Was General Council general secretary Nora Sanders operating within her authority when she ruled that Rev. Gretta Vosper’s suitability for ministry could be determined by her current answers to ordination vows?
At its fall meeting in Toronto, the Executive of General Council agreed that the question, posed by Wascana Presbytery and adopted by Saskatchewan Conference, had already been answered by the church’s judicial committee last year when it decided not to hear Vosper’s appeal of the ruling. The Executive also voted down motions proposing that it “consult widely within the United Church” about the ruling and postpone a formal hearing on Vosper’s fitness for ministry.
Vosper, the minister at West Hill United in Toronto, began publicly calling herself an atheist about three years ago. In 2015, Sanders ruled that Vosper’s current answers to ordination vows could be used to review her effectiveness in ministry. The United Church’s judicial committee, its highest quasi-legal body, refused to hear Vosper’s appeal of that ruling.
Toronto Conference’s Interview Committee conducted that review this past summer, and found Vosper “not suitable” to continue as a minister. In September, Toronto Conference’s sub-Executive asked the General Council for a formal hearing to determine, finally, whether Vosper will be placed on the Discontinued Service List (Disciplinary), effectively firing her.
The Wascana proposal, which might have derailed these proceedings, was largely ruled out of order. Staff theologian Rev. John Young said: “In determining that her [Vosper’s] request did not meet the grounds for an appeal, they [the judicial committee] concluded that the process did in fact fit in our polity.”
Young told the Executive it would be acting beyond its powers if it determined Sanders’ ruling was beyond her authority. He said the Executive could decide to postpone Vosper’s hearing, but it was “something it ought not to do.”
Meanwhile, Vosper’s supporters continue to speak out. Rev. Beverley Burlock, a retired minister from Port Mouton, N.S., informed media outlets in November that she was asking to be placed on the United Church discontinued service list to protest the church’s action against Vosper. And West Hill United’s website lists about three dozen letters of support — including an open letter to Sanders and Moderator Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell signed by 28 ministers, almost all from the Maritimes.