If you want dialogue ...

Since early May, 2015, West Hill United Church has been wanting to talk. That’s when Toronto
Conference’s sub-Executive Committee met and decided to review our minister, Gretta Vosper, for
her effectiveness. We wanted to talk with them about how that review came about. We wanted to
talk with our Presbytery about why our perspective wasn’t being considered. We wanted to talk with
the congregation whose letter had been used to trigger our minister’s review. We wanted to talk.
Almost everywhere we turned, we met with silence or dismissal. We reached out to Metropolitan
United Church to invite them to a conversation, with dessert and coffee, but they didn’t get back to
us. We started an online petition asking that we be heard in the review and gathered 343 signatures
within days, 270 of which included comments. (These comments rested on the table at Gretta’s
interview, brought there by Randy Bowes, the Chair of West Hill, who accompanied Gretta as her
silent support person.) We presented an affidavit to the appeal of the General Secretary’s ruling
which had allowed Gretta’s review and argued that, since we were in covenant with her, the
process, which excluded us, was not within United Church polity. Our concerns were dismissed. The
submission included pages of letters we had received both in favour of defrocking Gretta and
opposed to the process that would allow defrocking. The response of the General Council’s counsel
suggested that the letters had not been thoroughly read. We sought the wisdom of the Presbytery
about a plan to invite all presbyters to West Hill for an evening of conversation and were told that
wouldn’t be a good idea. So we reached out to the Congregational Health Team (CHT) instead and
welcomed four of its members to a lively conversation one evening in May, 2016, only to watch the
CHT share their work at the next Presbytery meeting without even telling presbyters they had met with
us. There is no record of our conversation in their official minutes. We approached Toronto
Conference and asked if we could book a room at its Annual Meeting, as other congregations do, to
engage with any who wished to come and speak with us about our ministry, ask us questions, or tell
us how they feel. We were denied. We asked if we could put some pamphlets on Conference tables
and Conference directed us not to. So fifty of us showed up at the meeting anyway, engaging only
individuals who approached us. Even limiting ourselves in that way, we still had some amazing,
“unofficial” conversations! We asked that our Chair, Randy Bowes, be permitted to speak at the
meeting of the Ministry Personnel Review Committee last June when Gretta was interviewed by
them. Our request was denied even though Ministry Personnel Review procedures require the
committee to hear anyone the Ministry Personnel wants it to hear.
After all this official silence, we were invited to make a fifteen-minute presentation to the Toronto
Conference sub-Executive which, according to media reports, had the potential to turn the entire
situation around. Our compiled congregational statements failed to sway the sub-Executive. We
invited Presbytery Executive to meet with us at their premises in November and that has yet to be
arranged. We want to talk.
We have learned over these many months and so many official rejections, however, that United
Church people want to talk. Shortly after the review was ordered, two conferences, Hamilton and
Toronto, voted overwhelmingly in favour of proposals asking the 42nd General Council, meeting that
summer in Cornerbrook, to launch a discussion about the questions of ordination to ensure they were
relevant and could be used for the purposes to which they were being put. Toronto’s proposal was
defeated by fifty-one percent. Forty-three percent of General Council Commissioners voted to have
that conversation but when Hamilton’s proposal hit the table at the General Council Executive
meeting in April 2016, despite the chair of the Theology, Inter-Church, and Interfaith Committee
asking, at the GCE’s previous meeting, to do the work, the GCE declined to listen to the request of
almost half its Commissioners to hold a conversation. Following the Ministry Personnel Review
Committee finding that Gretta was unsuitable to be a minister in the UCC, over thirteen hundred
people signed a petition initiated by Southminster-Steinhauer United Church in Edmonton, urging the
sub-Executive of Toronto Conference to reject that finding. Over seven hundred people who signed
the petition added passionate comments, mostly about concerns regarding the process. Over two
dozen clergy from Maritime Conference asked for a conversation across the church to take place
before any decision be taken regarding our minister. General Council staff stated that such a
conversation was out of order. One of those signatories subsequently placed her own name on the
Discontinued Service List as an act of solidarity and protest. Twelve clergy from Edmonton also asked
for a stay in the proceedings and a conversation across the church; they received the same
negative response. Wascana Presbytery sent a proposal through Saskatchewan Conference, with
the latter’s approval, asking the General Council Executive to stay the proceedings to allow for a
conversation about theology to take place across the Church. The GCE, after General Council Staff
argued that it would be too problematic for the General Council Executive to overturn a decision
made by its sub-Executive – a committee that is accountable to it – voted not to change course.
Immediately, another motion was put on the floor of the same meeting asking that a wide
consultation be struck regarding the General Secretary’s ruling and its “denominational-shaping”
influence, the result of which would be discussed at the 43rd General Council meeting to be held in
2018. That motion was also defeated.
We want to talk. You want to talk. The official church doesn’t want to talk. So, let’s get together
without them.
Throughout 2017, West Hill United is committed to having conversations with you. About the review
process, beliefs, doctrine, church beyond theological barriers, non-exclusive language – or anything
else. Whether you invite us to join you where you are or engage us in a virtual coffee hour, we know
this conversation needs to happen and we’re willing to make it happen. We believe The United
Church of Canada will be better for it. Ask us. We’re ready to talk. In fact, we’re more than ready.
To arrange for a conversation with members of West Hill United Church, contact Annie DiPede at
westhillunited@gmail.com. Conversations already in the works: Victoria, BC, January 26, 2017.
Edmonton, September, 2017. Fredericton. Montreal.
West Hill United