“I do not believe in a theistic, supernatural being called God,” says Gretta Vosper, the United Church of Canada minister who has led West Hill since 1997. “I don’t believe in what I think 99.99% of the world thinks you mean when you use that word.” Tor her, God is instead a metaphor for goodness and a life lived with compassion and justice.The ecclesiastical ruptures Gretta Vosper has and is causing are on thing, but her relative success in forming a community as an atheist pastor is also worth noting:
Some, such as Eve Casavant, 44, recently started attending West Hill after hearing about Vosper among atheist circles. She was delighted to find the same sort of church she had been raised in, save the burden of belief. “It’s like that sense of community without the barriers,” she says. “It’s a beautiful thing and it is too bad it’s not being as embraced as it should be.”Speaking from my own experience, you would be surprised how many people go to church primarily for the community, rather than for belief in God. On the other hand, it is well documented how many God-believers now seldom darken the doors of a church. The real kicker though, is this,
Stripped of God and the Bible, services here are light on religious doctrine and instead emphasise moral teachings. The service begins with a nod to the First Nations land on which the church stands and goes on to mention human rights in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Palestine. Global concern is coupled with community-building, with members invited to share significant moments of the past week.The idea that the way to moral action on social, environmental and historical issues is through atheism is a real challenge to us God-botherers. How often does Christian piety become an insulation from the pain of the world? Matthew 5:20 could well be re-written for us as
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Atheists and the Unbelievers, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.