United Church court hear­ing on de­frock­ing athe­ist min­is­ter de­layed

Truro Daily News - - Canada - TORONTO

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

An un­prece­dented ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal court hear­ing that could see the United Church de­frock a self­pro­fessed athe­ist min­is­ter who does not be­lieve in the Bi­ble has been post­poned in­def­i­nitely.

The hear­ing on whether Gretta Vosper is suit­able for the min­istry — sched­uled months ago — was to have taken place this month.

How­ever, Vosper, who is the min­is­ter at West Hill United Church in Toronto’s east end, re­cently re­ceived a letter in­form­ing her of the de­lay.

“It is now clear that the panel will not be estab­lished in time to hold the hear­ing on the dates that you are hold­ing in Novem­ber 2017,” ac­cord­ing to the church letter sent to her.

Act­ing on com­plaints about Vosper, a United Church re­view­ing panel in Septem­ber last year rec­om­mended in a split de­ci­sion that Vosper be de­frocked for her be­liefs. The hear­ing sched­uled for this month was to make a fi­nal church de­ci­sion on her fate.

Vosper, 59, who has been fight­ing to keep her job as a min­is­ter, said the church of­fered no rea­son in its letter for the de­lay, nor did it in­di­cate when the hear­ing be­fore a ju­di­cial com­mit­tee might now take place. A church spokes­woman sug­gested the is­sue was, in part, lo­gis­ti­cal.

“I un­der­stand the ju­di­cial com­mit­tee ex­ec­u­tive has not fi­nal­ized dates for the hear­ing,” Mary-Frances De­nis said this week. “The par­ties are still work­ing on a num­ber of pre­lim­i­nary mat­ters that need to be ad­dressed, in­clud­ing find­ing dates that would ac­com­mo­date ev­ery­one’s sched­ules.”

Vosper, how­ever, won­dered whether the prob­lem runs deeper than a sched­ul­ing is­sue.

Un­der laws gov­ern­ing the church’s court sys­tem, she said, a hear­ing is sup­posed to mir­ror the civil courts in pro­vid­ing an im­par­tial fo­rum. Given the charged na­ture of the pro­ceed­ings against her, Vosper ques­tioned whether that would be pos­si­ble.

“I do think that it will be a chal­lenge for them to put to­gether an un­bi­ased com­mit­tee as they are re­quired to do in or­der to meet the stan­dard set by the civil courts,” Vosper said. “Even if they were to find a United Church mem­ber who had never heard of me, as soon as the is­sues were shared, the in­di­vid­ual would very likely have a strong opin­ion.”

The min­is­ter, who was or­dained in 1993 and joined her West Hill con­gre­ga­tion in 1997, has been up­front about her be­liefs for years. Most of her cur­rent con­gre­gants are sup­port­ive of her views but some church mem­bers have been crit­i­cal, say­ing her be­liefs are at fun­da­men­tal odds with United Church doc­trine and values.

The Toronto Con­fer­ence in­ter­view com­mit­tee, which con­ducted the re­view on Vosper, deemed her un­suit­able to con­tinue in or­dained min­istry be­cause “she does not be­lieve in God, Je­sus Christ or the Holy Spirit.” How­ever, a four-per­son mi­nor­ity on the 23-mem­ber com­mit­tee dis­agreed, say­ing the church had al­ways adapted to meet the spir­i­tual needs of its mem­bers and that Vosper’s un­ortho­dox views were shared by oth­ers.

While the saga un­folds, Vosper said she and other West Hill mem­bers have been trav­el­ling across Canada to talk to other United Church mem­bers and ad­her­ents. The re­sponse, she said, has been wel­com­ing.

“Each has been rich and re­ward­ing for all who have par­tic­i­pated, and has al­lowed West Hill’s peo­ple to share their per­spec­tive about what it is we do,” Vosper said. “That has been very good.”

CP PHOTO

Rev. Gretta Vosper is seen at West Hill United Church in Toronto.

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