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Being Interrupted. Reimagining the Church’s Mission from the Outside, In

Al Barrett and Ruth Harley

SCM Press, 2020, £19.99. Paperback ISBN 978-0-33405-8625

Review by Esther Elliott, Workplace and Community Chaplain, West Edinburgh

Being Interrupted. Reimagining the Church’s Mission from the Outside, In

This book is about mission, ecclesiology and pastoral care. It is not about the practice of preaching or the texts preachers preach with. At its core however, it is a workbook to support the craft of living with faith with others and therefore, with a little bit of artful translation it has much to give to preachers.

Most obviously, any book which explores contemporary mission and the current life of the Church (of England) makes an offer to preachers of a base from which to jump. ‘Being Interrupted’ provides especially firm footholds in the sort of thinking and theology that is currently de rigueur among UK based thinkers and practitioners in mission.

It soon becomes also obvious that this is a book packed with rich and useable metaphors, images and ways of seeing which can provide a preacher with new and interesting ways into the Biblical text and lived experience. As well as a substantial section which looks at parts of Jesus’ story in Mark’s gospel as ‘interruptions’ there are running images of circles, connectors, edges and composting. These do some of the heavy lifting alongside a plethora of standard ‘re-words,’ revealing, relocating, receptivity, relinquishing, remaining, and reincorporating to name but a few.

Less obviously, I think the idea of ‘Being Interrupted’ and some of the explanation Barrett and Harley bring to that, can be extremely useful for the preacher to reflect on. What is uninterrupted preaching? What role does interruption play in the construction and crafting of a sermon? What happens to the preaching process when the preacher is interrupted while mid delivery? What happens when the prepared sermon is interrupted by a world event? What does it mean to have been interrupted from preaching in the usual sense for the last year of a pandemic?

This is a book of its time and of its place. It is a profound call to the privileged to get with the interruptions that the non-privileged bring. As someone who has not experienced that brand of privilege it slowly became an uncomfortable read. It also reads as a call from the not-too-distant past, a pre-pandemic world and church, and, even with the addition of a hasty epilogue written after the first lock down, a pre long-lockdown world and church. I am left wondering when does what was an interruption turn into normality?

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