Book Review: Being Interrupted by Al Barrett and Ruth Harley

‘Being Interrupted: reimagining the church’s mission from the outside, in’ sets out an ambitious vision for seeing the church and mission through the lens of those at the margins, while framing the whole book with a journey through Mark’s Gospel. The style is deliberately broad and this allows the authors to cover a lot of ground in their exploration but this is a strength and a weakness of the book.

The book is structured in three parts, ‘Where are we?’, ‘Being Interrupted’ and ‘Re-imagining’. The first part examines many of the themes that will be running throughout the book. It starts with identity and looking at what is important to us about our own identity, then going on to examine how these are a source of privilege for some of us. In order to understand who is at the margins, it is necessary to see who else has power and privilege. These themes are looked at in respect of both the Brexit question and four crises – Windrush, Grenfell Tower, #MeToo and School strike for climate. I found myself questioning who the authors thought their target reader would be? Many potential readers, like myself, who would be attracted to this book may well already be familiar with much of the recent source material, such as Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.

The book got stronger when it started looking at less familiar material. It discussed mission in terms of three economy models. The first one is the economy of ‘counting in’, seeing church in terms of number of Christians, planned giving etc. The second economy of ‘giving out’ was the first place that made me pause and think – in the words of the authors, I had been interrupted. Both of these models describe church as it is, for better or worse. We then had to wait until part three for the final model.

Part two of the book was the one I found most helpful. It had five Bible studies from Mark’s Gospel and focused on the way that Jesus had been interrupted in each story. It looked at each encounter from the perspective of those at the margins or who have been excluded. This expanded on earlier material looking at an encounter with Jesus from the perspective of Zacchaeus and led into an exploration in part three of the centurion.

Part three introduced the third economy, ‘being interrupted’. This was a concept that was explored rather than a plan to be followed. It is aimed at creating discussion and possibility. I believe the idea was right, but the execution wasn’t quite on target. I was left questioning whether the authors intended this to be a book of academic theology, or a book of practical theology or something else? Part three clearly showed the origins of this book in a PhD dissertation. The academic material contrasted with the ongoing narrative of the stories from the parishes as they travelled through Mark’s Gospel.

This is a book that is worth reading. The breadth of the material covered and the deep questions that it asks means that a reader will find material in it to challenge and interrupt them, whether it is an honest look at power relationships or an exploration of rewilding the church or a discussion of the breath that we take as our resurrection. The language level of the material is quite high and the use and introduction of technical vocabulary and jargon can be excluding in itself. For a book that has ‘the marginalisation of children’ as an important theme, the language level and the academic level of theology would make it a difficult book for young people to engage with.

I found the material that related the ideas of interruption to parish life to be the most fruitful. It is a book that I know at least one parish locally is using as their lent study book. It asks important questions that the church institution needs to answer, but we need to answer them personally too, because we are the church.

Ann Reddecliffe is an IC Regional Ambassador for Leicestershire.