Welcome

West Hill is a people, a place, and an idea. We are a community living out a progressive faith, striving to make a positive difference in our own lives, the lives of others, and the world.

Based in Scarborough Ontario, we have supporters as close as our neighbourhood and all over the world.  You belong with us! Connect with us in person, on the web, or here. We look forward to the journey with you.

Our mission:

Moved by a reverence for life to pursue justice for all, we inspire one another to seek truth, live fully, care deeply and make a difference.

Support West Hill!  Learn more or donate now through CanadaHelps.


The latest news, videos and perspectives from our community:

Want to contribute?  Email the webmaster.

Wednesday
Aug192015

How you can help: Supporting Gretta and West Hill during the UCC Review Process

This past May, Gretta was notified by the Toronto Conference of The United Church of Canada that she would be required to submit to a review of her “effectiveness”. This review is intended to examine her theological beliefs as expressed at the time of her ordination. This is the first time that an ordained minister in the United Church has been subjected to this type of review and a special process was sought by the Conference from the General Secretary of the General Council. Although the impetus for it is not fully clear, it appears to stem from a significant increase in recent media attention being paid to Gretta and West Hill United because she has publicly identified as an atheist, a label which is consistent with her lack of belief in a theistic, interventionist, supernatural being called God.
Gretta Speaks at Burlington Baptist in 2008

 

We find it troubling that no one representing any level of the church has been to visit West Hill in over a decade to see what we are doing or to discuss our ministry. No one has found the work we do at West Hill important enough for the wider church to suggest it be the focus of a conversation at Presbytery, Conference, or elsewhere.

 

Similarly, no one from any of the church courts has tried to engage Gretta in dialogue about her beliefs and ministry despite her accessibility and willingness to respond to any who inquire. The requirement to appear before a review committee is the first invitation to dialogue but it falls within the disciplinary structure of the denomination. 

 

Despite the lack of invitation to dialogue on the part of the church, Gretta and her legal counsel asked the General Secretary and her team of advisors to enter into a conversation with a view to exploring an alternative to the normal judicial process. That request was denied. The response from the church continues to be no dialogue, no conversation.

 

During this time many of you have been asking “what can we do?” In the hopes that a conversation with the church would be forthcoming we kept saying……”stay tuned”. Now that the church has formally drawn that line in the sand we are asking for your assistance. There are a number of ways you can be involved and we are asking you to do that. 

 

These are links to some of the ways you can get involved. If there is something else you would like to do and you have the know how and energy to do it, please be in touch (That's our special email address for this initiative) and let us know.  
Thanks so much for becoming involved. We firmly believe, and have always believed, that this work is work that belongs within The United Church of Canada. Thank you for helping us make sure that it remains so. 
Monday
Aug172015

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... 

 

Monday
Aug172015

Friends of Gretta Vosper Association

 

 

How Gretta's ministry became grounds for a legal battle

The steps that have led to The United Church of Canada (UCC) requiring Gretta's ministry be officially reviewed to determine her effectiveness are complicated and have a lot to do with the United Church as a denomination. Here is a brief, or relatively brief, summary.

This April, the Executive Secretary of Toronto Conference, David Allen, and the Personnel Minister, Dale Hildebrand, requested a meeting with Gretta to inform her that concerns about her theological stance had come to the Executive of Conference at its April meeting.* David noted that the only two reasons for reviewing a minister in the UCC - matters of effectiveness in ministry and failure to submit to the authority of Presbytery - had been discussed by the Executive but that neither case gave them grounds to review her. Nevertheless, the desire to review her based on her theological position was so great that the committee voted unanimously to ask the General Secretary of the General Council, the church's highest executive staff, to create a process that would enable them to do so, directing the General Secretary to focus specifically on the questions of ordination.  
Within a fortnight, the General Secretary ruled that in order for ministers to be effective, they needed to continue to be suitable. That sounds logical; however suitability in the UCC is something determined by congregations and committees prior to an individual's ordination or commissioning and after careful consideration of a candidate's understanding of ministry and, sometimes but not always, interpretation of doctrine. Any doctrinal questions asked seek to determine whether the candidate is in essential agreement with UCC doctrinal statements. (Yes, it's complicated - there is a lot of background history in the UCC related to "essential agreement". We'll post a link to that soon.)
The Sub-Executive of Toronto Conference met a week after the ruling came from the General Council office. With six people in attendance, only four of whom were eligible to vote, the decision to review Gretta's effectiveness based on the new interpretation was passed unanimously. 

Why this review poses a bigger risk to the UCC than Gretta ever could 

No UCC minister, once ordained or commissioned, has ever been questioned as to their suitability apart from, as noted above, effectiveness of his or her ministry, compliance with Presbytery, or criminal activity which, in truth, would likely come under "effectiveness". The General Secretary's argument was, however, that if the minister was no longer in continuing affirmation of the questions asked at his or her ordination, he or she could no longer be deemed suitable and, if not suitable, then certainly not effective. In essence, she interpretted the existing grounds for review, stretching them to cover what it was Toronto Conference Executive wanted to do: review Gretta based on her theological beliefs. 
This new interpretation of "effectiveness" actually places all ministers within the UCC under perpetual theological scrutiny by requiring that they be in ongoing affirmation of the questions of ordination. Specifically, that means defining God as "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." Severed from the discernment of committees and congregations within which a candidate's beliefs are considered and interpretted, it will be difficult to discuss them in any manner other than as the literal questions they pose. This challenge will place a significant a stumbling block before clergy who interpret god metaphorically, something previously celebrated and nurtured within the United Church. It will certainly keep conversations about critical, contemporary scholarship where they have been vibrantly engaged for over a century: behind closed doors or within the halls of academia. Cergy who share critical, contemporary scholarship of any kind with their congregations may find themselves in a small room before a review committee answering questions about what he or she believes. 

How things got ugly

Gretta has long urged denomination-wide discussions related to concepts of God, theology, language, an beliefs, opportunities for learning and growth. She has written two books on her views and spoken nationally and internationally, applauding the UCC's courage on justice issues across the spectrum and its openness to dialogue, inclusiveness, and respect. As this review process began, she repeatedly argued for it to be held in a collegial manner, refusing intervention that might, in any way, compromise the possibility of a result that would affect her, West Hill, and the denomination positively.
At no time prior to the Executive meeting in April did the UCC officially question her, object to her message, or indicate in any way that she was "out of line".** In keeping with her faith in the UCC's sense of respect and natural justice, Gretta and her lawyer sought an alternate dispute resolution process - one which she hoped might result in broad discussion across the UCC. However, one of the two lawyers retained by the UCC (one to represent Toronto Conference and one to represent General Council), informed Gretta's lawyer that they would not participate in such a conversation. Gretta is deeply saddened by this decision as it contradicts her understanding and previous experience of the UCC as a denomination committed to openness, acceptance, discussion, and respect.
We call it a line in the sand, something that West Hill has so often described as a divisive element within religion, particularly evident when faith traditions rely on doctrine to determine who belongs and who doesn't. In order to engage the widest possible audience, we are sharing this background with you and inviting you to participate as you feel inspired to do. 

This is where you come in

A small group of supporters, in response to the UCC's line in the sand, have brought together some of the ways you can be involved.

The Friends of Gretta Vosper Association

The primary purpose of the The Friends of Gretta Vosper Association is “to raise funds to cover Gretta Vosper’s costs as a direct result of the United Church of Canada’s review”** but we have other options for those of you who are unable to help in that area. A Facebook page - Friends of Gretta Vosper - has been set up to provide more information and direct you to a fundraising site to make a donation. 

Letter Writing, Social Media, and West Hill

A no less important goal than raising funds is raising awareness of the situation and engaging those who support the work that Gretta is doing with West Hill. Please see these other pages for information on other ways of influencing the outcome of this review and the work we are doing together.
Thank you for participating in this unprecedented struggle. Your support is enormously appreciated.
*The letter to which David Allen drew the Executive Committee's attention came from a congregation within the same presbytery as West Hill. There was no call to action in the letter and Gretta was not named. It requested information on the breadth of belief tolerated in the United Church and (erroneously) noted West Hill's atheistic beliefs as one example. West Hill has invited that congregation to a conversation and we hope it will be an opportunity for vibrant discussion.
**In 2005, when a colleague attempted to initiate a hearing into her beliefs, the Presbytery defeated the motion. Gretta has not been the subject of any further actions since that time although a challenge initiated in a neighbouring conference died before actually getting to the court. 

***The major costs that will and have already accrued are the fees associated with legal representation. Please note, these donations are not being made to West Hill United and are not eligible as charitable donations for income tax purposes.
Monday
Aug172015

Creating Conversations on Social Media

As you are aware, Gretta's ministry is being reviewed by The United Church of Canada (UCC) under a process designed by the General Secretary of the United Church upon the request of Toronto Conference. It is the first time in the history of the UCC that an ordained minister has come under investigation for his or her beliefs. The United Church, which was forged in dialogue and has always found its way forward through conversation, exploration, and learning from the other, has refused to engage in conversation about our ministry and Gretta's ministry, except through a disciplinary procedure. 

West Hill's Streamers prepare for our Affirming AnniversaryWe think this is wrong. We think conversation is essential. 

So, we're hoping you can help us get it going with or without the hierarchy of the church!

Whether you are on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or some other social media channel, please feel free to start the conversation. You are welcome to share our or Gretta's posts on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, join Gretta's group "A Poetic Humanism" on LinkedIn, or share some of the quotes she has posted on Pinterest. There is lots of material out there; we just need you to start a conversation with it!

To keep your conversations up to date with ours and Gretta's engaging and sometimes controversial content, send an email to us letting us know you would like to be on one or both email lists. (In keeping with Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation, please include in your email the permission for us to send you commercial messages in the future. Not that we are expecting to, but ... )

Thank you so much for engaging.  Here are some Social Media sites you might like to follow or like as well as Gretta's website address.

West Hill United on Facebook
West Hill United on Twitter
Gretta on Facebook
Gretta on Twitter 
A Poetic Humanism on LinkedIn
Gretta's favourite quote slides on Pinterest 
Gretta's website 

Conversation is so important. Thank you for drawing your chair up to the table and creating a safe space for others to do so as well. 

For other ways to be involved, please see these pages ...

Monday
Aug172015

Letter Writing, Review of Gretta's Effectiveness

Gretta has been in ministry with The United Church of Canada for twenty-five years, serving first as a Candidate Supply in Kingston before being ordained in 1993 while at St. Matthew's United Church in Toronto. For the past eighteen years, she has been the sole ordained minister at West Hill. The review of her effectiveness comes at a time when her ministry is the focus of media attention because she uses the term "atheist" to accurately describe her lack of belief in a divine being called God.

The following individuals hold key positions in the United Church of Canada. They need to hear your words of support and concern. Please consider writing to all four and copy us on your letters so that the congregation can learn of your support.

The Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell
Moderator, UCC
3250 Bloor St. West, Suite 300
Toronto, ON  M8X 2Y4
or email: The Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell

Nora Sanders
General Secretary, UCC
3250 Bloor St. West, Suite 300
Toronto, ON  M8X 2Y4 Canada
or email: Nora Sanders

 

David Allen

Executive Secretary - Toronto Conference
65 Mayall Avenue, Toronto, ON M3L 1E7
or email: David Allen

The Reverend Bryan Ransom
President - Toronto Conference
65 Mayall Avenue, Toronto, ON M3L 1E7
or email: The Reverend Bryan Ransom 

We encourage you to write personal letters – in your own words. Form letters can serve a useful purpose, however, we believe that personalised letters are more likely to be read and will offer a wider diversity of opinions and concerns.

The goal of your letter could be:

  • to engage the church, recognising that it has always used conversation and dialogue to address significant elements of change,
  • to communicate that how we live our lives is more important that what we believe;  
  • to highlight the significance of the review and the implications that it might have to the ethos of the church and to those who walk alongside Gretta,
  • to convey appreciation for the leadership that Gretta has provided to the West Hill community,
  • to support the progressive vision that Gretta has expressed for the larger church,
  • to recognise Gretta for having helped create a strong values based, ethically oriented community

Your words are powerful. Thank you for taking the time to share them.

For other ways to be involved, please see these pages ...

 

 

Saturday
Aug152015

Prioritize Ecological Integrity in Rouge National Urban Park

Would you help to support creating a healthy, sustainable 100+ km2 National Rouge Park. Efforts of dedicated supporters and volunteers have helped to expand the Park to approximately 75 km2  - an amazing achievement.
 
With your continued emails, we can win support to amend the flawed Rouge National Urban Park Act legislation and create a healthy 100+ km2 National Rouge Park which prioritizes ecological integrity.

1.  Copy the following list of MPs, Candidates and Key Contacts into the blind carbon copy (bcc) section of your email. 

pm@pm.gc.cathomas.mulcair@parl.gc.cajustin.trudeau@parl.gc.caElizabeth.May@parl.gc.ca;chris.alexander@parl.gc.cajohn.mckay@parl.gc.caRathika.Sitsabaiesan@parl.gc.ca;Roxanne.James@parl.gc.cajohn.mccallum@parl.gc.caArnold.Chan@parl.gc.ca;peter.vanloan@parl.gc.caDan.Harris@parl.gc.cadan.harris@ndp.caRathika.Sitsabaiesan@ndp.ca;shan12232@yahoo.caLaura.Patrick@ndp.camark@markholland.cajennifer@jenniferoconnell.ca;janepaulinephilpott@gmail.com; celina@VoteCelina.ca; Alex.Wilson@ndp.caLaura.Casselman@ndp.ca;Matthew.Kellway@parl.gc.cacraig.scott@parl.gc.ca;  stephanie.brown@ndp.ca;Senthi.Chelliah@ndp.caGregory.Hines@ndp.caPamela.downward@ndp.cainfo@votebillblair.ca;voteforgarya@gmail.cominfo@shaunchen.cainfo@salmazahid.cainfo@liberal.ca;bin.chang02@hotmail.combduguid.mpp.co@liberal.ola.orgceoparkscanada@pc.gc.ca;corneliu.chisu.c1@parl.gc.cajobson@jobsoneasow.camarkhamthornhill@gmail.comjimrobb@frw.ca;leigh@frw.ca

2.  Read & copy the letter below into your email,  personalize it if you like, add your name and city of residence and send it.Dear MPs and Candidates:
 
As Parks Canada's former chief scientist has stated, the Rouge National Urban Park Act “falls considerably short” of accepted standards for protected areas, urban or wilderness. 
 
The federal park plan ignores Environment Canada's own science-based recommendations for improving biological diversity, watershed health and Lake Ontario water quality.  
 
The federal park legislation fails to honour the federal commitment to "meet or exceed" the environmental policies of Ontario Greenbelt and Rouge Park Plans. 
 
If the federal government continues to weaken and ignore environmental standards, science and commitments, we will all suffer from dangerous climatic extremes and costly harm to ecosystem and human health. 
 
Consequently, the Rouge National Urban Park Act and draft plan need to be improved to:

  1. Prioritize the protection and restoration of ecological integrity and watershed health;
  2. Support the implementation of Greenbelt, ORM, Rouge Park, Watershed & Great Lakes Water Quality Improvement Plans;
  3. Implement the Greenbelt "main ecological corridor" and Environment Canada's "How Much Habitat is Enough" recommendations;  
  4. Create a 100+ square kilometre National Rouge Park linking Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine;
  5. Remove the dangerous misnomer "Urban" from the park name.

