Atheist minister not ready to leave her church

Gretta Vosper, the spiritual leader of a church in Toronto, declares herself an atheist. The United Church of Canada believes she is “unsuitable to continue serving”.

Evangelical Focus

Toronto Star, Christian Today · TORONTO · 20 SEPTEMBER 2016 · 19:00 CET

Gretta Vosper in a Sunday meeting / Toronto Star,
Gretta Vosper in a Sunday meeting / Toronto Star

Gretta Vosper has been a minister of West Hill United Church in Toronto for nearly two decades. She publicly calls herself an atheist, stating that she does not believe in an interventionist, supernatural God and preaches instead about love, kindness and human connections.



Vosper's self-described atheism led to a 39-page report by the UCC's Toronto Conference Review Committee earlier this month, which said that she was "not suitable to continue in ordained ministry because she does not believe in God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit.”

"We have concluded that if Gretta Vosper were before us today, seeking to be ordained, we would not recommend her", the report added.

“After prayer and much discussion”, the 23-person committee voted 19 to 4 in favour of a motion that found Vosper “unsuitable to continue serving”.



Until recently, Vosper’s unorthodox approach was welcomed by the United Church of Canada, a Protestant denomination founded in 1925, when Presbyterians, Methodists and Congregationalists formed a union.

Things escalated in January 2015, when she wrote an open letter to then elected church leader, Rev. Gary Paterson, in response to a prayer published on the United Church of Canada website for those killed in the Charlie Hebdo attacks, arguing the use of religious language reinforced the belief that motivated the killings: the existence of a supernatural God.


West Hill United Church in Toronto / Toronto Star

In May 2015, the Toronto Conference announced that it planned to review Vosper’s fitness to be a minister, and asked Nora Sanders, General Secretary of the United Church, to create a procedure for doing so.

Vosper filed an appeal seeking to halt the review, arguing it would redefine the nature of ministry in the United Church and reduce the diversity of beliefs that could be expressed within the denomination. In March, the Church announced that the review would proceed.



An online petition is circulating urging the UCC to reject the recommendation of the committee, describing the process as "flawed and unfair" and implying her views are shared by large numbers of other clergy.

It also speaks of the importance of valuing diversity and not "disenfranchising many seekers". The petition has reached more than 1,000 signatures.



The Toronto Conference's sub-Executive Committee met last Thursday (September 15) to decide what to do about the recommendations that report made, including bringing the matter to a formal hearing to determine if Vosper should be put on a disciplinary “Discontinued Service List”.


Vosper at the hearing

"This story is not about me. This story is about that group of people, because clergy who don't believe are all over the place, they just don't have a community that allows them to speak honestly about their beliefs” , Vosper told the Toronto Star at the meeting in Toronto.



Over the weekend, Vosper posted her response to the committee's verdict on her blog: "The finding is the finding: I'm unsuitable. The Conference can't do anything about that. What they can do is try to work with the recommendations and decide whether to follow them or not.”

“Personally, I'm not sure what room they have to work with when someone is found to be unsuitable, but I'll let them struggle with that. I've still a whole congregation's worth of ministry to attend to", she pointed out.

She also provided a transcript of what she said at Thursday's meeting, where she reiterated her call for the UCC to allow space for her to continue her ministry.

A final decision was expected in the coming days.

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