Chris Bennett: The Dock project began back in 2009 and at that stage everything around here was still a building site, it was still scaffolding and big holes in the ground. But at that stage I was asked by Bishop Harold, I'm an ordained Church of Ireland Minister, and I'd been kind of looking for my next challenge and Harold suggested that the challenge might be trying to dream up and think up what might be an appropriate expression of church in the midst of the Titanic Quarter as it grew.
Chris Bennett: We have seen amazing growth in many ways but there's no doubt that The Tall Ships festival in Belfast in July certainly put us to the test. It was, in every way, a big event. Fifty ships, 50,000 visitors and, over four days, the Dock Café served 5,510 customers!
We've also just celebrated another milestone in that we have filled a complete Visitors' Book in Dock Café. It may not sound like much but, when we opened in 2012, we commissioned some lovely leather-bound visitors' - books though it seemed impossible that we would ever run out of space. Hundreds of pages, eight entries per page... there would never be that many customers through our doors, would there?
Page after page after page tells a story of visitors finding a welcome, wanderers finding a home, individuals finding friendship, busy people finding peace, stressed people finding space, sorrowful people finding a smile, sceptical people finding faith (or sometimes just some experience of God, or grace, or something divine that they can't quite put their finger on...)
The Dock charity is made up of a number of things: café, art gallery, museum and, of course, church – a church which continues to involve a team of dedicated volunteers and chaplains from across all church backgrounds, both Protestant and Catholic, who are committed to sharing every step of the journey of building community in this new part of Belfast.
We also have a prayer garden where people can rest and reflect, or talk to one of our Prayer Team. It's a little oasis of greenery and peace in the corner of The Dock Café and is open during Café hours; providing a space to reflect, read from our library of books, and maybe write a prayer and post it on the wall or in the prayer journal.
Find out more about this Fresh Expression project, read on, click here!