2015 Annual Report

Annual Report of the Minister – Gretta Vosper

It has been an incredible year in so many ways and I am writing this Annual Report with gratitude, hoping that, as you read it, you will recognize the many ways you have inspired me. Together, we have done remarkable things. Thank you for your commitment and support. You are amazing.

The year’s initial work began to unfold in a world made different, for me, by the death of my mom and the issues within my family that her death brought to the fore. You were supportive, encouraging, and patient with me as I traversed that terrain, one worn smooth by the laments and losses that are, I believe, the most common elements of human experience. Some of you were on that same journey; some have walked it since. During the year, we gathered to acknowledge the gifts that Ginny Ramsay, Robert Lockhart, and Carolyn Cook were to West Hill and so many others and other places in this world. We are grateful for the varied and beautiful ways they each taught us about love and that they continue to do so.

But January is also the month in which we get a little inspiration from Hollywood and the diversion was welcome. Last year’s movies were The Imitation Game, Selma, Boyhood, Birdman, The Theory of Everything, and Into the Woods. They were amazing movies to watch and wonderful to explore more deeply through the process of creating a Perspective(s) around each of them and writing hymns to go with some of them. Usually, I watch a movie, enjoy the entertainment value of it and move on. Not so when our Inspired by Hollywood series is in full swing! I love the challenge of it and know many of you do, too.

At our Annual meeting last year, the work of those who had been reviewing our VisionWorks document was presented and welcomed by the congregation. It is the second time the document has been reviewed since we first wrote it in 2004. I have been involved in neither of those revisions but have been grateful for the work that has been done by members of the congregation. My trust in the wisdom of those who gathered to do the review has not been unfounded. The document continues to challenge and inspire us.

During the early months of the year, I set myself a goal. Every week, so I supposed, I would write a new set of lyrics to a favourite traditional hymn tune. Although my commitment got sidelined not far into the New Year, I did manage to add to our repertoire significantly. Here are the new songs that I wrote and the traditional songs they replaced, all of which we have loved at one time or another.

  • ·         Not Without Courage; traditional: Abide with Me
  • ·         All Roads; traditional: Fairest Lord Jesus
  • ·         As One; traditional: ‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime
  • ·         Earth’s Own Luminosity; traditional: For the Beauty of the Earth
  • ·         For Our Humanity; traditional: Nearer, My God, to Thee
  • ·         Love, Again; traditional: Amazing Grace
  • ·         Meditation Song; traditional: Now the Day Is Over
  • ·         Nothing Once for All; traditional: Love Divine
  • ·         So We Are; traditional: Of the Father’s Love Begotten
  • ·         The Good, the Fair, the True; traditional: O God, Our Help in Ages Past
  • ·         ‘Til All, In Truth, Are Free; traditional: The Church’s One Foundation
  • ·         Women Rock; traditional: Rock of Ages

In addition to these original compositions, I also came across a beautiful poem by Johannes Tauler that was written in the 14th century. It fit the tune to which we once sang, “Come and Find the Quiet Centre” and has added another beautiful piece to our song list.

At the end of January, I led a workshop at Wellspring’s Sunnybrook site entitled “Finding Meaning in the Midst of Chaos.” I’ve led several workshops there and thoroughly enjoyed the engagement with other cancer survivors who participate in Wellspring’s programs. The organization, which now has several sites across the country, came into being over twenty years ago when the need for support during cancer treatment became apparent. Christie Cass has been a volunteer at Wellspring since she participated as one of its original founding Board Members and introduced me to the organization several years ago. Their work is phenomenal.

An invitation to speak at Coral Gables United Church of Christ in Miami, Florida, took both Scott and I south for a couple of weeks at the beginning of February. Coral Gables is a diverse community of faith with engaging leadership and a vibrant music ministry. It was a special joy to get to spend some time with Jack and Christine Spong who were there at the same time. There were some in the community who were particularly concerned about having an “atheist” in the pulpit for their Sunday service. Afterward, however, it was clear that they both understood and enjoyed the engagement. More evidence of West Hill seeping its radically non-exclusive message into churches everywhere!

I was back from Miami in time to help get pancakes out to about eighty hungry appetites at our Pancake Dinner on Shrove Tuesday. For the past several years, we’ve offered vegan pancakes with gluten free options and done it to rave reviews – blueberry, chocolate chip, and just plain awesome are our featured items. Served with a fruit garnish and several syrup options, I do believe we have finessed the tradition to perfection. Marilyn Lott added real maple syrup to top it off. Those who show up and help out under my spatula-wielding leadership are amazing!

Sadly, that pancake dinner was the last time we had Sarah Harvey-McKean with us. Sarah took her own life several weeks later, a reminder to all of us that mental anguish is a pervasive reality in our society and that we often do not recognize its presence. It may be because we fail to open up the conversation sufficiently that we are comfortable speaking about mental health challenges. West Hill, perhaps as a tribute to Sarah, might consider exploring mental health issues more fully in the future.

In response to a very short article in The Observer about our satellite community in Mississauga, Applewood United Church cancelled our agreement to lease space from them. Mike Milne, a staff journalist with The Observer, had joined us for our November gathering and shared his reflections. We were sad to leave and very sad about the friction that resulted from Mike’s article, but members of the community rallied and found us some interim space for the next several months of gathering. We have now found a home at the Community of Christ Church where we have received a warm welcome, and enjoyed our first gathering there on the occasion of our Longest Night service in December. Bryce Taylor, our contact at Community of Christ, has joined us both there and at our Scarborough location. We hope to have a long and healthy relationship with them.

The West West Hill community continues to gather on the third Sunday of each month. We do so around a meal and provide a fluid format that allows for discussion, engagement, and personal sharing. Taking the best elements of West Hill over to the west side of the city has provided an opportunity for us to meet and engage new people who otherwise may never have ventured out to Scarborough. Scott and I have very much enjoyed the new relationships that have emerged there. (Lisa, one of WWH’s committed participants and a cancer survivor, walked in the One Walk with me this past September!) I write this on the day after our most recent gathering and still feel the warm affection of those who come together to hold one another in community.

In April, Dr. Cecilia Dockendorff came from Chile to spend a few weeks with us. She took up residency in the Grand Motel across the street from the church where she was made most welcome. (We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful family-run motel within walking distance of us.) Cecilia is exploring the world of spirituality within an atheist context and quickly became a part of West Hill. Her vibrant spirit and the engaging way in which she shared herself with us, won us over completely. As part of her studies, she interviewed many members, sharing as much of herself as she often learned from those with whom she spoke. Our relationship continues; she has become one of the lights I look to for inspiration and joy. Who could blame me? She positively exudes loveliness!

While Cecilia was with us, Jack and Christine Spong returned to Toronto to engage folks on the topic of Jack’s most recent book, an exploration of The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. He is always an impressive speaker and manages to captivate audiences with his humour and insights. It was, as it always is, wonderful to also connect with Chris. She is such a tireless supporter of Jack but also a champion of my own work as well. I was privileged to speak while Jack was here. I think it was the first time he’d heard me do so since the launch of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity in 2004 and his embrace afterward was the best response I could have ever asked for.

And then, as we all know, things changed.

At the end of April, David Allen, Executive Secretary of Toronto Conference, and Dale Hildebrand, its Personnel Minister, met with Randy and I to share the news that the Conference Executive had asked the General Secretary “to outline a process for considering concerns that have been raised regarding the on-going status of an ordered minister, with a focus on the continuing affirmation of the questions asked of all candidates at the time of ordination, commissioning or admission in Basis of Union 11.3.” (In October, when the General Secretary’s legal counsel responded to our submission of an appeal of her ruling, we learned that the “ordered minister” had actually been identified as a female “minister who describes herself as an atheist.”) Within a few weeks, the General Secretary had made her ruling and Toronto Conference’s Sub-Executive Committee met and decided to review my effectiveness based on the General Secretary’s ruling. Basically, what the ruling did was tie effectiveness to the ongoing affirmation of ordination questions through an assessment of suitability; one cannot be effective as a minister if one is not suitable and one cannot be suitable if one cannot answer the questions of ordination affirmatively.

The next few months were a blur of legal activity culminating in the filing of an appeal against the General Secretary’s ruling on the basis that it was beyond her authority to rule on a matter that alters the manner in which the Basis of Union is applied. Additionally, West Hill, represented by Randy Bowes, the Chair of our Board, filed an affidavit citing exclusion as a party significant to the argument. Counsel for the General Secretary has refuted both our arguments claiming that I have no right to appeal the decision because neither I nor West Hill are named parties. The complication with such an argument is that, unless appealed within 30 days, the ruling stands; we were unwilling to let that happen because, on the books, so to speak, the ruling was a potential threat to every clergy person in the United Church who might say or believe something someone else, even someone unrelated to the UCC, might raise as a concern.

But life continued on and I flew to Denver to participate in a panel at the American Humanist Association’s Annual Convention. The panel was representing the work of The Clergy Project (TCP). TCP is a network that provides support for clergy who no longer believe and I served as a member of its Board and as Secretary from 2012 to the Fall of 2015. In Denver, I met some incredible thinkers: Sikivu Hutchison and Anthony Pinn, to name just a couple. And I so enjoyed meeting online friends like the rest of TCP’s panel and Neil Carter who blogs as Godless in Dixie. It was wonderful to be wrapped up in a room full of people who work so hard to be understood and to create safe space for those who wish to engage beyond religious belief. The USA is a very religious country and these voices are critical at this time.

Back at the church, we hosted our second international speaker. Kile Jones, the founder of Interview an Atheist at Church – incidentally, the 2013 interview that began this “atheist” journey I’ve been on! – came and spoke at West Hill at the end of May. He brought with him an unbelievable energy and passion for interfaith dialogue and the need for secular humanists to become engaged in those conversations. Kile’s work continues to evolve as he strives to create a bridge between faith communities and non-believers. It’s important work.

At the end of May, and as a result of both the review imposed upon me and the presentation of documents inviting Bob Ripley to remove himself from the rolls of Ordered Ministry in the UCC upon publication of a book in which he identifies as an atheist, both Toronto and Hamilton Conferences passed proposals to the United Church’s General Council asking it to invite its Theology, Inter-Church and Interfaith committee to review the questions of ordination with the purpose of updating them to reflect contemporary theological understandings.

The summer brought about increased media scrutiny. Just as the General Council was convening in Cornerbrook at the beginning of August, Colin Perkel of the Canadian Press published an article about the denomination’s proceedings against me. It was picked up and published around the world and resulted in my corresponding with people in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, the UK, the US, and all over Canada. You have no idea how famous you are! An interview on Metro Morning was shared on As It Happens and media from the United States and the United Kingdom tracked me down for deeper understanding of the issues.

The General Council chose to deal with the two proposals in Commissions; that is, only one third of the Commissioners participated in the discussion. Time further constricted the conversation and limited the Council’s engagement to the proposal sent from Toronto Conference. Voting by electronic ballot, the Commissioners defeated the motion by a vote of 51%. Hamilton’s proposal was sent to the General Council Executive (GCE) which chose not to deal with it at its November meeting. Although the GCE does not normally deal with Basis of Union decisions, it may be that it allows the GCE sub-Executive to address the proposal. We await news of how it will be addressed.

It was a pleasure to engage with Seth Andrews following the media attention brought about by Colin’s article. Seth produces a podcast called The Thinking Atheist and is well respected in the secular world of America. Over 16,000 people follow his Facebook page and many more are subscribed to his podcast. We had a wonderful conversation despite his being completely gobsmacked that a United Church minister could be an atheist. It was lovely to be able to disabuse him of that notion!

