All posts by Chris

There And Back Again

The last time I put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) to update this blog, Susan and I were right at the start of our Big Trip: a year-long odyssey around the campsites, cities, coasts, castles and coffee-shops of Europe.  And (it still feels surreal to say this) – we did it!  A year on the road.  A lifetime’s ambition realised.  Two people, one campervan, seventeen countries, sixteen thousand miles, three hundred and sixty-odd days.  Days of breathing and blessing, of exploring and unwinding, of meetings and partings, of wonders.  Something new around every single corner.   And then, after a year of driving unexplored roads, back to the familiar streets of Belfast.  All good things come to an end.

Some of you might want to know a bit more about where our wanderings took us, what we saw, who we met, whether the sun shone – in which case you can click here to see our photos, maps and stories.  (It’s a bit of a work in progress, so feel free to keep calling back.)

Now that we’re home, it feels a bit unreal.  Did it all really happen?  I think it’ll take us a while to get a bit of perspective and to process all the marvels we saw on our journey.   Conversely, while we were travelling, we had the time and space (and relative dimensions) to process the Dock’s journey – the last ten years (ten years!) of Life in the Titanic Quarter.  

A wasteland becomes a city.  A masterplan becomes reality.  Where once we built ships, today we build community.  Prayer walks, late-night talks, visions, disappointments, dock-umentaries, dreams, teams, the hunt for a boat.  A meanwhile lease, a whirlwind week, an eruption of creativity, Eamonn’s cuppa, a cosy community cafe is born.  An Honesty Box.  A risk – rewarded.  The word spreads, the team grows, the place glows with welcome and laughter and warmth.  New neighbours, pop-up markets, abseiling Santas, pilgrimage walks, monarch meetings, chat buddies, Sunday nights, wee trams, world maps, wheaten baps.   Even the toilet tells a story. Even a burglary leads to a miracle.  What an adventure.  

We’ll never, ever forget the thrill of being there for the birth of this revolution.  But, just as parents can’t micromanage every detail as their children grow, Susan and I have come to realise that while we were on our journey, the story of The Dock kept developing.  New faces, new ideas, new directions.  And now that we’re home from our travels, we’re still trying to discern if there’s a place for us in the next chapter of this incredible story.  

It’s a biggie.  Chaplain to the Titanic Quarter hasn’t just been a job or a title – it’s been a privilege.  To witness community thriving where once was emptiness.  To work together across differences and denominations to build something authentically shared.  To be part of an Honesty Revolution, a space where the usual dog-eat-dog rules of modern life are supplanted by trust, delight, hope, the glimpse of a better world.   We’ve never been part of anything like The Dock.  And, for all the wonders and wow-moments of our travels, we didn’t find anything to match it in the length and breadth of Europe…

So for now, I’m writing this to complete the circle of my ten years of blog posts from the coalface of Life in the Titanic Quarter.  Rather than popping up on the main page of the Dock website, these blogs will have their own little sub-site here, where you will be able to click on some of my favourite stories from the journey.

It’s my record of the genesis of the Dock, and of ten unforgettable years of my life.  The story of a man who went looking for a boat – but found something so much better instead.

A Very Significant Croissant

Well – we did it. We hit the road (Jack). And while we will come back – it won’t be any time soon…

For those of you who haven’t heard, Susan and I are fulfilling our life-long dream to take a Gap Year to travel. Home-sweet-home for the year is our trusty Hymer camper van, Hans. Our route is completely unknown and our adventure is being made up as we go along. As I write, just a few days into the journey, we’re camping at the foot of Ben Nevis, surrounded by epic snow-covered mountains and glowering rain clouds (which decided to stop glowering and just empty their entire contents upon us instead as we took a stroll into Fort William town earlier…) We hear reports that there’s a heatwave elsewhere in the UK but the news hasn’t reached the North of Scotland!

Chris and Susan in Scotland, wearing anoraks with hoods up, in the rain

We’re still reeling slightly (in a good way) from the unforgettable farewell y’all gave us as we undocked from The Dock. To everyone who called in, sent messages, gave gifts, wrote letters and wished us well – we could spend the entire year thanking you and it still wouldn’t be enough. The day we spent in Dock Cafe, with an amazing succession of the world’s best people calling in to see us, and the stupendous evening you organised to send us on our way, will be treasured memories throughout our travels and beyond.

(One wonderful and unexpected benefit of taking a Year Out is that everyone says farewell as if you’re boarding the Titanic, never to return – such an outpouring of love – some people go their entire lives without receiving a tiny fraction of that encouragement. Even if we were just hiding in a barn just down the road for a year, it would all have been worthwhile just for that!)

It was much harder than we had expected to say (even a temporary) goodbye to The Dock. Being part of the story of this incredible, diverse, welcoming, creative community has been life-changing for both of us. Watching Samson & Goliath and the Titanic Quarter fade into the mizzly morning as the Stena whisked us away from home, there were all sorts of emotions whirling around.

Retiring to the on-board coffee lounge to drown our sorrows with a cappuccino and a croissant, we were served by a friendly young chap who handed us our coffees and then asked, “Are you… do I recognise you from Dock Cafe?” Turns out he was a Dock regular during his days at the Met. We confirmed our identity, and with a shy smile he told us our coffees and croissants were on the house!

The poor guy doesn’t know how close he came to being drowned in a flood of grateful over-emotional tears – that simple act of generosity, a reminder that the last 9 years have had an impact and made a difference, was the perfect grace-note to set us on our travels.

