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Building a World Beyond the Beliefs that Divide - Gretta Vosper

Volume 31, Issue 1,2 & 3, March 21, 2017

Alexina Murphy, Victoria

Gretta Vosper

     The Reverend Gretta Vosper was in Victoria on January 25, 2017, to address an audience of more than two hundred gathered in the Alix Goolden Hall to hear her speak.
     Gretta is a strong dynamic personality, a minister who listens to her congregation, takes their concerns and their points of view seriously and tries to facilitate their desire for change. She and they are exploring together what it is to be Church in our contemporary world. 
     Together, pastor and parish, are evolving away from some of the assumptions and practices that might be thought normative for a Christian congregation. For this Gretta will be called to account in November at a meeting of the General Council of the United Church.
     Gretta and her congregation want to reach out and welcome to their Sunday worship Christians who for whatever reason no longer feel at home in their regular congregation and are searching for a more open and questioning community prepared to make room for different beliefs.  Equally, Gretta and her congregation want to reach out to people who have never belonged in a church but who are embarked on their own spiritual journey. Dialogue is a word that Gretta uses often, describing her desire to engage with people whose views may be quite different from her own.
     Explaining herself, Gretta spoke of growing up in a church-going family.  Church, Christian worshipping community has always been central to her life. The Sunday-school she attended used the New Curriculum introduced in 1964. She learned to think of God as “what we do in the world.” Gretta studied theology and trained for ministry and continues to work as a pastor.
     Most recently, Gretta and her congregation are researching the possibility of finding a meeting place in central Toronto to shorten the long and awkward journeys many have to make to be at her church, West Hill in Scarborough. Gretta is inspired by experimental “churches” elsewhere in North America and Europe, sometimes known as Oasis Communities.
     On Thursday morning January 26, about 50 persons returned for a workshop. Gretta introduced two congregants from her church who spoke cogently about their experiences of finding ways to discuss and resolve issues that were raised in the congregation. They told how they have tried several times to meet with United Church leaders to talk about their programme and the values underlying their activities, but so far without success.
     As discussion became more general, several younger ministers from United Church congregations in Alberta and Saskatchewan and B.C. said how difficult it is to be responsive to the needs of their parishioners. They spoke of the gap between what they learned in seminary about interpretation of scripture and the latest findings in biblical research, and how little of that knowledge finds its way into the pews. 
     In their experience the theological language used to formulate beliefs no longer communicates easily with people today. But those in authority in the Church are not addressing such problems.  Many ministers are feeling abandoned between established ways of leading Christian community which are no longer effective and new ways which are still experimental and unsupported.  
     The writer of these notes is not a member of the United Church, but my heart was moved to witness these faithful dedicated people struggling to find The Way. I realise that all churches and church-goers are in a state of flux, of uncertainty but nonetheless unbounded opportunity.