It was late in August that I began training for the One Walk to Conquer Cancer. Yikes!! The previous year I’d started training in March! But the 2014 walk was two days long and 60 km whereas the walk in 2015 was only one day long and 30 km. A cake walk, right? Ha ha ha. I walked it, but I felt the same at the end of one day as I had the year before after two! Thank you to all of you who supported Princess Margaret Hospital’s Cancer Foundation by sponsoring me. In the two walks, I’ve raised over $11,500! The highlight was hugging one of the researchers at the finish line! That place saved my life and works tirelessly to save so many others. I’m honoured to be walking for them again this year. Look for my invitation to you to donate!

As noted above, we filed our legal submissions related to the appeal of the General Secretary’s ruling in September. Preparing those documents took up an enormous amount of time. We provided hundreds of email and letter submissions – not all supportive of our work – in order to draw attention to the significance of the conversation and the need for it to be broadly based within the denomination. I’m grateful for your patience in that regard, and for the time you allowed us to do that properly. It was a gift.

Early in October, Drew Morgan finally tracked me down and interviewed me for his online radio show. We had a great conversation. Drew had started his show as a believer but gradually shifted away from his previous convictions. His show now brings believers and non-believers to his audience. Cass Midgley also invited me to share a conversation with him on his podcast, Everyone’s Agnostic. It, too, was a great conversation.

Just prior to Thanksgiving, I was at Rutgers University in New Jersey, speaking at an extraordinary conference which brought together religious and secular groups in a quest to find common ground from which we can all do the work of creating just and compassionate societies. It was an honour to engage with Roy Speckhart, Chris Stedman, Anthony Pinn, Nadia Hassan, and so many others. And it was a particular joy to spend much of the time together with Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, and learn of his work.

At the October meeting of the Board, we agreed to become signatories of the Leap Manifesto. Organized by Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything group, a gathering of social activists, poets, writers, and visionaries met over the course of two days to follow the course of their conversation to a practical end. The result was the Leap Manifesto, a document that seeks to engage Canadians in the work of changing the world and which focuses on 2016, a leap year, as the year in which significant changes and commitments need to be made. The Manifesto is particularly focused on the rights of indigenous peoples and creates a challenging vision that requires innovation, courage, and engagement at all political levels.

The Leap Manifesto states the following: The Leap toward a sustainable future must begin by respecting the inherent rights and title of the original caretakers of this land, starting by fully implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It states that the latest research shows we could get 100% of our electricity from renewable resources within two decades and that we could have a 100% clean economy by 2050 and argues that this shift begin immediately. Part of making that happens requires that no new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future can be undertaken. The new iron law of energy development must be: if you wouldn’t want it in your backyard, then it doesn’t belong in anyone’s backyard. The original Leap signatories noted that the time for energy democracy has come and argued that wherever possible, communities should collectively control new clean energy systems. Indigenous peoples and others on the front lines of polluting industrial activity should be first to receive public support for their own clean energy projects. A universal program to build and retrofit energy efficient housing, ensuring that the lowest income communities benefit first, needs to be developed. And high-speed rail powered by renewables and affordable public transit to unite every community in this country – in place of more cars, pipelines and exploding trains that endanger and divide us – must be created. Training and resources for workers in carbon-intensive jobs, ensuring they are fully able to participate in the clean energy economy needs to be offered and subsidized. And we need to invest in our decaying public infrastructure so that it can withstand increasingly frequent extreme weather events. A more localized and ecologically-based agricultural system will reduce reliance on fossil fuels, absorb shocks in the global supply - and produce healthier and more affordable food for everyone. Trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and damaging, extractive projects must be stopped. Immigration status and full protection for all workers needs to be created; Canadians can begin to rebalance the scales of climate justice by welcoming refugees and migrants seeking safety and a better life. The sectors that are already low-carbon: caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts and public-interest media must be expanded. The manifesto notes that a national childcare program is long past due. Since so much of the labour of caretaking – whether of people or the planet – is currently unpaid and often performed by women, its authors called for a vigorous debate about the introduction of a universal basic annual income. They declared that “austerity” is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on earth and argued that the money we need to pay for this great transformation is available -- we just need the right policies to release it: an end to fossil fuel subsidies; the implementation of financial transaction taxes; increased resource royalties; higher income taxes on corporations and the wealthy; a progressive carbon tax; cuts to military spending – all these are ideas for which the time has come. Finally, the manifesto urges us to work swiftly towards a system in which every vote counts and corporate money is removed from political campaigns. It is a bold vision and it is one the Board believed was consistent with West Hill’s VisionWorks document accepted by the congregation in January. Look for some programming to explore the expansive vision of the Manifesto in April.

November took Scott and I on a vacation to our favourite spot in Florida and on to Atlanta for a conference. The two week stay in a condominium in Florida was the gift of an anonymous supporter; we were incredibly grateful for that break. In Atlanta, we were registered for the Fall Meeting of the Westar Institute. Having studied the texts of the Bible and several other disciplines in their quest for the historical Jesus, the Westar Institute had decided to discern interest and energy around the creation of a God Seminar that would follow the same course of study as its Jesus Seminar had done for the previous few decades. The topic is, of course, of interest to both Scott and I so we registered for the conference.

Because we were going to be “in the neighbourhood”, Jeff Straka, coordinator of the Facebook group Skeptiquest, undertook to plan for the launch of Life After God, an online community for which I provide consulting. Ryan Bell, the organization’s founder, came to Atlanta from California for the launch and we shared four speaking engagements in and around the city. The official launch of Life After God took place at Sister Louisa’s Church of the Livingroom and Ping Pong Emporium. It was a raucous but intimate gathering with moving testimony made by those whose journeys beyond belief had been difficult and isolating. Cass Midgley drove hours to be with us; LeRon Shults was in town from Norway; Neil Carter came in from Mississippi. It was an amazing gathering. Our other engagements took in Berry College, Kennesaw State College, and the Atlanta Freethought Society which, on the day of our visit, was celebrating its thirtieth anniversary. You can listen to a podcast of my conversation with Ryan on the Life After God website.

We returned home in time to welcome Dr. Spencer Harrison to West Hill for our Annual Affirming Celebration. Spencer is a brilliant and provocative teacher at OCAD but his passion is currently for the work of Camp fYrefly, a summer week away that creates a safe space for queer kids to gather and just be themselves. Spencer’s story, shared with us in our service, is one that reminds us of the importance of affirming kids just as they are. It brought home the whole meaning of “affirming” for me and I was grateful for the generous telling of his truths in our space that Sunday. Over the year, Spencer has become a friend and a source of support for me and I have been grateful to him for the generous giving of his time.

Much of what I’ve reported here has to do with the work I do on your behalf in places remote to our Scarborough home. As I do that work, I hope to represent West Hill and build a passion for its work far beyond the geographic community in which we are situated. I very much appreciate your willingness to support that “evangelism”, if it is appropriate to call it that!

Part of that work takes place online and over the last three years, I have intentionally worked to develop an online social media presence that reflects the ideals and values of West Hill, promoting our work as I do so. In 2015, I published sixty-three posts on my personal blog, many of which were materials prepared for West Hill services. My Facebook following grew from 1800 to 2290 over the course of 2015 and Twitter followers now number over 16K. I posted 220 items to Facebook which were exposed to over 210K users; 25K of them clicked on the links and 8500 people commented, “liked” or shared the items. As a result of the media attention to the denomination’s review of my effectiveness, I have over 600 email thread labeled “Review”, many of which are composed of several back and forth exchanges. It has been a busy year but a fruitful one. I am hoping that we can develop a significant social media strategy and presence for West Hill over this coming year. Entirely due to the efforts annie has put in over the year, our email list grew an astonishing 40%. That’s an amazing start!

Also as a result of the denomination’s review, three speaking engagements for 2016 were cancelled – one in Gainsville, Florida, one in St. Augustine, Florida, and the third, a keynote address for the Awakenings conference in Holyoke, Massachusetts. My current speaking obligations scheduled in 2016 begin with the Freedom of Expression panel on February 26th, the anniversary of the brutal murder of Bangladeshi author and secular humanist, Avijit Roy. I will join the Walrus Talks Spirituality panel on April 4th. Other events are planned for Houston Oasis in April, Thunder Bay in May and Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand in October. I’m also in the early stages of a conversation with Hillhurst United Church in Calgary which is looking to have an evening conversation in April.

Our year always ends with my favourite piece of West Hill’s illuminating presence in the world: our Longest Night service. This year, as last, we shared the service at both at West West Hill and in Scarborough. It is a highlight in my life. The community you have created and that I get to support is an extraordinary thing; perhaps even alchemical in nature, pure gold having been wrested out of the mere mortals that we each are. Together we have accomplished extraordinary things and the Longest Night, with its candlewick bracelets, table of light, and inspirational music symbolizes what we are to one another and what we can be for the world. I am ever grateful for the gift you have given me: the opportunity to lean into my creativity and, with your engagement, craft new and meaningful symbols and services that can inspire us to be light to the world. It is a privilege.

And so I must end with gratitude.

I am so grateful for the support, patience, perseverance, and inspiration provided me throughout the year by so many people. Most specifically, though, I need to mention these few individuals who have provided me light throughout a year that could easily have spun into darkness. You shine.

Randy Bowes whose leadership of the Board through challenging times is unparalleled. He makes himself available no matter the issue and considers the appropriate action with care and diligence. It has been a privilege working with him, laughing with him, and wrestling with each others’ ideas as we’ve found our way toward what is best for West Hill.

John DiPede whose perspective is always welcome, always insightful, always wise, always important, and always, always, always offered with encouragement and love. His heart has made West Hill exponentially better than we might ever have been without him and me exponentially more true to my purpose than I might ever have imagined.

Laura Bowes whose clarity of vision is remarkable. Not only do I rely upon her for her financial insights related to the church, but her ability to discern important points for consideration has been essential to the navigation of the complex waters we find ourselves in. She has been a pillar of strength this year in so many ways.

The Friends of Gretta Vosper Association (FOGVA) that came together to help fund the legal challenge related to the UCC’s review of my effectiveness. The financial expenditure is perhaps equal to the emotional and time investment that has been made but FOGVA’s commitment has mitigated costs on all those fronts by attending to the first. Your support has been wonderful.

Annie DiPede who has brought not only a wonderful sense of humour to the office, but the so-important combination of confidence and competence. She has made the office a warm and welcoming place and shares her enthusiasm for our work with all. And, I’m pretty sure that none of you are fully aware of how much we depend upon the work she does “behind the scenes” or the impact her presence has had on the congregation and on those who become newly aware of us. It has been a privilege to get to know her and to work with her.

Babette Oliveira whose “yes, I can” attitude has brought so much joy to my life and to the congregation. She is a light who shines well beyond the Sunday morning presence that inspires you, sharing our story and our inspiration far beyond our walls. She inspires me.

Scott. There is no way to share what Scott has meant to me over this past year. He has carried the burdens, tamed the fury, soothed the sorrows, and welcomed the constant onslaught of “great ideas”, sifting them through to find the ones worth nurturing. He has been a source of unwavering strength. And that’s just what he’s done for me. For you, he has been an articulate leader, a creator and purveyor of beauty, source of wisdom, and constant advocate. We, you and I, simply couldn’t be who we are without him. And that is the truth.

