By Kirk Petersen

The Rt. Rev. Charles Edward Jenkins III, whose life and episcopacy were transformed by one of the worst natural disasters in American history, died of pancreatic cancer on April 9 at the age of 69.

Jenkins, a conservative who advocated against dividing the Episcopal Church, was the X Bishop of Louisiana in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home and much of New Orleans. In reporting his death, the local NOLA.com website wrote:

Safely evacuated but alone in Baton Rouge, he saw televised images of thousands of suffering New Orleanians, mostly Black people, stranded for the better part of a week at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

The sight of their misery almost broke him, he said later. It compelled Jenkins, a white man in a majority-white church, to face systemic racial and economic inequities that he had seen in New Orleans but not appreciated. As national relief money poured in, Jenkins launched ministries that put the Louisiana diocese into new work such as building houses, running medical clinics and forging new relationships with African American neighborhoods and ministries.

Under his leadership, the diocese founded Jericho Road, a nonprofit homebuilder that has built or rehabilitated hundreds of homes in low-income neighborhoods in New Orleans and vicinity.

Bishop Jenkins was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder related to the hurricane, and cited this when announcing in 2008 that he would step down at the end of 2009.

In a TLC article about his unsuccessful candidacy for presiding bishop in 2006, Jenkins said “We all saw that what existed in New Orleans prior to Katrina was far off the mark of God’s will for creation. Therefore, the church in Louisiana is about the work of transformation. We are trying to give opportunity for the betterment of lives and the building of a better New Orleans that respects the dignity of every human being.”

Jenkins was a traditionalist on issues of sexuality, and in 2003 voted against consecration of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop. But he also worked with more liberal bishops at a pivotal meeting in 2007 to try to defuse the potential for dividing the Church.

E. Mark Stevenson, currently the presiding bishop’s canon for ministry within the Episcopal Church, served as canon to the ordinary for Bishop Jenkins. He called Jenkins “one of the greatest men I have ever known” in a Facebook post:

He had an ability to think and act strategically in the face of personal or systemic anxiety that is far too rare in these days. He became a champion for the oppressed, a crusader for justice, and a seeker of the Beloved Community. He was prayerful to the depths of his being. He was, and is, a child of the Living God.

Jenkins was a 1976 graduate of Nashotah House seminary, and was ordained by the man he would later succeed as Bishop of Louisiana, the Rt. Rev. James Brown. He was elected bishop coadjutor in 1997, and became bishop diocesan upon Brown’s retirement in March 1998.