Regular readers of this blog will already be familiar with the Dock, which I have written about on several occasions and which Fr Martin Magill has visited frequently for his ‘ecumenical tithing.’
Last week (15 March) The Tablet profiled the Dock, as well as the 4 Corners Festival, in an article titled, ‘Days of Hope.’ You won’t be able to read the full article, by Vicky Cosstick, unless you subscribe to The Tablet, but it is worth pondering her assessment of the initiatives. She writes:
To my mind, however, there is a much bigger, if less conflicted, story to be told – one about the daily efforts of thousands of Belfast citizens to doggedly drive forward, often in fresh and creative ways, the process of carving a new identity. As former US President Bill Clinton acknowledged in his Ash Wednesday speech last week in Derry, the people must choose to live “in the present and the future”, rather than the past.
In Belfast, people of faith and good will are engaging in innovative ways to work and witness together in the public square: a team ministry involves six Christian denominations in a cafe in the new Titanic Quarter; a festival founded last year by a Catholic priest and a Presbyterian minister aims to encourage links among the four “corners” or sectarian areas of the city; the current lord mayor has deployed nine interfaith chaplains.
Cosstick goes on to quote Rev Chris Bennett, the Church of Ireland chaplain in the Dock, who describes the Dock Cafe’s interdenominational chaplaincy as “a blank page, a fresh start.” The description below was generously provided by the Dock.
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Dock Café opened in early 2012 as a hub for life – social, spiritual and shared life – for the new community forming in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter. It’s a shabby-chic pop-up cafe with a constant flow of coffee, buns, local residents, students, professionals, tourists from all over the world and visitors from all over the city. The cafe operates on an Honesty Box pay-what-you-want system and is run by volunteers and Chaplains from 6 different Christian traditions working together.
The model is loosely that of a university chaplaincy – in which a shared communal and worship space is energised by chaplains from across the spectrum of denominations. Six chaplains from Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Nazarene and Congregational traditions reflect this ecumenical culture.
Not being a traditional church has had its advantages and its drawbacks. The café’s space is open to all, of any faith, denomination, or none. Sunday afternoon services – the Dock Walks – have incorporated theological discussions whilst walking round the TQ, often exploring issues close to the Belfast heart. More recently, monthly evening services on the SS Nomadic have provided a space for all denominations to meet; the December meeting focused on the legacy of CS Lewis.
Frustrations have included: slow response from some church hierarchies to trying something new, starting from scratch without a congregational or financial resource base, difficulty in attracting funding because of not working in an area of social deprivation.
Unexpected blessings have included: fast growth of the volunteer team in the café, astronomical success of the café, offer of the SS Nomadic as a worship space, the Meanwhile Lease, and considerable support and risk-taking involvement from the development corporation & secular business world.
Someone commented at the start of The Dock project that the Titanic Quarter represents the best blank page the church has had in Ireland since St Patrick stepped off the boat. We’re trying to seize that unprecedented opportunity and fill the blank page together.
(Image by artist Patrick Sanders)