Each Father’s Day we remember and give thanks for the fathers that have impacted our lives. Pastor Bob Birch is one of those fathers that has made me a stronger person, a more prayerful person, and a more hopeful person.
I still vividly remember Bob Birch in his mid-eighties leading a Good Friday Cross Walk procession down Lonsdale, carrying a huge cross on his shoulders. I had the privilege of interviewing Bob four years ago right before his death. He passed away just three weeks short of his 100th birthday. Perhaps his longevity comes in part from his passion for prayer-walking. Bob loved to prayerfully hike up the North Shore mountains. Fittingly for Pastor Bob’s retirement, he was given a pair of walking boots.
As a father of spiritual renewal throughout BC and Canada, Pastor Bob has raised up many spiritual sons and daughters. In 1966, he went down to hear the Rev Dennis Bennett, an Anglican priest in Seattle, Washington. Pastor Bob was deeply transformed by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He described this new experience of praying in the Spirit as ‘this very sacred gift, of intimate spiritual communion with God’. His life story is loving recounted by Bev Carson in the biography ‘Pastor Bob’.
One of the unexpected consequences of the spiritual encounter was that hundreds of hippies began to be attracted to Pastor Bob at St Margaret’s Church near the PNE. They knew that he could help them in getting off drugs and putting their lives back together. His wife Margaret noted that Bob was ‘kind but firm’ in establishing healthy boundaries. As a result, said Margaret, there are now ‘outstanding young people all over the world, proclaiming the Lord’.
Without healthy father figures, it is easy to default to cynicism and detachment. Bob Birch lived his life in a way that motivated others to strive for excellence. Bob motivated me to seek first God’s Kingdom in every area of my life. Bob showed me that prayer is not an optional extra, but rather is at the heart of a healthy, vibrant life.
Bob was someone who deeply cared. He was willing to get involved even when it was messy or awkward. Healthy fathers are willing to be there in good times and in tough times. Healthy fathers are willing to go the distance when others disappear.
Fatherhood is costly. Fatherhood is time-consuming. Fatherhood is worth it. I thank God for all the fathers who sacrificially make a difference in the lives of their families. I thank God for Pastor Bob Birch who was willing to pay the price of being a father for many. Happy Father’s Day!
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News and the Light Magazine
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