Well hello again, after a little bit of a breather to recover from perhaps the most phenomenal two weeks of my life! And the idea was to give you all a little bit of a breather too, from my regular appearances on your TV screens, radio sets and magazine covers – didn’t work out quite like that – more about that tomorrow!
For now I just thought I’d better finish off the story of the last few weeks. Those of you who have been following this blog (you brave souls) will have seen the posts growing longer and more frequent, your trusty blogger becoming more emotional, and my beard growing ever longer and scruffier (don’t worry, it’s all shaved off now – it was starting to scare children). And as each event seemed to be more powerful, more moving, more beautiful than the last, the question emerged – would there be enough superlatives left in the English language if it just kept getting better and better?
And the answer is quite simply – no. It’s hard to put into words why this whole story has come to mean so much. Andrew Marr may be leading the sarky backlash to the Titanic overload, Julian Fellowes is (quite rightly I reckon) getting a bit of a kicking for the terribleness of his half-hearted take on the whole affair, and it’s becoming increasingly trendy to profess a world-weary Titanic-cynicism (Titanicism…?) whenever the subject is mentioned. All that I can say is that for those of us in the middle of the story for the last few weeks, the commemoration of this Titanic story, with its extremes of hope and sorrow, its uncountable fascinating facets and angles, was a profound experience we will never forget.
And I think (hope!) it was a profound weekend not just for me but the whole Dock gang. We had the huge privilege of manning (and womanning) a Prayer Room right at the heart of events (in the pavilion at Titanic Belfast) throughout the weekend, offering prayer, chat and space to those (and there were plenty) who chose to step aside and come in through the doors.
I got to see sunset on 14th April and sunrise on 15th – and wonder what it must have been like to see both, on both dates, on the Atlantic 100 years ago:
We got to meet some fantastic people; Gayle got to meet Dr Robert Ballard, who discovered Titanic’s final resting place on the seabed; I got to meet Eric Kuhne, the visionary designer who master-planned the Titanic Quarter development (and left his own unique mark in the Book of Commoration at the Prayer Room):
And I had the unique, immense privilege of leading the service at Titanic Belfast to mark the exact centenary of Titanic’s fateful collision at 11:40pm on 14th April.
Gathered on the balconies of Titanic Belfast, we heard the complex, ethereal harmonies of Eric Whitacre’s Water Night; gathered in the Drawing Office, we listened to the words of Thomas Hardy’s unmatched poem The Convergence of the Twain and the terse, tragic SOS messages from Titanic (which have a kind of poetry of their own); and gathered in the night air, surrounded by the design offices and slipways where Titanic’s story began, we read aloud the names of the individuals whose earthly stories ended when Titanic sank.
And the next morning, we gathered at the City Hall as the striking new brass-and-stone monument to those names was unveiled. (Although, if I can jump on my soapbox again, has nobody been down to see the beautiful work that’s been done on Titanic’s slipways? – many commentators claimed that the monument at the City Hall contained the first public display of those names, but if I’m not much mistaken, they are also etched in the glass panels surrounding the old concrete ramps on the slipway – just one more thoughtful detail of the superb slipway restoration… Rant over.)
And then – the afternoon. A dignified and moving service at St Anne’s Cathedral. Followed by the biggest-ever Dock Walk, leading a tremendous crowd of the worshippers from St Anne’s down to the Drawing Offices in the TQ – and enjoying the expressions on the faces of the many people who hadn’t visited Titanic Quarter before, and watching their delight and surprise and hope that this superb, beautiful new community is becoming reality in Belfast:
…and finishing off at the Drawing Office with a service involving contributions from all the different voices of the Shared Medley – thoughts, readings, reflections, prayers, personal stories, Titanic stories, stories of hope and vision for our future as a city… And to cap it all off, worship – beautiful old hymns, raising the roof of that beautiful room, such an immensely significant and important part of our past – and now at the centre of our hope for the future too…
So – yeah, I’ve run out of words. I’ll either have to start translating into French or Spanish or Latin, or maybe just stop now! A weekend full of the past and the future, full of great people, and full of a great God. It was… [superlative overload reached]