Monday, 21 October 2013

Gretta, Church and just a little bit of ranting.

A good friend and colleague beat me to the bunch with his vblog…
    however I feel compelled to publish regardless.
I should also point out that this is not a typical blog, it is more specific and United Church of Canada centric… feel free to leave the room at any time.
It’s about my colleague the Rev. Gretta Vosper.

Allow me begin by saying, I like Gretta Vosper on a personal level. We used to share a grocery store and coffee shop and I always looked forward to seeing and talking with her.  We have been part of the same Presbytery (Regional Church body) for eight years. I find her compassionate, intelligent and I would trust her with my children (granted they are all in their thirties).   I have read her books and respect her opinions.  However, I believe that it is time for her to withdraw from the United Church of Canada. 

I have always loved the United Church of Canada for being a large tent;  I love and respect the “Congregationalist” part of our United Church that allows (even demands) congregations to have their own personalities and not be called to strict adherence to a restrictive doctrine.   (Feel free to disagree with my description of the United Church of Canada). I recognize that Rev. Vosper has always (apparently) had the support of her congregational board.   However (that word again),  the United Church of Canada also has a responsibility – not to stifle creativity, wonder or speech, but to provide a place where one can come and find “Church”, talk about the experience of God; engage with (at the very least) the stories and teaching of Jesus, whom we call, Christ.   I listened carefully to Gretta’s interview on CBC radio’s Tapestry earlier this month
(  and I suspect those who wander into West Hill United Church would experience something like “Church”, but not Church. 
According to Gretta, the term God is not used;  there is no place of privilege for Christian/Hebrew Scripture or Jesus (noted by Gretta as “not a particularly brilliant leader).  As a friend and colleague pointed out it would be akin to my going to see my Family Doctor expecting medical advice and therapy only to discover that she prefers to now treat with an alternative homeopathy that is neither practiced or endorsed by the local College of Physicians.  I went to my Doctor expecting the medicine practiced in the major hospitals, had I desired an alternative, I could also seek that out.  It is at least polite to let people know that you are an “alternative” practitioner and no longer an exponent of majority medicine.

Gretta still uses the honourific “Reverend”, granted her by virtue of being in Ordered Ministry within the United Church of Canada; her congregation is still identified as West Hill “United Church”.  I feel a lack of integrity in this and it strikes me as misleading, even “false” advertising.   (I would be ticked off to arrive at a Ford Auto Dealership, only to discover that they were only interested in selling bathtubs.)

Please appreciate that I’m not against Rev. Vosper -  I’m not convinced that any reference to  “God” will always connote a dramatically “interventionist” being (benevolent or otherwise)- but that’s a quibble.  I respect the good people who gather at Westhill United Church; I do not deny their spiritual practice or good works.   I also have no quarrel with the Unitarian Church or some of the Non-Theist groups that I have visited.  But they don’t refer to themselves as United Church of Canada.

Also, understand that I’m NOT suggesting that we should kick her out.  I worry that once we start kicking people out we set a precedent and we begin to get pretty nit-picky with who is “orthodox” and who is not so “orthodox”.  I don’t want to be part of a community that insists that there is only ONE way to talk things that are indescribable.
I also have respect for the traditions and practices of my church, and we ordained Gretta in response to what we believe to be God’s call.  What do we do now? Explain to God that this time, God blew it… made a mistake… didn’t read the fine print… didn’t know what God was doing? 

So, what do I want?

I want Gretta to consider leaving on her own.

She went through Discernment and Ordination.  In time, she had a revelation.  Such a revelation that she felt the need to break dramatically from the practices and traditions of our church.  She’s not the first…  but she seems to be one of the few who has insisted on staying.

In the Tapestry interview, Gretta shares that she dreams of a world in which religion is eradicated.  Very dramatic language, but I trust her sincerity.  She also indicated that the continuation of church empowers those who would misuse God and oppress people with the very texts, traditions and understandings that I believe can set them free.  So, if the church is a negative influence in the world – how can she, with integrity, continue to gather in a “Church”? How can she pay “taxes” to the larger church, a body that is trying to reach out to more people all the time?   I do those things, but I believe that the church can be a good influence on society… It makes no sense to willingly, knowingly do “evil” or at least “delay truth and justice”, and it calls into question Gretta’s integrity.  I know that she would not privilege such a story, but I recall Jesus looking at a coin stamped with the head of Caesar, and saying “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s… and unto God that which is God’s”  The building says “United Church”… but Gretta’s not rendering.... and she’s thwarting her own dream.
Finally, I would argue against Gretta’s supposition that our very language and existence empowers those who preach a Gospel of oppression and cruelty… should we abandon the language, traditions and buildings entirely, we leave the abusers alone in the house of God to do as they will, with no one to stand against them and speak the truth.  The truth that many of us have found in the words, teachings and life of Jesus Christ.   I’m not giving the church over to the crazies… 

So endeth my rant.


  1. Thanks Norm! I attended a few services at West Hill United when I moved into the area because it was an affirming church. However, what I got was nothing like church, but more like the spiritual lessons I receive before and after my Yoga classes or more like a daily fluffy 1.5hr story time. No mention of God, no mention of scriptures at all. I am very very liberal, but even I left after the 2nd go round feeling like I wasn't attending church but rather a big social outing. I agree that Gretta needs to move away from calling herself a United Minister and I think West Hill United needs to rebrand itself as something other than United Church, it's just plain false advertising.

  2. Thank you for writing this in such a truthful and grace-filled manner. Many blessings as we sort out this church of ours.