A London, Ontario church is being present in the midst of the tragedy that has rocked their city.
Photo credit: Tommy Alley
On Tuesday, June 8, thousands of citizens of London, Ont., lined the streets that lead to the mosque where a vigil was held for the victims of the hit-and-run of a Muslim family in that city. Rick Boyes, lead pastor at Gateway Church, a church located near the site of the tragedy, joined in the call for the show of love to the Muslim community. The church used their social media reach to help spread the message about the roadside vigil.
Faith Today spoke to Boyes, who shares his heartbreak and his challenge to the Canadian Church.
My wife and I were in our backyard on Sunday night and I heard all the sirens. I could see all of the emergency vehicles going back and forth and I thought “What on earth is happening?”
I was shocked to learn the next morning about the tragedy, and that it was on purpose. That’s been the feeling of many people, pure shock. In most of our communities in Canada, we think it wouldn’t happen here – that this happens in Chicago and NYC, not sleepy London
We have to pause and realize that it is all right here. Part of all of this is coming to grips with evil in our backyards. Evil is here. Hurt is here. Racism is here. These things are right in front of us. We need to stop being blind to it. We need to understand that the presence of Jesus needs to be equally here and present.
I’m so heartbroken and saddened that some churches right now just want to talk about opening our buildings. I don’t want to talk about opening our buildings. I want to talk about opening our hearts. Jesus never said the metrics of success were numbers in our building. The metric is how we love our neighbours.
I told my staff I never want to count numbers again. I’m done. I’m done with counting attendance. All I want to talk about is how are we reaching our city, because that’s what needs to happen.
We’re a large church. We probably have a little over 2000 people that make Gateway their home. I was thinking the lineup of people would be one or two people every six feet. It ended up being like a Christmas parade. It was four or five people deep for seven kilometers, filling both sides of the street from the crime scene to the mosque.
I’ve never seen so many people in my life in my city for such a demonstration of love and support.
Most people in London would say we’re the most welcoming and inviting city in Canada. We have over 75,000 Muslims in London and the largest mosque in south-western Ontario.
It’s not like we have a small, marginal group of Muslims in the city. Probably 20 per cent of my street is Muslim. We would describe ourselves as a very safe place. Our city is shell shocked.
While I’m sure Islamophobia exists, because racism exists wherever there is humanity, it is not overt in our city. And maybe that’s just ignorance talking. I’m a 57-year old white guy. I understand my own ignorance. I’m trying to listen and understand.
Let’s not discount the family of the killer. There have been two families destroyed. The family of the perpetrator raised the boy and did their best as parents. They are followers of Jesus and they are equally stunned and heartbroken. He’s going to prison for the rest of his life without parole and probably no visitation. Will the world ever, ever accept them again? I’m trying to reach out to this family and offer them some olive branch of love and peace. If it was your son, or your daughter who did it, I can’t imagine the shame, the guilt, the second-guessing your parenting, everything. It’s just horrible.
We need to stop talking about the love of Jesus and demonstrate it. I’m having some yard signs made, with a message of love for all. We’re going to sell them for $10 and the money will go to an agency in the city that is relocating Muslim immigrants into Canada.
I think the evangelical Church has a lot of love, but also a lot of ‘Yeah but….’ And people saying, ‘We can’t do that.’ Jesus never showed us any fences. He loved them all and freely and without judgement. We have to wrestle this through afresh. There is a physicality to our theology. We need to be present. We need to be there in our neighbourhoods with our people.
We go to church and walk out and say: ‘I’ve done my Jesus for the week.’ That’s just not working anymore.