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Vancouver pollster discovers prayer is alive and well in Canada

Vancouver pollster discovers prayer is alive and well in Canada

by Flyn Ritchie

Vancouver-based pollster Angus Reid offered his insights on the prayer habits of Canadians during his keynote address to a 1,000-strong audience at the BC Leadership Prayer Breakfast recently.

On May 8, the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) revealed the contents of the survey, funded and commissioned by ARI itself. The title – Prayer: Alive and Well in Canada – tells much of the story.

These are the key findings:

– 42 per cent of Canadians are involved in at least one prayer related activity, once each week. An additional 44 per cent say they engage in some prayer activity each month.

– Most Canadians (86 per cent) – even those who are inclined to reject religion themselves (57 per cent) – view prayer as enriching for the person who prays.

– Those who pray are more likely to do so at home or in informal settings, rather than at a place of worship.

– Canadians pray for a variety of reasons, but the most common ones are to thank God (71 per cent) and to ask for help (70 per cent).

– Of the people who pray “to thank God,” the majority – 64 per cent – pray on a daily basis, whereas 36 per cent pray just two to three times per month. Conversely, of those who pray “to ask for      help,” 42 per cent pray regularly, and the majority – 59 per cent – pray far less frequently at two to three times per month.

“I think people, when they get into a bind – and all of us get into binds – when someone gets sick, or something totally unexpected happens in our lives, and there’s a point of big uncertainty, a lot of people do it just in case,” Reid said in recent National Post article.

The good news for those who pray more regularly is that they are also answered more often – at least according to them:

The largest number of Canadians (44 per cent) say they can count on a response to their prayers “sometimes.” However, within the group most likely to pray, more than half (53 per cent) say their prayers are either always or often answered, five times the rate reported by those who pray less frequently.

At the BC Leadership Prayer Breakfast on April 22, Reid started by pointing out that the past 50 years have been “tough on religion” (for example, 56 per cent of Canadians attended church weekly in 1966; now 15 per cent do). But then he lightened the tone: “But I did not come here to deliver a pessimistic address because, while religion is undoubtedly important, the litmus test of the faith of Canadians isn’t found only in church attendance. Another lens involves the thoughts and words of Canadians under the heading of this breakfast gathering – that is, under the heading of prayer.

“I welcomed the opportunity to speak with you today because it seems clear to me that the starting point for any assessment of faith in our society must begin with questions about prayer. Prayer is, in many respects, the cornerstone of faith. The act of prayer is our human mechanism for reaching out to a divine, largely unseen power and involves some level of certainty that God, however defined, cares about and listens to us.”

Reid continued, “Looking back through my files over the past 50 years there is a lot of historical survey data on religion and church attendance. But past surveys on prayer in Canada are hard to come by.”

He highlighted several noteworthy findings:

“There is a snobbishness in some circles that the more we know the less we pray. Prayer is a practice of the least educated and by inference least empowered members of our society. Wrong. In Canada, if anything, the opposite is the case. . .

“The second finding explodes another myth – this time dealing with politics. . . . Faith, Christianity and prayer seem to have become the property of the Republican party – just listen to Ted Cruz and even Donald Trump. Some might be tempted to import these perceptions to Canada. But they would be wrong. According to our poll frequent prayers vote in a pattern almost identical to the population in general. Twenty per cent of voters supported the NDP and an almost equal percent of frequent prayers did the same. The same is broadly true for both the Liberal and Conservatives.

“Third thing I’ve learned about prayer in Canada is that the single most important factor which determines whether an adult will pray or not is their experience as a child. When I first looked at the data on this I admit to being awestruck – maybe it’s because one of my favourite hymns is ‘Faith of our Fathers’ – but the cross generational transmission of prayerfulness is massive. If you prayed frequently as a child the chance that you would be a non-prayer today is 7 per cent. If you didn’t pray as a child the odds that you would be a frequent prayer today is 6 per cent. . . .

“The fourth finding from our work on the sociology of prayer is also likely to be the most fascinating. It is this: Prayer works. . . .”
Reid went on to say, “I grew up in a large Catholic family with eight kids,” and he is still an active Catholic. In 2013, Reid was awarded the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice from Pope Francis, the highest honour the Pope bestows upon lay people.

Reid founded the Angus Reid Group in 1979, and Vision Critical in 2003 with his son, Andrew. Since 2014, he has devoted his full-time efforts towards the Angus Reid Institute, a national not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research organization dedicated to providing objective polling data to the the public – at no charge – on a host of critical social, economic and issues.

This and other stories can be found  at

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