On holiday last week we spent some time with friends whose church has been talking around the idea of a possible future church plant in Glasgow Harbour, a newish development by the Clyde.
As we talked, and as we had a look around by the new blocks of flats, I noticed the similarity in intent between Glasgow Harbour and the much talked-about Titanic Quarter development in Belfast.
Both are marked by a very upwardly-mobile, idealised dream of stylish waterfront living, and both question any ideals we might have about what it means to live in community with others: next door, locally, and across the city.
If you want to talk at length about the potential impact Titanic Quarter will have on the wider area around East Belfast, crookedshore is your man, but as I talked with our friend last week I got a little disturbed by the way TQ's cousin at Glasgow Harbour is shaping up.
The development is sold as a heavily media-inspired lifestyle. The financial cost alone is worth questioning, but as we talked and teased and picked at questions about the place of church in such an environment — even more essentially, what church could possibly look like in that environment — we wondered at how everything about the place seems designed to minimize personal contact.
If you have the money you can have your own designated underground space in which to park your sports car; from there you'll get into the keypad-protected elevator that takes you to within yards of the door of your self-contained apartment. Access to the buildings is on the waterfront, shielded from the city behind by the rest of the development and by the Clydeside Expressway. You're obviously intended to arrive and leave by car — public transport's only half a mile away, but look at all that prestige parking space. It will be interesting to see how the public green space around about is developed and used; you could call me skeptical.
In an environment like this, which seems to make any form of local community difficult, what for church?
If church sits somewhere between expressing existing community and inspiring and coalescing something new and greater, how can this be fulfilled in Glasgow Harbour? Surely such a disconnected and closeted lifestyle will be damaging for those who choose to live there; it's already too easy to draw away behind doors, screens and keyboards...
It is clear, and here again we touch on our conversations of last week, that it will require some creative thinking about what church might look like, but also perhaps a recapturing of the very basic notion of a group people choosing to be together, sharing what they have in common and what they don't, without too many of the religious extras by which we've become distracted.
When we drove around Glasgow Harbour last Thursday evening, it felt half-finished: hoardings still surround building sites, scaffolding still waits, a significant number of windows are still dark. It felt bleak, like something out of near-future dystopian fiction, but hopeful — wanting to be bright and joyful. The only way to satisfy that hope will be a stirring to communal living which challenges much of the philosophy behind the place, a call to something more real, more immediate than the smiling models and stock photography of slick marketing.
How do you market that? More, how do you make it happen?