A preacher in a small town offers to help a teenage girl get spiritual help. Instead of help, he sexually abuses her. Later, when she tries to plead her case with her church, the members turn against her.
Something from a recent headline?
It could be. It’s also the plot for Susannah, an award-winning opera by American composer Carlisle Floyd that is being staged by Manitoba Opera on Nov. 23, 26 and 29.
The opera, set in rural Tennessee in the 1950s, tells the story of 18-year-old Susannah Polk, who is targeted as a sinner after church elders spy her bathing nude in a secluded stream.
Unjustly accused of indecency, she is urged to repent at a revival meeting by a preacher. When she refuses, the preacher goes to her home and rapes her. After the abuse, the church turns on her, but she stands her ground against their hypocrisy.
"It’s a story that, unfortunately, still holds true," said Darlene Ronald, director of marketing for Manitoba Opera.
Since the storyline of Susannah centres on events in a community of faith, the opera company is offering two faith-related events as tie-ins.
The first is a bus tour on Saturday of four places of worship in Winnipeg. During the three-hour tour, participants will visit Holy Trinity Anglican Church, the Ramgarhia Hindu Temple, St. John’s Anglican Church and St. Boniface Cathedral.
"There are some beautiful places of worship in our community," Ronald said.
The Cost of the tour, which runs from 9 a.m. to noon, is $48; tickets can be reserved by calling 204-942-7470 or visiting the Manitoba Opera website. Manitoba Opera will also host a panel discussion about sexual abuse in faith communities on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m.
The goal of the event is to give people a chance to talk "about the central issue in the opera," Ronald said.
The panel, which takes place at 7 p.m. at the Manitoba Museum Auditorium, will include therapist Kelly Bernardin-Dvorak of Jonah Counselling & Consulting; Jaymie Friesen, abuse response and prevention co-ordinator for Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba; Stan McKay, a Cree Elder; and John Neufeld, lead pastor at The Meeting Place, a Mennonite Brethren congregation. The moderator is Carolyn Klassen, a therapist with Conexus Counselling.
The panel discussion is free, but registration is required by calling Manitoba Opera or visiting its website.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.