November 5, 2012
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Julien Hammond has spent a decade promoting cooperation, unity and better understanding among different religious denominations in Alberta.

For the same period of time he has been teaching ecumenical and inter-religious relations at Newman Theological College as well as formally and informally in parishes, schools and other settings.

In addition to serving as director of evangelization and ecumenism for the Edmonton Archdiocese, Hammond, 41, also serves on the board of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action and was just elected president of the Edmonton District Council of Churches.

In recognition of his efforts, St. Stephen's College at the University of Alberta is conferring upon Hammond an honorary doctor of divinity, a degree normally reserved for clergy. He will also give the convocation address at the college's 88th annual convocation Nov. 5.

Founded as a Methodist theology faculty in 1908, St. Stephen's now describes itself as "an ecumenical community that offers sacred spaces for learning and transformation."

"It's a great honour, of course," Hammond said in an interview. "On one hand, I'm very, very humbled by even the suggestion that I should receive this kind of nomination.

"But at the same time it's an affirmation of the whole community of people that I have been working with for 10 years."

Hammond praises the Edmonton Archdiocese for its ecumenical vision. "To have an office fully dedicated to ecumenical and interfaith relations with its own budget and staff is not common."

Earle Sharam, principal and dean of St. Stephen's College, said the doctor of divinity is being conferred upon Hammond by the college's senate "for his relentless work in ecumenical and interfaith relations in Edmonton and beyond."

Sharam noted St. Stephen's has a large ecumenical and interfaith mandate and so it found it quite appropriate to honour Hammond who has spent a decade "trying to weave together the whole people of God."

Sharam knows Hammond personally and says Hammond is "kind of one of my heroes on the whole ecumenical and interfaith world.

"I respect him deeply for his academic preparation for the work he is doing as part of his job but I also respect him deeply as a person.

Julien Hammonds work extends beyond ecumenism into interfaith relations.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Julien Hammonds work extends beyond ecumenism into interfaith relations.

"He is very wise; he is someone who doesn't speak often, but when he does it's always worth listening to."

Receiving the honour from St. Stephen's was surprising for Hammond. He said aside from having used the college a few times as a venue for inter-religious activity or working with the administration to set up a dialogue, he really has no affiliation with it.

SHOCKED

"When the college's president called me about the honorary degree, I thought maybe they want to confer something on the archbishop and when he told me it was for me I was a little surprised - shocked would be the right word."

Hammond has a master of divinity from Newman Theological College as well as a master of theology in Jewish studies from the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto.

Edmonton has a rich ecumenical tradition, he said. "We have a lot of roots here. You take it right back to the origins of the place. Bishop (Vital) Grandin invited the Methodist ministers and the Anglican priests from Fort Edmonton to his table and vice versa all the way to today."

On the interfaith side, Edmonton is an extraordinary place where even our civic authorities celebrate and invite interfaith, inter-religious interaction, Hammond said.

His passion for ecumenism stems from the Second Vatican Council and from the spirit of Blessed John Paul II, "who helped me realize through his writings and his actions that ecumenism is not just a side project of a few specialists but that unity of the Church is a central feature of what it is to be the Church."

Added Hammond: "We profess the Church to be one, holy, Catholic and apostolic so the oneness of the Church is central."

SCANDAL OF SEPARATION

"When we are divided it's clear that what we are offering to the world is a kind of an anti-testimony to the Gospel; an anti-testimony to what Jesus desired for his followers. In that sense it's a scandal for us to be separated and the Gospel can't be spread in that kind of an environment."

From Hammond's point of view, we have no choice: "Everyone is called to this ministry of ecumenism and interfaith relations," he said.

Hammond's upbringing also contributed to his openness and love for ecumenical and interfaith relations. He grew up in a small Saskatchewan town dominated by Lutherans and United Church members, but also containing a sizeable Catholic community.

"Our neighbours on every side, as I was growing up, represented the diversity of this Christian population."

He had no idea growing up that Catholics and Lutherans had fought wars against each other several centuries earlier; or that the Hutterites that he saw in the local Co-op store had come to Saskatchewan from other parts of the globe to escape religious persecution (in part instigated by Catholics).