Thursday, September 17, 2015

Essentials Under Review

We are not alone,
    we live in God's world.

We believe in God:
    who has created and is creating,
    who has come in Jesus,
       the Word made flesh,
       to reconcile and make new,
    who works in us and others
       by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:
    to celebrate God's presence,
    to live with respect in Creation,
    to love and serve others,
    to seek justice and resist evil,
    to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
       our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
    God is with us.
We are not alone.

    Thanks be to God.

The latest issue of the United Church Observer magazine includes an article about the review of a United Church minister, Gretta Vosper. I am reluctant to use the term "Rev." because Vosper is a self-described atheist.

I am encouraged that this review is taking place for several reasons. We are still a Christian denomination in all statements of faith, and it seems absurd to me that someone in a position of leadership is neither a follower of Christ or a theist. Even in the loosest definition of the commitment ministers make at ordination, both of these are essential. It also rankles me and many of my colleagues that Ms. Vosper is often approached as a spokesperson by the media. The perception is that her views are widely held in the United Church, and I don't think they are. The review will invite discussion about what core values are for leaders within our denomination.

I chatted with son Isaac about the review, and while he supports it he also wonders whether we are inclined to function in worship and in our congregational decision-making as though we are defacto atheists. Are we really prayerful, worshipful communities open to the leading and direction of a God who is active in the world? It was an interesting discussion.

Vosper's approach calls people to be good and compassionate without God. I imagine we all know exceptional individuals who are kind and generous and atheists. Still, we have chosen to shape our communities around the person of Jesus, who is the Christ, or so we hope. We trust that the empowering Holy Spirit enables us to be "more than the sum of our parts." 

I figure we should be "loose around the edges and solid at the core." That core is Christ, even as we explore who Christ is for us openly and honestly.

What are your thoughts on the review? Should an atheist be a minister in a Christian denomination?


roger said...

This would have made a great April Fool's Day blog, David, because I can hardly believe it. Why on earth would an atheist even WANT to be a minister? How can someone be speaking about God to a congregation and be a non-believer? I think I'd have a hard time sitting through that sermon!

That would be like a member of ISIS going around giving workshops about national security.

I think I've seen everything now.

Judy said...

I think the Church needs to let Greta Vosper go... she can be a spokesperson for kindness and compassion elsewhere (is it the job security and the pension she is hanging on for?)You cannot, by definition, be a church person without believing in God. Our creed affirms this (even when we are having personal doubts) and any person who cannot adhere to this basic statement of faith really does not have a place in any of our pulpits

Frank said...

I think that circumstances can get complicated when people have a reverse "change of heart" over the course of their ministry life. Perhaps they took their ordination vows in good faith but lost it over time.
In that case, if their loss of faith becomes irredeemable (and perhaps adversarial), those folk should voluntarily leave the life of ministry and receive some equitable payout of their pensions at that point. And possibly start writing some books like Bart Ehrman.
Any other course is simply a failure of integrity.