Supporting West Hill United Church
For over eighteen years, Gretta has been our minister at West Hill. She sent us her application after receiving a letter from our Search Committee that stated the congregation was ready to travel new roads. Little did either of us, West Hill or Gretta, know where those roads would lead.
But for the past fifteen years, Gretta has encouraged us to engage in what we believe is most important in life whether we believe in God or not - the way we live. We've worked, studied, read, wrestled with new challenges, sustained great losses, and walked a path that has been costly but rewarding, with encouragement often coming from unexpected places. And we have done it at a time when many United Church congregations in our area have closed.
We haven't closed. In fact, we continue to draw visitors every week and engage a broad audience that is drawn to the work we are doing. While the media loops the fact that we lost two thirds of our congregation (7 years ago), they don't note that 8 congregations in Scarborough have closed in the last decade, and they don't emphasize that we actually made it through those hard days and have grown our way back. Not as far back as we were, but enough to keep our energy high and our passion for our work strong.
For quite some time now, that work has rested on the shoulders of a small group of people. Efforts to grow our vision of church via an expanded staff complement did not build the financial base necessary for supporting the dynamic programs we had planned. The latest program we developed offered a new model of church beyond Sunday morning service format that could be reproduced in any church, where people in the larger community could meet to explore their living relationships with self, others, and the planet. We submitted the program to the Presbyteries of Toronto Conference Corporation, a source of funding for innovative ministries, but were denied because the project was considered "secular".
We still have a vision for how the values that ground all mainline denominations can build and sustain community beyond the decline of Sunday morning services. We recognize how vital community - meaningful, engaged community - is to personal well-being. And we know how vital personal well-being is to the communities and neighbourhoods in which we live. We've learned a lot in our sixty-five year history but the most important thing is that we are all interconnected.
As West Hill continues to struggle toward a new way of being and doing church, the review of Gretta's effectiveness adds another challenge to our work, siphoning off important energy from our leadership core and from Gretta herself. But our primary purpose remains, regardless of what the outcome of that review might be - to nurture and pass on the values that have inspired United Church members for decades, and engage people in a community in which they can grow and be inspired.
If we are going to survive, to model a new way of being church beyond the beliefs that divide, we will need to build a financial base that extends beyond our local, gathering community. Contrary to what many people believe, our expenses are entirely covered by donations made by members of the congregation. Gretta's salary is paid not by the denomination but by West Hill contributors. As is our mortgage. As are our building expenses. As are our other salaries. In fact, with our donations to the United Church's Mission and Service Fund and our presbytery dues, we spend close to twenty thousand dollars a year to remain in the United Church. The UCC doesn't subsidize us; we subsidize it.
But we believe it is critical that we do not fail in this visionary task just because of where we are geographically or because the vision we have isn't shared - yet - by the United Church's funding bodies. Creating community beyond the divide may be the most important thing we figure out how to do. Our theologically barrier-free stance is the crucial first step and that work has already been done.
We invite you to be part of West Hill's continuing efforts by becoming a financial supporter, either by making a single donation or contributing in an ongoing way. Our building is owned by the UCC but we are still making mortgage payments for renovations made in the 1980s. You can find us on CanadaHelps, or contact our envelope steward to find out how to make a donation directly. Your donations are tax deductible.
For other ways to become engaged, please see these pages...
- Letter Writing
- Creating Conversations on Social Media
- Friends of Gretta Vosper Association: Financial Support for Legal Costs