Rouge Park has greater biological diversity than almost any other Canadian national park and it is much larger than five existing national parks. The term "urban park" belies Rouge Park's national ecological significance and size, its natural and rural character, its existing and potential landscape connectivity, and its natural visitor experiences.  Unlike urban parks which are small and isolated, Rouge Park is large and it connects to 7,200 square kilometres of Greenbelt lands which link Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe and Lake Huron.  Unlike urban parks, which involve expensive over-development and manicuring, Rouge Park should remain natural, rural and affordable.

The federal government has tried to excuse its weak park legislation and plan by citing Rouge Park's near urban setting, infra-structure and agricultural leases.  However, many national parks have towns, highways and leased lands - and all existing national parks prioritize "ecological integrity".

There are 100+ square kilometres of public land in the Ontario Greenbelt and "natural heritage system" surrounding the Rouge River and Duffins Creek. These public lands represent the last chance to protect a new national park in Canada's most populous and under-protected region - the Carolinian zone of southern Ontario - home to 1/3 of Canada's endangered species.  
 
To ensure the nationally significant Rouge Park ecosystem survives and thrives, we need to prioritize ecological integrity and watershed health within the park legislation and plan.
 
Whether far wilderness or near urban, national parks are extra-ordinary public lands where Canadians justifiably prioritize ecological integrity.  
 
Will you support the above amendments to create a healthy 100 square kilometre National Rouge Park?
 
Sincerely,
Your Name and Municipality

Thursday
Aug132015

West Hill Welcomes Ken Bole 

Join us for the Sunday service, August 16th as West Hill United welcomes guest speaker Ken Bole, on the theme 
Lessons Learned from Nigeria.
Ken has been an ESL teacher for most of his adult life, teaching in Canada, Nigeria and Japan. He currently teaches English part-time at Centennial College here in Scarborough, and every summer since 1993 has brought high school students from Japan to study English and learn about Canada. He is married to a Japanese woman, Naoko, and has two sons aged 23 and 25. Ken’s hobbies include reading, photography and podcasting; he has put out more than 500 one hour personal journal episodes over the past ten years. He is also very interested in mediation, counselling and personal growth, and still feels he has a long way to travel on this life journey of self-discovery.
Thursday
Aug132015

news@westhill

The latest issue of the West Hill newsletter is out.

                        TAKE A LOOK! 

 

Wednesday
Aug052015

Your Wisdom, Through the Years 

We would love to hear from YOU!   August 31st is the deadline for contributions.

One of our 65 Ways to Wonder projects is a beautiful book that will highlight what it is we, as people engaged with West Hill United, have learned on our way through life. Set against Gretta's photography, the book will share insights from our youngest members to our oldest and will be a testimony to the ideals and values that West Hill people hold dear. 

To participate, simply complete the sentence, "In _______ years, I've learned that ________" twenty times. Why twenty? Because we want you to think deeply about what it is you've learned and why it has been important to you.  We'd like you to make sure your age is filled in in the blank but we don't need any further information. You can add your name if you like, but if you do, please also let us know whether you are okay with us publishing it in the book.

The entries will be edited and selected for publication and the result will be a testimony to what we, as an extraordinary community, have learned over the accumulation of our years. 

Send your responses to the office or drop a paper copy off next time you're in.  

Thanks for participating in this special 65th anniversary project!

Wednesday
Aug052015

Aamjiwnaang First Nation Toxic Tour


First Nations Study Group

Youth from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation invite you to visit on Saturday, September 5th,
Chemical Valley in Sarnia, the climate and pollution crisis of Southern Ontario, where nearly one million barrels of tar sands are processed each day.
Meet and learn more from activists in Aamjiwnaang and others across the region. 
Reserve your seat on a bus from Toronto which leaves on Saturday, September 5 at 7 a.m.
meet at Christie Pits and Jane & Finch. Buses will return that evening by 8 p.m..
For information on bus transport and arrangements for the Aamjiwnaang tour, go to Toronto buses to toxic tour.

CLICK HERE to register.