Atheist minister signs deal to keep job
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.”