As a layman I wish to extend congratulations to The United Church. It is an organization in which my roots are deeply entwined but one to which I have not always been kind – as you will see if you check back in this blog on postings such as“United Church Challenge” and “UC of Canute”. (See August 2012 and September 2016)
But now in all fairness I must say how absolutely relieved and pleased I was to read a recent release about the outcome of the “heresy trial” the United Church has been inflicting upon its ordained but self-styled atheist minister, Rev. Gretta Vosper, and her loyal Westhill congregation. The inquisition has been going on for several years and some time ago a judgement had been reached that Gretta was “unfit” to serve. Only the sentencing was in doubt and that was to be settled in an elaborate “hearing” this past week. Through it all the Church has carefully avoided the words “trial” and “heresy” while lay people have been calling a spade a spade.
However, marvellous to say, early this week the “hearing” seemed to evaporate, a decision was made and in an online statement the United Church Observer reported that:
Atheist Toronto United Church minister Gretta Vosper will be allowed to keep her job. Toronto Conference, Vosper and West Hill United Church said in a joint statement Wednesday that the parties had “settled all outstanding issues between them.”
Gretta’s Westhill congregation’s own jubilant announcement included a phrase that was even more revealing:
[O]n November 6th, the United Church of Canada decided that Gretta and West Hill can carry on in ministry without restrictions;(Emphasis mine)
“Without restrictions” means that Gretta can continue to serve as a self-identified “atheist” minister which, in my opinion, means she can and will continue with great integrity to attempt to unravel the complex web of words that make up outdated theological jargon much of which dates back to primal superstitions, unscientific conjecture, and mythologized history. If the word “atheist” attached to an ordained minister in a major Protestant denomination makes many of us do some hard headed defining of what we ourselves really mean by the words we use then, in my opinion, much of Gretta’s objective will be realized.
I must say that as an out-of-town visitor whenever I drop into a Westhill service I find myself experiencing jargon-free intelligent discourse, empathy and compassion for the afflicted, acute awareness of the wider world, openness to ideas and social action, and downright warm love for others. All of this seems to me to be very much in line with what Jesus taught. And never do I feel I must check my intellect, such as it is, at the door.
It is my opinion that November 6th 2018 should go down in history as a red letter day. A major Canadian Protestant denomination has refused to reject theological honesty. In this super-scientific era when religions paradoxically can give cover to seemingly barbaric beliefs and actions Gretta and the United Church may stimulate us all to re-evaluate our own beliefs and to act accordingly.
By the way, if anyone wishes to go into some background on all this they would do well to check a 2016 article by Mike Milne (titled “Unsuitable”) and also flagged by The Observer in the link above. It’s rather long but informative.