Can An Atheist Lead A Protestant Church? A Battle Over Religion In Canada

The Rev. Gretta Vosper is a minister with a loyal following at her United Church of Canada congregation in suburban Toronto. She is also an outspoken atheist.

Vosper said that the United Church has a tradition of “pushing the envelope” and pulling down barriers — in accepting the ordination of women, embracing the LGBT community and performing same-sex marriage. She said her views about religion have evolved. After initially rejecting the idea of a supernatural god and the idea of god as “the father,” she moved eventually to rejecting God completely. Instead, she preaches values, including justice, compassion and love.


OTTAWA — The Rev. Gretta Vosper is a dynamic, activist minister with a loyal following at her Protestant congregation in suburban Toronto. She is also an outspoken atheist.

“We don’t talk about God,” Vosper said in an interview, describing services at her West Hill United Church, adding that it’s time the church gave up on “the idolatry of a theistic god.”

Vosper’s decision to reject God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and to turn her church into a haven for nonbelievers “looking for a community that will help them create meaningful lives without God” has become too much even for the liberal-minded United Church of Canada.

The United Church, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, has begun an extraordinary process that could end up stripping Vosper of her rights to continue as a minister.

Last week, a special committee of the Toronto Conference of the United Church requested that a formal hearing be convened by the General Council of the United Church to determine her fate as a minister. That followed a review of  Vosper’s actions by a separate committee.

“In our opinion, she is not suitable to continue in ordained ministry because she does not believe in God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit. Ms. Vosper does not recognize the primacy of scripture, she will not conduct the sacraments, and she is no longer in essential agreement with the statement of doctrine of The United Church of Canada,” the committee said in a report released recently.

Ordained in 1993, the 58-year-old  Vosper says she began questioning God’s existence 15 years ago and openly came out as an atheist in 2013.

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