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Background: On Thursday, September 15, 2016, the sub-Executive of Toronto Conference met to receive a report of the review of the Rev. Gretta Vosper and to consider the recommendations contained in the report.

The report from the Conference Interview Committee concluded that Ms. Vosper is not suitable to continue as an ordained minister in The United Church of Canada. The committee did not recommend any form of remediation because Ms. Vosper has been so clear and unequivocal about her beliefs.

The report states:
The Committee read the submissions and listened very carefully to determine whether Ms. Vosper’s beliefs are in essential agreement with the statement of doctrine of the United Church. This is a crucial question asked of all potential ordinands to determine whether they are suitable for ministry within The United Church of Canada.

We have concluded that if Gretta Vosper were before us today, seeking to be ordained, the Toronto Conference Interview Committee would not recommend her. In our opinion, she is not suitable to continue in ordained ministry because she does not believe in God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit. Ms. Vosper does not recognize the primacy of scripture, she will not conduct the sacraments, and she is no longer in essential agreement with the statement of doctrine of The United Church of Canada.

On September 15, the sub-Executive heard from Ms. Vosper and her legal counsel, from representatives of West Hill United Church, and from representatives of Toronto Southeast Presbytery. They made presentations and responded to questions from the sub-Executive.

Deliberations and decision-making: The sub-Executive explored the remedial options set out in Section J.9.4 of The Manual (e.g. ordering a directed program, requiring a psychological examination, dissolving the pastoral relationship, suspension from ministry, etc.) and discussed various proposals that had been made during the presentations or in correspondence, e.g. putting the report on hold, having a debate, adjourning the decision of Toronto Conference for one year, stopping the process and taking no action, weighing the adverse costs to the church arising from a protracted process, and refusing to participate in the process.

If a minister is found not to be suitable to continue in ministry in the United Church, then he or she is entitled to a formal hearing in which it will be determined whether his or her ministry within the church should end.

After a second day of deliberations, the following four motions were passed regarding Ms. Vosper:

that the sub-Executive of Toronto Conference…

  • Request the General Council of The United Church of Canada to conduct a formal hearing to consider whether to place the name of the Rev. Gretta Vosper on the Discontinued Service List (Disciplinary);
  • Confirm that Ms. Vosper may remain in ministry at West Hill United Church, Toronto Southeast Presbytery, until the results of the formal hearing are known;
  • Confirm that until the results of the formal hearing are known, no call, appointment, or transfer for Ms. Vosper will be approved by Toronto Conference;
  • Confirm that no further restrictions will be placed on Ms. Vosper’s functioning at this time.

Impact of the decision: The decision to request a formal hearing does not presume that Ms. Vosper’s name will be placed on the Discontinued Service List (Disciplinary). That decision will be made by the formal hearing panel.

Having said that, the sub-Executive recognizes that this is not the decision that some people had wanted. Some will be disappointed and angry that this action has been taken, believing that the United Church may be turning its back on a history of openness and inclusivity. Others have been frustrated that the United Church has allowed someone to be a minister in a Christian church while disavowing the major aspects of the Christian faith.

There is no unanimity in the church about what to do. The sub-Executive received correspondence and a petition urging the church to take no action, and was aware that others wanted the church to act. A number of observers from West Hill United Church and other places were present on September 15. E-mails and phone calls came in saying that the sub-Executive was being held in prayer, no matter what the outcome.

The debate about Ms. Vosper and her statements has been a catalyst for much discussion within the United Church and in places outside the church.

The sub-Executive laments the division that has occurred amongst people within the church, and is saddened by the vitriol that has been directed by some at Ms. Vosper and West Hill United Church, and at Toronto Conference for engaging a process to properly investigate concerns that had been raised. The sub-Executive hopes for respectful discussion that allows people to explore and share their own faith and to hear from others.

The way forward is costly in terms of emotional and spiritual energy. The way forward is costly in terms of time and finances for both Ms. Vosper and the church. At the same time, the sub-Executive moved forward believing that a clear answer was required.

The report from the Interview Committee is clear that the doctrine of the United Church has never been a static thing. The sub-Executive affirms that there has always been evolution in how the church describes what it believes. The United Church has experienced the delight of seeing God and our faith in a new light depending on the context in which we were living. There have been times we have said things that have caused joy in the church and the wider community. We’ve also over the years come to realize that some of the ways we have said things and the ways we have acted have been cause for regret, sorrow, and repentance. But whether we have stated things in good, bad, or evolving ways, there has been the constant that the church believes in God, follows the way of Jesus Christ, and is led by the Spirit.

The sub-Executive calls on the church to show loving kindness to everyone, irrespective of belief or no belief. It asks for prayers for those who are angry, confused, or worried about the impact of this decision. And it calls on all of us to consider ways in which our current actions and expressions of our faith may put up barriers for those who are seeking a new or renewed commitment to a life of faith within the Christian tradition.

The sub-Executive calls on the church to continue the theological conversations that have taken place since long before The United Church of Canada was formed.

Related documents are listed in the Minutes to the Sept. 2016 sub-Executive

72 responses to “A Message from the Sub-Executive of Toronto Conference regarding the review of the Rev. Gretta Vosper

  1. I wonder why our church is unwilling to stand up for the traditions and values that has led us since Jesus walked the earth with us. I am ashamed of the United Church throwing everything away that has been the basis of our faith by allowing an atheist to stand in a pulpit and not proclaim the Gospel of Christ

    1. It seems to me, that some members of the leadership of the UCC feel threatened by the logic of Rev. Vosper`s defense and the progressive nature of her reasoning. The majority of Christian denominations see a steady decline in its membership and if on top of that you take away those, who attend services but do not believe anymore, there is not much left to hold together. Science has progressed so much in the last few years, that the old views and doctrines do not hold up any longer. The concept of infinity lies far outside our four dimensional world, in which we cannot comprehend the concept of infinity. Yet it is that very concept, that is held high and revered by so many, who blindly accept, what is fed them without any critical thought. Rev. Vosper`s main theme is love and how it encompasses our humanity. And when I see those, who without question agree with those, who go around the globe torturing and murdering some of our innocent fellow human beings, I wonder, how they dare to show their faces within the walls of a church, temple or mosque. As a secular humanist I abhor and condemn all forms of violence. I am not an atheist, because my God is Nature itself. Just a different definition than the commonly accepted religious one. I feel very much at home in the rev. Vosper`s train of thought.

      1. If Ms Vosper wants to be a secular humanist, and converge with those heading for perdition, it is her business.

        But if she is employed to preach salvation from sin, deliverance from the fires of hell, and reconciliation to the Creator through the completed work of Christ when she believes in none of these, she will have great trouble with the job description.

        FYI, the growing churches use the above paragraph to examine the call. They also will give you hives, because they are not that inclusive of unrepentant sin. I’m referring to traditional catholics, the reformed, the Mennonites, and the more crunchy and fundamentalist evangelicals.

  2. This is the correct decision, difficult as it may be. A formal hearing will, I hope, give everyone the opportunity both to hear and to be heard. My prayers surround the process and those who will be involved in it.

  3. I am stymied that this is even an issue. My understanding is that the United Church of Canada is a “Christian” church based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Why why why is she still with the UCC if she isn’t a Christian??? To allow an atheist as a UCC minister is just wrong. I don’t get why she even wants to stay with the United Church of Canada since she is an atheist. Totally bizarre!

    1. Why? She will have no pension. Why? She will have no income. Why? She will have no health or medical benefits. Why? She will have no platform from which to speak … there are many people in society who don’t believe. The only thing that sets Ms Vosper apart is that she is a minister. Why? She will have no building or congregation to follow her. It is all very practical.

  4. I respect the process and the difficult journey for all involved in making a decision. I will not celebrate in anyone’s pain and my spirit cries out for all. I pray that Love and Kindness will prevail in our church and in our people.

    1. Have you looked into “the process” you respect? I don’t think you have because you would find out that the process to review the suitability of Rev Gretta Vosper was put together to make it appear that it was done in accordance with the UCC policy. Look into how this “interview” came about and how we got to this point and tell me if you still respect the process. My thought is, and feel free to look into this, a Nora Sanders ruling by reworking / rewording the rules regarding effectiveness (now suitability) of a minister enabled David Allen and the very conservative Toronto Sub-Executive to pursue Rev. Vosper. Ergo, regardless whether or not you agree with Rev Vosper’s theological beliefs one can’t respect the process – a process that is not in accordance with the United Church’s open and honest discussions before coming to an “agreement” that is made with all members’ voices heard. Dialogue before Discipline – a great rule to live by!

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  6. “The sub-Executive calls on the church to continue the theological conversations that have taken place since long before The United Church of Canada was formed.”
    What is the point of continuing ANY theological conversation if the perimeters are now fixed by the church? A church with such hard theological boundaries no longer has the right to call itself “open” or “progressive” – it is neither.

    1. Oh for goodness sake, get the point. An atheist minister in situ in a Christian faith is living a LIE! And making a complete mockery of the United Church of Canada. If you don’t believe, then get out and go form a community centre, just don’t spit on other people’s faith

  7. Gretta Vosper believes in Love. The first letter of John in the New Testament proclaims that “God is Love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” 1st John 4:16 So what is the problem?

    1. Gretta Vosper believes in job security in a well paid position, or else why would she be even contesting this obvious way forward. The short answer is her clear intent to ridicule Christians and the United Church of Canada, sad that it has taken the hierarchy so long to get to this point

    2. It is good that Gretta Vosper believes in Love. However, she doesn’t believe in God and Jesus, which is the basis of our “Christian” belief. If she just wants to preach about Love then she should form her own church – outside of the United Church of Canada. It just isn’t the same. I don’t know why this decision is so difficult, except for the fact that she is ordained in the UCC. If she admitted that she didn’t believe in God or Jesus Christ before being ordained and they admitted her anyway that is one thing but to my knowledge she didn’t and presented herself as a believer and was ordained on that basis. Now that her true thoughts have come out it shouldn’t be a difficult decision to have her leave the United Church of Canada. Her ordination was based on her being a believer and I am sure that the ceremony has words to that effect in it wherein she agreed at that time. If she believed in God and Jesus at that time and then changed her mind later then she needs to leave the UCC. Preaching about “Love” in a Christian church without God and Jesus isn’t enough. Many atheists love others but they don’t preach in a Christian church.

  8. What an outrageously uninspiring monkey wrench? After all, isn’t the church still a glacially listless thing! Κύριε ἐλέησον! No matter what we do, some will/should lose sleep. Get used to it. C’est la vie! Deal with it now and move on.

  9. This is a non-issue. Anyone can brainlessly confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, Trinitarian formula etc,. but do they live following in Jesus’ way? As I understand religious language, there are no words to adequately express the reality that we conveniently call “God”. Whatever we say is, as Sanskrit wisdom puts it, ‘Neti, neti’ –not this, not this. The word a-theist is, in itself, an oxymoron. How can one not ‘believe’ (however that word is interpreted) and then state what it is they don’t believe exists? I may or may not believe in the Santa Claus myth, but I sure know who the jolly man in red is. And I gladly accept chocolate left by the Easter bunny and cash from the tooth fairy (I hear it’s gone up from the quarter of my childhood). It seems we are caught in a play on words, like Anselm and Gaunilo quibbling over ‘proof’ for the existence of God. ‘Father,Son and Holy Spirit works for some–good for them. For others these words are an emotional and spiritual minefield best avoided.

    Discerning what one believes is tough enough. Judging another’s belief system near impossible. Judge not lest… My personal conclusion is that i “choose to live as if the story (Jesus,Trinity,God etc.) is true” rather than wracking my aging brain over profound truths well beyond my comprehension or pay grade. I’ll just enjoy the wonder and struggle for justice.

    If the UCC wants Greta to cough up the ‘right’ orthodox words to maintain her status as OM then we have leaped back centuries to the Spanish inquisition. Do we want obedient robots who recite by rote, or curious and innovative people who dare to think outside the
    box, to proclaim an ‘a-theist’ theology and to put their apophatic faith into action? As Rabbi Gamaliel observed, “…if this plan or this undertaking is is men (sic) it will fail; but if it is of God you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing of God !” . (Acts5:38-39, RSV)

    Or as my grandad put it, “dinna get yer knickers in a twist’. Hasn’t Jesus challenged us to go into the world and transform it, not to stay in church to fence the table of tradition with presumed orthodoxy?

    ps Is the math question appropriate for people who believe 1=3?

  10. FOR MANY OF US, fOLLOWING JESUS IN THE UNITED CHURCH, LED US TO THE CENTRALITY OF LOVE, NOT BELIEF. I HILD THE SACREDNESS OF ALL LIFE ON THE EARTH.
    GOD YES, BUT NOT JUST THE GOD OF THE BIBLE..
    THAT GOD LED ME TO A GOD OF ALL, BEYOND ANY ONE RELIGION, WELCOMING ALL WITH OR WITHOUT BELIEF.
    GRETTA HAS BEEN AND IS A BEACON TO THIS PROGRESSING CHURCH, WHICH INCLUDES OUR HISTORY BUT DOES NOT STOP AT NOW.
    THE CHURCH AND I OWE HER MUCH.

    1. For the vast majority of us though, the belief of the Holy Trinity is a central focus of our lives. This woman must not be allowed to mock our faith. Too many of her brain washed subjects are posting here.

      1. No, actually I don’t think there is any evidence “of the vast majority” in any of the Trinity conversations. ( And I live on the West Coast and have never met GV)
        Nor, with this approach, which was likened by a writer above as an Inquisition, are we likely to hear much from those who have a non-Trinitarian view. It is sad that in the early days of Gretta Vosper’s writings we, the church did not engage more fully in conversation with a person who was openly exploring and inviting participation. Now we have an adversarial process that is hurtful to many.

  11. Four hours have passed and I am still shaking. My reaction to your decision is similar to that of witnessing a loved-one slowly perish. You may see it coming, but the actual ending is no less shocking.
    In my optimism, I had sincerely hoped that clearer-thinking stakeholders would be able to see the truth and achieve a just outcome.
    A few months ago, on May 28th, when the issue of this review was brought to the table of Toronto Conference, David Allen, Executive Secretary of the Toronto Conference, spokesperson for the Toronto Conference Interview Committee, and main architect and driver of this review and it’s process, stood up and asked the general membership for our faith and trust in him and the Committee to carry-out and follow through with a relevant and appropriate review to it’s conclusion. The voting membership honoured his request, took him at his word and granted him that trust. That faith and trust has been effectively broken.
    I am encouraged by the tone, insightful questions and respectful on-line dialogue that is taking place in recent days. I have faith in the character of the general United Church of Canada membership to find the truth.
    If something doesn’t make sense, check your premise.
    Over the past year and up to now, some in the Toronto Conference have been able to control the entire process and selectively author all official communications and reporting regarding the review and their conclusions.
    As sincere inquiry unfolds, and as Nora Sanders, General Council Secretary; David Allen, Executive Secretary to the Toronto Conference; members of the Toronto Conference Interview Committee and the sub-executive of the Toronto Conference are held to account, many of our United Church of Canada members may be outraged at the shame caused to be brought to us, by their methodology and conclusions.
    If something doesn’t make sense to you, please check your premise. Allow your preconceived assumptions to be challenged and open to change as new information comes to light. Keep asking those hard questions – of Reverend Gretta Vosper; of members and congregants of West Hill United Church; of your own church minister and your own fellow church congregants; of leadership in your conferences, presbyteries and general council. Keep the constructive dialogue happening. Be persistent. Seek answers that make sense to you. Find the courage to act on your convictions. Make your voice heard. This is our United Church of Canada. Are we headed in the direction that you want? Are we headed in the direction that the general membership believes we ought to be headed?
    Seek truth, live fully, care deeply, make a difference.
    Your friend in the spirit of what is really sacred,
    Kevin Jackson, Board member of West Hill United Church & home for the Reverend Gretta Vosper

    1. In the late 80s and beyond, some ordained ministers spewed homophobic fear and hatred from the pulpit and in church courts. They used scripture to justify their words and behaviour. They professed belief in God and in Jesus who, they believed, sanctioned such behaviour. Yet, to my knowledge, the UCC did not initiate reviews for “suitability” of even one of these ministers. Why then is the UCC singling out Gretta Vosper? Especially since no one forces her congregation to share ministry with her? Can’t we tolerate those in the UCC who are metaphorically exploring articulations of living justly, compassionately, and lovingly, guided by non-theistic expressions of the Ultimate; the Great Mystery and Great Love at Source of All That is Good? Couldn’t the UCC host robust theological dialogue that engages a-theists in our “big tent” tradition instead of seeking to drive them out? Are laypeople next? The first hymn in More Voices is “All are Welcome”….if we don’t mean it, than do review the language of our hymns for suitability in worship leadership?

  12. I am very saddened that Rev Vosper has been singled out to be defrocked. While I don’t like the label “atheist ” and think this goes too far, I am very proud of our liberal stance and those that keep us talking and engaged… Not stagnant. What will this do to our open, welcoming stance. We need to stay loving, respecting and not judgemental! It’s all about dialogue!!

  13. I am a long term member of the United Church who doesn’t get it. I don’t understand in the least why someone, who doesn’t accept the basic beliefs of our church, would fight to remain. Does this mean that we must all change our thinking? I don’t think so… in my world, if I can’t conform or find that the majority don’t agree with me, I move on. If the congregation is so supportive of Rev. Vosper, then they could break away from our National Organization and continue on. I am shaking my head in disbelief over this whole mess.

  14. I am a lifelong member of the United Church of Canada. While I may not agree with everything Rev Vosper believes, my United Church has a place for for her opinions. Truth seekers should not be afraid of tough questions and lively, respectful debates.I think this discussion has been a good one. It made me aware of the persistence of the patriarchal underpinnings still present in our church (The FATHER, The son…really? It’s 2016 or were were just being humoured with that inclusive language thing) I am now aware that there are intellectually honest people all over this church who think the Trinity is just a construct to help us put a shape to something too big to fully comprehend. What it has really done is help some of us focus on what the United Church means in this country. Our narrative and our identity is that of a people who welcome any and all who are willing to live in community with us. To place Rev Vosper’s name on the “discontinued list” would do irreparable damage to our Church’s reputation as an open, progressive space in our society. We will be saying membership in our community is conditional. Some people in the church say we have to draw the line, but drawing lines is an act of exclusion, pure and simple. For people who are vulnerable, at the margins,what assurances can we give them that the line might not move to exclude them someday? We can’t. However, if we send the signal that accept all, even those with whom profoundly disagree with at the ministerial level, we send a strong signal that is is possible to live in community with everyone.
    Final note: when we selected our last Moderator, some of those who put their names forward were quite clear they did not support Rev Vosper. Those individuals were not chosen to lead. I think the membership spoke then about its priorities. If the the sub-Executive of Toronto Conference is going to damage our collective reputation, it better get consensus from all of us. Right now, it doesn’t have the mandate to change our narrative.

    1. Well said, Wendy. I agree whole heartily. I think the United Church stands for inclusivity and walking alongside and dialogue, diversity and an evolving understanding of the teachings of Jesus and love of neighbour. We turn away most of society when we turn away Gretta Vosper. We truly need to look for new ways to tell the message of Jesus, who, by the way, did not use the words Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

      1. Have you read the last chapter of Matthew. It would appear that Jesus did use the trinitarian formula. Of course you may have decided that the substance of scripture is suspect but if so you have no foundation for any claim concerning what Jesus did or did not say. Propositions whether yours or mine arise from a propositional matrix. What is the matrix that you draw from to make statements concerning the “way of Jesus” ? Mine derives from scripture in its entirety – the canon. This has been the position of the historic church from its inception as you no doubt are aware. Quite clearly you have not abandoned this notion when you seek support or justification by appealing to what Jesus said or did not say.

  15. I am disappointed in the intense criticism of Rev. Greta Vosper by Toronto Conference. The process has been striking me as a needless attack on a Minister who has made it her life long ministry to live out what the Church claims as its calling – to understand differences, to live love to the fullest, and to be the Church to the communities it claims to serve. Many people in congregational life are moving away from the Church out of frustration from the theologically heavy controls in the Church. I am sad to see this in a Church where I have been raised, confirmed, and have worked as a layman over 74 years. As a previous blogger noted, she was imposed on by Clergy who preached against the recognition of Gay rights, Gay ordination, and Gay marriage and those folks have not had their place in the Church questioned or removed. I am convinced that God must be sad at this state of our Church affairs that we claim to be inclusive but only as long as we are theologically correct based on the judgements of Toronto Conference. SAD!! I support Greta Vosper. I DO NOT support Toronto Conference nor will I support Nora Sanders and company if they rule against Greta.

    1. I am about as queer as you can get, and though homophobic pastors bother me at best, make me absolutely horrified at worst, in our ordination vows we are not asked our stance on sexuality, but we are required to have faith in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

      Pulling sexuality into this is trying to relate two things that are completely separate.

      Yes we get to preach our poItical differences (praise God!) but we are called to preach about God-whether that’s the God of justice and love or the God of judgement and division (or both as one) but we are Christians..which means we follow Christ.

  16. The United Church is teetering on the edge. The battle is happening just like in ancient times. Peoples’ rules trying futilely to compete with the will of God who, by the way we might agree, is Love. Reminds me of Jesus back then when he spoke against the rules of the officials of the “church” of his time. How dare you people who profess the loving, just, inclusive ways of Jesus, use rigid institutional rules decided upon by men to judge and allegedly condem a devoted and caring and extremely courageous minister! I find this incredible. I am a retired United Church minister also teetering on the edge.
    Gretta Is amazing. She is willing to bear hardship so as to provide an opportunity for the United Church to go forth and be the real church of inclusive Love in the world. May we celebrate her presence and the opportunity we have ,and let us thank the Great Mystery .

  17. My United Church includes Rev. Gretta Vosper. I need to be intrigued/pushed ethically in life, in Church, and in my relationship with others and with the Great Spirit. While I might not always agree with differing opinions, my Church needs “unconventional” people.

    From a grand (and simplified) historical perspective, it is very often individuals who think and act in radically different ways (in comparison to the majority) that have changed society in fundamental paradigm-shifting ways for the better. Think of Jesus, Luther, Rosa Parks, Nellie McClung. Imagine your own journey of spiritual development without the countless “changers” in your own lives. Like G*d creating a rock that is too heavy for any adjective to carry, you can’t.

    Put another way: The United Church needs Rev. Vosper, but Rev. Vosper doesn’t need the United Church.

    Gretta, you are welcome to eat at my table any day.

    Thanks for the comments and blessings, all!

    Sincerely,

    Ian Samolczyk, member of Trinity St-Paul’s United Church
    427 Bloor Street, Toronto

    1. It is very interesting to read the positive comments about Gretta and her contribution to the UCC. The positive comments are intelligent, well thought out, insightful, learned, inclusive, and loving. Unfortunately there are people who have made comments that are full of ignorance and exclusivity. It is distressing to me having been a UCC minister’s wife and at present a devoted member of a UCC congregation to see my church being led by a bigoted, determined, closed minded group of people who have lost touch with the common folk in the field, the outer regions beyond church house. The determination to “circle the wagons” shows that the people who we as congregants of the wider church have hired to run the business of the UCC are telling the members who support them financially, what they are to believe and not believe. What happened to the original tenets that were set down when the 3 denominations joined to create the UCC in 1925? All are welcome who come through our doors regardless of faith, creed, colour, rich or poor, old or young. United Church of Canada you are not listening to your members only the ones who agree with you. I cannot sit and watch as you irresponsibly allow our church to continue to die,as in numbers, because you think you are right. To me the life of Jesus was full of stories where he invited everyone to join him in loving and caring for others, listening to their stories, understanding their problems, regardless of who they were or believed. He didn’t tolerate the arrogant Pharisees. Show the world we are an accepting church. We stand for inclusiveness.

  18. If I recall correctly, in 1997 Moderator Bill Phipps, for whom I have great respect, was interviewed by Bob Harvey, the religion editor of the Ottawa Citizen. Among several controversial statements made at that time by the Moderator was that he did not believe in the divinity of Jesus. There followed some hemorrhaging of UCC membership; some clergy spoke against Phipps from the pulpit; and the Ottawa Presbytery voted 119 – 1 to ask him to cancel plans to visit Ottawa and tape a CBC show. (He agreed). I do not believe that this incident gave rise to any review of the effectiveness of Phipps’ ministry (Manual Section 333) which was at that time leadership of our denomination. He continued in his elected role.

    The question I have for whoever find themselves in the position of deciding on whether Rev.Gretta Vosper will be placed on the discontinued service list is whether this precedent, this significant UCC history, will inform their discernment and decision making? If today Bill Phipps were to be brought before the same interview committee that concluded with a recommendation that Rev. Gretta Vosper be placed on the discontinued service list, would he now be subject to the same outcome. After all wasn’t his statement contrary to the Basis of Union?

    If Gretta is lost to the United Church there will be a deep sadness felt by the many clergy and congregants who struggle to make meaning of the mystery that is ever before us.

  19. I attended the September 15 meeting of the sub-executive. I heard the spokesperson for the Southeast Presbytery state that it would be disrespectful of the good work done by the Conference Interview Committee if their recommendation was not followed. This position abdicates their responsibility to be a thoughtful, deliberative body in favor of being a rubber stamp.

    When I logged on to the Toronto Conference website, I was greeted with a pop-up message saying, “We are a vibrant and diverse assembly of ministries…” With the decision about Gretta Vosper which you have just announced, you (and I say “you” because I no longer feel it is “we”) are now less diverse than you were. I am ashamed of the people who voted for this decision.

  20. “The time has come” as the walrus said,
    -That we make up our minds as to ‘are we a creedal church?’ Or a ‘ living vibrant organism that feeds the realities of life?’
    -That we discard the risible, troublesome, and embarrassing ‘in essential agreement’
    -That we acclaim that our purpose is to create a holy people by walking within our personal relationship with God, following the way of Jesus confident in his good news of a creative, loving, and caring God, and relying on and honouring the Spirit within us.
    And ONLY THEN can we draw a line in the sand that will show who is in and who is out, – a line in the sand is easily washed out.

  21. I am shocked to see so many comments in support of Gretta.
    Does the Bible and the death of Jesus mean nothing to you.
    16-“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17-God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
    This is just one scripture verse among many in the Bible that says we are saved ONLY THROUGH JESUS – WHO PAID IT ALL.
    Please go back to reading God’s Word, this is the only place you find truth

  22. As a gay Christian I’ve heard several people suggest that determining Gretta isn’t suitable for ministry is akin to telling the gays they can’t be ordained. I find this incredibly offensive. As a gay person I have had to fight for my inclusion in the church. I have had to prove time and time again that my devotion to God is just as good if not better than any straight person’s, I have had to prove time and time again that my knowledge of the Bible is better than my detractors. And to think that in the first denomination that decided to allow people like me to serve in vocational ministry, that people are suggesting that faith in Christ is not necessary to preach or provide pastoral care. That is genuinely offensive.

    There has been no witch hunt. I am quite certain that Gretta could have remained as she had been for a very long time. There is another minister in Winnipeg I know of who’s very nice (at least she was when I met her) who doesn’t believe in God. Personally I think she should be looking for a new job, but that’s between her and her congregation. Nobody is asking for an inquisition into her. Why? Because she isn’t taking interviews with the local paper talking about how there’s a United Church preacher who thinks God doesn’t exist. She’s not calling on the moderator to denounce those who believe in God. Basically she’s not jumping into the spotlight and giving the rest of the Church bad press every second she can get.

    Whether or not Gretta is a nice person for her congregation to meet with regularly isn’t what being a minister is about primarily. And just because she’s spent years telling her congregation that God doesn’t matter and that belief in God doesn’t matter for her job, doesn’t make it true. As soon as we start saying God doesn’t matter we should stop calling ourselves a church. It’s one thing to say there’s room for all in the church, there’s another thing to say there’s room for everyone behind the pulpit. (And let’s be honest, there’s lots of people we already don’t want in our church, or are you going to tell me that your church honestly hopes a bunch of pedophiles show up on Sunday morning?)

  23. “Just because it is written down does not make it true, and because something is not written down does not mean it is not true” – This quote made by a grandson of a signatory to Treaty 8 – reminds me that written words whether The Manual – The Bible – the Constitution of Canada along with all the books of law ever written may not have the truth. I stand in the circle of paradox – within the wonderful complex “soul” of the United Church of Canada which includes wonderful persons such a Gretta Vosper and West Hills United Church. I also believe that as followers of “the Way” of Jesus the human family has far more concerns of significance than this “fly or log or whatever in our eye”. The need to be right – is the human conditions greatest fault. Peace – Love – Humility – Forgiveness – Grace – Generosity – Sharing – and Caring for life – water – air – and land are my aspirational values. I may not be in your United Church of Canada – but you can be in mine. Time to take a deep breath – I have talked to long!!

  24. I stand by Gretta. Having read and still reading “With or without god” has given me hope that all is not lost. Some call it God, others nature, all a great mystery. Who can claim to know the one and only truth? I am deeply sad that Gretta is singled out while so many are struggling to see meaning and purpose in something we call church. How relevant is the church in today’s society? What love is send out?

  25. In 1988 the minister in our Flesherton Charge decided that he had to leave the United Church because he could not agree with inclusive language, the ordination of homosexuals and the curriculum approved by our United Church. He persuaded a good number of members our two congregations to leave with him and form their own church. With the help of the presbytery, and conference our two churches have survived and so has the Gentle Shepherd Church which runs our local food bank. Rev, Don Prince was honest and did what he thought he should do. It seems to me that If Rev. Vosper has has problems in her beliefs, she should have left the very generous United Church some time ago to start her own philosophical group. From the responses I have read here, she would not have difficulty finding followers. Her pension, I believe is not in danger. We were advised in 1988 that ministers who leave the United Church can continue to contribute from any source of working income.

  26. A Proud Member of Our Trinity United Church Family
    Strong and United

    “I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I’ll be a better somebody when I leave. I
    am powerful, and I am strong. I am humbled by the spiritual experience that I get here. I
    have things to do, people to serve, and places to go.”

    The magic ring of bells and the harmony of the Sunday morning choir
    Welcoming all people with a renewed vision to inspire

    It is the passion of our minister with the energy of her eternal youth
    Leading us into to spiritual meaning, based on sound logic and truth

    We are proud members of Trinity United with reason to rejoice
    Living as we believe, being different is our freedom of choice

    Ever proud of our precious legacy, human rights defenders
    Standing proud and tall for the dignity of different genders

    For our warm church family I will ever be proud
    Alas, over the United Church of Canada there is a dark cloud

    Freedom of choice is preached loudly each day
    But narrow actions speak so loudly, I hear not what they say

    Limiting the wonder of the unknown to their definition of it
    In contrast to true logic, deep wisdom or wit

    Allowing for valued differences, leadership strong and true
    A journey into the future, with a vision of what it means to be strong and new

    Out of the dark ages, with passion and fire to ignite
    Supporting Gretta Vosper, lest we forfeit our precious faith right

    Standing at the crossroads, I know not what to do or say
    Flee from this narrowness or do battle another day

    Ken R. Estabrooks

  27. Do some of the last comments come from people of a Christ-inspired religion? Many fail to be sufficiently self-critical, show an unjustified ‘belief- preference’ and are judgmental about the opinions of god concepts even though many opinions are justified. One of the problems is talking about god in general terms, not in what we read about in specific biblical situations. Take the Paradise story, almost the heart of Christianity, introducing the unusual concept original sin, where the deity is described as blaming others, who seems to punish his own creation, a man as imagined by man, not ‘Christian’ at all:
    A father deity, tempts his children with an attractive tree created by him. Of unlimited knowledge, wisdom and understanding of the nature of his creation, he must have foreseen their fall for that temptation. After that, he did not accept responsibility for the mishap and, being a creator, go back to the drawing board. Instead he blamed others, evil, snake, devil – all he actually allowed in paradise and over which he presumably had influence. Would an earthly father set up a temptation for his children, with a punishment already in mind? What is this god?
    It is a story where, perversely, the Tempter punishes those whom he Tempted’, and extends the punishment to all generations after them, with special brutal punishment designed for women (mothers). But much more questionable is that ‘sin’ required a ‘salvation’ by the ‘son’ of that ‘father’ who had originally pronounced what happened as sin. And that son had to pay for it with his life.
    Why would generations of faith leaders still revere such a god/father, not encourage exegesis? Would curiosity and exploration not be essential features part of a created functioning being? If two ‘emotionally and spiritually half human beings’ had not had the courage to disobey, mankind would apparently not have come about. It required a ‘sin’ according to that deity’s mind (or the prophet’s) to make mankind truly functional. Should that be the cause for the ‘father’ to permit the killing of his own ‘son?. Should Christian leaders, beginning with that story, not openly more seriously and openly question the images of God?
    We are encouraged not to take the story literally – but the image of the god? How many of similar images need to change before we deservedly revere them? This story, still reprinted by the millions in sacred documents and children’s literature, may have done more to undermine the Abrahamic ‘god’ than atheism could ever achieve. And it continues its damage until the concepts of god and ‘original sin’ are reconsidered. Unless doubts about some if not all god images are expressed openly, religious societies stand on weakening pillars. Resolve these god dilemmas first before you go after Gretta Vosper.

  28. Toronto Conference Motion passed “that the sub-Executive of Toronto Conference…
    – Request the General Council of The United Church of Canada to conduct a formal hearing to consider whether to place the name of the Rev. Gretta Vosper on the Discontinued Service List (Disciplinary).”

    This is a much broader question than the one considered by the Executive in the Review and therefore allows for broader input from our general membership and clergy.