Offered in light,


Board Chair Report

West Hill....Our Big Idea.  We started the year as a community engaged in a broad discussion of what we wanted for our West Hill community.  This included workshops where we gained a broader understanding of our resource challenges, expressed our desire to be a sustainable community that continues to nurture and inspire each other, and shared concerns and solutions about these issues and opportunities.  From the insights learned and confirmed from this process we undertook a number of initiatives that would take us a big step forward to stabilizing our community and realizing our many aspirations for West Hill.  These included:

*Fully celebrating our proud 65 years as West Hill United Church,

*Launching our In-touch teams (enriching our engagement with each other and visitors),

*Continue to evolve the Sunday experience to be a more barrier free experience

(more interaction, less pews, exposure to thought provocative perspectives)

*2015 PAR challenge (increase PAR by 25% with a onetime matching incentive that could

generate an additional $13,000).

By all accounts we achieved all four initiatives as well as publishing our 2015 Vision Works that was endorsed by the congregation at our annual meeting.

Then came the spring and our world began to change.  The United Church began an “effectiveness review” of Gretta and by association our West Hill Community.  I am not going to rehash at this time all of the details but since the spring, we have been fully engaged in defending our United Church community, requesting an open dialogue of the issues being raised, filing numerous appeals on the process and basis of this review of Gretta.  Although the process is currently on hold, pending consideration of the appeals, it has been over 6 months and no indication of the United Church’s intention at this time.

Of course with all of this ground breaking activity the spotlight has found West Hill and there has been a great deal of press from around the world creating supporters, detractors but most importantly curiosity.   Since the summer we have seen a steady increase in visitors each and every week.  This includes between 2 to 12 new first time visitors each week.  Even discounting these one time visitors, our attendance continues to be strong and growing, something that is not happening in many United Churches today.  Since 2011 we are one of only two congregations within the Scarborough area that have experienced growth.  We have grown by 9% while the average is a 22% decline.  In 2015 excluding the one off visitors, we had over 115 financial supporting households,.

By any measure of an alive and active United Church community, West Hill fully delivers.  Just look at the other reports in this annual report of the work, achievements and fun that has been achieved in 2015.  The passion our West Hill community has for our shared values, each other and truly making a difference is unbelievable.  I don’t know how 2016 will play out for our community with the United Church “effectiveness review” but I do know we are not about to disappear, our passion and commitment is far too strong.  We have the Courage To Be West Hill, so in 2016 we will continue to walk the road less travelled but worth every step.

Randy Bowes, Your Proud Board Chair


Ministry and Personnel Committee Report

The Ministry and Personnel Committee (M&P) is a mandatory committee required by the bylaws of the United Church of Canada as outlined in its Manual.  The Chair of M&P is a member of the Board of WHUC. The Committee is responsible for overseeing the relationships among ministry personnel, staff and the congregation. It meets formally with staff on an as-needed basis and members are always available to anybody in the congregation to hear suggestions or concerns about the working relationships concerning the staff team. The M&P Committee is the human resources department of West Hill United Church.

Committee members include Gerri Badcock, Keith MacInnis and Donna Hall (Chair) whose duties and responsibilities include:

The on-going support, development and assessment of all staff and ministry personnel by providing:

*Regular formal feedback and evaluation, informal guidance and counseling, periodic consultation with all staff, individually or collectively, or as requested.

*Creating and revising job descriptions, position applications and consulting with Lay Ministries on all matters concerning staff and ministry personnel.

*Meeting with members of the congregation, as requested, on any concern or issue involving staff or ministry personnel.

*Implementing the Policy on the Prevention of Physical and Sexual Abuse for the Congregation.

*Other projects from time-to-time that enhance the working relationships, productivity or conditions of employment for staff and /or ministry personnel.

In the past year the M&P Committee has selected and welcomed Caley Oliveira to take over the role of Child Care Facilitator from Brandon Frost. A special thanks to Camryn Oliveira for stepping in to support this program during the period of transition. WHUC is a very special place in large part because of the excellence of leadership provided by the staff and ministry personnel of the congregation. The M&P Committee attempts to maintain consistently, healthy working relationships amongst these key individuals and the congregation as a whole.

Donna Hall, 

Chair, Ministry and Personnel Committee


Community Care

Outreach Committee

Committee members this past year were Gill Cockwell, Marion Cruickshank, June Dickson, Ruth Gill, Jeanne Hamel, Betty Henderson, Dorothy Hirlehey, Velda Jones, Donna Lockhart and Lois Macinnis.

The duties of chair and secretary rotate among the members voluntarily each month and new members are always welcome. Our meetings usually take place in the lounge at 8:45 a.m. on the 3rd Sunday of each month. 

We engage the local community through the Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities (SCHC) and with national and world communities through the Mission & Service Fund of the United Church of Canada and Kairos.  Ruth Gill has spearheaded an active First Nations Study Group for the past several years, as a part of Outreach; please also see the additional report of their activities and connections in the community.

This year, Outreach sponsored a successful Easter food drive at the request of the Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities as the food bank was short of supplies, while the number of clients has been continually on the rise. Members also prepared a well- attended Soup Luncheon in March, supporting  Second Harvest, an agency which “rescues” fresh surplus food. With the support of the congregation, we raised enough donations to supply 1300 meals for those in need.

 In August, we sought the congregation’s support to help provide school supplies including back packs, to equip children from the nearby Family Residence for the new school year.

December saw the annual White Gift Sunday support the SCHC “Holiday Wishes” program for ten local families, providing hampers of canned and packaged foods, holiday treats, and grocery gift cards, as well as toys or gift cards for thirty-eight children.

Marion is our liaison with Kairos and Mission & Service; she looks after the Lenten Coin Collection and sells the United Church calendars for the benefit of M&S and Dorothy connects with Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities.

The Outreach Committee hosts the Sunday coffee hour one week each month, as well as one of the Visitors and Travelers Lunches.  We are an active group, and would love to welcome new recruits, with new ideas!

We are very appreciative of the support and participation of the congregation in many of our activities over the past year, thank you all!

Submitted by Dorothy Hirlehey and Velda Jones on behalf of the Outreach Committee.


