Pastor Bob Birch: a life of prayer
by Rev Dr. Ed Hird
The late Pastor Bob Birch impacted Canada, and specifically the Greater Vancouver area, during his almost 100 years, from 1907 to 2007. I will never forget the first time that I attended a prayer meeting with ‘Pastor Bob’. The depth of his prayers astounded me. For most of his ministry years, Birch would never miss his 2 am to 6 am morning prayer time. Even younger men, one third of his age, could not keep up with Birch’s prayerfulness throughout the night watches. I can still vividly remember him in his mid-80’s leading a Good Friday Cross Walk procession, carrying a huge cross on his shoulders. Perhaps his longevity comes in part from his passion for prayer-walking throughout the Greater Vancouver streets. Fittingly for his retirement, he was given a pair of walking boots. “Pastor Bob,” said Pastor David Carson, “has become a legend all over Canada for his prayer life, his pioneering acts and for his prophetic stand for righteousness.”
As a spiritual father (and grandfather) of renewal throughout BC and Canada, Birch raised up thousands of spiritual sons and daughters. He was the founding Inter-Varsity (IVCF) worker in 1930 at the University of British Columbia. In 1966, he went down to hear the Rev. Dennis Bennett, Rector of St. Luke’s Church in Seattle, Washington. Birch was deeply transformed at St. Luke’s by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that has never ceased. He described this new experience of praying in the Spirit as ‘this very sacred gift, of intimate spiritual communion with God’.
Birch’s church, St. Margaret’s Reformed Episcopal Church (later West Coast Christian Fellowship) became a Canadian epicentre for two historic revival movements: Charismatic Renewal and the Jesus Movement. Birch’s second wife Margaret commented: “it was difficult” when two flower children Beth and Karen from Berkley California asked Pastor Bob if they could bring new hippie converts from Simon Fraser University. The church became flooded with hundreds of ex-hippies being delivered from drugs and getting their lives back together. Margaret noted that Birch was “kind but firm” in establishing healthy boundaries with these new believers. As a result, said Margaret, there are now “outstanding young people all over the world, proclaiming the Lord.”
In 1977, in his 70th year, Birch retired and became the Pastor of Burnaby Christian Fellowship. The twin pillars of Birch’s ministry were John 17:21, that they all may be one that the world may believe’and Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22: hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Birch said in an August 1990 BC Christian News interview: “The church needs to be sensitive to the Spirit and not become over-involved in its own programs. It’s easy to become too involved in our own programs, and then there’s no vision. And where there’s no vision, the people perish.” In the songbook Sing Praises to God, Birch’s life of prayer is summed up in his own song “Worship God as They Do in Heaven”: With myriads of angels we worship Lord Jesus; with thousands of saints we adore on our knees. We join all Creation in shouting your triumph; How Marvelous! How Wonderful!! Dominion to Thee!!!
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird is Rector of St. Simon’s North Vancouver, Anglican Mission in Canada. He is the author of Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit.