UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Atheist minister review on hold

By Mike Milne

A Toronto Conference review of a minister who calls herself an atheist remained on hold last fall, while The United Church of Canada’s judicial committee decided whether to consider her two appeals.

Rev. Gretta Vosper, minister at West Hill United in Toronto and an author with well-publicized post-theistic beliefs, faced a church trial on her suitability for ministry last spring, after Toronto Conference received a letter expressing concerns about her ministry from another Toronto congregation. Conference asked General Council general secretary Nora Sanders how to handle the matter and was told it could review Vosper’s effectiveness for ministry by asking her to revisit her ordination vows.

The first question asked of candidates during ordination, commissioning or admission to United Church ministry is, “Do you believe in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and do you commit yourself anew to God?”

Reviews of serving ministers are usually based on effectiveness, but Sanders ruled that Vosper’s effectiveness was contingent on her suitability for ministry — and that suitability could be gauged by her current response to ordination vows. There is no record of a minister ever being asked to restate those vows.

As well as appealing Sanders’s ruling, Vosper is appealing Toronto Conference’s actions, with help from high-profile Toronto lawyer Julian Falconer. The 13-member executive of the 39-member judicial committee, with representatives from each Conference, will decide whether or not to hear Vosper’s appeals, after reading her submissions and responses from the general secretary and Toronto Conference.

If it decides an appeal has merit, the judicial committee’s executive will then name a committee, from among judicial committee members, to meet in person to consider it.

In the meantime, Vosper says she has heard from both detractors and supporters. Those voicing support in open letters to United Church leaders include Munroe Scott, biographer of former moderator Robert McClure. Scott writes, “The idea that the UCC bureaucracy should be planning on a legalistic review of Gretta’s beliefs and ministry is, quite frankly, extremely disturbing.”

In another letter, U.S. progressive Christian theologian Bishop John Shelby Spong writes that “rethinking God in non-theistic terms is one of the great concerns of contemporary Christian theology.” He asks Moderator Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell to “call your church back from this precipice.”

Vosper, for her part, says that “the appeal of the ruling is not just about me. . . . I am appealing as a member of the clergy who are now faced with an entirely different understanding of the requirements for belief.” She says her employment as a minister is in jeopardy, “but a whole lot more is at stake.”

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image