Open Doorway Community

A fledgling new monastic community is looking to create a space in Dublin city centre. Rev Garth Bunting explains more.

I have been Residential Priest Vicar at Christ Church Cathedral since September 2010, leading the cathedral's spirituality programme. I live in the Deanery at Werburgh Street, Dublin, and it's from there we are developing a new monastic movement that aims to look at the traditional monastic ways of life and reinterpret them for living in today's world.

We are at the very beginning of this journey but we are all longing to see what emerges. Basically, we are currently a group of seven people and we have been meeting together as community over the past year, fortnightly, over a simple meal. During that time we have felt our particular mission emerge from our discernment and recently took the decision to open a space for silence, meditation and reflection in our area of Dublin.

Open Doorway Community - sculptureIt all started when I went to do some study in Christian spirituality. I have always been interested in some sort of monastic way of life and am a tertiary of the Anglican Third Order, Society of St Francis. While I was studying I came across the stories of a new monastic movement that seems to be happening across the world. I began to look in more depth at new-monasticism and the way in which it interprets the traditional monastic model for today's society and culture. I am very interested in how that might create community, and possibly a fresh expression of church.

I came to work in Christ Church Cathedral when I had the opportunity to focus in on this world of spirituality. One of the things I got to do very early on was to host an evening when we looked at the monastic tradition and the journey has really gone from there. Six or seven people became a kind of community wanting to explore the tradition, we are now interested in creating something as community. We have spent the last nine months getting to know one another, supporting one another in life, ministry, jobs, and so on.

Then we started asking ourselves, 'how can we share what we do with others living around us?' We want to continue creating community but centre it on some sort of spiritual practice or spiritual way of life – though we would also want to emphasise that it is a spiritual way of life that is Christian. People can be looking for all sorts of spiritualities but ours is clearly focused on Christ and that's very important.

Open Doorway Community - doorsSomething interesting that has emerged for us in all of this is the recurring image of a doorway. We see it as an invitation for people to come in and it's also about us going out into our own local area and getting involved. As a result of this we have tentatively named ourselves 'An Doras Oscailte Community' – that's Irish for the Open Doorway Community.

We are an ecumenical group: Anglican, Roman Catholic and Lutheran. We meet around my kitchen table and that regular, two-hour, meeting in the same place has been very important to us; we all live in the centre of Dublin and feel it's right for this community to be in the heart of the city.

As we go on to create community we are not even going to ask if the people who come to us have a faith or not. It's about sharing our life. Now we want to create a physical space for reflection and looking for God in the midst of people's busy lives. We are still not quite sure where that space is to be though. Christ Church Cathedral is a two minute walk away from where I live and there is also a parish church close by  – or it could be somewhere else entirely. We are looking to create this space over the summer so we have something to offer to people wanting to explore more of this new monasticism.

The Dock

Chris BennettBelfast's Titanic Quarter is at the heart of the city's regeneration. A few years ago the area was largely deserted, but a large-scale redevelopment programme is transforming it into a 21st century 'urban village'. Chris Bennett is chaplain of The Dock.

I had been in parish ministry for 10 years before taking this on in November 2009 and I can honestly say I have never had so much fun. I am not finding it a burdensome and terrifying thing – though there has been quite an adjustment to make.

In my first year here, after coming from a busy parish, I thought we would be singing songs and getting on with church life within a matter of months. That, of course, was not the case and wise people have talked patience into me.

The Dock - waterIt requires a kind of reordering of your expectations in a new way. It's a process. I was coming in with some expectations which were pretty standard parish-based ideas and it's been fun having that knocked out of me.

I've tried not to rush to plant a church on an existing model, or to do what is familiar or recognisable. Instead I have had to move from the focus on attractional and instead think about something incarnational; that's the essence of chaplaincy. It's about a whole 'other' way of doing things – to go and walk the streets and live the life of the community around you.

There is a lot of talk around chaplaincy when thinking about its relationship – or not – to fresh expression of church. What I have found in this context is that the chaplaincy word seems to describe what I am aiming at and it also helps those from a traditional situation to grasp what I'm doing. This is quite important from our faith background here in Belfast.

The Dock - craneThe idea of yet another expression of church in a place where division and sectarianism has caused such problems in the past can be seen as not overly helpful. There are very few working models of how Christians all share a ministry other than chaplaincy – why should it not work in the Titanic Quarter? The variety of needs here is too great to ever be encompassed by one minister or even one denomination. Chaplaincy is helping us to work out shared working in denominations. It's a key that unlocks unity rather than describing my absolute mission statement.

Over the next 25 years, the Titanic Quarter will evolve to include residential areas, businesses, a new college, a film studio, the £97m Titanic visitor attraction – and links through to East Belfast and the nearby Odyssey Arena.

The numbers involved will be staggering:

  • 20,000 residents;
  • 10,000 businesspeople, mostly in finance and IT;
  • 15,000 students at the new Metropolitan College;
  • 500,000 tourists per annum (the target for the first year alone).

The Dock - chainClearly the Titanic Quarter, when complete, will be big enough to merit its own local church. But the opportunity runs even deeper than the chance to plant another church along existing models. A brand-new community, in a brand-new part of the city, offers an opportunity to re-envision church for a new cultural context.

The Dock is in a position to register a new type of Belfast. There really is a feeling here that the Titanic Quarter, as neutral ground, could be seen as Belfast's chance to start again. Someone described it to me as 'the best blank page the church has had in Ireland since St Patrick stepped off the boat' – it's our challenge and a core value of The Dock to find out what it means to share the ministry in this place.

The Dock - walkI would see our expression of church as our weekly Dock Walk where we chat about a passage of Scripture as we're on the move, or as we stop, pray, or listen to meditations or music. We use Wordlive multimedia resource as a jumping-off point for our chat but people are very welcome just to turn up and we'll take it from there. We don't sing, or preach, or walk around with sandwich boards. It's comfortable for all of us – yet we engage in issues in quite a profound way. Then we all head for coffee afterwards and spend a little more time together.

This is a three-year pilot project post. I now have a job as a Titanic Walking Tour guide for two days a week. The role has got me into all sorts of businesses and buildings I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise and it's also an attempt to show this work can be self-sustaining because most of The Dock's money still comes from the Diocese of Down and Dromore – though we are in the process of being formed as a company, limited by guarantee, with charitable status.

Sometimes I do get asked, 'When is it going to look like a church? When are you going to have people singing songs and listening to a sermon?' but I've got a fantastic amount of support from Bishop Harold (Rt Rev Harold Miller) and all the denominations. I'm very fortunate in that. I also have a Methodist co-chaplain working with me now and hopefully this is the shape of things to come at The Dock.

The Dock - cakeAs part of our future plans, I also hope to get a boat – that has been the concept right from the start. Quite a few people ask us why, particularly with all of the Titanic associations here, but it feels like we are at the stage where we have done all we can do in coffee shops and a boat would give us an operational base. That means people could physically find us rather than having to rely on a website and a phone number for information.

In practical terms it's a good idea because development here is quite tightly controlled – and expensive. A boat is the only way to have a physical space for us and it's a relatively cost-effective way of doing things. Our budget is in the realm of £500,000.

A boat in the Titanic Quarter would carry great iconic power. As a boat doesn't look like a church from any denomination, it would be new territory for all – neutral waters.

The Dock - postitAs for being associated with the name of the Titanic, we're all accustomed to queries as to whether it's bad taste to commemorate that link at all. In fact the view in Northern Ireland is that it was all right when it left here; it was later on when disaster struck. But for many years there was a real level of shame about it – I actually think there is something of God about the way that everything is tying together in Northern Ireland at the moment. Somehow, the Titanic, from being a thing we never much talked about, is being re-born because it pre-dates the Troubles. For all that it was quite clearly a tragedy on its maiden voyage, the very fact that it sank has stamped its name on history. Many other ships suffered tragedies but the scale of the Titanic's amazing construction makes it unique and people now feel it's right to remember the incredible expertise that went into it. That's why there was such interest surrounding the recent 100-year anniversary of the Titanic setting sail.

The Dock - appThe talk in the corridors of political power is all about Shared Future and Community Cohesion – redefining the existing communities and asking them to change but here we have the opportunity to create a new community that looks very different from our sectarian past.

We are aware that the international community is looking at this too. People can view Belfast through a very narrow lens but The Dock can offer a phenomenal witness. In the past, Belfast has been the example of the danger that religion can bring. How wonderful instead to be an example of the healing of faith.

Boring Wells

Boring Wells - AdrianBoring Wells is a network of fresh expressions of church in and around Belfast. Each has a very different flavour but all share the same vision and core values. Adrian McCartney explains more.

Genesis 26 tells the story of Isaac who pursued the vision passed to him by his father, Abraham of re-opening old wells and digging new wells, sources of life and prosperity for anyone who chose to live close to them.

The collective vision of Boring Wells is to continue the legacy of faith in the Church of Ireland, to re-open old wells in old places of faith and to open new wells where there are signs that a new community could be expressed. The hope is to bring life and the presence of Christ to local communities who may have difficulty connecting with church.

Our ideas of what the church is like are fairly well culturally shaped and even when we apply scripture to them we tend to default back to something like it has always been. Wells is no different mostly. We are trying to be the family of God. If there is any difference it is that we want to be shaped by the mission and by those whom we engage with rather than predetermining the result.

We originally thought that we were to reopen old wells but then we found that we were re-digging wells where the church had gone a bit dead. Since then the main emphasis has been to try and open up new wells.

I am a Church of Ireland minister but I came out of parish ministry in 2003 when the Bishop of Down and Dromore gave me permission to plant a church in a commuter village on the outskirts of Belfast. We quickly discovered that trying to do that among unchurched people just didn't work in that area.

Boring Wells - pubI had taken a year to recruit a group of people. Initially there were 35 of us who started meeting in a pub in Moneyrea. We organised a Sunday service but not one unchurched person ever came to it! We threw everything at that service; we had projectors and sound and lovely coffee and nice things to eat. We also had lots of visitors from other parishes, saying, 'O we'd love to do this' though there was always the underlying thought, 'This just looks like we are moving the existing church around.'

Then we read the Mission-shaped Church report and we began to consider how we do church and it became something that wasn't quite what the bishop or any of us had expected. Questions like 'when are you going to build the buildings?' became irrelevant. We had to say that we weren't going to be doing it that way any longer. Defining ourselves in a way that can be accommodated within a diocese when we cross parochial boundaries, and even diocesan boundaries, has been an ongoing challenge both for us and the diocesan head office.

Our main problem was, and is, that people find it difficult to recognise anything except the parish. We don't have the equivalent of a Bishop's Mission Order in the Church of Ireland so most people see us as something between a parish and a mission agency. The way we have moved forward is to become a company limited by guarantee with a charitable basis. We have a board of directors and have to submit our audited accounts to the Charity Commission. This allows us to have charity number but it doesn't give us any status within the Church of Ireland even though we would very much like to be part of the diocese. Representation at Synod and financial support are ongoing discussions.

Five wells, our attempts at creating mission shaped communities, go to make up the Boring Wells network. We found that people had a sense of call in different sorts of areas – not geographical as such but among certain groups of people. The wells each decide how they express church individually but we have a general sense of how the whole family of Wells expresses their love of God together. The wells are called Tinys, Resound, Shankill, Elk and Networks.

Boring Wells - TinysWithin a year of us starting, we set up Tinys. It all happened when we were running that service in the pub; one night we simply came across a crowd of teenagers drinking on the windowsills of a row of shops. In time, we rented one of the retail units as a coffee shop for young people; there was no way those youngsters would or could transfer to the Networks church – then known as Moneyrea Wells. We needed to let them do something to express their experience of Christ where they were in their own way. That was quite a learning curve for the first group of people who had thought that what they were originally offering was a fresh expression of church only to discover that something very different was happening with the people who actually lived in the place.

We released some people to go and make Tinys their spiritual home. The original group of people now call themselves Networks. They have a non-local sense of connecting primarily with their natural contacts in work and through friendships. Members of Networks are now praying about the possibility of gathering somewhere closer to the city.

The bishop gave me an opportunity to work in two inner city parishes part-time. These small congregations are very elderly but we have found that the Networks group (about 30 of them) have been very supportive of those congregations who have actually come to like them.

