Athe­ist min­is­ter signs deal to keep job

Vancouver Sun - - CANADA - Colin Perkel

TORONTO • A United Church min­is­ter who had faced an un­prece­dented ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal court hear­ing over her pro­fessed athe­ism is no longer in dan­ger of a de­frock­ing af­ter the two sides reached an agree­ment.

In an un­ex­pected devel­op­ment this week, Rev. Gretta Vosper and the church set­tled ahead of what some had dubbed a “heresy trial,” leav­ing her free to min­is­ter to her east-end Toronto con­gre­ga­tion.

“It’s go­ing to be won­der­ful,” Vosper said Fri­day. “We’ll be out from un­der­neath that heavy cloud. Now we’ ll be able to re­ally fly.”

The set­tle­ment, the terms of which are con­fi­den­tial, came dur­ing what was sup­posed to be a week of rou­tine pre­lim­i­nary mo­tions ahead of the full hear­ing later in the month.

The church did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment Fri­day but said in a state­ment that the for­mal hear­ing had been called off in light of the agree­ment, while the Right Rev. Richard Bott, who was elected in July to lead the United Church in Canada, said he was pleased with the res­o­lu­tion.

At the same time, Bott ac­knowl­edged the con­tro­versy around Vosper and the church’s ini­tia­tive to fire her. “The dance be­tween th­ese core val­ues, how they in­ter­act with and in­form each other, is one that we con­tinue to ex­plore as fol­low­ers of Je­sus and chil­dren of the cre­ator,” he said in a mes­sage to ad­her­ents.

“As a Chris­tian church, we con­tinue to ex­pect that min­is­ters in the United Church of Canada will of­fer their lead­er­ship in ac­cor­dance with our shared and agreed upon state­ments of faith.”

Vosper, 60, who was or­dained in 1993 and had served as min­is­ter of West Hill United Church since 1997, has been up­front about her athe­ism and non-be­lief in the Bible for years.

Most of her cur­rent con­gre­gants are sup­port­ive of her views but some have been crit­i­cal, say­ing her be­liefs are at fun­da­men­tal odds with the doc­trine and val­ues of the United Church, Canada’s sec­ond-largest re­li­gious de­nom­i­na­tion.

Crit­ics have called it ap­palling that the church would al­low an athe­ist to stand in a pul­pit and not pro­claim the Gospel of Christ. Ei­ther way, Vosper said it’s been a long road to clear­ing her name. “There have been times of ela­tion when I have felt the in­cred­i­ble sup­port and en­ergy of that sup­port and love and af­fir­ma­tion from my con­gre­ga­tion and across the coun­try and around the world,” she said. “And there have been mo­ments of in­cred­i­ble de­spair.”


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