First of all, a huge Thank-you to everyone who’s already met me for coffee and brainstorming about the future of The Dock (need a cool name – CoffeeStorm? FutureStorm? Blank Page Coffee Co.? VisionCafe?). It’s been challenging, thought-provoking, and simultaneously terrifying and exciting… and here are some of the repeated beats that are starting to emerge:
1. People are hugely hopeful about the Titanic Quarter. This is something new for Belfast, for Northern Ireland, and after years of thinking that things will never change, hearts beat a little faster when plans for the TQ are accompanied by the sense that this could actually happen…. Little things – like Ireland’s biggest ever concrete pour (check out http://www.stakeholdermedia.com/news/irelands-largest-concrete-pour-at-titanic-quarter/ ) or the Top Gear article which got me so irrationally excited (check out www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00p8jnc/Top_Gear_Series_14_Episode_4/) give little glimpses that, even amidst credit crunch and times of instability and gloom, the shoots are growing of a new Northern Ireland.
2. …and so it’s a golden, unprecedented, chance to build a new kind of church. One of the questions I’ve been asking is, ‘Is there anything about the plans for The Dock and for TQ which makes you react “Nooo!!”‘ Lots of people have responded that their biggest fear is that the Dock will become just another church, looking exactly the same as hundreds of other churches dotting the landscape of Belfast. As one CoffeeStormer (does that work?) put it, this is in some ways the blankest blank page the Church has had in Ireland since St Patrick stepped off the boat.
3. But what might this “new thing” actually look like? Well, we stumbled across some answers on Launch day; although we didn’t set out to establish a manifesto, some of the core values embodied in Day One were values which many people wanted to uphold and continue. For example, we didn’t ‘hide’ in a church building, but weaved our prayers and hopes and worship (and laughter and fellowship and connection) through the streets and sights and cafes of the whole Titanic Quarter. We shared the megaphone between all sorts of people of different backgrounds; it wasn’t confined to “professionals”. We laughed a lot. We took risks and did things which might not have worked.
4. I was told today of a leadership motto: that vision boils down to your answer to two questions – ‘What are you reacting against?’, and ‘What are you pushing towards?’ As we’ve chatted, I’ve become increasingly convinced that for me, the first question is answered by the drawing on the left – let’s call it ‘Anytown N.I.’ As you pass through the town, you pass the Church of Ireland on your right – and there’s the Presbyterian church on the left. The Roman Catholic chapel is around the next corner and there’s a Baptist church and a Gospel hall down that street. The Methodist church and the Free P’s are directly across the road from each other. All the money, time, effort, sacrificial giving, love and devotion that go into resourcing the buildings and ministry of all these (largely) separate worshipping communities – but their worship, and their witness, is crippled by all the fences and walls between them. A new resident of Anytown would be seriously tempted to give all of them a wide berth if they can’t start getting along with each other. And so thousands of opportunities to transform Anytown and share God’s love with its inhabitants are missed as the denominations stay in their boxes.
5. So if I was to try to answer the second question, to make a stab at a vision statement for the Dock at this stage in its development, it would be ‘The Anti-Anytown N.I.’ I know that doesn’t sound very eloquent or holy, and it takes a bit of unpacking, but it’s a work in progress!
And so these are some of the core values sharpening into focus as of Christmas 2009. To be part of the fabric of the Titanic Quarter – not a city on a hill. To be open, accessible, different, to take this unique opportunity to try something different – even if it doesn’t work the way we expect (because if we can’t or don’t try to break the mould here, when will we?). And to do whatever it takes to ensure that the Titanic Quarter doesn’t turn into another Anytown N.I.
I would love to know what you think – and I reckon that the CoffeeStorming (it’s catching on!) isn’t finished yet. The invite is still there; lots of blank pages still in the file. I love meeting in The Streat in the Odyssey (great festive lattes!) or in the Pump House cafe if you fancy heading down into the Titanic Quarter itself (check out http://www.titanicsdock.com/Cafe-Visitor-Centre.aspx for details and directions) – or I’m happy to visit you at work if that suits better. And the invite extends into the New Year – I know we’re all busy over Chrimbo and I’ve got a run of weddings for a week or two after – including my wee sister’s! (yes, I’m marrying my sister! No, not like that.)
I’ve loads more to tell you – about my temporary Sunday home in Carrowdore & Millisle parish, about some of the personal discipleship stuff that sprang from the Arrow Course week, about progress in the TQ, about boats and Dukes and all sorts of exciting stuff – but I’ll keep you cliffhanging for now… (cue Dr Who theme)