#ChurchToo takes on sexual abuse and pastoral misconduct

Lindsey Middleton in Gary Kirkham’s “Eighteenth”. (Photo by Saul Tahuite)

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#ChurchToo is coming to Morden. Commissioned by Mennonite Church of Eastern Canada, this provocative piece aims to engage audiences across the country about churches and sexual abuse.
Audiences will see an array of characters through seven vignettes, each bringing to life stories about hidden trends within church communities. From the secret relationship of a young woman and her pastor, to discriminatory church policies, all the way to bringing forth allegations against a person in power, #ChurchToo illuminates the messy dynamics that accompany the complicated truths of power and sexual abuse.
The performance will be presented by Theatre of the Beat on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at Morden Mennonite Church. Tickets are “pay what you can” with $15 being the suggested donation. The piece is not recommended for audiences under the age of 14.
Johnny Wideman is the artistic director for Theatre of the Beat. He said they were pleased to work with the Mennonite Church on this.
“I think the Mennonite Church wanted to be proactive in responding to these kinds of issues moving forward, and to try to build awareness about it and to educate congregations on the realities of sexual abuse and pastoral misconduct,” he said.
Wideman said they wanted to get the message across in a more raw and emotional way.
“They reached out to us and we were very excited to take on this topic,” he said.
This piece has been in the works for quite some time.
“We began our conversations with the Mennonite Church six months before the #MeToo movement broke, so it became very timely and we’re really excited to be working on something that’s so relevant right now,” he said. “It’s such an important conversation.”
Wideman said their goal is to instigate conversations on this topic.
“We’re hoping that the show highlights victims’ stories because there’s been a lot of silence and shame around this, which has made it very difficult for victims to speak up,” he said. “It’s kind of a safe way for audiences to hear these stories without people being outed, without people who have had those experiences to have to stand up and share their stories when it’s so difficult and painful.”
Writers of the piece interviewed victims, and most have grown up in the church. “A lot of them are writing from their own experiences,” he said.
Wideman said they are trying to engage a very difficult and often avoided conversation in a real way.
“I think for many church communities the topic of sex is taboo so as soon as your talking about sexual violence there’s just too much shame and awkwardness and avoidance around some of these conversations that they’re really being pushed to the side,” he said. “A lot of victims haven’t felt safe coming forward, or if they have come forward it hasn’t been listened to.”
Wideman hopes their performance isn’t the end of the discussion.
“We’re trying to get the conversation started,” he said. “It hasn’t been something the church has been great at talking about, and so this is our way of kicking open the door so that action can take place and we’re hopeful communities can hold that door open and continue to have those conversations that hopefully make for safer church communities moving forward.”
Responses to their work has varied so far.
“There is often sobbing,” Wideman said. “It’s a very emotional show, it’s a difficult show, but at the same time it’s a really important show.”
Despite the emotional response and the reluctance for many to talk about the issue, Wideman said they feel welcome whereever they perform.
“There is both a sense of gratitude and discomfort that is palpable,” he said.
Wideman said churches deserve credit for taking on this issue.
“The fact that churches are bringing in this show means that churches want to talk about this and that they want to lead the way in this conversation,” he said. “I just really respect that.”

The performance will be presented by Theatre of the Beat on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at Morden Mennonite Church.

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Lindsey Middleton, Brendan Kinnon and Meghan Fowler in Charlie Gray’s “He Saw Her And…”. (Photo by Saul Tahuite)

Lindsey Middleton in Charlie Gray’s “He Saw Her And…”. (Photo by Saul Tahuite)