By Dave Warner
LOWER PROVIDENCE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - An embattled Methodist pastor who officiated at his son's same-sex wedding said on Thursday he would appeal a church decision to defrock him after he refused to say he would never perform another gay ceremony.
A United Methodist church board earlier on Thursday decided to defrock Reverend Frank Schaefer, pastor of the Zion United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
"He no longer holds the ministerial office in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference by virtue of his decision," Bishop Peggy Johnson said in a statement.
Hours later, Schaefer told reporters in Philadelphia that he was "in shock still" and would begin an appeals process that could drag into 2015. In the meantime, he said he will continue to fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights within the church.
"What I did was an act of love for my son," said Schaefer, noting that three of his four children are gay and each sent a text message after he was defrocked saying: "Tell dad we love him and are proud of him."
While he is interested in speaking with churches of other denominations that have contacted him, Schaefer described the United Methodist church as "my church" and said it is deeply divided on the issue of gay rights.
Schaefer was defrocked less than a month after he was found guilty in a church trial of violating church law by performing the 2007 ceremony for his son Tim.
A jury of pastors sentenced him to a 30-day suspension and ordered him to resign by Thursday if he could not uphold church doctrine as outlined in the United Methodist Book of Discipline.
Schaefer has been publicly defiant since then, saying immediately after the verdict that he would not change his mind and that the rules discriminate against gay people.
Bishop Johnson has acknowledged that several statements in the Book of Discipline on gay issues are discriminatory, specifically those forbidding ordination of homosexuals and forbidding pastors from conducting same sex marriages.
The clergy board acted on Thursday morning in a brief 15-minute session attended by Schaefer after he refused to comply with the verdict.
"Rev. Schaefer met with the board of ordained ministry today and declared that he is not willing or able to uphold the laws of the Book of Discipline in its entirety in the future as required by the trial court's verdict," Johnson said in the statement.
"When asked to surrender his credentials as required by the verdict, he refused to do so," Johnson said. "Therefore, because of his decision, the board was compelled by the jury's decision to deem his credentials surrendered."
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Andrew Hay and Gunna Dickson)