Chris and Susan sitting at a table eating croissants

So, with gratitude and love, this is me signing off for a while. The Dock is in good, good hands and I’m not going to be pestering you and checking in. Unless the need suddenly overwhelms me, I’m not intending to blog and regale you with stories of our adventures – I think that in writing this blog, as in many other things, a wee break will do me the power of good.

The Dock will continue to thrive and welcome and laugh and love and live – and no matter what wonders we see on the road, I’m pretty sure we won’t find its like anywhere in the world.

See you!

Away We Go

Susan and I have decided to do something we’ve been dreaming, longing and planning for since we first set off in a campervan for our honeymoon nearly (gulp) 21 years ago.

(That’s us, just married, setting off in our home-converted rusty Renault!)

When we returned from that epic 3-month trip, we always said that when we were old (like, in our 40s or something that seemed impossibly ancient when we were bright young 20somethings), we would take a year out to go travelling, to see more of this beautiful world, and meet more of the amazing people who inhabit it.

You could call it a sabbatical, if you’re feeling holy – and we do really hope that it will be a year to listen to God and renew our faith and joy.  You could call it a career break, if you’re feeling practical – and we do really hope that it will provide a breather, some space and perspective, after the overwhelming pace of life in the TQ over the past few years.  Or, you could call it a holiday, if you’re feeling jealous – and hey! who am I kidding? – there will be deckchairs and beaches and good food and wine – I hope!

There are always reasons not to do something like this.  For a few years now, we’ve kept promising ourselves that next year would be the year – only to postpone again and again as responsibilities piled up and the right moment never seemed to come.

Well, you can’t keep putting these things off forever – so really, definitely, this time, we’re doing it.  The ferry is booked.  The bags are being packed.  These days the campervan is distinctly more luxurious than the old Renault – though in typical style, to Susan’s patient despair, I’m slightly sort of taking it apart and putting it back together again (y’know, vastly improved) before we go.

We’ve spent the last few months trying to lay the foundations for things we love and care about to keep thriving while we’re away.  So, both The Dock and The Wee Tram will blossom and flourish in our absence, giving the fantastic people in each the chance to do their stuff!  We’re finding that we really can trust our teams as we step away from the daily responsibilities that have defined our lives for years.  It’s a very freeing experience.

And we’re finding that nights out with friends and days spent with family are suddenly taking on a slightly tear-stained aspect as we do stuff for The Last Time Before The Big Trip.  Which is crazy, really, as a year will pass in the blink of an eye and it’s not as if we’re moving to another planet.  But still, farewells are bittersweet.

And that leads me, finally, to the biggest invitation to the biggest farewell and the biggest party we’ve had in the life of The Dock.  Saturday 28th April is D-Day.  Susan and I will be spending the whole day in Dock Cafe, doing nothing but drinking coffee with anyone who cares to call in for a chat.  And then in the evening (from 7pm on) we’ll have a Bon-Voyage-slash-Thank-You-Everyone-slash-We’ll-Miss-You-slash-You’ll-Do-Great-slash-What-An-Amazing-Inspiring-Unexpected-Thrilling-Unprecedented-Adventure-This-Whole-Dock-Thing-Has-Been evening of thanksgiving, celebrating, eating, drinking, and living Life in the Titanic Quarter.

So there, you’ll know where we are all day and all night on 28th April – and we would love to see you at any stage.

And then, for a year, you’ll not know where we are – and at this point, we haven’t the foggiest clue either.  We’ll make up our adventure as we go along.  Sounds a little bit like the story of The Dock, really…

We’re closed for the weekend – honestly! (sort of)

So I just popped into the cafe to write a quick post on the website to tell you about our Easter closing… but as I was hammering away on the computer, lots of friendly looking people were looking cold and thirsty at the locked door.  And, y’know, it was kinda lonely just typing away on my own.  So I brewed up a quick flask of coffee… and now this is what a “closed” Dock Cafe looks like!

But definitely, definitely, when we’ve all warmed up, the doors will be shut again for a few days as the Dock Cafe volunteers take a well-earned rest until Tuesday 3rd April – when the kettle will be back on again properly.  Honestly!

Of course we’ll be open on Easter Sunday evening for our monthly Sunday Nights At The Dock – which this month just so happens (for the first time) to fall perfectly on Easter Day, so we can gather as a Dock community to pray, worship and celebrate the good news at the centre of our faith.   Join us from 6pm onwards in the cafe.


Next time you’re in the cafe you’ll see our snazzy new ‘How The Dock Works’ cards on all the tables.

This is the conversation that never gets old…  Every single day we find new people arriving in the cafe without really knowing that it’s a crazy weird Honesty Box cafe… so this is the Cheat Sheet!


A Clean Bill Of Health

Another encouragement for the Dock Cafe volunteers this week as the cafe was awarded a fresh shiny 5-star certificate from our health&hygiene inspection.

And not just any old 5-star certificate – absolute top marks, with no advisories in the small print – a literal clean bill of health!

Just as it should be, you might say, but I think it’s just amazing that a team of volunteers, from all walks of life (very few from any kind of catering or coffee-shop background), offering their time and talents out of love for the cafe and its community, can offer such a high quality service in such a busy space.

And it’s not just that they’re clean – they’re so cheery!  Visitor after visitor, review after review, we keep hearing back about how the friendly welcome and cheerful smiles of the Dock volunteers have brightened the days of customers from all over the world.

I love the way so many volunteers have made personal first-name contact with people.  Jackie and Tom are mentioned in this one, but I think I’ve seen pretty much all the volunteers get a name-check at some stage!

So, well done to Stevo and all the volunteers.  You’ll always be awarded 5 stars from me as well!

Incidentally, if you’d like to join this crack tram of clean cheery coffee-serving commandos, we’re always on the look-out for a few good people – find out more here.