    Thanks to the petition created by Edmonton”s Southminster-Steinhauer United Church, the question has been asked and answered. To date the petition has gathered 1,000+ signatures, (& over 600 comments), from UCC members, (including a score of clergy). Here is the link to that petition:
    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/reject-vosper-recommendations/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=button

    This unequivocally demonstrates that Rev.Gretta Vosper has passed scrutiny of the general membership and that she must NOT be placed on the discontinued service list (DSL).
    It is worth pointing out that the terms of the Petition and the signatories’ comments, even from those who do not concur 100% with Rev. Vosper’s preaching methodology, indicate clearly that Gretta must remain a voice inside the United Church of Canada.

    I would ask if the conclusion from 1,000 members and clergy take priority over the conclusion reached by a Conference sub-executive, under narrow terms, with respect to Rev. Vosper’s suitability?

    I would also ask whether any further inquiry by the General Council in a Formal Hearing of “whether to place the name of Rev Gretta Vosper on the DSL”, would be a substantial waste of the Church’s resources, at this time?

    Aren’t 1,000+ signatures enough to confirm that any formal hearing regarding DSL is inappropriate at this time?

    Wouldn’t our United Church of Canada be better served if the General Council finally opened debate on the Basis of Union 11.3 and the questions posed at ordination?

  29. Perhaps the question that should be answered is ‘What is God telling the church through the ministry of Gretta Vosper and her congregation?’ From my reading of the comments here I think God is telling the UC some very important things and I would hope that before the General Council initiates its formal hearing it takes time to reflect on this. Who knows it might decide that this action is not necessary.

  30. Good thoughts.
    If I were a mediator, I would ask the parties what they have in common. GV claims not to believe in the biblical god. In what biblical god does UCC not believe? There are some images which are very likely objected to, or at least doubted, by many/all. The discussion should start from there. The problem is in the Creed. It can only be as meaningful as each word, each pillar, in it.

  31. I consider myself a Christian because I| try to follow the teachings and the example of Jesus. I am a United Church member because it has encouraged me and supported me in following the teachings of Jesus. However, I have often pondered the differences between the teaching of Jesus and the teaching, doctrines and policies of the church.
    The United Church has been less rigid and narrow-minded than many denominations. However, this ruling now demonstrates to me that for many people following the teachings of the church is more important than following the teachings of Jesus. What a shame. What a choice.

  32. The philosophy or life stance of secular humanism embraces human reason, ethics, social justice, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition as the bases of morality and decision making. This is what I understand is secular humanism, from my son, who long ago declared this his belief. I being a Lay Pastoral Minister and my husband the organist, our chidren grew up in the church and learned the precepts of our faith as that of the Trinity. Our middle son, now well on in his thirties, informed us at age 15 he was a secular humanist. I was upset at first. But I had to believe that he did this after soul searching and deciding our way was no longer his. I respect Rev Vosper for her convictions. But I have difficulty with being a Christian minister when her beliefs appear to be that of a secular humanist. While I do believe we have to surround Greta with love, we also need to continue to hold the Trinity as our belief. Otherwise. For what, will we stand?

  33. Thank you Lee for your comments. I hope that the General Council will consider them as well as the suggestion of Fred that a mediator might be helpful. This is an excellent suggestion, thank you, Fred. Just one comment about Dr. Wishart’s observations, the problem with ‘orthodoxy’ is that it effectively freezes our knowledge of God. I personally believe that God calls us to grow in our knowledge of Him/Her/Creator. It is a belief that is reinforced by a reading of the history of the church.

  34. A fable:

    There was once a really beautiful country, HowHi, which lay beyond a large mountain range, and many people in the world didn’t know that HowHi existed. In HowHi there was a glorious crystal that the people looked at every day. They found that contemplating the crystal every day made them very kind and loving. In their country, as a result, everyone was well cared for, educated and secure. They knew they really were the best country.
    Across the mountains, in their neighbouring countries, there was war and strife, hatred and hunger, poverty and intolerance. The HowHians realized that they had some lessons that would be very good to share with their neighbours, and so the people got together and hired several ‘ambassadors’. These ambassadors were charged with going out to the neighbouring countries and telling them about the crystal and about HowHi and about how to live in peace, harmony and stability. In a big ceremony the ambassadors all agreed, and swore to do this important work.
    They went out, and gradually the other countries seemed a little interested in their message. However there was one ambassador “Sador” who decided that instead of teaching about the crystal, HowHi and the way of life there, started to instead tell one and all that there was nothing beyond the mountains, there was no such thing as the crystal, no such place as HowHi. However, Sador did teach some of the lessons, like the importance of love and tolerance. Sador took credit for the knowledge of the message. So convincing was Sador, that many began to believe what they heard, and started to disrespect the other ambassadors and began to call them all old fashioned and stodgy and considered their teachings to be not as relevant as Sador’s.
    The people back in HowHi, when they heard what was going on, got into heated debate. Many were so loving and open and so wanted to not offend or seem biased, that they strongly advocated to let the ambassador continue to teach their neighbours that the crystal did not exist. They said: ”Oh it doesn’t matter as long as people hear about love.” Others said: “How can Sador be our ambassador, we, the people of the crystal, if Sador teaches others that we do not exist and more importantly that the crystal does not exist? How can Sador still be our ambassador when the things Sador swore in the ceremony of commencement are being openly flaunted?”
    Unfortunately the debate went on so long and was so divisive, that the message of the crystal and of how to live in a kind loving, caring way was lost even in HowHi itself. The people of HowHi fell into the habit of division and hatred, because even they forgot the fundamentals. They forgot to contemplate the crystal every day.

