Riots in our Pacific City – By Peter Elliott

Published on 16 Jun 2011

Riots in our Pacific City – By Peter Elliott


Not far beneath the surface of this beautiful Pacific city there is a deep rage and thirst for violence that erupted Wednesday night after the last game of the Stanley Cup finals. While I am relieved that the Cathedral building was unharmed, I am deeply troubled both by the looting and senseless destruction and even more by the explanation of its cause.

“Hoodlums and hooligans” is how the rioters were described by many. Indeed their behaviour was all that those words mean. But I cannot help wondering about these mainly younger men: while we can call them names, and while I find their behaviour despicable they are each someone’s child, they went to schools, were taught in our classrooms, they played in our parks, they may well have attended our churches. As I’ve listened to the commentary there are repeated efforts to distance ourselves from ‘them’—but in my view, sadly, ‘they’ are us, at our worst, unmasked. And it didn’t take much.

It was, after all, only a hockey game. But the game was hyped and the crowds were pumped up. From the marketing slogan, “This is what we live for” to the taunts of the crowds both in Boston and Vancouver the game developed an almost mythic quality. Sadly, the violence on the streets Wednesday night mirrored the violence on the ice as players slashed, bit, checked and tripped their ways through the game. And then fueled with alcohol and unable to creatively express deep disappointment, this violence erupted in the streets of downtown Vancouver in a monstrous way and we watched our TVs and computer screens helplessly as cars were overturned and burned, store windows smashed, shops looted, and police sought to control and move the crowd. In other parts of the world, riots signal uprisings of citizens longing for democracy and freedom. In our beautiful city by the sea, riots erupted because the home team lost a hockey game.

I watched most all of the post season hockey games this year: I even had a playful bet with the Dean of Boston’s Cathedral and accordingly I will put on a Bruin’s jersey on Sunday morning and send a cheque to support the ministry of St. Paul’s Cathedral Boston. But earlier this month, we sent a cheque to another Cathedral: we have begun a relationship with the Dean and congregation of Christchurch Cathedral in Christchurch New Zealand. Again this week, earthquakes rocked that city, and one of the last remaining walls of the Cathedral there collapsed leaving not just a church building in ruins but people whose lives have been irrevocably changed. This coming Sunday I will invite others to join me in making a gift to the people of Christchurch New Zealand to be used at their discretion for the building up of their church.

The events of Wednesday night in downtown Vancouver have strengthened my commitment to the work of the church: ministries that seek to form and shape the character of children and young people, being part of a community that seeks to practice forgiveness and learn the ways of compassion are not just optional religious extras in society: this work is vitally important. In a dramatic moment within Luke’s gospel, Jesus beholds the city of Jerusalem: “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!’” (Luke 19: 41). May our commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ teach us the ways of peace. At the early morning Eucharist on Thursday, the congregation offered the prayer from the Anglican Church’s Book of Alternative Services—For the Neighbourhood. The words of this prayer are wonderfully appropriate and I commend them to you:

O Lord our creator, by your holy prophet you taught your ancient people to seek the welfare of the cities in which they lived. We commend our neighbourhood to your care, that it might be kept free from social strife and decay. Give us strength of purpose and concern for others, that we may create here a community of justice and peace where your will may be done, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BAS p. 680)

The Very Rev. Peter Elliott is the Dean and Rector of Christ Church Cathedral Vancouver.

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