Atheist to Stay Minister as United Church of Canada Plans Formal Hearing on Possible Defrocking

Gretta Vosper, minister with the United Church of Canada, at an event in Coral Gables, Florida in February 2015.
Gretta Vosper, minister with the United Church of Canada, at an event in Coral Gables, Florida in February 2015. | (Photo: Bill Burdick)

A United Church of Canada minister who is also a self-avowed atheist will remain ordained while the denomination continues its process of possibly defrocking her.

The Rev. Gretta Vosper, an openly atheist minister, is presently undergoing an investigation by the Church to determine if she can remain an ordained clergy or will be put on the UCC's Discontinued Service List (Disciplinary), which is tantamount to being defrocked.

In keeping with a recommendation from a Church committee, the sub-Executive of Toronto Conference of the United Church of Canada announced on Thursday that the General Council will hold a formal hearing on Vosper.

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File photo.
File photo. | (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons)

"Ms. Vosper may remain in ministry at West Hill United Church, Toronto Southeast Presbytery, until the results of the formal hearing are known," noted the sub-executive.

"… until the results of the formal hearing are known, no call, appointment, or transfer for Ms. Vosper will be approved by Toronto Conference [and] no further restrictions will be placed on Ms. Vosper's functioning at this time."

In their released statement, the sub-Executive acknowledged that "this is not the decision that some people had wanted."

"Some will be disappointed and angry that this action has been taken, believing that the United Church may be turning its back on a history of openness and inclusivity," continued the sub-executive.

"Others have been frustrated that the United Church has allowed someone to be a minister in a Christian church while disavowing the major aspects of the Christian faith."

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.

Earlier this month, the Conference Interview Committee for the United Church's Toronto Conference ruled 19–4 that Vosper was "not suitable" to remain a 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," 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 recommended a formal hearing to determine whether to add Vosper to the Discontinued Service List (Disciplinary).

Regarding the sub-executive's Thursday announcement adopting the committee's formal hearing recommendation, Vosper said in a statement that she opposed the decision.

"From the outset of this process, we have urged the Toronto Conference to recognize that their decisions would impact not just one minister, but an entire congregation, and many more members of this Church," said Vosper.

"In spite of the many letters of support and concern about this process, the sub-Executive has continued down a path that can only result in division."

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