Gretta Vosper and the United Church of Canada: What’s Going on?

Self-declared atheist Gretta Vosper held on to her pulpit in the United Church of Canada last week as denominational executives decided to forego a full inquiry into her fitness for office. According to the United Church Observer:

“A Toronto Conference interview committee said in a September 2016 report that it had found Vosper unsuitable for ministry, because she was no longer in ‘essential agreement’ with the church’s statement of doctrine and was ‘unwilling and unable’ to reaffirm the vows she made when she was ordained in 1993. The General Council hearing to determine her status as an ordained minister was scheduled for this month and December.”

Instead, the Conference, Vosper, and her small congregation announced a joint settlement.

Besides the “man bites dog” nature of the story, which was the tone of many media accounts of it, is there anything to learn here? Or is this just the farcical ending of the long, slow, sad decline of Canada’s once-dominant Protestant Church?

No one is saying why the United Church settled with Vosper and her followers. Speculation is generally of the financial sort: a denomination that has been shrinking steadily for half a century and is shuttering churches all over the country can’t spend many dollars it doesn’t have to prove the obvious: Gretta Vosper is not functioning as a Christian pastor. The only other gain the United Church would make would be to relieve itself of the cost of Vosper’s remuneration and gain back the church building that actual Christians paid for—but by the time the legal bills would have been paid, who knows whether the Church would have come out ahead?

Better, perhaps, to just tie off the problem and wait for it to go away. Vospers isn’t young, nor are her supporters. It’s not like she’s leading a large number of United Church people away from—well, from what?

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