Local ecumenical scene is booming, says Hammond

Julien Hammond is director of ecumenical relations for the Edmonton Archdiocese.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Julien Hammond is director of ecumenical relations for the Edmonton Archdiocese.

January 20, 2014
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Ecumenism, the movement promoting unity among Christian churches, has been largely successful, says the director of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for the Edmonton Archdiocese.

"We haven't seen any large scale reconciliation of two churches uniting or something like that but here locally there is a very strong ecumenical scene," says director Julien Hammond, an ecumenical leader for 12 years. "There is a lot of work being done in the name of ecumenism all over the place."

For instance, churches are working together on a number of social action initiatives, including supporting the City of Edmonton's effort to provide safe and affordable housing for the homeless, Hammond noted.

"There have been lots of prayer initiatives," he said, pointing to the Taizé prayer movement, which has been growing steadily in the city. Nine evenings of Taizé prayer are lined up in different churches around the city this year. In addition, the Edmonton area ministerial association organizes a monthly ecumenical prayer meeting every last Wednesday of the month at West Edmonton Mall.

The churches' main prayer activity is the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year's Week of Prayer will be celebrated in Canada from Jan. 19-26. The theme for the week is inspired by St. Paul's question in his First Letter to the Corinthians: Has Christ Been Divided? (1.1-17).

The worship materials for this year's Week of Prayer were prepared by a working group of ecumenical leaders from Canada.

The Edmonton and District Council of Churches organizes the Week of Prayer. The council, of which Hammond is currently the president, is also behind the Good Friday Outdoor Way of the Cross and holds an annual collection to support housing for the poor called No Room in the Inn.

There are also various ecumenical social action initiatives, including the Food Bank, the Inner City Pastoral Ministry and the Edmonton City Centre Church Corporation (E4C), an ecumenical undertaking in the downtown area, Hammond noted.

"And if you go to our retreat houses they are highly ecumenical environments. Every school, at least the schools is our (Catholic) system, are highly ecumenical environments. Our hospital systems are highly ecumenical environments."

Apart from that, there are a couple of local dialogues going on between Anglican and Catholics, and between Mennonites and Catholics.

"My hope is that in the future we may be able to extend that to include dialogue with Lutherans or working with the Orthodox clergy toward some sort of dialogue with them (as well as) evangelical communities," he said. "So there is a lot of work to be done yet but lots of successes along the way."

LIMITATIONS

Hammond said at this level the Church is limited in what it can accomplish "because effectively we are not in a position locally to be able to decide that the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church internationally are going to reconcile."

"However, that's not really what we are trying to accomplish through these dialogues," he clarified.

"We are trying to overcome stereotypes; we are trying to understand each other better, and we are trying to build friendships and relationships. This is what we are aiming at and in that sense, yes, we've had lots of success."

The work of his office, Hammond explained, is basically one of educating people around ecumenism and sensitizing Catholics to ecumenical realities. "Everywhere I turn I just see great success in that," he said, noting that most Church ministries and Catholics in general are sensitive to people of other denominations.

In a separate interview, the Rev. Larry Wright, who is responsible for ecumenical and interfaith relations in the United Church, agreed that the ecumenical situation in Edmonton "is not bad," but thinks the real push for ecumenism that existed years ago has faded.

"Two things have happened: one is with the increasingly diverse community in Edmonton we have moved beyond ecumenical and moved into interfaith because we've got a much larger non-Christian population in Edmonton than we had, say 20 years ago," Wright explained.

"I think that's become more of the focus - getting to know our neighbours outside the Christian community."

The other thing that has happened, he said, is that within the Christian community "a lot of the churches are struggling and so they are focusing more on self-preservation than on what's going on with other Christian communities."

Nevertheless, Wright, pastor of Spirit West United Church, agrees that much is happening in the ecumenical scene, especially in terms of community service.

His own church is working with four other congregations at the Jasper Place Wellness Centre, an agency dedicated to alleviating poverty, ending homelessness and generating employment.

SURVIVAL FOCUS

"Ecumenism might have slipped in the congregations as they sort of focus on their own survival but churches are still working together doing things," Wright observed.

"It's not so much just simply getting to know each other and praying together, but actually getting out into the community and making a difference. So I think that's probably where you see more of the ecumenical activity."

Hammond said ecumenism continues to be a high priority for Catholics from the pope on down.

"Certainly our own pope, actually all the popes since Vatican II, have made ecumenism a priority," he said.

Locally there is strong leadership as well, not only from Archbishop Richard Smith but also the bishops and leaders of all the churches, Hammond said.

"My experience is that they have all been open and receptive and encouraging. I haven't found any local church that has closed the doors on ecumenical engagement."