Pentecostal Bishop G.A. Mangun passed away yesterday at the age of 91. Mr. Mangun, who was born and raised in Indiana, moved to Alexandria in 1950 and became the pastor of a small church near Bayou Rapides. Sixty years later, that church is one of the most well-known Pentecostal churches in the nation, representing one of the largest congregations in the State of Louisiana.

When Bill Clinton was President, he attended worship services at the church on a number of occasions; he seemed to be a fan of their truly incredible theatrical passion play, Messiah, which was a state-of-the-art performance that included a laser light show, pyrotechnics, and a menagerie of live animals. President Clinton recently called Bishop Mangun, after he suffered a stroke less than a month ago.

Even though my family and I are not and have never been members of the Pentecostal church, we, like many others in Central Louisiana, attended Messiah every year (I hope they revive it soon). Peter Jennings even filed a national news report on the performance on ABC; seriously, it was that good. It warranted national attention and acclaim.

On a personal note, when my father died nine years ago, the Mangun family drove over to our home the very next day (I had only arrived from Houston hours before) to offer their personal sympathy and support. We weren’t members of their church, but it didn’t matter to them. They simply wanted to provide us with comfort and prayer in the raw aftermath of a tragic death in our family. I have no doubt that the Manguns have done the same thing for countless other families in our community, quietly and without any desire for praise, attention, or commendation. To me, it wasn’t merely an ecumenical gesture; it was an indication of a real compassion for their neighbors, a compassion that extends to people regardless of religion, race, or political ideologies.

I have a degree in Religious Studies, perhaps the only academic discourse in which the more you learn, the less you know.

But without a doubt, I believe that empathy- that is, the capacity to understand both the pains and the joys of others- is the most important and powerful human emotion. Bishop Mangun, I believe, actively practiced empathy.

My deepest condolences to the entire Mangun family.

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