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

Vosper’s comment sparks survey of clergy beliefs

By Paul Knowles


When Rev. Gretta Vosper, an atheist minister in Toronto, sat down for an interview with CBC’s The National on Good Friday earlier this year, she asserted that as many as half of the United Church’s clergy do not believe in a supernatural, theistic God. In response, Rev. Richard Bott, of Dunbar Heights United in Vancouver, designed a survey to find out if she’s right.

At first glance, the results seem definitive. Of the 1,353 ministry personnel who responded to the online survey, “almost 95 percent affirmed a belief in God, with a large number (almost 80 percent) affirming a belief in a supernatural, theistic God.”

So — case closed?

Gretta Vosper, minister of West Hill United in Toronto. Photo by Scott Kearns
Gretta Vosper, minister of West Hill United in Toronto. Photo by Scott Kearns


Not at all, says Toronto researcher Jane Armstrong, Moderator Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell and Bott himself. But all three believe the survey has fostered important discussion.

There are issues. For instance, Bott did not use a random sample. Therefore, Armstrong says, the results cannot be generalized beyond the actual respondents. But, she adds, “It does provide some valuable insights into the views of ministry personnel,” especially because “55 percent of active personnel responded. . . . I was impressed with the response rate.” Armstrong also points to “the whole question of validity,” whether the questions asked accurately reflect the concepts Bott was trying to investigate.

Bott understands he “can’t speculate about the ministers who didn’t respond,” but sees the survey “as a challenge to further study our individual and communal beliefs, and as an invitation to ministers to talk even more about those beliefs.” While a vast majority did not agree with Vosper’s statement, the responses about belief in and experience of God varied widely, something Bott finds “exciting.”

Cantwell, who did not respond to the survey, says it “has helped to open up the conversation our church is having about what we believe and how we try to put words and ideas to the ultimately inexpressible experience of Holy Presence.”

She adds, “I hope that the buzz created by this survey will encourage folks throughout the church to continue these conversations.”



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

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

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

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

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.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

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.

World

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.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

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

Promotional Image