Atheist Clergywoman 'Not Suitable' to Be Ordained Minister, Says United Church of Canada Committee

Gretta Vosper
Gretta Vosper, minister with the United Church of Canada, at an event in Coral Gables, Florida in February 2015. |

A committee of the United Church of Canada has decided that a clergywoman who came out as an atheist over 15 years ago is "not suitable" to remain an ordained minister of the denomination.

The Rev. Gretta Vosper of West Hill United Church of Toronto, Ontario, was declared "not suitable" to remain a church minister, according to a report released on Wednesday from the Conference Interview Committee for the United Church's Toronto Conference.

According to the 39-page report, which was provided to The Christian Post by the UCC Toronto Conference, the committee decided in a vote of 19 to 4 that by being an atheist, Vosper has rejected the ordination vows she took in 1993.

"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," the committee's majority concluded.

"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."

The committee majority went on to recommend that the General Council conduct a formal hearing to consider whether to put Vosper on the Discontinued Service List (disciplinary), which is tantamount to a defrocking.

"The committee is not recommending any form of remediation because Ms. Vosper has been so clear and unequivocal about her beliefs," the committee's majority added. "The committee concluded that remediation to enable Ms. Vosper to remain as an ordained minister in The United Church of Canada, would not be productive."

Vosper came out as an atheist in 2001. She retains a positive opinion of the UCC and seeks to have the denomination become more welcoming of atheism.

Last year, an investigation began into the effectiveness of Vosper's ministry given her spiritual viewpoints, with Vosper filing an appeal in May 2015.

In March of this year, the UCC's Judicial Committee Executive rejected Vosper's appeal, arguing that it lacked sufficient merit.

The Rev. David Allen, executive secretary of the UCC Toronto Conference, told CP back in April that since the appeal was defeated, the Conference's Interview Committee would conduct the review which consisted of a team of five people to interview Vosper.

"That team will then make a recommendation to the full Interview Committee which consists of approximately 40 people," said Allen.

The committee's recommendation against Vosper remaining an ordained minister was not unanimous, with the four-member minority arguing in a dissent that Vosper's viewpoints should be part of the "big tent" of theological diversity that the majority affirmed as existing.

"Many of Ms. Vosper's theological positions, while not in the mainstream, are not unique amongst the ministers and lay persons of the United Church," argued the dissent.

"The United Church has a history of welcoming theological diversity and, to find Ms. Vosper unsuitable could stifle exploration and stunt that diversity."

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