WCR PHOTO | LASHA MORNINGSTAR
Julian Hammond, associate director of ecumenism for the Edmonton Archdiocese, has been named by the Vatican to participate in an international dialogue with the Disciples of Christ.
Julien Hammond and his parents were wandering through Quebec's glorious Eastern Townships in late August. Their goal? Searching out their genealogical heritage, specifically Julien's mother's lost cousins.
Like any of us, he of course had to check his email and one day he "received an email out of the blue with an attachment of a letter from Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council Promoting Christian Unity inviting me to participate in the dialogue with the Disciples of Christ's Church."
Hammond's eyes still fill with delight as he recounts the event. He takes it one step further, laughing out loud as he points to the synchronicity of it all.
"In some sense it is inviting me to discover long lost cousins in the Christian faith, at the same time we were here in Quebec looking for long lost cousins."
For Hammond, it was an extraordinary invitation for a few obvious reasons. "It is the call to be of service to the universal Church, but also to be in dialogue with a Church that I don't know very well, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
The letter asks Hammond to be part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)-Roman Catholic Church International Dialogue, inviting him to be a member of the Catholic team tackling the phase "Christian Formed and Transformed by the Eucharist" of the five-part dialogue.
The Disciples of Christ are a mainline Christian church in North America, which has more than 600,000 members.
Was Hammond surprised he was chosen for such a task? What were his first emotions on reading the request?
"It is not every day that I get a letter from a cardinal I can tell you that," he says. "All sorts of subjective wranglings were going on. Why me? Surely there are others who would know the Disciples better than I do.
"I cast an eye back over who was formerly serving on the dialogue and some of the Canadians who were chosen and went there before me.
"They are giants," he shouts, "of the ecumenical movement, not just in Canada but worldwide. Whatever I may think of myself, I am not in that league."
He is silent, lost in thought. His eyes soften. And then he accepts, saying, "There is a mystery that I just stand before and I don't understand."
Hammond's ecumenical trek covers local, regional, national activity during the past 11 years.
"It has been a great journey," he agrees.
He cheerfully lists off his ongoing work. "Here in the diocese we have two dialogues operative. Love to have more but there is just not time.
"I have a dialogue with the Anglican diocese. We meet twice a year. I have a dialogue going with the Mennonites and meet with them every second month. Regionally, I've gotten involved with a network of Catholic ecumenical officers and meet annually."
He's also been part of the nationally Roman Catholic-United Church dialogue that concluded a few years ago and is now serving on Catholic-Anglican dialogue.
Such richness of shared spirituality.
Hammond explains, "One of the things I have discovered is the joy of being ecumenical. A person engages in what theologians call an ecumenical gift exchange. Not that we relinquish who we are. But in our encounter with one another we become enriched. By their teaching, by their style sometimes, it calls us to improve, perfect, affirm our own practice and belief."
Hammond draws from his experience to give an example of what happens.
"Whenever I encounter a devout Muslim person who prays five times a day, fasts, lives the devout Muslim life, it calls within me a certain deepening, a certain honesty of my own devotional life and practice. This is what I have found to be the most life-giving thing in all this."