A little bit about me

I trained for ministry at Queen’s Theological College where the foundations for my post-theistic work were laid. There, I learned that the Bible was a human construction. For the past thirteen years, I’ve applied the extrapolation of that truth to my work within and beyond the church. In 2013, I came out to my congregation as an atheist; few were surprised. For the most part, my denomination – one I consider to be the most progressive in the world – tolerates me as I continue to irritate it toward publicly stating what so many who lead within it believe: god is a metaphor for goodness and love lived out with compassion and justice, no more and no less.
I have been speaking publicly on the forefront of this work since launching the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity in 2004. My first book, With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important than What We Believe, became a national bestseller within days of its publication in 2008. In 2009, I was named one of the most compelling women in Canada by More Magazine and With or Without God was placed on Amazon’s Top 25 Books to Cause a Commotion alongside To Kill a Mockingbird, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation.

Coral Gables UCC 2015

Coral Gables UCC 2015

I have spoken across Canada, in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States presenting keynotes and workshops at conferences and leading congregational events and Sunday services. I have appeared on programs on the Canadian, Australian, and British Broadcasting Corporations’ radio networks and talk and magazine shows across Canada. For six years, I was a weekly panelist on the Culture Wars segment of the John Oakley Show on AM640, Toronto’s most listened to Talk Radio program. I have participated in online lecture series, the most notable hosted by Michael Dowd and including thirty-seven spiritual leaders from across North America and been interviewed by numerous online media channels. My work is regularly addressed in the national magazine of my denomination, The Observer, and fuels controversial conversations on Facebook. Twice, I have narrowly avoided heresy trials, once by a margin of three votes.

My second book, Amen: What Prayer Can Be in a World Beyond Belief applies the reality of a godless world to a spiritual practice that holds incredible meaning for so many. Current scientific discoveries regarding the effects of prayer on the brain bring surprising elements to the fore and we recognize that belief is not as important in our spiritual nurture as we have thought it once was. Amen has become an important book in congregational study groups.

The work I do within my congregation has allowed me to amass considerable resource material for use in humanist or religious gatherings; all of it is post-theistic or humanistic in language and assumption. Of that work, I have self-published three poetry collections and, with my partner, Scott Kearns, a collection of rewritten and revised songs for use with traditional church music. That work continues.

I am currently writing resource material for use in traditional transitioning congregations and plan to publish that in electronic form through a subscription service beginning in 2016. I love photography, beadwork, upcycling creative projects, and walking. An ovarian cancer survivor, I walked 60 km (about 40 miles) to raise $6500 for cancer research last year. I hope to build a team and raise even more this year!

In the spring of 2015, the United Church instigated a review of my effectiveness as a minister. Effectiveness was determined to require suitability which was determined to require ongoing affirmation of the questions of ordination separated from the concept of essential agreement which, until that time, had been central to establishing the diversity of belief the UCC has enjoyed. You can find much in the media with respect to this review. I am also providing you a glimpse of the letters of support and concern that have reached West Hill and I during this time. You can find them here: Letters

Scott Kearns

Scott at Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve, Sanibel Island.

I live outside of Toronto with my husband, partner, and best friend, Scott Kearns by whom I am regularly challenged to live up to the values we have chosen to guide our lives. I couldn’t ask for a better guide and companion in this, my only life. He is a composer and songwriter, working to bring those values into the world that they might provide inspiration for those who need no doctrinal language to frame the work of creating meaning in their lives. I couldn’t do what I do without him.

13 thoughts on “A little bit about me

  1. Yehuda Nofech-Mozes

    Dear Gretta, sorry that I have never heard about you before. It was refreshing to learn about you from watching the CBC news with Wendy Mesley. I sympathize very much with your approach to life, and salute your work in helping people to help themselves and be part of a better community. I work as a hospital physician in Scarborough and I have frequent discussions with some of our nurses who are shocked to hear that I do not believe in a god. They even pray for me every Sunday for crying out loud. Especially because I’m a Jew born and raised in Israel (I keep traditions but don’t practice or pray whatsoever). It’s funny, I’m almost tempted to say “may God give us more atheists like you”… I just wanted to support your courage to keep doing what you do. I wish you that United Church realizes how important it is allowing you keeping your position so you could keep empowering the people around you, and the people who have been following you. I wish you all the best! (I am not using social media and rarely comment online but you got me interested). Yehuda.

