Keeping the Church Afloat?: A Church Boat for the Titanic Quarter

Can Belfast’s Titanic Quarter become a hotbed for ecumenism?

Admittedly, ‘hotbed’ and ‘ecumenism’ aren’t two words that are usually found in the same sentence, especially a sentence about Northern Ireland. But that seems to be the vision of a young Church of Ireland minister, Chris Bennett, who is chaplain for the Titanic Quarter.

Bennett notes that there are no church buildings proposed for the Titanic Quarter, and he seems to like it this way. He’s currently overseeing a project to procure a ‘church boat’ for the area, which will be open to Christians from all denominations.

A BBC report summed it up like this:

[Bennett] has big plans. He wants a church without walls to close people in. His new church will be on a boat – what else would you do in the birthplace of the famous liner?

Bennett himself said:

“It is the best blank page that the church has had in Ireland since St Patrick stepped off the boat . … It is a unique chance for us to have a new kind of church. Instead of a different building on every street corner, all the Christians down here in the Titanic Quarter are working together and we hope that they will work together off a boat moored here in the Abercorn Basin.” (emphasis mine)

Right now, Bennett and his parishioners meet for a ‘walking church’ each Sunday, strolling together from the Odyssey to the Titanic Quarter. They want to raise £250,000 for their church boat, which Bennett imagines as more like a ‘community hub’ than a traditional church building: ‘a place where people can connect, make friends and even talk about the big spiritual questions of life.’

This vision of church is very different from the traditional, institutionally-based models we are so familiar with in Ireland. It seems to have some resonances with the ‘fresh expressions’ movement in the UK, and perhaps the broader ‘emerging church’ or ‘emergent’ movement in the US and UK.

But it’s not clear from the BBC article if the current walking church is actually attracting Christians from all of Northern Ireland’s diverse denominations.

While Bennett reports that ministers from other denominations have been ‘positive’ when he talked to them about the initiative, there is no sense in the article if clergy or lay leaders from beyond the Church of Ireland are actively involved in the project.

It seems to me like this would be necessary if the Christians on the church boat really want to transcend denominational boundaries, and to avoid being seen only as a Church of Ireland Boat.

  • > But it’s not clear from the BBC article if the current walking church is actually attracting Christians from all of Northern Ireland’s diverse denominations.

    Having occasionally joined them, I’d rate them as quite diverse and from quite a wide set of backgrounds. There’s a vision of adopting a more chaplaincy-like approach, rather than building multiple isolated Christian communities.

    Nosey, I went to their Christmas “meet the neighbours” evening, and managed to interview Chris standing outside in the snow.

  • Thanks, Alan!

  • What on earth does the Titanic Quarter need with a chaplain?

    I think this gentleman’s bishop needs to find something else to do with his time.

  • Visitors who had relatives who died on the Titanic might need a chaplain – let alone all the people working there.

  • Hopefully there will be no anti-religious bile at the merest mention of God or religion. Surprisingly perhaps I think its a good idea.
    Im old enough to remember a time when the good people of Belfast had better things to do than actually care about the Titanic. Thank you Kate Winslett & Leonardo di Caprio. The faces that launched a million Tshirts.
    But Mammon is over-represented in the Titanic Quarter. A little balance that appeals to ordinary Belfast folks seems appropriate.
    A single church for various denominations seems very nice idea. Shape of a boat? Well ok. As long as theres enough lifeboats this time…and as long as I am not below decks in steerage, I could live with it.

  • Mark – given the thousands of folk who will live in TQ, never mind the tens of thousands who will work and study there – Belfast MET moves in in September – the absence of a planned faith community is quite startling.

  • Thats an interesting thought. But just how many of the people living there are actually in a family unit and how many are single folks?
    Frankly its not an area with which Im very familiar.
    But I think part of the attraction of the Titanic Quarter for people who live there is that there are no churches and schools. On one level they are much too young and posh to believe in God but on another level, this makes the area “different” from Dee Street or Short Strand. They seem to like that aspect of isolation….of being a non-faith, non-political oasis.

  • YelloSmurf

    I heard Chris speak about this at Down and Dromore diocesan synod. Apparently the idea is like a University chaplaincy where a number of different churches share the same space. I don’t know how many churches are on board (excuse the pun), but it will be really interesting to see how it works out.

  • The Word

    “It seems to me like this would be necessary if the Christians on the church boat really want to transcend denominational boundaries, and to avoid being seen only as a Church of Ireland Boat.”

    It’s surely a time when Christians started to think about transcending “national” boundaries. The denominational battle seems to trivialise the message it says it serves.