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.

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Thursday
May142015

Hope Replaced Fear

Many of you know that gretta serves as a Governor for Centennial College. This beautiful story is of one of Centennial's students and an example of why it is that gretta is so committed to the College's work.

 

 

 Read Nina Raynar's personal story about the journey she has braved along with her children in the Huffington Post article,       "I Risked Death toSeek a Better Life for My Kids in Canada".

Monday
May112015

Review of Effectiveness of Ministry

On Sunday, May 10th, Randy Bowes, Chair of West Hill's Board, advised the congregation that Toronto Conference of The United Church of Canada (UCC), under a new ruling from the UCC's General Secretary, would be deliberating as to whether or not to review the effectiveness of gretta's ministry. The new ruling determines that a minister cannot be deemed effective if not in compliance with the questions asked at ordination pertaining to belief in God, call to ministry, and exercise of ministry within the faith. Randy shared the following letter, written by him to David Allen, Executive Secretary of Toronto Conference, with the congregation. David received the letter in advance of a meeting of the Conference's sub_Executive committee at which it would be decided whether or a review of gretta's ministry will be initiated by the Conference. 

Unfortunately, the Conference Sub-Executive has decided to proceed with initiating a review; the timing to be determined shortly.

We will keep you informed.

 

May 8, 2015

VIA EMAIL 

Rev. David W. Allen
Executive Secretary, Toronto Conference
65 Mayall Ave
Downsview ON  M3L 1E7

Dear David,

Gretta has shared with me your email and the letter from the General Secretary of General Council outlining the process that would be used if Conference decides to take steps regarding concerns that have arisen regarding her beliefs.  I want to thank you for your prompt sharing of this information and your commitment to keep us informed as new developments arise.

In your deliberations about whether or not to take any further action, I am confident that the sub-Executive committee will consider not only the impact to gretta and West Hill United Church, but also the implications to the other ministers and the wider church. 

The congregation at West Hill United Church is comprised of people with a wide diversity of theological beliefs.  Some hold very traditional understandings of God, others self-identify as atheist or humanist, but most of us choose not to label ourselves at all.  This diversity is likely very consistent with the theological beliefs held within almost every United Church congregation.  At WHUC, we do not require anyone to subscribe to a particular set of beliefs in order to “belong”, an intentional decision made eleven years ago. Any formal review of gretta’s suitability for ministry based on her theological beliefs, whether or not any action comes out of the review, will be construed by many in the congregation as casting doubt on whether they are welcome within the United Church of Canada and risk creating a division in this community.

Throughout its 65 years within the United Church of Canada, WHUC has strived to live out the ideals of the UCC.  Over the years, the emphasis has shifted and swayed, with more or less prominence placed on various ideals depending on the make-up and priorities of the congregation.  In 2015, WHU’s priorities are inclusiveness and social justice, with very significant work being accomplished in the areas of creating a barrier-free spiritual experience, engaging and confronting Empire, the rights of First Nations peoples, refugees and those of diverse sexual identity, and community engagement and support within the congregation, its neighbouring community and beyond.

The congregation at WHUC embarked on a progressive journey with gretta fifteen years ago and the board has been completely supportive, at times encouraging her to take us further and faster than even she envisioned. Her leadership inspires us, collectively and individually, to be attentive to what matters most. Her intentional efforts to create a barrier-free space for spirituality and growth within a safe environment have attracted many congregants who had left the United Church of Canada years before, disillusioned or hurt by the dogma of traditional faith. Other congregants have had no previous experience of The United Church of Canada and have been impressed with the UCC’s breadth of commitment to meaningful engagement as they experience it at WHUC.

In her email to you, gretta “lament(s) that theological understanding and perspective now fall under the heading of ‘effectiveness in ministry’ and places many of our colleagues, whose ministries are otherwise highly effective, at risk of disciplinary action.” The practical reality of this new process is that every minister whose reads a book by a contemporary scholar or attends a continuing education conference, and then decides to share what they have learned with their congregation, will be at risk of being deemed “not suitable” for ministry solely because their understanding of God/the divine/spirit has shifted from what it was on the day they were ordained. It would be a very slippery slope to step onto and, once on that slope, impossible to draw a line determining how far one’s understanding of God is permitted to shift before facing a disciplinary review.

