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Supporters gather outside the offices of Toronto Conference during a review of Gretta Vosper in late June. Photo by Mike Milne

Atheist minister’s suitability reviewed

By Mike Milne

The review of self-declared atheist minister Rev. Gretta Vosper by the United Church’s Toronto Conference was held in late June. At press time, no decision on her future in the denomination had been released.

With two of Vosper’s lawyers and a Conference lawyer present, 24 members of Conference’s interview committee spent two hours questioning Vosper. The committee’s usual role is to determine the suitability of candidates for ministry based on a wide variety of criteria, but this time it judged Vosper’s suitability as a minister based on her beliefs. The litmus test: her current responses to standard ordination questions.

The review was launched last year when the board of Toronto’s Metropolitan United asked the Conference to look into “atheistic/post-theistic beliefs” at Toronto’s West Hill United, where Vosper is minister. A long-time proponent of progressive Christianity, Vosper began openly calling herself an atheist in 2013.

A review was originally scheduled for last year. When Vosper appealed it, the matter was sent up the chain to General Council’s general secretary Nora Sanders, who ruled that Vosper’s effectiveness as a minister hinged on her suitability, which could be measured by her responses to ordination questions. The first begins, “Do you believe in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit . . . ?”

Vosper’s 176-page written statement — released by her lawyers soon after the hearing ended — said she “holds a metaphorical conception of God that is defined by a set of values which serve as guidance for leading one’s best life.” In a prepared verbal statement, she added that she does not believe in a “Trinitarian God . . . who presides over Earth from another realm. . . . Neither do I believe in a god of no substance who exists beyond the universe yet contains it, interpenetrating it in some incomprehensible way for some incomprehensible purpose.”

The interview committee is expected to deliver its decision to the Toronto Conference sub-Executive this month. If it recommends placing Vosper on the church’s Discontinued Service List–Disciplinary, effectively firing her, a formal hearing will be held.

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