Welcome

West Hill is a people, a place, and an idea. We are a community living out a progressive faith, striving to make a positive difference in our own lives, the lives of others, and the world.

Based in Scarborough Ontario, we have supporters as close as our neighbourhood and all over the world.  You belong with us! Connect with us in person, on the web, or here. We look forward to the journey with you.

Our mission:

Moved by a reverence for life to pursue justice for all, we inspire one another to seek truth, live fully, care deeply and make a difference.

Support West Hill!  Learn more or donate now through CanadaHelps.


The latest news, videos and perspectives from our community:

Want to contribute?  Email the webmaster.

Thursday
Jul162015

2015 Federal Election Kit

The United Church has been active in the public arena—
including elections,since its earliest days.
The founders of this church believed that ours is a living faith and a witness to the ministry of Jesus Christ that is expressed in active, thoughtful involvement in society. It is important for people of faith to bring forward the consistent message that every individual, and Earth itself, must be cherished and respected. Our combined voices have greater impact when we work together. Our non-partisan strategy aims to raise awareness about these issues and to build relationships for justice with politicians in communities across Canada. This kit provides information based on United Church policies and the church’s ongoing work with Canadian and global partners.

- The United Church of Canada,
"2015 Federal Election Kit"

Please Read and Share

 

This Election Kit addresses many issues and shares questions that need to be answered concerning: 

Justice and Reconciliation, Climate justice, 
Criminal justice, Economic justice, 
Food justice, Gender identity, Health care, 
International development, Migrant justice, 
Mining justice, Peace, Refugees and Immigration,
Poverty, Trade and Investment Rules
The Kit recommends further reading and links to web sites of Ecumenical partners,
Civil society organizations and Political parties.
Friday
Jun262015

Jobs, Justice, and Climate March, Toronto, July 5th

The issues of survival.

That's what it has come down to. Survival and human dignity. 

On July 5th, the climate movement is stepping up the pressure with the Jobs, Justice, and Climate March sponsored by 350.org. With speeches beginning at 1:00 p.m. at Queen's Park and the march leaving from there and walking to Allen Gardens, the event is expected to draw thousands of supporters.

Ruth Gill and the Scarborough Bitumen Free Future group will be taking part in the march. Gretta will leave following the Visitors' and Travellers' lunch to join the walkers. Anyone interested in participating either with Ruth or Gretta, please contact the office and let us know which group (early or late) you'd like to be in. We hope several people will participate and once we know who is attending, we'll work out the transportation. Gretta will be using public transit.

Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism and the Market, sets out the issues in this important video. Please share the video and the link to this article as widely as you're able!

 

 

Tuesday
Jun232015

Hold the Wall

In December 2010, First Nations across BC and Alberta came together in a show of unprecedented solidarity to stop the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline by signing the Save the Fraser Declaration.

Representatives of well over 100 First Nations throughout BC and Canada are now signatories to this powerful legal document that protects the lands and waters we all rely on from devastating oil spills for all people and all generations.

This is the critical time to show that citizens of British Columbia and Canada stand with First Nations to hold this wall.

The First Nations of the Yinka Dene Alliance continue to steward the lands and waters in their territories according to ancestral laws.  They have used those laws, expressed in the Save the Fraser Declaration, to ban Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and similar tar sands projects from their territories. Their laws require doing this to defend the lands and waters they rely on.

The time is now when First Nations call on all Canadians to stand with us,

in whatever way you can: with your voice, in the streets, or on the land. 

Pledge to Stand with Them

 

Find out more about the Pull Together campaign

and First Nations legal challenges to the Enbridge tanker and pipelines project in this video.


Saturday
Jun132015

Review of gretta's effectiveness suspended

In response to a request by gretta's lawyer that Toronto Conference's sub-Executive Committee suspend the review process pending the result of an appeal he has filed, the interview has been cancelled for the time being. The appeal was submitted against the General Secretary's ruling which means it will be heard by the United Church's Judicial Committee. We do not know how long that process will take, but for the time being, the pressure of a fast-approaching interview date has been relieved. We will keep in touch with you about how you might respond and, again, we thank you for all your support. 

We are confident that the actions of two United Church Conferences, Hamilton and Toronto, helped influence the conferences decision to suspend the process. Each passed proposals at their annual meetings that ask the General Council to "instruct it's Theology and Inter-Church Inter-Faith Committee, or other appropriate group, to undertake a broad based and theological review of the Basis of Union part Eleven (11) which deals with the preamble and questions posed as persons are ordained or commissioned, to ensure their continued relevance and effectiveness as we move forward in support of our ministry leaders." Members present in each court voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposals.

The proposal had been made with two situations in mind: London Conference's Executive Secretary sending retired UCC minister and atheist, Bob Ripley, forms to place himself on the Discontinued Service List upon learning of his beliefs and requesting that he complete them. Bob did so and is no longer able to speak of himself as a retired United Church minister but must refer to himself only as a former United Church minister. The other situation is the one initiated against gretta by Toronto Conference. We are grateful for the membership in both conferences for working to ensure that clergy continue to enjoy the theological freedom to explore beyond the time of their ordination and the permission to share their knowledge with their congregations. 

Saturday
Jun132015

West West Hill Enjoys New Digs

With our tables set up in a square so we could all face one another, we gathered with five new participants making up for those who were away because of the long weekend in May. It was, as always, a moving, inspiring gathering in which courageous individuals wove us together with their stories, the poetry they shared, and the empathy that wove us together as a community.

The Burnhamthorpe community centre is easily accessed from the 427 and the space we are using is bright and lovely. It has a patio which, if we can figure out how to turn its alarm off, will be a lovely place to meet in the summer months. May, it seemed, was not a summer month! We're not so sure about June, either!

Please join us for a meal (we're mostly bringing summer salads for the next few months), conversation, and the weaving together of the kind of meaningfilled community we have enjoyed in Scarborough for so long. And bring your friends, too. When you feel the beauty that is created, you'll want to make it a monthly commitment.  

 

Details:

  • 3rd Sunday of the month
  • 4:30 for set-up
  • 5:00 for dinner
  • 7:00 for clean-up
  • Directions

 

Join us when you can; take your leave when you must.

 

 

Saturday
Jun132015

The Complexities of Language

We had a fabulous time with Kile B. Jones, founder of Interview an Atheist at Church Day an idea that grew out of his desire to spark dialogue between the atheist and secular communities and Christianity. For some time, working in that field, Kile had recognized the seeds of distrust and prejudice in both groups about the other and decided to do something about it. His idea has brought together transformational conversations (like this one with Neil Carter, blogger at Godless in Dixie) that would never have happened had he not invited the first conversation to take place and had such a good experience that he wanted others to create that same possibility for dialogue.

When Kile spoke a couple of weeks ago, it was two years since gretta and Catherine Dunphy had been interviewed as part of the first Sunday dedicated to the conversation. It was likely a little less threatening for West Hill than most other congregations because Catherine had spoke there previously and, well, gretta is our minister. Still, the potential for great conversation was there and we watched the results. Our video of the conversation has had almost nine thousand views on YouTube.* 

While preparing for the first interview, gretta was aware of much that was happening in the world that indicated that intolerance for non-believers was on the rise. Although often called an atheist by those in the general public, gretta decided, with the support of the Board, to identify as an atheist herself during that 2013 interview to align herself with a group that was at risk in so many areas in the world.

Since that time, as gretta continued to publicly identify as an atheist, despite the fact that her beliefs had not changed, the media has focused on the apparent oxymoron "atheist minister"and West Hill, as one of the principal players is often identified as an atheist congregation. In the April edition of The Observer, Ken Ramsay responded to that mistake and noted that we include "traditional believers, agnostics, atheists and everyone in between." If it is hard for our own church magazine to get their editorial head around it, it's no wonder others get confused. 