First Nations Study Group

2015 has been stimulating and satisfying for our group. The highlights of our year’s activities follow:

January - National Film Board documentary “Two Worlds Colliding” a true story about racism, injustice and anger in Saskatchewan.

February - Guest speaker - Randy Arsenault, Community Engagement Officer from 43 Division.

March - Drum Social and Pot Luck at Eastview Public School.

-Video “Changing City, Growing Community”, an in-depth look at Thunder Bay, Ontario and the                 choices, challenges, and hopes of native people living in the community and our role in it all.

April  - Video of Dr. Pam Palmater’s testimony to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Bill C51 Anti-Terrorism Act.

June - Eastview Pow Wow - June 24th

September - McMichael Gallery Kleinberg featuring 7 renowned native artists.

-Focus on Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia and the documentary “Chemical Valley” about living at ‘Ground Zero’.

October - Steve Watson led us in a discussion on the first 8 Calls to Action from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. - November

Documentary, - “Trick or Treaty” and history of the Peoples of No. 9 Treaty area in North Western Ontario.

December  - Connecting with and supporting the Native Learning Centre–East in our community.

We wish to thank the congregation for its continued support in our work. We look forward to the year ahead and extend an invitation to all to join us when you can.

Submitted by Ruth Gill


Friendship & Hospitality

In Touch Teams

The In Touch Teams committee members are Lynn Murrell, Betty Henderson and Velda Jones.  The committee met for the first time in early September 2015. The group meets on an “as needed” basis.

The In Touch Team (ITT) program was developed at West Hill to strengthen congregational relationships and reinforce our connection with one another.    Additionally, the ITT network adds an additional layer of communication to West Hill e-blasts, website, social media and the newsletter. 

In Touch Teams consist of up to 10 congregant households clustered within a geographic area.  Each month, one member in each ITT contacts all members in their ITT to both share and receive information. The ITTs two-way communication is designed to strengthen relationships and reinforce our connections by an actual conversation.  The caller responsibility rotates every month so that each member usually would only have the calling responsibility a couple of times a year.  A few times a year, “Meet and Greets” will be planned for ITTs so that members can put a “face to a name” and get to know each other better. 

The ITT program was kicked off in September with a brochure distributed to all congregants. In October 2015 volunteers called all congregants to further explain the program and confirm membership in an ITT.  Participants completed “consent” forms and lists were created of all those who agreed to join the program.  Seven geographic teams were created, and in November 2015, volunteer callers were identified and proceeded to make the first round of calls to share information about West Hill upcoming events, as well as receive news from congregants. 

At coffee time after service during December and January, 2 ITT teams a week had their initial “Meet and Greet”.  All teams have now completed their first in-person meeting where they were given an opportunity to introduce themselves to each other. These meetings were the most successful part so far of the program, and team members are already planning additional meetings.  It also raised more awareness of the program which resulted in a number of additional new people joining an ITT.

We look forward to a successful year ahead refining the calling process, encouraging ITTs to meet up in new and interesting ways, and the launch of a “Friend of the Family” program to provide additional supports for congregants in crisis.

Thanks to all the volunteers who helped get this program going!

A special Thank You! to Lynn Murrell for taking on the leadership role in this area of ministry and for her dedicated effort to making the In Touch Teams a meaningful tool for the West Hill Community. Lynn has also turned her attention to welcoming newcomers to West Hill and making sure we have the best ways to connect and stay in touch with visitors and travelers.


Our appreciation also goes to Alice Farrell and Shelley Hunt for their tireless efforts to provide coffee and refreshments after service, to the Outreach Committee and others who shared this responsibility, and to everyone who sponsored and supported the Visitors and Travelers Lunches.

Behind the scenes, Linda Strange makes sure that our message to the community is reflected on our property sign. Rain, shine, and sub-zero temperatures don’t keep our invitation from welcoming the community to join us.


Thanks too, to Elaine Sidhu and her kiosk team for their continuous dedication, ensuring a presence in the lobby each week and a place for visitors to engage in conversation. The kiosk made sure books authored by our guest speakers, were available for sale, re-introduced our creative West Hill calendars, as well as designing custom embroidered T-shirts.


Celebrating the Spirit

The Celebrating Team strives to make our inspirational gatherings meaningful, engaging and rewarding. The various groups that comprise the Celebrating Team are the Elements Committee, the Music Team, the A/V Team and the Chancel Guild. We are extremely fortunate that so many individuals choose to share their gifts and talents to help make our services so special. Here is brief update of what has taken place in these groups over the past year.

The Elements Committee

This wonderful little group is in charge of seeking ways to ensure that what we say and what we do in our inspirational gatherings are aligned with the values that we hold as important. They meet regularly and spend time reviewing input from the congregation, planning, and striving to ensure that we are gathering together with integrity.

The past year has been challenging. Our Team Leader, Karen Cormier tendered her resignation mid-year and so we had a change of leadership. As well, the pending review of Gretta’s “effectiveness” was a backdrop that caused us to look closely at both the process and content of what we do on Sunday mornings. We’ve made a few adjustments to the various elements of our servicewith the intention of improving the flow and enhancing the true meaning of the experience. Our special services: Dream Away and The Longest Night continue to attract many new faces to our church. As you have noticed, we’ve looked to enhance our awareness of the needs of our First Nation brothers and sisters and we now acknowledge the historical significance of the land we occupy. As well, each Sunday we’ve introduced the reading of one of the action steps coming out of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. Our Inspired by Hollywood series continues to be very well received by both those who attend every week and those who drop by once a while. Last year Gretta shared her perspectives on the value of the following films: Selma, Boyhood, Birdman, The Theory of Everything and Into the Woods. This year’s roster of films looks to be every bit as interesting.