  35. Jesus said to be “aware of false Prophets and that there will be many of them”. Greta Vosper is a false Prophet in my opinion. If she refuses to preach the Gospel her congregation is not being fed the Word of God.
    I go to church to be in God’s house to strengthen my Christianity by listening to the Word of God and to associate with fellow Christians, thus strengthening my own belief.
    I believe she should be removed from the pulpit in a loving manner by offering her guidance and counselling to help her to again return to believing in God and Jesus Christ and then again be able to represent the beliefs of the Church she is suppose to represent.

  36. So what are ‘false prophets’ and is ‘the word of god’? Let us follow what ‘that word’ might mean to some, and whether Gretta is a ‘false prophet’.
    The question is whether theology/religion wants us to be intellectually totally disengaged or respond like psychologically mature human beings to judge life and philosophies around us. In the latter case, there is room for criticizing the roots of the Abrahamic belief. Closing our mind to what it says would not fully engage the best faculties mankind has developed. So we can look at his this way: If Adam and Evewere children of god’s design, then, by human standards, he should accept responsibility for this creation like any designer for his products. A thoughtful designer would not expose new products beyond tested and proven limits. In that case of A’s & E’s creation, he actually carries greater responsibility than the later-generation parents/fathers and children, who are not of their fathers’ design, but are the product of genetic evolution, which was clearly not under their control. Why should we accept the blame? Is that a theology of condemnation and promise of salvation by the church to keep us in bondage?
    A&E were sent down into the world prematurely, before developing an appropriate psychology, suitable for interacting with other living things, prone to fight wars, even religious ones, even about their father! Why was his incomplete creation been sent down into this dilemma and despite having been celebrated as a crown of creation? It seems as if god or the prophets saw further evolution on earth towards a fuller spiritual, psychological and physical human being as deserved punishment. So disobedience was essentially creating the real mankind. God had created something only suitable for the un-worldly paradise, not a complex psychological being suitable for the real world. It seems like a theological dilemma that he punished us to let evolution take over where creation had stopped.
    The paradise and human creation story should be openly discussed and possibly condemned, or only included with the footnote that this was the thinking of prophets thousands of years ago, and that any implications, such as original sin and condemnation to suffering is equally irrelevant for our time. We need to do the difficult job of creating human relationships free of such implausible ancient theology and god concepts. This story has elements of embarrassment which we should openly discard instead of keeping it a basis for our theology. We need to forgive the prophets for such biblical god characters, imagined with good intentions to bring order into a dangerous world. But the god-crutch is becoming less helpful. What is that pillar of the Trinity? God-believers have the responsibility to answer that.

  37. For many years I was a sporadic yet active part of the West Hill United Church community and am still a distant and loving supporter of gretta, though our views differ greatly on matters of God, Jesus, the angels and the afterlife. We had several intimate and lively discussions over the years in which we engaged and shared our experience, and it was gretta who invited me to express my gifts within her church, without the confines of either traditional church doctrine (which was not at issue here). However, as a lay speaker/leader, I felt somewhat limited by West Hill’s language policy which prevented me from openly naming what I believed were miracles of a supernatural order, and which I felt were important for others to hear honestly without censorship. Gretta was always very open to whatever I and others had to say privately, yet she was also a firm believer in creating an open and inclusive environment that did not claim a supernatural God, though did not exclude it necessarily for those who were still believing. Given the opportunity, I spoke several times and offered a workshop there, and the congregation liked it very much. This invitation to express my gifts, encouraged me to go further and expand my offerings outside of the church. Although their language policy, keeping all things neutral and focused on common values of love, justice, compassion etc., was admirable and forward-thinking, inclusive and helpful to some who may have needed it in order to show up, and who perhaps had suffered some religious wounding from other organizations or settings which were less open, I still felt that there needed to be a place to openly discuss, ponder and experience God as I and others understood it, and to name such experience without limitation. Given the church is a religious/spiritual context, I felt the ministry, including my lay offerings, should include inspiring and much-needed messages of faith and experiential testimony. Without that I did not feel I could go on.

    That said, gretta and her intellectual, thoughtful and thought-provoking questions, reflective and deeply honest portrayal of her own inner journey and struggles with faith, as well as her courageous call to love, still moved me, and gave me a starting point for my own non-traditional ministry or practice. I still hold a deep affection and admiration for gretta, and warmth for the times I spent at West Hill, and gratitude for the invitation to participate, lead and find my own voice and calling. I thank gretta as the source of that opportunity.

    Whether gretta belongs as a ‘traditional’ minister of the United Church of Canada I cannot say, but I can say without a doubt, that in this world, a world in which she so obviously feels called to serve, and which desperately needs her unique and courageous gifts, her future looks bright.

    Much love to all,

    Krista Moore
    West Hill, Toronto

  38. One of the things I have always loved about the United Church is that my personal beliefs are always challenged! Church services, sermons, Observer articles and media reports cause me to keep looking at my core beliefs – my United Church being a measuring stick in terms of those beliefs. My United Church continually challenges me as it ought to.
    At this time in my life, if my measuring stick indicated that I thought the same as Rev. Gretta Vosper, I would feel a moral imperative to remove myself from active “worship” while maintaining other relationships.
    This is another one of our United Church challenges – an opportunity for dialogue, an opportunity learn from each other and an opportunity to reaffirm faith in the Trinity according to our beliefs!
    When questioned about my United Church membership, I answer that I love the challenges posed by me Church, that my Church doesn’t tell me how to live but guides me.
    About Rev. Vosper leaving? In other organisations, if you don’t agree with other members, you can try to change the organisation or you can leave ( the third choice is to do nothing and then others make the choice for you ). If I were in these shoes, I would rather make my own change and not wait for others to decide!
    Will this “controversy” hurt the United Church? I don’t think so, rather I believe this will be good for the Church as a whole! This allows ALL of us to use that measuring stick once again!

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