The Rev. Geoff Kohler believes the best way to explore an issue — especially a complex issue that divides people — is through dialogue. And the single most divisive issue facing churches today revolves around homosexuality.
The United Methodist Church is on the brink of a monumental schism after the church’s judicial council affirmed a plan approved by the General Conference earlier this year banning the ordination of gay pastors and threatening the credentials of pastors who officiate at same-gender weddings.
The Presbyterian Church USA, of which Kohler is a member, has been debating the issue “for most of my ministry,” he said.
But rather than debate the issue, which Kohler said forces people to choose sides, he has chosen to write a one-act play that will be presented at The Trust Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
“Access” is about a conservative, middle-aged woman named Margaret, played by Dorothy Smith, who rents an apartment to Hannah, played by Shannon Munley, only to discover she is gay.
The question, he said, is “What do I do now?”
A third character, Moses Mariscal, who portrays Margaret’s son, Frank, acts as a bridge in the play.
During the audition, Smith said the three actors did what she called a “cold read” — reading lines from a scene that brought tears to her eyes.
The scene is about how her character wrestles with “reconciling her beliefs that she has had and her new exposure, if you will, with this lesbian girl who lives there and ... trying to do the right thing.”
And the tears?
“I’m kind of that kind of person,” she said with a laugh in a telephone interview. “So yeah, there’s some touching moments that I could connect to.”
Kohler said the heart of the issue is about how people can stay in community while recognizing the conflicts that exist between them.
The play is not about Kohler’s own situation — he is conservative with a gay son — but he said it presents a different way to discuss peoples’ differences.
“One of the ways I explore an idea,” he said, “is by placing different people into the circumstance where they have to dialogue with each other. And one of the things I treasure is that conversation.”
Prior to coming to Lancaster where he served as pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Kohler founded a church in a shopping center in Malvern, outside of Philadelphia. Following the Benediction, he would invite people to ask questions.
“I would open it up to any question you want to ask, because that is the heart of how we grow.”
What does he want the play to accomplish?
“Conversation. I hope people walk out talking to each other and talking about their own lives and the people who are in their own lives.
“At one point it’s that idea that we just tolerate somebody. I have a character who kind of throws that idea away. The option is really to learn the other person. (It’s) the greatest gift you can give to someone.”
Kohler said friends who have read the script have suggested that he change the ending.
But Smith disagrees.
“I think the ending ... is left at a good place,” she said. “It leaves you with unanswered questions, and I think that’s part of the big point of this.”