By: Eric Andrew-Gee Staff Reporter, Published on Mon Mar 16 2015
Beside the entrance to West Hill United Church there is a cornerstone bearing a message that no longer applies.
It reads, “To the Glory of God.”
A lot has changed here since those words were inscribed in 1962.
“We were thinking of carving an extra ‘o’ in it,” said Gretta Vosper, the charismatic, controversial leader of this Scarborough congregation.
Vosper, who has been the minister at West Hill since 1997, is an atheist. By her own admission, she is more interested in the Good than in God.
Her services make no mention of a deity, and she certainly doesn’t read from the Bible. The church library has two shelves of theology, three shelves of fiction, and three shelves marked “Life Transitions.”
West Hill is housed in a red brick building near Morningside Ave. and Kingston Rd. that Vosper calls “the ugliest church in Christendom.”
She says it in jest, but there are some in her own denomination who sincerely question whether it is a church at all, or whether it has any place in the Christian community.
Vosper herself is a bit heterodox on the question of Christ. Asked if she believes that Jesus was the son of God, she said, “I don’t think Jesus was.” That is, she doesn’t think He existed at all.
These kinds of provocations – which Vosper invariably delivers with smiling good cheer – have rankled many in the United Church of Canada, famed for its liberality. In 2008, after she ended the practice of children reciting the Lord’s Prayer, more than half of her parishioners left West Hill, a schism that wrenched friends apart and shrunk the congregation to less than 50 people, but seems to have left Vosper emboldened.
More recently, she sent an open letter to the leader of the United Church objecting to a prayer he wrote following the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Vosper thought he was remiss in failing to acknowledge that belief in God had motivated the terrorists who rampaged through Paris.
This prompted a UC minister from Vancouver to call for her resignation.
During her sermons, Vosper is no fire-breathing atheist. (She prefers the term “post-theist” anyway.) For one thing, that would mean bringing God up, if only to deny His existence.
Instead, she preaches a brand of soothing, non-religious morality, faintly spiritual but mostly concentrated on leading a good life and being kind to others.
It can seem a bit woolly to outsiders, a bit New Age-y. A brochure in the pews reads “West Hill United: a warm place to find yourself.” …