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  2. Ellie Donahue

    Dear Greta, I was so pleased that I saw you on TV – CBC National, last evening. I don’t really know what to say except that I agree with you completely. I have a lot of friends who also agree with you. Thank you so much for your courage and conviction to what we all need to know.

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  3. Bill Baylis

    Dear Rev. Vosper,
    Your courageous efforts to bring the United Church into a modern, rational and loving world deserves high praise and certainly has my full support. Yet I find it difficult to be optimistic that the well-ingrained traditions of the church–as progressive and liberal the United Church may be—will be soon willing to divorce itself from the often divisive baggage of a personally interventionist deity and the associated creedal adherence to biblical authority.
    Your perspectives all seem to fit well in the practice of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church to which I belong (www.uuolinda.org). As you surely know, UUism is a liberal, non-creedal religion based on values that are defined by the Canadian Unitarian Council (www.CUC.ca) to include almost exactly your statement: We believe that it is not who or what you believe in that is important, but rather, how you live your life. A large fraction of its members and ministers are atheists, and while UUs do differ in what they believe and services vary from church to church, there is little in any UU service that can be construed as reinforcing a devine hand that underpins hateful fundamentalist beliefs. UU members are generally more liberal and progressive than even the United Church (Olympia Brown was ordained and served as the first female Universalist minister in 1864!), but of course we are relatively small: there are roughly 100 times as many members of the United Church of Canada.
    Many thanks for all you do: the excellent media coverage of your efforts is inspiring needed discussions that are well past due. Should inertia in the United Church makes change there too ponderous for some members, they would almost certainly find a welcome reception in a UU church.

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  4. Eric

    I am incredulous that an ordained minister could claim atheism! That alone does not make it ‘wrong’ of course. I have been connected strongly with evangelical churches for my whole life of 66 years, and that alone, does not make ME ‘wrong’ either! I love the Bible and see it as being clearly the Word of God, with the power to change lives. As I look back on my life I can think of dozens of dearly loved friends who live and believe as I do. People who’s lives have been changed by a living God. People who would give the shirt off their backs for their neighbours. I wish you could put aside your mis-understanding of our loving, living God and find relationship with Him.
    Putting the label of “fundamentalist” on churches such as ours is an unfortunate negative that blocks you and others from finding the true church. ( I know, who doesn’t claim to be the ‘true’ church?) There are certainly many churches that are teaching misguided notions about God, but that doesn’t mean that all are wrong.
    “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

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    1. Ed

      Amen brother Eric. Each of our lives is a journey of discovery. God created each of us to, at some pre-ordained point in our lives, discover Him and the reality of a relationship with Him. Church and religious teaching should point us to this relationship with the one being who really loves us unconditionally. It’s a shame that some actually are “turned off” to this by a church or religious body. Jesus founded the church and the Holy Spirit empowers the church. When the church denies the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives, then all you have left is a religious organization with rules to follow and not a supernatural relationship which transcends all understanding and wisdom of men.

      Jesus, Himself, was always at odds with the religious leaders of His day. They kept focusing on the rules when He wanted them to focus on Him.

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  5. Melba (Chris) Gulick

    As a Unitarian Universalist for many years, I send my congratulations and best wishes. You could easily have melded into the Unitarian Universalist fold and left no ripples. You instead have chosen a route that will bring the BIG QUESTIONS to the attention of a wide public. I thank you.

    I only recently read your second book (AMEN) and found another reason to be grateful to you. In my reading of the works of authors who write about thoughts theological and the benefits of churchly participation, I have never before found another who has noted the relationships with the findings of current brain research and 21st Century psychology. The world needs you. I wish you great strength.

