Prayer still alive in Canada
by Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
Does prayer still have a future in Canada? Canadians are so private about their spiritual practices that it is often hard to tell if anyone is still praying. At the 50th BC Leadership Prayer Breakfast in April, keynote speaker Dr. Angus Reid gave us the latest Angus Reid Institute results from polling 1,500 Canadians on prayer. Dignitaries including Premier Christie Clark and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson brought greetings to over 1,000 BC leaders at the Vancouver Hyatt Regency.
Angus Reid, a well-respected Canadian pollster, informed us that while weekly church attendance has dropped from 56 per cent in 1966 to 15 per cent, 85 per cent of Canadians still pray, at least occasionally. Reid found about 40 per cent of Canadians have remained relatively constant in weekly prayer over the past century. Of Canadians who pray frequently say, 70 per cent say their prayers are answered always or often. Frequent pray-ers, said Reid, focus more on thanksgiving in prayer, than just asking for help. Contrary to some snobbish stereotypes, he also found university-educated Canadians (33 per cent) are more likely to pray daily than high school dropouts (26 per cent). Reid’s data showed new immigrants are twice as likely to be frequently prayers as native-born Canadians. This confirms my experience that new immigrants are much more open to the gospel and attending church than often jaded Canadians who come from a Christian heritage. It is no wonder that, according to Jonathan Bird of the Vancouver Consultation, one third of Vancouver churches conduct their worship in languages other than English.
Of particular interest was Reid’s discovery that childhood prayer greatly shapes one’s likeliness for praying as an adult: “If you prayed frequently as a child, the chance that you would be a non-prayer today is seven per cent. If you didn’t pray as a child, the odds you would be a frequent prayer today are six per cent.” This reminds me as to how faith survived in Russia during 70 years of atheistic communism. The key was grandparents who taught their grandchildren how to pray even when their children were officially forbidden to attend Sunday School. Many Canadian parents have bought into the tragic idea that it is better to not expose children to religion or church until they are adults, when they can ‘make up their own mind’. Though I did not meet Jesus until age 17, I was blessed to be taught to pray as a child by my mom, as well as in Sunday School. I linked prayer with remembering one’s family before going to sleep, and in saying grace at the dining room table when my Nana came to visit.
Francis and Judith MacNutt, founders of Christian Healing Ministries, have observed people who are only taught set prayers as children find it difficult to pray spontaneously as adults. They recommend we teach our children to pray both with set and spontaneous prayers. Being converted through the Jesus Movement revival, I was exposed to a level of spontaneous, heart-felt public prayer that was previously unknown to me as an Anglican. I had never seen other young people pray out loud in a youth group. Their intimacy in group prayer was very attractive to me. My prayer life, which had largely faded, became vibrant and daily. I had never imagined that a person could have that kind of personal relationship with God. During this time, I heard for the first time about praying in the Spirit, and received prayer for this infilling, something I received seven years later. Since that time, I have prayed daily both with my mind in English, and in the Spirit. I have learned over the years that everything needs to run on prayer – our own efforts will always fall short, and God is waiting for us to cry out to him for breakthrough. I don’t want prayer to die out in our beloved Canada. Imagine how we might shape the future if we invest in helping the new generation learn how to pray. If we will prayerfully strengthen the new generation, then prayer will have a Canadian future.
Lord, teach us to pray.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird is Rector at St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver, Anglican Mission in Canada, and author of Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit.