About 150 members of St. Mary's Episcopal Church met Friday night in support of the Rev. Kevin Donlon, who was suspended after being accused of conduct unbecoming a clergy member.
Some members urged the eight accusers, four of whom sat in the church pews, to drop their complaints so that Donlon could return to the pulpit.
Others asked that the charges against Donlon be made public.
"If they aren't the bad stuff, then why are we here?" member Walt Tatum asked. "If we lose Father Kevin, then where will we be?"
The church has not disclosed the nature of the accusations, which were outlined last month in a 26-page complaint seen only by those involved in the case and members of the church's governing body, the vestry.
Leaders say the charges don't involve children or a breach of vows. Some vestry members said the accusations don't warrant Donlon's being placed on a 90-day leave of absence, which began last month.
On Friday, members approved a resolution asking the diocese to bring in an independent party to try to reach a compromise between Donlon and the eight complainants. They also asked to have Donlon reinstated.
"He's suffering. He's heartbroken. He wants to be with us," said Patty Ordorica, a church member who has talked with Donlon every day.
During the 90-minute meeting, members spoke passionately about Donlon and his ministry. A few said they feared that he would not be able to attend a funeral or a special event. Longtime member Jim Chesson started to cry.
"Why should eight people have the voice over 600 people?" asked member Rhoda Fisher.
Congregation leaders said the church's attorney has two months to write a report on the allegations and to submit it to the diocese for review by a committee. The committee would then have another two months to decide whether to pursue the charges or drop the suspension.
In the meantime, members urged each other to stay involved in the church and keep attending Mass, especially now at Easter.
"We need each other," said Evelyn Grant."We need to worship together."