I don’t stress the Canadian origins of this blog. I did when I started, but as the stats started coming in, I realized that both my readership and my subject matter were dominantly American, and it was easier just to blend.
So it’s always interesting to me when something taking place in your own backyard turns up as the subject matter on U.S. websites. Such was the case yesterday at Internet Monk. Daniel Jepsen wrote:
I don’t know much about the Canadian religious scene. Perhaps some of our northern readers can weigh in on this. Apparently the largest denomination, the United Church, has been long known for its liberal leanings and inclusiveness. But one minister is testing the boundaries: The Rev. Gretta Vosper, spiritual leader of West Hill United Church in suburban Toronto, is an avowed atheist. Vosper has been upfront about this since 2001, but things came to a head earlier this year after she wrote an open letter objecting to a prayer a fellow minister had written following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Vosper said the prayer should have acknowledged that belief in God could trigger extremism [because, ya know, all the great massacres of the 20th century (the Cultural Revolution, the Stalinist purges, the Khmer Rouge) were led by Billy Bibles]. Rev. Vosper will face a church hearing to determine whether she is upholding her ordination vows, which included affirming a belief in “God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” One proposal on the table is to trade her to the Unitarians for cash and two seminary prospects.
This is a subject close to my heart, as my vocation allows me to see the entire spectrum of United Church ministers, members and adherents; from the extreme liberals, to the churches which are very evangelical. I felt a certain responsibility to add to the comments at iMonk.
Gretta Vosper is currently grabbing headlines in Canada, but I don’t believe her situation is entirely unique. Rev. John Suk is another example. In a November, 2014 interview in the United Church Observer, the pastor of Toronto’s Lawrence Park Community Church said,
… I think it’s ridiculous to talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus…All religions of the world are hopeful that this life is not all there is, and so am I. I don’t believe in heaven as it is described mythically in scripture. I hope for some kind of spiritual consciousness after I die that is loving. I’m not afraid of death; it feels like whatever happens next will be good. Even if it’s only a forever sleep, it will be a good rest.
A July article on Vosper in the Vancouver Sun states,
One of the things the Vosper case strongly suggests is the United Church has become so freedom-fixated and inclusive — often boasting “We Welcome Everyone” — that it has lost its boundaries…There is a deep spiritual issue at play here if it’s true many closet atheists toil among the United Church’s more than 3,000 clergy…
The article linked at Internet Monk’s Ramblings [akin to our Wednesday Link List] says that Vosper will be held to account as to her faithfulness to her ordination vows, “which included affirming a belief in ‘God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’” However, a visit to the denomination’s ‘Beliefs: Overview’ page on its website contains references to the teachings of Jesus, but not his divinity; there is no mention of sin, no mention of salvation.
In balance, it must be said that for every local UCC church headed by a Vosper or a Suk, there are indeed some evangelical United Church congregations. Overall however, this is a denomination that has clearly lost its way, but is no doubt capable of hanging on for another fifty years because of its vast real estate holdings and income from estates.