As a result of rising expressions of concern related to the media attention, including the truncated version of gretta's beliefs about Jesus that appeared in a recent Toronto Star article, she felt it important to reiterate her reason for identifying as an atheist and to recognize the cost that has been to the congregation as a whole and to some of its members personally. Her response was read that morning and distributed to the congregation. It is pasted below. Please feel free to share it as widely as you feel it should and to connect with gretta should you wish to speak to her about it. Gretta is clear that she wants everyone who has been affected by the choice she and the Board made to intentionally identify her with a label that triggers so many misperceptions.

.....

"One of the characteristics of my congregation, West Hill, that many value is its openness to exploration, to examination, and to reflecting seriously on what it says, does, and projects. That openness has led it to many changes over its history because it has considered nothing to be off limits. If understandings change, we feel it is important to change what we say we believe, the choices we make, or the way we express ourselves.

We’ve done that work together for almost two decades. During that time, we have been challenged to integrity on a number of different issues with respect to exactly those things: our beliefs, our choices, and the way we express ourselves. For some of in the church, it has felt like an exhilarating journey. For others, it may have been more like a series of unexpected surprises; sometimes good, sometimes bad, but never quite what was expected.

In 2013, as we prepared for our first INTERVIEW AN ATHEIST AT CHURCH DAY, the denial of human rights and the perpetration of violent acts against those who identified as not having religious beliefs were on the rise. Four Bangladeshi bloggers had been arrested and were being threatened with execution. Internationally renowned Turkish pianist, Fazil Say, had been sentenced to ten months imprisonment for declaring his atheism.

In solidarity with these persecuted atheists, and in the tradition of the Christian witness to stand with those whose rights are denied or abused, on that day, I publicly named myself an atheist. Sadly, events around the world continue to underscore how dangerous it is in many countries to identify as someone who does not believe; they continue to affirm my decision, the recent violent and public murder of atheist blogger, Amanta Das, but one horrific example.

Although I had been open about not believing in a theistic, interventionist God since 2001, the word, with all its complications, has added to the challenges we have faced as a community. It has had a significant impact on the way I and West Hill have been portrayed in the media, with assumptions often being made about the church that are incorrect. It has affected how I am received by my colleagues and in the wider church world.

More importantly, however, I expect it has affected the way participation in the church is perceived by those who are not familiar with West Hill but are exposed to media comments about us. While some West Hill people may be delighted and share the news with anyone who will listen, others may have had difficulty with family or friends who are astonished to hear that they go to a church where an atheist is the minister. My identifying as an atheist may negatively affect how people feel about being part of West Hill or about having me as their minister.

Today we are having our second INTERVIEW AN ATHEIST AT CHURCH DAY. This time, Kile Jones, the founder of the project, will be speaking with me. I’m looking forward to the conversation. But I am also taking advantage of the moment to acknowledge with my congregation how difficult this particular part of the journey has been for them. In the version of this blog that is being printed and handed out this morning, and that will remain available at the church for any who wish to pick it up, I apologize for any of the ways my being known as an atheist has been challenging or even difficult. And I invited conversation. I do that here, too.

My friend and colleague, Jerry DeWitt’s very public journey has taken him from evangelical ministry to atheism. In the midst of more losses as a result of that journey than I will ever experience, he crafted this incredibly astute clarification for those of us who struggle to express what it is we believe and why we believe it. I share it in the hope that you and I, whatever the differences in our beliefs, might have an ongoing conversation sparked by his wisdom.

Skepticism is my nature.
Freethought is my methodology
Agnosticism is my conclusion.
Atheism is my opinion.
Humanitarianism is my motivation.

Jerry DeWitt

As I often write inside one of my books as I’m signing it, 'Let’s keep the conversation vibrant!' Thanks for helping me do just that."

 

*In the first video, gretta mistakenly describes herself as a "positive" atheist. She actually argues that positive atheism, which says there is no god, cannot be proven. Gretta believes that she has no way of knowing whether there is a god or not but as she see no evidence that points to the existence of a divine supernaturat being she is an atheist. By that somewhat technical delineation, gretta is what is known as a "negative" or "weak" atheist. 

Wednesday
Jun102015

PAR Almost on Par with Our 65 Ways to Wonderful Goal!

It is an ambitious goal, but we are very close to meeting it! Early this year, Randy Bowes, the Chair of our Board (and also our Envelope Steward), challenged us to step up to the offering plate with PAR cards instead of weekly donations and many of you have generously responded. Thank you for doing that!

For those of you who are wondering what we're talking about, PAR is our Pre-Authorized Remittance program. It stabilizes our financial health by providing a regular contribution base. And it's good for you, too, because you don't have to worry about meeting your commitment to the church when you are away or scrambling to find your chequebook on your way out the door and you know what your annual tax receipt for your charitable donation is going to look like.

Anyone can contribute to West Hill through our PAR program from anywhere in the world. We have donors in the United States and in other provinces in Canada. We are leaders in the groundbreaking work we do and many who will never be able to join us in our main Scarborough building or our satellite gathering in Mississauga use PAR to support our work.  

Our challenge for our anniversary year is to increase our monthly PAR donations by 25% in order to bring our assured monthly donations to $2060/month. Donors on PAR pledge amounts that reflect what their monthly budget can manage. Smaller monthly donations may reflect a larger portion of a smaller budget while large monthly donations may be a smaller percentage of a much bigger household budget. It doesn't matter what you're comfortable doing; every PAR contribution counts. 

We are hoping to reach our target by adding a further $396 to our monthly PAR total. That translates to five new households signing up for a monthly contribution of $80 or ten current contributors increasing their donation by $40 per month. Of course, there are hundreds of different combinations that could help us reach our goal; as noted above, every PAR contribution counts. 

For this year, 65 per cent of the cumulative increase in PAR over the course of the year will be matched by donors to a maximum of $13,000. These individuals are sold on the idea of PAR as a path that will take us into the future with confidence. Please use their generosity to inspire your commitment as well and match this year's contributions by 65%.

To subscribe to our PAR program, please connect with Randy by email or through the church office. You may also contribute on a monthly basis through CanadaHelps. Each program has small administratice costs; we prefer PAR as those costs are lower but CanadaHelps is easier foy you to set up.

We look forward to watching these number rise and are excited about reaching not just our financial goals, but offering increased program opportunities, as well. We have much to offer. Let's make it happen!

 

 

Wednesday
Jun032015

“Atheist Minister May Face “Review” by United Church of Canada Leaders Who See Her as a Heretic” - Hemant Mehta

 These past weeks have seen conversations bloom in churches, over the airwaves, in the news and across the internet.

“How can it be that an atheist can minister to a

congregation within the United Church?”

These conversations are not new, they have been happening over the past decade as gretta has inspired, provided care, and called us to live according to our values vision.

 


Our grounding is the interconnectedness of life.

Our response to life is to love.                        

Our sources for inspiration are diverse.            

Our vision is growth.                                     

Our gatherings are mutli-faceted                     

 

…and our minister is an atheist                        

For the first time, a United Church minister is being reviewed on the basis of her beliefs, never mind that she has openly worn these beliefs for more than a decade. 

So why now?

Read the article by Hemant Mehta, posted May 27th

 

 

Thursday
May282015

Spirituality Study - Call for Participants!

June 11th and 12th

will bring visiting scholar and researcher Gloria Neufeld Redekop, PhD, to West Hill. 

She is hoping to engage WHU congregants and adherents as she continues her research

into "Finding a Spirituality That Works for You".