We have worked very hard to find engaging and interesting individuals to inspire us during Gretta’s absences, for example: Our own Ken Bowles – Lessons Learned in Nigeria, Kile Jones – Bring an Atheist to Church, Tammy Rankin – Eldercare, Jerry Amernic – Remembrance Day, Scott Campbell -                                  It’s Getting Better All the Time, Eric Thomas – Humanists, Stephanie Baptist – The Ontario Sex-Ed Curriculum and Spencer Harrison –Affirming Celebration.

Many thanks to Deb Ellis, Jim Irwin, Scott Kearns, Babette Oliveira, Lois Stuart, John King and Gretta for the wisdom and the grace you have displayed as you have been part of this important exercise.

As always, we look for your input to help us understand and appreciate if we are “on track”. Please do not hesitate to contact committee members and provide them with your thoughts and suggestions.

The Audio/Visual Team

The Audio Visual Team has continued its weekly support of West Hill Sunday services by managing the sound system, coordinating the microphones, video recording the service, and running through the power point during the service.  The work managed by this team includes set up and take down for over 52 services a year.  Our grateful thanks goes out to the A/V folks who have lent their support to this crucial component of our weekly services throughout this past year especially Peter Thomas and Florence Soknacki

We of course would be grateful for new volunteers!  If you’d like to help support West Hill by becoming a member of this team, please contact John DiPede for more information.  It’s easy to learn a great way to help out.

The Chancel Guild

The Chancel  Guild take great pride in ensuring that our celebratory objects of worship in the gathering place are maintained in sterling condition…..the brasses, the linens, the candle sconces etc. 

They add their unique touch for all of our special services such as the Longest Night, Celebrated Lives and Dream Away gatherings.. They also add warmth to the church during the times around Christmas and Easter.

Many thanks to the dedicated members of this committee: Lois Stuart, Eleanor Cammidge and Martha O’Neill, and Velda Jones.

The Music Team

At West Hill, music is a colourful thread woven into the fabric of our services. It beautifully articulates our vision, our values, our history, and our feelings. It brings us together in a way that touches our hearts. At times it affords us the opportunity to reflect and at other times – to soar. At West Hill we strive to bring music to the congregation that is powerful, thoughtful and relevant.

Scott continues to provide the musical accompaniment for congregational singing, the focused moments, the vocal ensemble, and soloists, and special services throughout the year. He has written 2 new songs this year and rewritten lyrics to several others.  Gretta has added to the repertoire as well, with a number of familiar hymn tunes set to new deeply meaningful lyrics.

Scott led the annual Singing the Season evening, featuring carols old and new, humour, warmth, candlelight, and once again a re-invention of The Twelve Days of Christmas.

In his absence, Dale Conway ably provides the Sunday morning music.  She states she feels very at home here, and we appreciate her contributions.

Scott works with Babette, the vocal director, on all aspects of the music and would like to state that he deeply respects her professionalism, her technical skills, her commitment, and the way she brings the lyrics to life, straight from her heart.

Scott often shares that playing for the West Hill congregation is a privilege and a pleasure.

Babette continues to entice new members to join our choir which has now grown to 16 members. She beautifully orients new voices while attempting to maintain the interest and commitment of our existing members. Throughout the year, small group and solo performance opportunities are provided for those who are interested (who could forget Steve Watson singing Nessun Dorma!). Under her leadership they are offered the preparatory support they need in order to make the most of their performing experiences.

Both Scott and Babette appreciate all the feedback and suggestions they receive, and are truly open to ideas and concerns anyone might have.

We thank them all for their passion, we thank them for their gifts and most of all we thank them for their commitment to making West Hill a joyful place of song.

And lastly to all the wonderful voices in the congregation…THANK YOU …may your voices continue to soar.

As 2016 unfolds, I’d like to express my thanks to all who have helped to make our Sunday gatherings inspiring, comfortable and engaging. It has been a privilege to be part of something so special. Alas, my involvement over the past year was on an interim basis. We continue to look for someone to fill the role of Team Leader for “Celebrating”. If this is something you would like to explore do not hesitate to tap me on the shoulder.

Respectfully submitted,

John DiPede


Education and Growth

Circle of Friends Labyrinth Group

 At our weekly get together on Tuesday mornings from 10:30 – 12 noon, we enjoy quiet meditation on the Labyrinth in the back parking lot, followed by chit chat & refreshments in the lounge. When we can’t see the Labyrinth due to inclement weather we use the Church for our quiet time.  

During the spring or fall we try to include a walk on the Labyrinth at the Manresa Spiritual Centre, where the quiet atmosphere is always inspiring.

Again this year we donated a chocolate basket for the Christmas Bazaar & enjoyed a Christmas lunch, (in January when the seasonal activities quieted down) and wrap up the season with another, in May or June.

During the summer break we socialize at each other’s homes for activities such as swimming or just lazing around the gardens & our times together always include good company and food.

To enhance our path, this spring we have to repaint the Labyrinth as it has really faded. All helpers will be welcome.

And a reminder to everyone......THINK SPRING

 Marilyn Lott


Children’s Program

In 2015, the children’s program during the service has grown from primarily focusing on childcare for one or two children who might be present to creating thoughtful, thematic activities for four or five older children while another four toddlers are cared for in safety and warmth.  Brandon Frost began the  year as a faithful presence with the children nearly every Sunday through to the fall months when he shared the leadership of this group with Camryn Oliveira and more recently transferred regular responsibility to the newest member of the West Hill United team, Caley Oliveira.

We look forward to building more activities for children and families, and we look forward to including our children more fully in the life of the congregation.


Fundraising Events

Progressive Dinner

The 11th annual Progressive Dinner took place on Saturday October 23. The evening progressed from the church for appetizers and punch, to the homes of our generous hosts for the main course and back to the church for dessert and coffee. Fifty participants enjoyed good food and good conversation while in the company of old and new friends. Donations to the local food bank were collected and about $400 raised for WHU.

