14 Oct 2016

The atheist minister

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:15 pm on 14 October 2016

The Reverend Gretta Vosper is a minister, author and atheist. And she's fighting expulsion from her church for her views.

Gretta declared herself an atheist three years ago. Her own congregation in West Hill Toronto strongly supported her drive for a church where atheists are welcome.

But the United Church of Canada, has deemed her, “not suitable to continue in ordained ministry”.

Gretta Vosper

Gretta Vosper Photo: Supplied

Gretta is the author of the bestselling book, With or Without God; Why The Way We Live is More Important than What We Believe.

She believes that faith must undergo radical change, or the church will face extinction.

Gretta has been in New Zealand for the Sea of Faith conference in Silverstream, Wellington.

She says her understanding of God has always been non-traditional.

She identified as a non-theist in 2001 and then an atheist in 2013 as, “a show of support for people being maligned or threatened with execution in other parts of the world.”

She says she is surprised her church has set itself against her.

“The United Church has been a non-creedal church, we haven’t said that everyone needs to believe a certain thing until last year, when they created this ruling and now they are saying that everyone needs to believe literally in the Trinity.

“I haven’t believed in the Trinity for my entire ministry, and I know many of my colleagues don’t believe in the Trinity.”  

So what is the point of a church if not the worship of God?

“The worship of God is the point of the church, but the idea of God has to be what we create in a world that is beautiful and good. And that leads us toward well-being in all our relationships with ourselves, with others and the planet. “

The United Church of Canada is one of the most progressive denominations in the world and she says should want to find a way to hand its, “most important Christian principles down to another generation.”

“Living in right relationships, in caring for others and for the planet and living in right relationship with indigenous people, recognising our complicity in the activities that take place on the other side of the world.

“Our denomination has always been on the forefront of those conversations.”

People, she says, have a need to engage in this way with being encumbered by set notions of God.

“They’re eager to be engaged in creating meaning in their own lives, but they don’t want to listen to language about God and Jesus and read exclusively from an ancient text.

“They want to be inspired with the things of today and the wisdom of yesterday.”

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