Atheist Minister Keeps Position After Confidential Settlement With United Church of Canada

Rev. Gretta Vosper of Toronto's West Hill United Church in this March 25, 2016 interview.
Rev. Gretta Vosper of Toronto's West Hill United Church in this March 25, 2016 interview. | (Screenshot: YouTube/CBC News: The National)

A United Church of Canada minister who declared that she doesn't believe in God will be allowed to keep her position after reaching an agreement with church officials.

The Canadian Press reported last week that the settlement reached with the Rev. Gretta Vosper of Toronto is confidential, though both sides stated they are pleased with it. 

The Right Rev. Richard Bott, who has led the United Church in Canada since July, pointed to the core values of faith in God and inclusiveness as part of the reason why Vosper will be allowed to continue her service.

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"The dance between these core values, how they interact with and inform each other, is one that we continue to explore as followers of Jesus and children of the creator," he said. "As a Christian church, we continue to expect that ministers in the United Church of Canada will offer their leadership in accordance with our shared and agreed upon statements of faith."

Vosper, who was ordained in 1993 and has served West Hill United Church since 1997, has reportedly for years been open about her lack of faith in God.

She says that most of her congregants have been supportive of her views, though she attracted controversy following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris in January 2015 after arguing that belief in God can lead to bad actions.

Following an investigation, the Conference Interview Committee for the United Church's Toronto Conference ruled 19–4 in September 2016 that Vosper was "not suitable" to continue as minister.

"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," stated the committee's majority at the time.

"Although The United Church of Canada is a big tent, welcoming a diversity of theological beliefs, Ms. Vosper is so far from center of what holds us together as a united church that we have concluded that she is not suitable to continue as an ordained minister in our Church."

Following the agreement last week, Vosper will now be allowed to continue ministering without restrictions, however.

"It's going to be wonderful," Vosper said on Friday. "We'll be out from underneath that heavy cloud. Now we'll be able to really fly."

Vosper's lawyer, Julian Falconer, confirmed that the atheist minister is no longer at risk of sanctions by the church.

"Both parties took a long look at the cost-benefit at running a heresy trial and whether it was good for anyone (and) the results speak for themselves," Falconer said. "They recognized there's a place for Gretta, and that there is no reason to separate the minister and the congregation."

Some Canadian commentators have criticized the agreement, however, including The Star columnist Rosie DiManno.

DiManno argued in an op-ed on Sunday that the United Church has shown how "irrelevant" it is by allowing a minister who doesn't believe in God to continue leading one of its congregations.

"Carry on deleting all reference to God or a supernatural being in all sermons and rewritten hymns. Carry on expunging the Lord's Prayer. Carry on with a fundamentally humanist dogma. Carry on conducting services as a community-centred attestation where everybody gets a shot at the microphone," she wrote, referring to the outcome stemming from canceling the ecclesiastical trial.

"But what a cross to bear that gigantic wooden crucifix at the front of the Church of the Master must be, constant reminder of everything this parish rejects," she added.

Back in January, a representative of West Hill United Church of Toronto told The Christian Post that the congregation has largely secularized their worship services.

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