All posts by Chris

Days Like This

Well that was just awesome!  So, so proud of my wee city this weekend…

The Maritime Festival just keeps getting bigger, busier, brillianter every year.  Thousands of people, sun drenched in the Costa Del Belfast heatwave, descended on the Titanic Quarter for 3 days packed full of ships, street performers, markets, music, art, activities, tours, tasty food and a joyful sense of a big bustling city that knows how to have fun!

Multi-tasking madly for a few days, I got to see Dock Market fill the ARC with life and colour, Dock Cafe bursting to the seams with chillaxing coffee-drinkers, Wee Tram tours with not a seat to spare, and Seafarers Walking Tours on the slipways where we drank up Belfast’s rich history as well as the glorious sunshine.  (And yes, like everyone else in Belfast, I now have a beautiful farmers tan to show for it!)

As many people kept asking throughout the weekend – did we ever think we’d see days like this?


And not just locals enjoying themselves – have you seen the Dock’s ‘Pin Where You Come From’ map recently?  It got so full of push-pins that there was no room left for anybody to add another (unless they came from Outer Siberia or darkest Peru) – so we’ve started all over again with an even more massive map!  It’s only been up 3 days and it’s filling up already!

(And the story of putting the map on the wall is one of those Pure Dock stories – the map came in 4 separate sections which needed to be wallpapered to the wall – a Dock Cafe customer called Anthony overheard us worrying about our lack of wallpapering expertise and offered to do the entire job himself as he was a decorator on his holidays!)

And in the midst of all this joy – one note of sorrow in the story of the Dock.  One of our founder members, Margaret Ferguson, passed away last week.  Margaret was a well-known, well-loved and massively influential figure in East Belfast Mission and throughout the city – but to us in the Dock, she will always be one of those handful of crazy people who sat around  in Gordon’s living room back in the early days, drawing of a church without walls and a cafe without a till!  She will be greatly missed.

The Magnificent Moving Market (and other Maritime Marvels)

Dock Market is on the move again!

Our amazing team of quirky traders have been spotted all over TQ recently… we moved out of our original Dock Market unit before Christmas… we enjoyed a few months trading in the pavilion of the Odyssey Arena… and last week we tried holding Dock Market right in Dock Cafe!

It’s all leading up to the biggest best Dock Market ever – right the way through the Titanic Maritime Festival next weekend (from Fri 16th – Sun 18th June) – the annual extravaganza as the Titanic Quarter hosts all kinds of tall ships, battleships, live music, street performers, games, activities, free tours and lots more…  It’s nautical but nice!

Dock Market can be found right back in its original unit – as well as the area under the Arc apartments around the marina.  As always there will be home-made food, unique crafts, quirky creativity and uniqueness galore!  Lots more info here

And of course that’s only one of the treats in store over the course of the Maritime Weekend.  Dock Cafe will also be open throughout the festival – the volunteers as always are going the extra mile to make sure everyone can relax with an Honesty Box cuppa in the midst of all the madness!

The Wee Tram will be running right from the door of Dock Cafe (for FREE on Sat & Sun!) to transport you to all the different activities around the quarter – from tours at the Dock & Pump House, to the Pop-Up Picnic at SS Nomadic, to boat-building and model-boat racing on the slipways.  Or just hop on for a tour around the sights!

There are also lots of walking tours being run by the fantastic folks at TQEvents – from dry dock tours, photography tours, and seafarers walking tours (info & free tickets here – I am the “enthusiast guide”!)

So LOADS to look forward to and another one of those great big exciting busy weekends that personify Life in the Titanic Quarter.

See you there!  I’ll either be having a cuppa in Dock Cafe, browsing the stalls of Dock Market, welcoming you on board the Wee Tram, or guiding the Seafarers Tours on the slipways.  Who says men can’t multi-task?!

(Maybe I should re-title this blog “the Multi-tasking Minister’s Maritime Marvels & Magnificent Moving Market”. Marvellous!)

The Secrets of Dock Cafe

Shsshh!  Dock Cafe is going to feature in a glossy new book called ‘Secret Belfast’ – and just in case you’re thinking that Dock Cafe isn’t exactly secret any more, the article is actually about a little buried treasure tucked away at the back of the cafe: Thomas Andrews’ door.

Back in the early days of the cafe, we were contacted by a lovely chap called Brian who had been responsible for converting Ardara House (the family home of Thomas Andrews, principal designer of Titanic) into apartments back in the 1980s.  During the conversion he rescued a beautiful old wooden door from the skip, believing it to be the door to Thomas Andrews’ bedroom.  Ever since, the door had been lying at the back of his shed – but when he heard about Dock Cafe, he knew that the door had finally found a perfect home!  It’s now proudly displayed on our ‘shipyard wall’ at the back of the cafe:

Seeing the article about the door popping up in the Secret Belfast book inspired me to have a quick hunt around the cafe for other secret messages hidden around the cafe.

Have you spotted, for example, the message that you can borrow any of the books on the Dock Cafe bookshelves?  There’s a selection of everything from good page-turners, Titanic books, childrens’ stories and even the odd Bible or two!  We trust you either to return them, swap them or give them a good home!

And have you noticed the secret messages at the high stools overlooking SS Nomadic?  Just as you’re soaking up the view, the sunshine and the tranquility, you might get a little bit of inspiration as well!

There are countless secret messages in the Prayer Garden – prayers on post-its, names, hopes, burdens, dreams – thousands of personal, unique messages from persons unknown reaching out for God’s strength and solace.  I’m especially fond of the daisy-chain of thanksgiving prayers that snakes and streams its way around the garden – it started a few years ago on Thanksgiving Day, but new additions keep appearing all the time!

And one final little message might not be up for too much longer!  This is the poster explaining why you might occasionally hear the sound of rushing water crashing through the cafe:

We’ve just launched an appeal at our Sunday Night services (first Sunday of the month, 6pm, seeya there!) to raise money to insulate the pipes – so no more expressions of sudden terror on Dock Cafe newbies sitting underneath who think that they are about to re-live the sinking of Titanic…  If you’d like to help out, just drop something in the Honesty Box at the Sunday Night service!

Slices of life

The sun is streaming through the windows of Dock Cafe.  The door is propped open to allow a cooling sea breeze to waft through.  The students are wearing expressions of either a) pre-exam terror or b) post-exam contentment.  The number of tourists seems to increase every day –  the ‘Pin Where You Come From’ map is becoming full-to-bursting.  Everyone has that nice sun-soaked vibe that just cannot be replicated on a rainy day in December.  Summer is here!

So a few little slices of Dock life from the last few weeks…

A chilled-out cafe on a sunny afternoon:

A fantastic group of students from Murray State University in Kentucky – fresh off the plane:

…and squeezed into the Wee Tram!

A little taste of Heaven: the Dock gang worshipping together at our Sunday Night service as the setting sun streams in through the windows:

And the Titanic Quarter community taking shape: the ARC residents forum meeting at Dock Cafe to hear the latest news and get to know the neighbours:

And a few snapshots of birthday cake, thank you notes, knitting groups, glowing reviews and far-flung visitors…

Life in the Titanic Quarter – life in all its fulness!

A fair cop, guv

Well I have thunk my thoughts… Four Wednesdays in a row starting at what-in-the-world-o’clock for Thought For The Day live from the Beeb!

We covered subjects as diverse as lorrybridgeophobia, magical dishwashing pixies, horizontal trees and – today (introduced by Dock regular Chris Buckler!) – my criminal past.  Brace yourselves…

Have a guess if this statement is true or false: I’ve been in trouble with the law this past week. Now some of you are thinking – might be true, he sounds a bit dodgy. Some of you are thinking – never! that wee innocent minister with his Honesty Box cafe?

So let me give you the details: I was driving home, late at night. Long hard day at work, ready to collapse, but I realised I was about to run out of petrol. Just made it to the petrol station, and as I turned back out on to the main road there was a ‘No Right Turn’ sign. But there wasn’t a soul to be seen on the road at that hour of the night – so i turned right. And then – the dreaded flashing blue lights in my mirror.  Nicked, fair and square!

So what do you think now, True or false? I’m willing to bet you all believe now that it is a true story (and it is!) – and it’s the details that convinced you. The practical details – the long day, the late night, the petrol station, the road sign – but also the psychological details – you can put yourself in my shoes at the end of a hard day, weighing up the small risk of disobeying the sign against the strong call of a comfy sofa and a cup of tea.

That’s how we mostly decide if a story is true – when not just the physical practical details add up, but when it feels true psychologically, when people act and react in realistic ways.

The Easter story is the biggest ‘True or False’ in the whole of history. Did Jesus rise from the dead? – if it’s true, everything changes; if it’s false, we’ve wasted a lot of time and energy for the last 2000 years. But to me, the stories of the people who witnessed and walked through the first Easter absolutely have that ring of truth.

The physical details add up – the dates, the places, the timescales – but more than that, the people involved react the way I think I would react if someone who had died was alive again. There’s no sudden acceptance, no-one just says “oh! well that’s all right then”. We’re told that the women who find the empty tomb are “trembling and bewildered” and say nothing to anyone because they are afraid. Thomas demands physical proof, to touch the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and side. Even as Jesus barbecues breakfast on the beach, the disciples don’t dare ask “Is it really you?”

As the story progresses, as they become convinced, I become convinced. But in case I’ve lost all credibility now you know my criminal past, answer for yourself: Jesus is alive – death is defeated – love has won… amazing, shocking statements – can they be true?