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  6. Lynda

    Gretta I would say you are opening a new world and you are a brave soul. You are correct that we need to focus on how we live. I feel that a Divine Energy lives through us. Religion demands that we follow their rules, all the while preaching from a book that was written by man and all his imperfections.
    I was raised in the Mennonite religion, until I questioned where God came from. Then I began to seek my own path. I believe we have a “source” of energy, light and love. And the more we strive to live with compassion, love, respect, etc. the more we reach that energy.
    Perhaps a meeting place that is your own, might be the way to go. Those who make the rules don’t like the black sheep.
    It does seem you have many cheerleaders however. I send you light and love.

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  7. Neva Miller

    I read your book “With or Without God”. I admit that it through me for a loop, at first, but it seemed to make sense to me and began to confirm the feelings I had in the back of my mind, but was afraid to give lip to. Too many ministers are not addressing peoples questions or belief systems which may vary greatly from what we were brought up to believe as a child. If we still believe in a “God”, then our differing ideas of what God might be could have a hundred different definitions or meanings.
    I think that the word”atheist” is still a dirty word among most Christian people. People believe that to be a Christian, you must believe in God and if you do not believe in God, then perhaps you do not belong in the church. The dictionary defines “church” to be a building for public worship. Christian is defined as one
    who follows the teachings of Jesus and worship is defined as the reverent love and allegiance accorded a
    deity, idol, or sacred object. Of course, if we follow the teachings of Jesus and Jesus taught about God, then must we believe that teaching also? It does not say we must follow ALL of the teachings of Jesus. Confusing, isn’t it?!
    If the church today is to survive at all, then I believe we must change radically. If we are still professing love for our neighbor and most of the things that Jesus stood for, then who are we hurting by saying that we cannot any longer believe in the God we were taught to believe in?
    I think that the presbytery system in the United Church of Canada is too antiquated for today’s thinking people. It acts too much like a judge and jury. I know, because it did a similar thing to our church, as it is trying to do to you. If it were not for our social contacts with many good people in the church, we would have been out of there already. I wish you courage for the rest of your journey!

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  8. Kurt Nicklas

    I have to say that I really don’t care that you are an atheist but you certainly don’t belong in a church if it still believes in the traditional tenets of Christianity. The fact that you are still serving in that church is quite absurd. But such are the days in which we live…

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    1. Bruce Talso

      I am reminded of the passage of scripture found in 2 Peter 3:5; that uses the term “willfully ignorant.” Reading the comments here I am amazed how far people will go to discredit the Word of God which is the Supreme Authority for our Christian faith. If modern thinking drives people away from traditional faith based religion, why do they then try to defend their apostasy? If they no longer believe in Scripture, Salvation through faith, etc. why don’t they just wander off into their state of euphoria and leave the rest of orthodox believers to their simple dependence on God? I am also reminded of the passages that says. “The fool hath said in his heart; there is no God.” You may call me a fool for believing in a loving God who has provided for my justification and sanctification, but then I ask; “Whose fool are you?”

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  9. Bill Baylis

    As Rev. Vosper has noted, her heretical atheistic views have many adherents, both among religious scholars and thinking congregants. Where she stands out is in her honesty and integrity, and in her efforts to move the United Church into a modern era with enlightened scientific understanding of life, while preserving important roles of the church community that transcend outmoted beliefs and rituals. The traditional church has lost its ability to eliminate inconvenient heresies, so the alternative to discussing and permitting some heretical ideas in the church is for it to continue to decline and lose relevance.

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    1. Coen van Wyk

      Bill, I heartily agree with your statement that Gretta Vosper stands out in her honesty and integrity. I would add to that; her courage! She is truly a remarkable woman and somewhat in the same class as Martin Luther.
      I receive weekly newsletters from Bishop John Selby Spong, who recently had a stroke, and I became aware of Gretta when I read her response to a query addressed to johnselbyspong.com. I was fascinated by the fact that she is a church minister and an atheist, given that I have been working on the idea of creating a ministry called, “Truth Ministries”.
      Now I may mention that if you read Spong’s books and postings then you will see that he simply destroys most of the basic tenets of Christianity. Gretta is on the same path and I am of the view that she should start her own ministry.

      Reply

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