 

Research Project Summary

Topic: Finding a Spirituality That Works for You: A Quest for Meaning in a Complex World

Introduction

My previous book, Bad Girls and Boys Go to Hell (or not): Engaging Fundamentalist Evangelicalism, is a study of the history of fundamentalist evangelicalism, a look at the movement’s attachment to a literal-factual interpretation of the Bible, and an analysis of the experiences of seventy individuals who left the fundamentalist evangelical movement. I discovered that leaving fundamentalism is often a slow, painful process, accompanied by guilt, loss, and loneliness. Invariably, individuals look for something else to replace what they have lost. Some are left confused and without spiritual direction. Others find a spirituality, either within or outside religion, that seems to work better for them than what they experienced within fundamentalist evangelicalism.

This research showed me that one’s spiritual experience is quite unique to one’s person. There is not a cookie cutter solution that works for everyone. Thus, my current research involves looking at how people go about finding a spirituality that works for them. What does that spirituality look like? Is it derived from their religion? Is it dependent on religion? Or is it separate from religion? Is it related to spiritual practices? Does their personality type have anything to do with finding a spirituality that is satisfying to them?

Focus of the Research

My research project will begin by examining the meaning of the word “spirituality” historically and its relationship to religion. It will then look at trends of how individuals define spirituality today and what spirituality means to them.  It will analyze the process individuals go through in order to attempt to arrive at a satisfactory spirituality and will determine what kind of spiritual experience and practice is important to them. Through this project I hope to discover both the process individuals go through in their search for a meaningful spirituality and the elements of spirituality that are important to them. I also hope to determine whether there is a relationship between one’s experience of spiritualty and one’s life circumstances and personality type.

Literature Review

The term “spirituality” has many definitions and nuances. It has been defined both within and outside of religion. The term “spiritual but not religious,” having its origin in the Alcoholics Anonymous movement in the 1930s, has frequently been used in the last decades. The literature review will examine definitions of spirituality, both historically and currently; both within religion and outside of religion.

Methodology

The initial part of my research is to conduct a literature review on spirituality in order to arrive at what was meant by spirituality historically and what it means today. Subsequently, through a qualitative analysis of approximately fifty semi-structured interviews and five focus groups I hope to discover how people define spirituality today. I will then be able to compare this with the results from the literature review. Through these interviews and focus groups I will inquire about the process by which individuals work towards trying to arrive at a satisfactory spirituality; the actions/practices that contribute to their spirituality; and influence of life circumstances and personality on their experience of spirituality. Interviewees’ names will be obtained through conference organizers; organizations; and academic and religious institutions. Focus groups will be organized within these organizations and institutions. Interviews will be conducted in person, by phone, by Skype or by email. Verbal interviews may be digitally recorded and transcribed.

I am anticipating that interviewees will fall into one of at least three categories. First, I will interview people from the three Abrahamic religions who are currently within a religious group that still holds meaning for them. Second, I will interview those who were once a part of a religious body and have been confronted by ideas and/or events that called their belief system into question. Their worldview may have changed and so they needed to develop a different kind of spirituality that worked for them in a complex world. And third, I will interview those who have never been affiliated with any religious group.  

 

Thursday
May282015

Welcome Kile Jones - Sunday May 31st

Kile Jones will be joiing WEst Hill United for our Weekly Celebration on Sunday May 31st.

Interview an Atheist at Church Day is a project created by Kile Jones, a Ph.D student at Claremont Lincoln University, an inter-religious school to train ministers. Kile is an atheist who is interested in helping liberal religious people work together with unbelieving communities for the betterment of society.

Interview an Atheist at Church Day is a community project aimed at bettering the understanding between atheists and religious persons. We hope to connect atheists who are willing to be interviewed with congregations in their area that are interested in developing ties with atheists in their area. The “day” represents our desire to grow into something far-reaching and beneficial to atheists and churchgoers alike.

As unbelieving populations around the world contion to rise, dialogue and understanding between atheists and people of faith is more important than ever. We live and work in the same world: understanding better what both unites and divides religious and non-religious people can only help us make this world a better place.

We hope that these interviews will benefit both believers and non-believers.

For more information and to watch interviews, please visit Kile's Website