Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the radio…

OK, I know by this stage you must be fed up looking at me, and that any further media exposure after my TV blitz a few weeks ago (when I helpfully shouted RRAAAARRGGGGGHHHHHH!!! to a watching world for 62 seconds) seems like small fry in comparison, but The Dock Is Out There again today. First up, if you clickety click onto the BBC news site, I am apparently the fifth-most exciting thing happening in Northern Ireland today! (direct links here and here)

Then if you tune in to BBC Radio from 5pm this evening and listen to Evening Extra, apparently I’ll be in there somewhere too!  Just had a great time being interviewed at the Common Grounds cafe (which was one of the Case Studies in the Dock Business Plan), along with Nigel from Common Grounds (who was able to talk about about how much fun it is when a church runs a community cafe), Mark from East Belfast Mission (who was able to talk about how much fun it is when Anglicans and Methodists work together, and when TQ connects with East Belfast and the Newtownards Road) and me (who was able to gabble on as usual).   (pic shows Alexandra off of the BBC, me, Nigel and Mark)

You can listen to the interview on iPlayer (for the next week anyway) about 49 minutes into Evening Extra here.

The Dock Is Launched!

Whhheeewwww… the Dock’s big weekend is just about over.  The Maritime Heritage Festival in the TQ was a huge, roaring success.  The Dock Walk today was awesome.  Book Group was the best ever.  And the dinner and Business Plan Launch on Friday night… wow.   I am so proud of my awesome team who put this all together, and humbled and privileged to be part of The Dock.

A more considered report when I’ve had a bit more time to take it all in, but for now a quick link to some photos taken by Annette McGrath, in which you can spot some of the Great and the Good who attended the event – click here.

And if you want to hear the point of view of one of the guests, you can click onto Gladys Ganiel’s report for the Slugger O’Toole blog here.  (Be warned that the lurkers who post comments on the Slugger blog are pretty merciless, so don’t read on beyond the article if you have delicate sensibilities!)

As part of her article, Gladys included a video of the bulk of the presentation – if you have a free half hour (!) you can watch it here.  (Susan kindly asks that you don’t notice that one of my suit buttons was hanging off.  Oops, too late!)

The Dock’s Big Weekend

Well it would probably be quicker to tell you what isn’t happening down in the Titanic Quarter this weekend….

First up of course it’s the Dock Dinner and the Business Plan Launch on Friday night at the Drawing Office – a chance to float the Dock vision to some of the most influential people in the land.  Am I nervous?  Yes.  Am I excited?  Yes.  We’ve been building towards moments like this for the last year-and-a-half – and it’s been a huge, humbling privilege to be part of The Dock every step of the way.  Many tremendous people have given freely of time and skills to get us to the point where we can hold this dinner – it truly is an expression of the team, the ‘Shared Medley’, we’ve been praying for from the start.

I’ve just finished printing off the numbers for the tables, don’t they look snazzy?  Makes me feel as if I’m organising a wedding…

Of course, because it would be too boring to hold the dinner in an otherwise-quiet weekend, we’ve chosen to land smack-dab in the middle of the Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival, which is running from Friday 24th until Sunday 26th.  Last year this was a fantastic event and all the signs are that it will be even bigger this year – pride of place goes to the exhibition of beautiful old Tall Ships behind the Odyssey and around the Abercorn Basin, but there are also fairground rides, food stalls, bands and all sorts of “good day out” type stuff.  Well worth a visit over the weekend!  As you can see from the pics, the gorgeous old boats have already started to arrive – kinda appropriate in the weekend that we’re launching our own campaign for a boat!

In the middle of it all The Dock will of course be helping to stretch both your legs and your brain cells… you can join us on Sunday afternoon at 3:33 in the Odyssey Streat for the Dock Walk, when we’ll weave our way through the festival and the tall ships as we explore, pray, catch up and chat; or you can join us for Dock Book Group at 9:30 on Saturday morning in the Premier Inn, when we’ll find out what everyone made of Tim Keller’s Reason For God.

Add in a weekend of Titanic Walking Tours, the fact that the massive Crown Princess cruise liner is rumoured to be berthed in Belfast this weekend, and you’ll have the kind of mad, busy, bustling, vibrant weekend we long to see for the TQ and for our city.

It’s been a turbulent week in Belfast – I had the great privilege last night of being part of a prayer walk organised by the wondrous Willowfield Parish around the areas affected by the violence in recent days.  By praying, by walking, by believing, by launching Business Plans, by coming along to Maritime Heritage days out, by welcoming tourists, by building wherever we can our vision of a renewed city… we refuse to return to the bad old days.  Let’s live out the new Belfast this weekend.

Games of Thrones and Stones

Has anyone been watching Game Of Thrones?  The HBO fantasy series was mostly filmed in Northern Ireland (with brief excursions to Malta when they needed sunshine) – Magheramorne Quarry, Castle Ward and Tullymore Forest provided most of the exteriors, while all the interiors were shot in the Paint Hall movie studio in the heart of the Titanic Quarter.

I was watching initially just to play Spot The Location, but I got completely sucked into the story – a huge, labyrinthine web of double-crossing kingdoms and political intrigue, played out across a brutal wintry medieval landscape, with the hint that some ancient evil is stirring…  what’s not to love?!  It all really picked up pace in the most recent episodes; last week ended with an executioner’s axe hurtling towards the head of one of the most fascinating principal characters; roll credits; Susan and I looked at each other – surely they’re not killing him off, are they?  Next episode starts with the blood-soaked axe and the executioner holding the severed head aloft.  Oh, OK, they are then.

As that description indicated, it’s not for the faint-hearted; the week before it started I was telling all the Walking Tour groups and Dock Walkers to tune in for the first episode;  as I watched the episode – featuring gory death, incest, a little boy being chucked off a castle wall and lots of wenches – I made a mental note to footnote my recommendation with an 18 Certificate in future!

The great news is that Game Of Thrones has been green-lit for another series – good news not just for those of us now hooked on the drama, but also for the thousands of jobs it will bring to Northern Ireland as the crew return to the Paint Hall within the next few weeks.  (Great activity today as the sets were being built and prepared for the crew’s arrival.)   And it’s just great news for Northern Ireland that TV of this quality is being filmed here.  Some of the backdrops might look familiar, but there is absolutely nothing about Game Of Thrones that looks low-budget, parochial, small scale – it is epic in every sense of the word, and competes with TV made anywhere else in the world.

So here in Northern Ireland we’re now making world-class TV, preparing to open a world-class Titanic visitor attraction, and in the TQ building the largest city redevelopment project in Europe.  We’re not a provincial backwater any more; we’re rediscovering some of that spirit that made us the world’s biggest and best shipbuilders a century ago.  Which makes it all the more frustrating when the minority of people still stuck in the past try to put the brakes on all this progress; I’ve been finishing off this blog post watching the news about the riots in East Belfast last night – a crushing reminder that even while we’re surrounded by all these signs of new hope and bold enterprise, there are those who can’t stop re-enacting the clueless, pointless cycle of violence.

We’re not building that ugly, tit-for-tat world any more.  We’re living in a Northern Ireland which is home to multi-million pound TV shows and international golfing heroes, a city which is rooted in its past but running towards a new future.  Let’s not lose hold of that hope.

A very meaningful picture

A nice big pic to start off with today, as it contains lots of carefully-placed ingredients!

First up of course you can see another fantastic bunch of people on the Dock Walk yesterday – lots of different backgrounds and great chat.  Behind them you can see a perfect mixture of old and new: the brick building to the left of the picture is the old Drawing Office, the magnificent building where Titanic was designed.  Towards the right of the picture you can see on the billboard the artist’s impression of the new Titanic Belfast visitor attraction – the visionary concept which was unveiled a few years ago.  And in the middle you can see that the concept is fast becoming a reality.

It all ties very neatly into Dock-World as this week marks another big step on the road of the Dock vision becoming reality.  On Friday evening we’ll be hosting a posh dinner in the Drawing Office to launch the Dock Business Plan to a gathering of influential politicians, business leaders and senior church figures.  Like the gleaming cladding being added to Titanic Belfast (that’s the stuff at the very top right of the pic), it’s another building block on the way to our goal – a boat based in the heart of the TQ, serving as a chaplaincy sofa to build community, faith and life in the Titanic Quarter.   Like the Titanic Belfast building, it’s a goal which not long ago was just a dream, but is fast becoming physical reality.  (Although, as we’re reminded by the cranes in the distance and the orange barrier in the foreground, it’s a work in progress with lots still to do.)  So when this photo was taken, we had just stopped to pray for the event on Friday and all the further progress which we hope will spring from it – and your prayers would be hugely appreciated too.

Speaking of progress and change, Wordlive last week took us through the story of the Damascus Road conversion of Saul (the militant persecutor of the early church) to Paul (its greatest evangelist and advocate) – but we were really interested in the character of Ananias, the guy who felt a call from God to approach Saul and pray with him immediately after his conversion experience.  Putting ourselves back in the middle of the story, we realised that Ananias might have felt a bit like a persecuted inhabitant of Nazi Germany being asked to go and talk to Hitler…  So even though we only meet him for a couple of verses, Ananias is one of those great, inspiring characters from the early church – he was open enough to hear God’s voice, and then obedient enough to actually do what was being asked of him.  What a role model!