By Michelle Durham

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Clergy and church members from all over the area gathered today at Arch Street United Methodist Church, on North Broad Street, to show their support for the Rev. Frank Schaefer, the minister found guilty last month by the Eastern Pennsylvania Methodist Conference for officiating at his son’s 2007 marriage to another man in violation of the church’s United Methodist Book of Discipline (see related story).

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Schaefer received a 30-day suspension following the ruling (related story) and was given the time to see if he could continue to minister in accordance with the Book of Discipline.

Today, he explained that he found it impossible to do so.

“I cannot uphold those discriminatory laws and the language in the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline that is hurtful and harmful to our homosexual brothers and sisters in the church. I just cannot,” he said.

Schaefer says he honestly doesn’t believe anyone can, because of the way they are written.

With three of four of his children being gay, Schaefer said he cannot turn his back on his family but on the flip side, he said he wasn’t going to simply throw in the towel and leave the Methodist ministry.

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“This may come as a surprise to everybody: I cannot in good conscience surrender my credentials voluntarily. I cannot.  Because I feel called to be a minister.”

Schaefer says this situation has taken a personal toll on him and his family, but he also feels that he is representing the needs of the LGBT members of the church and he intends to continue.

If stripped of his credentials, he says, he’ll pursue other ministerial options, but wouldn’t elaborate on what those might be.  He says he prefers instead to focus on the situation at hand.

Schaefer is scheduled to return on Thursday to the Eastern Pennsylvania Methodist Conference, with the decision he announced today.  After that, he will await their response.

Officials of the Eastern Pennsylvania Methodist Conference issued a statement saying there would be no substantive comment until after Rev. Schaefer’s meeting with the board on Thursday.

[Editor’s note: an earlier statement sent out today by the conference was later retracted, saying it was an unrelated document that had been sent out in error.]

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