In the past several years, there have been a significant number of ministers in Toronto Southeast Presbytery, and beyond, who have quietly confided to gretta that they are fully supportive of her work and encouraged her to continue.  Unfortunately, too few are willing to show their support openly, even as they use resources developed by gretta and/or West Hill United Church; a church in mid-town Toronto uses our Words of Commitment, As I Live, a church in Barrie uses the compilation of traditional hymns rewritten by gretta vosper and Scott Kearns in Sing It Forward, and Saskatchewan Conference will be using several songs written by Scott Kearns, the Music Director at WHUC, at its Annual Meeting.

Shortly after The Observer published an article about gretta in 2005, a formal request was made to Presbytery to conduct a review of gretta’s suitability for ministry based on her self-identification as a non-theist. Presbytery voted against conducting this review. In the intervening ten years, gretta’s theological position has not changed substantively, other than she now chooses to self-identify as an atheist rather than a non-theist, a decision she made as a stand in solidarity with atheists around the world who were/are being persecuted and killed for their beliefs. The most significant change has been the increase in media attention given to gretta’s theological position.

In January of this year, The United Church Observer introduced a new feature column called “Secular But Spiritual” with little or no backlash from readers.  It seems paradoxical that the United Church’s national magazine can begin to talk about spiritual life in a secular context at the precise time a minister who has been doing exactly that for more than a decade potentially faces disciplinary action for her belief in the importance of connecting the spiritual and secular.

At West Hill United Church, the phrase we use to centre ourselves on Sunday mornings is “grounded in life, guided by love and growing in wisdom.”  I hope this perspective will be in the forefront of your deliberations.

Sincerely,

Randy Bowes
Board Chair, West Hill United Church

Saturday
May092015

Wab Kinew

 

Wab KinewWab Kinew will be speaking

Thursday May 28at 5:30

Topic: "Indigenous Sovereignty"

Aboriginal Education Centre

90 Croatia Street, Toronto

Join the First Nations Study Group to hear Wab Kinew, interim Asso. Vice-President for Indigenous Relations at the University of Winnipeg and is an Honourary Witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.  

Wab defended Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda on CBC’s Canada Reads literary competition and hosted the documentary series “8th Fire”.  

There is no charge for this event. Please contact Ruth or Dorothy ahead of time.

Saturday
May092015

Saturday
May092015

Labyrinth Network


 Spring is finally here and

we are turning our

thoughts to our yearly

Labyrinth Retreat Day

Join us at

Islington United Church

Saturday, June 20th.

 


The labyrinth network are so pleased that this year Nina Darrell has agreed to be the presenter. Her theme is Sacred Connections: On and off the Labyrinth.  “A spiritual practice  (like walking the labyrinth) trains the mind to relate to the soul and expand consciousness. Nina will lead you through other spiritual practices that expand consciousness and will enhance your overall labyrinth experience.” She continues:  “My aim is to offer spiritual practices and techniques that will render spirit connections alive even when you are not on the labyrinth and even more powerful when you are.” She concludes her workshop description with a quotation from Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Welcome Path: “Don’t let your thoughts carry you away. Come back to the path every moment.” 

Nina Darrell is uniquely qualified to lead the retreat day.  A former registered nurse, holder of a Master of Divinity degree, Reiki practitioner and yoga teacher, she was for ten years owner and director of the Riverside Glen Retreat and Healing Centre, where her work centred around self-care, meditation, the labyrinth, meditative moments, and spirituality. Nina is also the author of Dancing in the Streets: Stories to Inspire, Guide and Transform Your Spiritual Life, published in 2013.


As the day unfolds, there will be opportunities to walk our full-size canvas Chartres labyrinth.
The afternoon will focus on the creative and the expressive aspects of processing the labyrinth experience. Camilla Gryski will offer a few thoughts on labyrinth walking and the expressive arts. Jo Ann Stevenson will lead a workshop on making your own finger labyrinth. Please bring with you any art or writings you would like to share that have grown out of your times on the labyrinth.  We would love to display them.


The cost for the day is $60. which includes lunch and a materials fee. Registration deadline is June 5th, 2015.
For more information, please contact Camilla Gryski, Registrar for the Labyrinth Community Network

cgryski@gmail.com     (416) 652-0362

Wednesday
Mar252015

West Hill: Are you ready to say, "I do"?