Resound was originally a small outreach in an interface community comprising two working class estates on opposite side of a main road in Dunmurry on the outskirts of Belfast. There are two large secondary schools, one Catholic and one Protestant, and some community facilities that have been made available to Resound for youth activities. In the summer we have a fortnight of non-stop activities; the first week is aimed at primary school children – this year we had 400 children and young people every day with 73 leaders. In the second week we had over 100 teens daily. The regular Resound meetings, comprising a Sunday night session and drop-in stuff during the week, are organised by the late teens/early 20s.

Boring Wells - ShankillThe Shankill well is all about people serving in the area, a place at the heart of sectarian paramilitarianism. The Summer Madness festival started Streetreach to offer an opportunity of service to the community. Every summer for five years we used to take teams of people to do street cleaning and gardening in different parts of the city. Growing out of that was a group of people who had a strong sense of call to go and serve in Shankill itself. One couple have moved to live there.

Shankill well has a meal together every Monday evening. They are trying to be very simple in what they do, developing friendships from around the area and trying to incarnate the gospel in natural ways.

Elk well meets in my local pub in Dundonald, not far from Stormont. Our team get together on Thursdays to join the weekly quiz night. Friendships have grown and relationships have developed in a away that has allowed for many opportunities to share in prayer and care for this growing group of people.

All of our network team leaders are pioneer types and so are now really struggling with what to do when communities do start to grow. Launching out in mission has an excitement about it. Discipleship and pastoral care are the balance. The challenge for this autumn is come up with a better support system for those who make up the mission teams and the new family members who are becoming part of us. We presently organise a monthly gathering for worship and teaching supported by resources for small groups. None of this is easy and everything always feels quite fragile. As St Paul said, 'I am certain that He who began this good work in you will bring it to completion…' I pray that the Lord will help us to keep going.

Bloomfield Estate

Kevin MetcalfKevin Metcalf, Church Army Evangelist, describes his early attempts at pioneering in Bangor, Northern Ireland.

My job title is community outreacher worker and I work alongside a Rector of a Church of Ireland Parish Church in the town of Bangor in Northern Ireland. My role is largely to reach out to the Bloomfield Estate in the southern part of the town and to build some fresh expressions with those who do not relate to more traditional forms of church.

Bloomfield - housing

The Bloomfield estate still has a lot of sectarian problems, so this type of work is hard but important. It takes a long time to build trusting relationships in a community like this, so I recognise this is a vision that will take time to be realised. At the moment, we are reaching out to children and young people, and through the children, making connection with families who live in these communities. 

Bloomfield - craftAt present there is very little for younger people to do on the Bloomfield Estate, so I have been developing relationships with community workers to identify needs. I am passionate about children's work, so I have been focusing on activities that engage with younger people and provide positive opportunities. Although local young people have a lot of religious and bible knowledge through school education, many do not have a form of the Christian faith that resources their life. For example, at the local school of three hundred and fifty young people, only fifty have a stated religious affiliation, leaving three hundred with none. So in the context of Northern Ireland this is a bit of a paradox. Even though it is a very ‘religious' country, many do not have a committed faith that they find to be spiritually resourcing. My aim then is to enable younger people to come to faith and experience Jesus in a real and living way, not just knowing about him, but knowing him personally. Through this, I want to see whole families come to faith.

Bloomfield - Community AssociationSo far, I have built up connections with a local school, and a community association in the Council Estate. At the school I have been engaged with children through assemblies and after school clubs. In these times I have been using crafts and other activities as well as talking about God. In the Community house we have been running a 'Kidz Klub', using similar activities with a limited number of children as the space is quite small. To build on these relationships and see the work develop and grow, we have started running another Kidz Klub in the local primary school and a team of Christian volunteers visit the homes of the children who attend. Our first night we had 48 children! Through this we are building relationships with families on the estate and discovering how we can help support the wider environment of the children and witness to God's love.

Bloomfield - GraffitiThe use of this primary school, I think will give us the space to build up a fresh expression of church. We are very aware that the local middle-class forms of traditional church are an alien environment for many people coming from the Bloomfield Estate. So we hope that a 'Messy Church' approach will be flexible, accessible and more laid-back and therefore appropriate. This will enable people to explore Christian spirituality, and the big issues of life, but also an opportunity to build relationships with local people.