I love weddings, but one of the things I really hate is that everyone spends all day bleating on about the weather.
If it’s sunny, everyone says “Didn’t they get a great day for it!” and if it’s wet, people adopt a tone of mourning and whisper to each other “Isn’t it just such a shame…?” I sometimes want to shake people (in a loving, pastoral way) and remind them that they have just seen two people make the biggest, most profound and life-changing promises and commitments that human beings can make, and they’re worried about the flipping weather?
Which just goes to show that I know nothing, because last Saturday I spent a sleepless night worrying about the weather. Sunday 15th November – Day One of the Titanic Quarter church plant project – would either be sunny (in which case we would have a guided walk through the area, praying for all the plans and developments and dreams of this fantastic place) or it would rain, in which case no-one would probably come, and we would drive in dreary isolation from the Odyssey Arena to the Pump House Cafe, and all the prayers and hopes would be squashed into a room, looking out from steamed-up windows. I did wonder during that sleepless night who had the brilliant bright idea to hold a primarily open-air event in Northern Ireland in the middle of November, and I kept remembering it was me.
So it is with great joy and relief that I can report that Day One dawned (and remained) deliriously, unexpectedly, almost ridiculously bright, clear and still. Over 100 people gathered at The Streat in the Odyssey Arena, mainlined some strong coffee, and then filed out into the afternoon sunshine to begin the journey.
And what a journey! Now I know I’m biased… but I would venture to say that it was the best guided tour/prayer walk/commissioning service hybrid the Titanic Quarter has ever seen. Guided from one landmark to the next by the inimitable Colin Cobb, self-confessed ‘Titanorak’ and a mine of information on the area, we prayed, laughed, walked, slagged off the Germans (sorry Joachim!), and…. hoped. A bunch of people, most of them from Northern Ireland, most of them venturing deep into the Titanic Quarter for the first time ever, began to catch the vision of a new community emerging in this iconic place. Somewhere that’s incredibly deeply rooted, that’s full of history, and yet is hurtling towards the future, taking risks and being bold in building something brand new. By the time we reached the Pump House we were a) seriously ready for more coffee and b) starting to look at the Quarter through new eyes – not just seeing an industrial-looking building site but also seeing all the possibility and potential that lies here.
Before we reached the Pump House there was a very solemn official duty to perform. Who ever heard of something being launched in a dock without a ceremonial bottle of champagne? (Although Colin later told me that ironically the Titanic wasn’t launched with a bottle of champagne as the owners thought it was bad luck. Make of that what you will.) And so the Church in the Titanic Quarter was launched, with much laughter, lots of mess to clean up, and a bunch of happy people heading in for coffee (seems like a pretty good way to begin to me).
Once in the Pump House, the Bishop gave me my official commission. I promised (in fancier-sounding words) to love this place and its people, and to show the love and grace and hope of God in whatever way I can. Everyone then gathered around to pray for me and for Susan, which was awesome. And we played the video (which you can see by clicking the Vimeo link on the website – it’s called ‘The Dock intro’) which introduced the name The Dock (so I don’t keep having to use The Church in the Titanic Quarter, which takes too long to say). In a blog sometime soon I’ll tell you how we arrived at the name – although I’d be really interested to hear what it says to you as well.
So that was Day One. And the question everyone keeps asking is… what next? What does the church look like in a place with practically no residents, few buildings and lots of hopes and dreams? What form does it take when there’s no staff team, no building, no Sunday services, no congregation, no organist, no church bells ringing out, no hymn books, no stained-glass windows, no wee board out the front with the service times and the name of the minister and a little sign saying ‘All Welcome!’…
Well I’ve got a few ideas… and the very first step after the commissioning is to go to a conference in Bath called Planting Life, where I’ll meet people from all over the UK who are grappling with the same questions, and I’ll hopefully get some more ideas there. But those are for another blog – for now, just a huge thank you to all those who made Day One so memorable and special for me and for Susan, and an open invitation to respond, and to use the links on this website to tell me your ideas and hopes for The Dock. BFN!