Atheist minister Gretta Vosper receives standing ovation after ban from church

Gretta Vosper was given a standing ovation by her congregation after taking her first Sunday service since being banned as a minister.

Rev Gretta Vosper is an atheist but leads West Hill United Church in Toronto, Canada.

Vosper's self-described atheism led to a United Church report published last Wednesday that said she was "not suitable" to carry on. But after a long-planned talk on acceptance on Sunday, her congregation at West Hill United Church in Toronto, Canada, made it clear where their loyalties lay.

"Wherever Gretta goes, I go," said one member, 96-year-old Jeanne Hamel, who has been part of the church for 91 years.

"My heart left the United Church when I heard they had rejected Gretta. I was stunned," she said according to The Star news site in Toronto.

Another said he would not have remained a churchgoer for 23 years if not for Vosper. Morlan Rees, who describes himself as an "agnostic, an atheist, a non-believer", said: "Her ideas reflect what I've been feeling about the scriptures needing to be put into a modern context."

The 39-page report by the church's Toronto Conference Review Committee was damning over Vosper's views.

"In our opinion, she is not suitable to continue in ordained ministry because she does not believe in God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit," the report stated.

"We have concluded that if Gretta Vosper were before us today, seeking to be ordained, we would not recommend her."

In response Vosper used her service on Sunday to deliver a sermon on acceptance and inclusion.

"In these weeks going forward, may we find a way to get to that place of acceptance in ourselves," Vosper said.

"Let that change lead toward truth and beauty and goodness."

Vosper told The Star she would not make any decision quickly and said it was up to the congregation whether to remain a part of the denomination or leave.

David Allen, United Church leader and executive director of the decision-making Toronto conference, hinted at the possibility of reconciliation.

He told the paper last week: "We're going to hear from Gretta and her congregation and it's possible that they could say something that could cause us to go in a totally different or a slightly different direction."