Posted by: Andrew G | February 22, 2010

New Visions on an Old Path

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” – Thomas Merton

Less than a year ago I was introduced to a book with the title, “With or Without God: Why the way we live is more important than what we believe“.

It’s something of a challenging title. The author, Gretta Vosper, is a minister in the United Church of Canada and she is trying to be challenging, in the sense that she wants to be true to her own faith.

Her church has put together something they call VisionWorks, a kind of mission statement. I may at some point in the future write up a full review of the book, but for today I just want to talk about the main points of the VisionWorks statement.

At first I felt that it was a collection of  vague attempts at inclusive, inoffensive language that had at best only dulled edges of meaning. But I came back to it with fresh eyes and an open mind. I reread the subtitle and thought a little more about the careful direction of the words:

West Hill United

a progressive spiritual community
growing out of the Christian tradition

It got me thinking of how a Christian would respond. So I want to list the main points of the VisionWorks here and just ask how would a Christian respond to these ideas. Is there anything in these statements that a Christian would object to, or would find against his or her own beliefs?

1. Our grounding is the interconnectedness of all life

2. Our response to life is love

3. Our sources for inspiration are diverse

4. Our gatherings are multi-faceted

5. Our vision is growth


By all means I encourage you to check out the complete statement for yourself. I didn’t want to quote the entire thing. But it may be worth mentioning that there is no use of the words God or Jesus. Instead the focus seems to be about serving the community through common values.


Is this really all that revolutionary or challenging?

Can a church with such directions and values grow and thrive?






When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. — Leviticus 19:33



  1. Andrew: You are a brave man to go all the way from Thomas Merton to Gretta Vosper but I am sure you have found many similarities in their beliefs and the struggle to understand the Christian ideal of life. I had a quick look at the West Hill United Church site and it is most interesting to exam their Mission Statement and what they believe. We will look a little closer at these over the next few days.

    One thing I might say is this. For a greater audience you might clarify that West Hill United does not necessarily represent the whole United Church nor the General beliefs of the United Church. You will find those set out in the Manual of the United Church.

    The Seventh Story Mountain by Thomas Merton is also an interesting biography of his search for an understanding of his faith.
    Good Luck with all this!

    • Well, Merton the Catholic (Trappist?) monk was kind of known as a mystic. He had an appreciation for interfaith dialogue and even Buddhism, so I want to at least give him some attention…

      I thought the two might make a good contrast 🙂
      (Really, I just thought his quote was brilliant)

      That’s a really good point about the UCC. But it’s also an amazing testament to the UCC that they are willing to trust her even if she chooses to focus on the ethical matters rather than the supernatural elements.

      Church politics — how messy could they get, really? 😉

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