I FEEL a burden of responsibility reviewing this book. Al Barrett carries the hopes of many. His “work” in Hodge Hill in Birmingham is rightfully admired and followed. I hesitate to use the word “work”, because Barrett would more probably describe himself — and his family — as “being” in Hodge Hill. Being Interrupted describes the approach, theory, and theology that underpin this “being”. It involves giving high value to the mutuality of all encounters and relationships. Everyone’s voice matters, and for this to be the case, privileged voices need restraint.
This substantial volume has three forewords (Queer, Black, Non-reader), nine Acts that embellish the three parts, plus a final conversation between Barrett and Harley, taking account of the great interruption that is Covid-19. There is nothing comfortable about Being Interrupted, especially the first part, which makes a searing challenge to personal and Anglican privilege.
Despite the leaven of an irresistible “Privilege Quiz”, the first section is a tough read. The message: the more powerful we are, the more we must address our “power-related-willingness-not-to-see”, especially in relation to poverty, race, class, gender, children, other-than-human creatures, and the earth itself. Yes, you will groan about a list such as this, but, as Lynne Cullens says in her foreword, the challenge is to follow “Al and Ruth’s beckoning, to go ever deeper into the stories of interruption, encounter, and ultimately transformation”.
The second part describes five instances from St Mark’s Gospel where Jesus is interrupted. It was this section that enabled me to trust that interruptions can indeed prefigure profound change in understanding and ensuing performance. Jesus is clearly changed in his attitudes and approaches because of interruptions (especially by women). By this stage in this substantial book, the reader will need to have owned that being interrupted quashes control, and such affront is just what is needed by those accustomed to privilege.
Barrett and Harley dare to push this further, suggesting that our privileged lives are so needful of disruption that we must unchain ourselves from the “social justice Jesus” who is “the central power agent in his saga”. Mission is likewise challenged, because it risks undermining mutuality, because those outside the ambit of faith are first and foremost seen as lacking and needful of the insights that we can provide. Rather, the gift to be sought is the encounter itself. This is the focus of the third, most substantial and learned, section.
This is no loosely ordered treatise: it is grounded both in real life and real scholarship. What results is a persuasive critique of the Church of England’s default performance of congregational “equipping and filling” as well as a welcome illustration of how liturgy can increase receptivity to “the invasion of the outside world”, and receptivity to the Holy Spirit. There are acknowledged commonalities with the “Rewilding the Church” movement throughout this final section. Barrett and Harley provide a passionate, well-informed practical theology, which rightly is rooted in everyday engagement.
Three cheers for this growing trend, and well done to publishers willing to give voice to those who labour at the grass-roots rather than in the academy. Being Interrupted urges us towards a new humility and ecological sensitivity, besides demonstrating and promoting a participative and ultra-inclusive discipleship. But, more than this, it is exciting, and relieves the creeping anxiety that church was in decline not just numerically, but in terms of creative and innovative thinking and practice.
Buy this book, but don’t leave it on the shelf: hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. Do all five of these urgings from the Advent collect to reveal the depth and intensity of engagement which is being called out by Barrett and Harley. Note, however, that such engagement and ensuing encounters are not to be characterised as hard work — rather, the contrary; for it is in the interruptions where we find the redeeming and restoring light of the gospel.
Ann Morisy is a freelance community theologian and lecturer.
Interrupting the Church’s Flow, by Al Barrett is reviewed here.
Being Interrupted: Reimagining the Church’s mission from the outside, in
Al Barrett and Ruth Harley
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £16