Canadian Church Rejects Atheist Minister's Attempt to Appeal Review

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

A judicial body within the United Church of Canada rejected an appeal from a minister who wants to keep her clergy credentials despite being an avowed atheist.

Gretta Vosper, head pastor of West Hill United Church in Toronto, attempted to appeal a ruling from the Toronto Conference that her ministry must be under review.

The UCC's Judicial Committee Executive recently decided Vosper's appeal did not hold sufficient merit to be heard before a review was initiated.

"After fully and thoroughly considering all submissions by the appellant and respondent, the Executive of the Judicial Committee decided that the Appeal did not meet the grounds for an Appeal set out in The Manual (2013) Section J.13.6," noted the ruling.

"The Executive of the Judicial Committee finds that the procedure set out in the Ruling is in accordance with the polity of the United Church."

The Reverend David Allen, executive secretary of the UCC Toronto Conference, told The Christian Post that with the appeal defeated, "the Conference's Interview Committee will conduct the review."

"They will set up a team of five people to interview Ms. Vosper. That team will then make a recommendation to the full Interview Committee which consists of approximately 40 people," said Allen.

"If all steps follow along smoothly, the process could be complete by the end of June. However, we won't know for sure until the various parties and bodies get their calendars together."

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 last May.

"We have appealed two things – the ruling by the General Secretary and the motion to review which was made by the Toronto Conference sub-Executive Committee," explained Vosper in an earlier interview with CP.

"We have received an extension (due to the vacation of the UCC's in house legal counsel) and must submit our arguments regarding the appeal by September 18th."

At the center of the review will be how Vosper answers certain questions she was asked at her ordination years ago, namely if she believes in God, the doctrine of the Trinity, and if she believes that God called her to ministry.

In an interview with CP, Vosper said that the impact of this review is "huge," especially on "the right to call the clergy of their choice, matched to the congregation's theological robustness."

"The covenant is between the clergy person, the congregation and the Presbytery. The integrity of that covenant is now disturbed by the invention of a ruling which allows an ecclesial court other than one involved in the covenant to raise issues related to effectiveness that are purely based on theological assent to doctrinal statements," said Vosper.

"This can be done regardless of the congregation's theological perspective raising the specter of congregations being forced into a more conservative theology than they may have experienced for decades."

Vosper also told CP that while she is still "committed to working within the church," with the judicial committee's decision "my faith in the institution and its processes is severely compromised."

"I cannot project an outcome but I am not encouraged by this disturbing outcome," added Vosper.

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