Progressive Dinner Committee: Gill and Glenn Cockwell, Wendy and Jim Hyland, Barb and Norm Russell

7th annual Fall Bazaar

The bazaar took place on Saturday November 14 from 9am to 2pm. The church was transformed into a lovely, decorated, inviting space where the wider community, with a coffee and treat in hand, shopped for unique holiday gifts at the craft table or chose a special gift basket; found a bargain or two in the white elephant areas;  bought  some frozen food for another day; had a relaxing lunch in the quiet café; tried their luck at the raffle and silent auction, and on the way out the door, purchased some delicious homemade baked goods. The Bazaar Committee would like to thank all those whose hard work and support made it a successful event, raising over $7,000.

Bazaar Committee:  Gill Cockwell, June Dickson, Joan Gracey, Arlene Kelland, Annemarie Leepel, Donna Lockhart, Marion Morrish, Judy Palmateer, Vilma Ramcharan, Barb Russell

Crafty Ladies

The Crafty Ladies met in the lounge on Tuesdays from 1pm – 3pm from January to June and September to November. They crocheted, knitted, quilted, sewed, glued, sculpted, painted and stuffed to create items of all shapes and sizes for the Bazaar, the Mothers’ Day Gift Basket and general sales. Chatter and laughter filled the lounge as coffee and treats were consumed and crafts took shape and multiplied.  Many times, the creations were sold within the group before the last stitch was secured or the last sequin fastened. Sales at the Bazaar were over $800.

Crafty Ladies and friends created the first annual Mothers’ Day Basket; it was filled to overflowing with over 65 items, including $150 in gift cards, for any lady to enjoy.  The raffle raised about $500 for WHU and the gift basket was won by Judy Palmateer. (I think she said she was still going through it!)

Crafty Ladies and friends also cut, chopped, diced, sautéed and cooked downstairs in our church kitchen to produce the Frozen Foods which were sold at the Bazaar and at times throughout the year. Chili, lasagna, soup and apple crisp were popular items.

The Crafty Ladies celebrated their friendships and love of crafting with a January Pot Luck Lunch in the lounge and a cottage day retreat in the Kawarthas in June.

In 2016, many new items, including crocheted and knitted scarves and slippers, felt ornaments, fancy spice containers, ornament wreaths, cobweb catchers, embroidered bunnies and miniature birch reindeer are already on the agenda. So….if you have a Tuesday afternoon or two free, the Crafty Ladies would welcome you with open, if not busy, arms.

Crafty Ladies: Eleanor Cammidge, Mel Crossley, June Dickson, Alice Farrell, Janie Givens, Joan Gracey, Kelly Greaves, Wendy Hyland, Annemarie Leepel, Donna Lockhart, Joan Miller, Judy Palmateer, Esther Parks, Carol Pires, Vilma Ramcharan, Barb Russell, Florence Soknacki, Linda Strange, Sue Thomas, Martha-Jane Trimble.

Respectfully submitted

Barb Russell


Golf Tournament

The Annual Wayne Crossley Memorial Golf Tournament had the most wonderful turnout to date! Mel Crossley and Terry Repol lead the team who welcomed 128 golfers to the greens at Winchester Golf Club. The plan was to tee off the morning of June 8th, but Mother Nature had her own game in mind. Thunder and lightning had the golfers re-convening for the game portion of one of West Hill’s most popular gatherings; most folks were able to make our rain date, but we also offered rain checks for the Golf Club to those who could not join us.  We were very happy not to delay in hosting a lovely dinner for this year’s golfers who raised over $7,000 in support of WHUC.

Many thanks to the team who worked so hard to make this event such a roaring success: Mel Crossley, Terry Repol, Joanne Worobess, and Art Palmateer, for generously donating their time and skill to plan the tournament, and many of the women from the craft group who’s hours of work made the tournament dinner warm and celebratory. Thank you!

Auction Evening

March 28th saw the building filled with family and friends, all here to place bids at our Annual Auction Evening.  As you can imagine, planning an event like this takes commitment, time and incredible organization, as well as a talented team of volunteers to promote, call for donations, and run the show on the big night. We are grateful to Joanne Worobess and her committee for all the time they gave to make this event such a success, and many thanks go out to all those who donated tickets, treasures, services and one of a kind, or hand-made items to the auction, and to our generous bidders.


The building was rocking on April 11th. Our favourite band TRAINWRECK took the stage at our first Annual Pub Night, complete with back-up singing performances by some of the incredible women of West Hill. It was standing room only in our newly renovated auditorium, and the dance floor was full as we had a great time rocking to tunes from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Thank you so much Rill Miller and Stephanie Baptist for bringing music and a just plain rockin’ good time to help shake off the winter blues! Thanks also to the Women ROCK! team of Stephanie Baptist, Babette Oliveira, and of course Scott and Gretta for the evenings of musical direction, choreography and inspiration leading up to showtime. And of course to the women who took the stage, Esther, Dina, Donna, Deb, Dana and Kathleen (tell me they shouldn’t be a band of their own!)…you were stunning! We round out the team with a bit of planning by the office, Ray Gill filling glasses at our licensed bar, and Kathleen Blakey and annie setting the hall for our “indoor street party”. We must do this again!

Property Committee Report

Members: Glenn Cockwell, Morlan Rees, Kevin Jackson and Gary Megson

Projects & maintenance completed over the last year.

-Basement women’s washroom upgraded to handicap accessible.

-Basement ceiling tiles re-painted white.

-All washrooms have new larger roll toilet paper dispensers.

-Started converting basement lighting over to more efficient T8 lamps and electronic ballast.

-Shaft seal replace on the elevator.

-Leveled the paver stones at the wooden steps by front entrance.

-Steadfast Safety Services completed our annual fire alarm inspection.

-Lights changed around the building as required.

-Roof drains checked and cleared.

-Furnace filters changed as required.

-New batteries installed in upstairs thermostat.

-Main floor fire dampers checked OK, one heating vent adjusted to be more open.


Gary Megson

Property Committee Chair