They are Not just Statistics Opioid Crisis Service of Lament

Squamish Elder Xwechtaal (Dennis Joseph) offered a welcome, a territorial acknowledgement and a powerful Travel Song at Christ Church Cathedral’s Opioid Service of Lament.

“On this date, April 14 of 2016, the provincial health officer of the day, Dr. Perry Kendall declared a public health emergency in relation to the opioid-related overdose deaths. In 2016, the rate of overdose deaths per 100,000 people was 20.4. That rate in 2021 was 43 deaths per 100,000 people.2,224 deaths last year, more than six people dying every day. Every day.

These are the statistics and perhaps if we simply keep them as statistics, we can try to ignore them or avoid them or not make any real eye contact with them. But these are real people. People who are our neighbours.

They are brothers, sisters, parents, children. They are uncles, aunties, teachers, lawyers, friends. They are people who work in grocery stores, coffee shops, offices, universities. They are people who know the streets, walk the streets, drive the streets, or have a fancy home on a street. They are like me, they are like you, they are like those people in our lives whom we love and cherish and appreciate. They are all of this and of so much more. But they are real people. Real people with dreams and aspirations and hopes and fears.

Real people who laughed and cried and wondered how this world could be a better, kinder, gentler place. Real people who sadly probably died on their own even though there are many others who could have tried to help them. They are individuals just like us gathered here today to mourn them and mourn what continues to take place. They are not just statistics.” 

With these preceding paragraphs, Bishop John Stephens began his reflection shared at the Opioid Crisis Service of Lament at Christ Church Cathedral at 2pm on Maundy Thursday, April 14, 2022.

Squamish Elder Xwechtaal (Dennis Joseph) offered a welcome, a territorial acknowledgement and a powerful Travel Song. 

The Lamentation Tree was a significant part of the ceremony—branches drawn on a presentation board with accompanying paper leaves. People attending the service were asked to write the names of victims of the opioid crisis memorial messages on the leaves and then affix them to the tree. The Lamentation Tree was processed into the sanctuary by two members of Providence Health Care, Rejoice Anthony (who is also a Christ Church Cathedral parishioner) and Kate Wilkinson, and placed on the altar before Bishop John’s Reflection. 

Service organizer Sue Cruickshank, ODNW, and the Reverend Alisdair Smith offered prayers, followed by Beth and Rejoice taking turns reading Jan Richardson’s “Blessing When the World is Ending.”

Look, the world
is always ending

the sun has come
crashing down.

it has gone
completely dark.

it has ended
with the gun
the knife
the fist.

it has ended
with the slammed door
the shattered hope.

it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone
the television
the hospital room.

it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break
your heart.

But, listen,
this blessing means
to be anything
but morose.
It has not come
to cause despair.

It is simply here
because there is nothing
a blessing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.

This blessing
will not fix you
will not mend you
will not give you
false comfort;
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.

It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
will come,
gathering itself
about you
as the world begins

A solo quartet consisting of members of the Cathedral Choir under the direction of Rupert Lang punctuated the liturgy with music appropriate for prayer and reflection, culminating in Rupert Lang’s well-known funeral piece, Kontakion.

Photos & story, courtesy Randy Murray.

Feature image on home page: Lamentation Tree on the altar at Christ Church Cathedral, downtown Vancouver.

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