemical and petrochemical industry along the river is very important to us. My fear is that we are going to try to do a great deal with gambling – and not that I am necessarily opposed to gambling, but we know it has certain ills. [Building] casinos would produce a great deal of capital in the city immediately … a lot of jobs, but those jobs have low ceilings. I hope we can look for jobs that require skills beyond that … low ceiling. I am going to try to be at the table as soon as I can get back to New Orleans, try to be with some of the mayor’s groups and try to raise that up.

Part of what we saw in the aftermath of Katrina, laid bare, was the horror of the racism and the economic injustice. I would suggest that if the same kind of thing happened in other cities you would see it there as well. I repent of my complicity in it in New Orleans, but I think the church has a prophetic role in the rebuilding of the city.

I do not know what the future of that city is going to be. I intend to be there. I hope to be part of it... and a voice of prophecy … as long as God calls me to be there.

We certainly have learned what it means to live on the generosity of others. We have all done that. We have learned that it is the role of the church not only to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless and tend to the sick, but that we have a role that no one else can do and that is to respect the dignity and hold up the dignity of every human being. I think only the church can do that.

What I would say to other dioceses is to have an emergency plan and don’t have the emergency plan contingent on two or three people as ours was. The two or three people upon whom the plan was contingent were not in New Orleans and could not get there.

I would say to other dioceses to keep careful records and back up their computer systems. Keep those in different places. I would say to other dioceses to maybe keep a duplicate set of vital records -- such as congregational records -- and keep that in a different place.

I would say to congregations, to bishops, to drill into clergy the importance of checking in wherever the bishop and the bishop’s staff are going to be.

I would suggest to every congregation and to every diocese that they very carefully look at their insurance. I am surprised at the number of our clergy who did not have flood insurance for their homes. Most of our clergy did not have it.

Well, we are pairing congregations up with congregations and I just spoke with one this morning and they are going to try to help those clergy out with rebuilding their lives.

I would say more than a couple dozen because you had a group that were affected by the wind from Katrina. Then we had a group affected by the flooding. That occurred the day after Katrina. We thought we had dodged the bullet, then the levy broke. We had a third group affected by Rita. But every church in this diocese will be affected by the demographic shifts in south Louisiana.

Louise and I just bought a little getaway home over on Lake Pontchatrain. The water came through, knocked out the front, went out the back and then came back through. We are dealing with that.

We learned what it means to live by grace. Grace is expressed through the generosity of others. Chad’s [the Rev. Canon Chad Jones] family is living in the nursery of Trinity Church. I am still in a friend’s house. The Rev. Mark XXX is the only person who has his own home now and he bought it since the hurricane.

I think there is a lesson for the whole church in this: that some of the disagreements and arguments that we have and we enjoy so well… they take on their relative importance when you are dealing with issues of life and death, sickness and health, food and shelter, housing and the spiritual needs of the population that has been brought so low.

I would hope that we can apply that same formula of graciousness to one another even when we are not brought low. And look to find perhaps a more creative and grace-filled ways of dealing with one another in our time of disagreement.

In being so humbled and so vulnerable and suffering so much, we have learned anew something of the life of Christ. The difference is we didn’t choose it. That’s an important difference but, theologically, there is a realization of holiness here now that did not penetrate the façade of Louisiana before.

Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia has done something that I never would have thought of. He is such a creative person. He has started a program of loaned executives. So that is how we had Sarah [Bartenstein, a communications professional]. And then Anson Birch, a young man who is in Durham N.C. That has been a wonderful gift.

Our ministry and needs are not only in the short run but in the long run. One of the things that was learned in 9/11 was that when the initial energy begins to wane around a tragedy, that it is the church that will stay and be present. And it is the church that will minister to the needs of those that fall through the cracks. And it is the church that will minister to the needs of the poor and the indigent. We plan to be here for the long haul.

It is through Bishop Packard with ERD. The initial appointment. is for 6 months with the option to renew. Bishop Packard and his people have been so wonderful in coming in and helping us and they have been rotating teams through. But what I want is a person, one person, one face, so we will have a consistent presence. We have asked for a veteran with some skills of self-sufficiency. But we know that we have not even scratched the surface of the pastoral implications of this for our clergy, for the bishop’s staff and for those in our parochial schools. So we want a helper of helpers.

We have put together a diocesan rebuilding committee. The committee will be huge and have various working groups in it will include great numbers of New Orleanians. Many of those decisions are not going to be made by the Episcopal Church. Some are going to be made by FEMA. Some are going to be made by EPA. And I think some are going to be made by structural engineers. Every little parish wants, and is trying hard, to survive. I want enable that, congratulate that, hold that up, but but at some point, where we had a city of 1 million, if we now have a city of 200,000, we are going to have to take a hard look at how our resources are deployed. If, on the North Shore, where we had 200,000, we suddenly have 750,000, we are going to need to move some resources.

At this point, the diocese is paying salaries of displaced clergy if the congregations can not or will not. We are not telling anybody, “Hey you‘ve got to find another job in three months.” Thanks to the generosity of others we are able to keep the faith and the hope alive… even at the very basic level of salaries.

I don't know. But many dioceses have offered temporary placement for clergy. And Canon Bill King in the Diocese of Alabama is coordinating that on our behalf. Some clergy have already self-chosen out-placement. As the reality of things becomes clearer, others may choose it.

Well, I hope you hear how grateful we are… and I hope you hear how wonderful the Episcopal Church has been to us. We hope that our experience here in Louisiana will be of value.

We realize that many have a need to minister. We realize our incapacity to enable that. We are moving there. This is a different situation than a normal disaster, where you don’t have standing water for example, and chemical sludge. What we ask for from people is continuing patience... and to join us in the long-term rebuilding.