On Easter Sunday of each year, we open our arms and welcome people into our extraordinary space and the inspirational community that enlivens it. In fact, we do that every Sunday. But on Easter Sunday, we do it with a pledge to be present to everyone who, on that special day, chooses to become a member of our congregation and, through it, of The United Church of Canada.
 
While we, as a community, make that pledge to the individuals choosing to make West Hill their church home, they, too, make a pledge to us. In so doing, they are making it known that the principles by which West Hill guides itself are those they wish to use to guide their own lives. And they commit to helping us do that as a community.
 
In his ground-breaking book, The Exceptional 7 Percent: Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples, Gary Popcak presents his analysis of the most successful marriages. Noting that when each partner can identify what he or she wants to be when she or he dies, in other words, the most important ideals or goals in that person’s life, Popcak argues that the best marriages are those in which the partners commit to helping one another meet those goals. And that’s what we’re doing when we embrace new members; we’re committing to help them as they become the people they want to be and they are committing to help us become the church we want to be. It is a beautiful moment in time and one to celebrate. 
 
If you would like to join West Hill on Easter Sunday this year, please let gretta or annie know by emailing or phoning the office. Gretta will want to have a conversation with you so that the celebration is as rich for you as it can be.
 
If you don't live near our Scarborough church but would like to become a member of West Hill, we are willing to work with you to create a meaningful relationship that will last over the years to come. Some of our members are only able to join us very infrequently because of the distance at which they live. Others are able to join us for our Visitors' and Travellers' services which take place on the first Sunday of each month and are followed by a lunch. This year, we are receiving members who are regular attendees at West West Hill in Mississauga. Wherever you are, if you're ready to join us, we're ready to make the commitment and can exchange vows by Skype or in some other way that works for you. Just let us know and we'll work out the details. It will be wonderful to have you join us as part of our family.

 

Wednesday
Mar252015

Dream Away: Palm Sunday and Easter Re-Imagined

Each year, West Hill's community gathers, along with all churches in the west (Eastern churches recognize other dates), to explore the great themes of death and resurrection. We don't, however, focus on a death and resurrection that took place two millennia ago. Rather, we explore these themes as they are relevant right now in our world, our relationships, and our lives. 

In a theologically barrier-free community, there will be those for whom the traditional Easter story has deep meaning and there will be those for whom the story seems anachronistic - completely irrational when viewed from a 21st century perspective. And so it is important to honour the tradition while doing so in language, metaphor, and symbol that can be interpreted by anyone to be meaningful regardless what worldview through which they are experiencing it. That's one of the things that West Hill does and struggles to do with more integrity each year. 

Join us at 10:30 on the mornings of March 29th and April 5th as we reach deep into the complexities and challenges that resonate with an ancient story but face us at this moment in time and seek within them the beauty of possibility and hope. 

Tuesday
Feb242015

Stephanie Baptist on Ontario's new sex-ed curriculum

As a counsellor with Toronto Public Health, Stephanie has much to offer parents and educators as they bring healthy change to their home and school environments.  She was featured in a Toronto Star article this week on Ontario's new sex-ed curriculum and is pictured with her daughter, Ellen. Way to rock, Stephanie!

New sex-ed curriculum, Toronto Star

Friday
Jan302015

Your Sacred Story - with Janice Meighan

Six Week Workshop Series

A wonderful opportunity to engage in discussion and explore elements of your journey as a sacred human person. During the traditional season of Lent the story of Jesus, both as human and the Christ, has been the focus; it has been told and retold and reimagined – even at WHU, from its founding 65 years ago to recent times.              

We will briefly look at character traits and elements from 5 Gospel Authors about the life of Jesus, the human person, as “jumping off” points.  But YOU have a sacred story and this workshop is for you and others to explore what that sacred story is, if you don’t already know it fully.  If you have already connected with your story, we'd love for you to come out and share it with us.  

We are offering two attendance options:  

  • Monday Mornings           February 23nd   – March 30th 10:00 am – 11:30 am                                                             (The Sunday morning time slot previously offered, has been replaced with Monday mornings!)
  • Wednesday Evenings     February 25th    – April 1st        7:30 pm –  9:00 pm 

This workshop is open to everyone and has no registration fee; however, there will be a basket for any free-will offerings to help cover costs of refreshments and workshop materials.  

If you have any questions or concerns, or simply want more information please speak with Janice in person or email Janice.meighan@sympatico.ca

Wednesday
Jan142015

What Has Life Taught You?

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!