To which the answer is: sort of…
For some people, this whole shebang won’t be a church until we’re baptising, marrying, preaching, eucharisting (is that a word? My spell-check doesn’t think so)… For other people, ‘church’ happens every day in conversations and beautiful moments in the cafe. Every time a stranger is welcomed, every time someone lonely gets drawn into a conversation, every time a group of friends spend the afternoon putting the world to rights, every time someone finds peace in the middle of a busy day… church happens just a little bit.
Today was a great example. Take a look around the cafe: over by the window, a group of students are playing a game of chess between classes; another group are catching up on their revision; another gang just collapse on the sofas. A local businessman puts on the noise-cancelling headphones and spends half-an-hour looking out at the wintry sun on the water. A group who have been walking around Belfast huddle by the gas fire, gradually nursing feeling back into numb fingers. A couple browse the art on the walls, lingering over every piece that moves them. On the cafe stereo Michael Buble croons ‘Silent Night’ and the whole cafe stills, the burble of conversation dipping as we all feel a little touch of “the dawn of redeeming grace”.
And as well as the unexpected moments, the Dock still has its routine of worship – it just doesn’t look like church. The Dock Walks still happen every week at 3:33 on a Sunday afternoon – and yes, in answer to another FAQ, they continue every week through the winter, rain hail or shine!
In a way the winter Dock Walks are my favourites. Crisp cold air, the sun setting behind the hills of Belfast as we walk, standing sharing in Bible discussion with our breath misting in the air. Watching the way the unique, piercing winter sun lights up the cranes and bounces off the mirrored panels of Titanic Belfast.
Last week we walked past just after Father Christmas had arrived for TB’s Victorian Christmas spectacular; we got to meet actual proper reindeer waiting patiently at the door, and stood listening to the unquestionable, unimprovable sound of Christmas (a Sally Army brass band playing carols). Then a brisk walk to the end of the slipways, talking with the sinking sun streaking the sky, and listening to worship songs at the feet of Goliath as the moon emerged from behind the clouds.
I know The Dock is still a work in progress, and whether or not it’s yet ‘a church’ is still an open question. It’s a community living room, an Honesty Box cafe, a Sunday walk, a group of people with a vision for a new part of Belfast. Standing under Goliath with friends on a Sunday afternoon, ready to walk back to the cafe for steaming mugs of hot chocolate, it’s enough for me.