Connor parishes and people feature in Songs of Praise

Wednesday March 7th 2012

Songs of Praise on BBC1 on Sunday March 11 will feature an interview with St Patrick’s, Cairncastle, parishioner Eleanor Thompson.

The programme – hosted by Eamonn Holmes – marks the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic and comes from Belfast, where the world’s most famous ocean liner was built.

St Thomas’s Church features in the programme as the parish is the venue for a selection of maritime hymns, and the Rev Chris Bennett talks about his work as chaplain in the Titanic Quarter. Guest singers on the programme are Brian Houston and the Celtic Tenors performing inspiring songs of faith

Eleanor was invited onto Songs of Praise to talk about her father – Ambrose Willis – who was one of five chief design draughtsmen at Harland and Wolff and helped create the ship’s interior. Although Eleanor , now aged 95, wasn’t born when the ‘unsinkable ship’ set out on its first voyage, she has very clear memories of her father’s involvement which she picked up as a young child.

She speaks about his work in the drawing offices – which still stand today – and how he helped design the ornate wooden panelling, fireplaces and staircases on the ship. He travelled on the Titanic with his design colleagues when it sailed from Belfast on April 2 1912, but was called back from Southampton just before she set sail for New York. When news filtered back about the ship’s fateful collision with an iceberg and subsequent sinking on April 15 he was absolutely devastated.

It was through Chris Bennett that Eleanor’s story first came to the BBC’s attention when he made a short film about her story and published it on the Titanic chaplaincy website [].

Chris is himself featured on the BBC programme talking about his vision for ‘The Dock’ – a floating drop–in moored close to the new ‘Titanic Belfast’ visitors’ centre [which opens on March 31]. The planned drop–in will be a boat, operating a café and community hub, acting as a focal point for ministry and mission to the residents, businesses, tourists and visitors to in this exciting new part of Belfast.

While progress is being made on the purchase of a suitable boat, Chris and his team have negotiated Belfast’s first ‘Meanwhile’ lease – enabling the Dock Church to take over vacant shop premises near the Titanic visitors’ centre and turn it into a temporary café, officially opening on Thursday March 8.

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