Thursday, 5 January 2017

A Canadian Solution

I hope I am not being too optimistic, but I am wondering if a settlement of the matter of self-described atheist and United Church minister The Rev. Gretta Vosper may be at hand. This is entirely my own opinion, but it seems a reasonable conclusion.

I say that after the news in late December that Vosper has joined the Board of Directors of the Oasis Network and she is planning to organize regular network gatherings in downtown Toronto. While Vosper and her congregation at West Hill United Church quietly joined the Oasis Network nearly a year ago, according to the network’s web page, the action to develop another group locally may well be seen in a slightly different light.

Oasis Network describes itself as “Powered by Reason. Connected by Compassion.” They are laudable goals, but they are not related to any specific belief structure, Christian or otherwise.

The possibility of a reasonable settlement opens up because of a clause in the United Church Manual, the primary governance document of the denomination. It says that any minister who becomes a leader in another faith group or denomination may be placed on the Discontinued Service List (Voluntary). The DSL(V), as it is known, is different from the Discontinued Service List (Disciplinary). That is where Toronto Conference has requested Vosper be placed following a Formal Hearing for to determine if Vosper should be removed from the United Church ministry.

The DSL(V) is considered much less harsh than the DSL(D), which implies wrongdoing or impropriety of some kind.

In regard to placement on the DSL(V), the member of the Order of Ministry need do nothing. Their actions have already spoken. The denomination itself performs an administrative process. The pastoral relationship with any congregation is usually terminated. The person can no longer function or identify themselves as a United Church minister, but are free to do whatever else they wish.

There are many advantages. The monetary and emotional cost of a Formal Hearing are no longer considerations as the hearing itself is moot. There are no lawyers involved. Everyone just walks away.

If a minister ever wishes to return to active ministry from the DSL(V), there is a church process which is far, far less strict than returning from the DSL(D).

The matter of the congregation is entirely separate and unrelated to the minister. The church property is owned by the United Church of Canada, whose interests are represented by congregationally elected Trustees. The actions of a minister or individual church members have no effect, something which may come as a surprise.

This may be the best outcome. There is no hint of discipline, no fault, no failure, no formal decision, no winners and no losers. People agree to disagree. How Canadian.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.