The highest court within the United Methodist Church (search) defrocked a lesbian minister Monday for violating the denomination's ban on "self-avowed, practicing homosexual" clergy.

The nine-member Judicial Council — seven of whom heard the case Thursday in Houston — issued the ruling through its Web site. The denomination's communications office is based in Nashville.

A church panel decided in December that the Rev. Irene "Beth" Stroud (search), 35, by being in a lesbian (search) partnership, engaged in practices that the church has declared incompatible with Christian teachings.

The panel's decision was overturned by the Northeast Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals, but the Judicial Council backed the original ruling.

The Judicial Council ruled Monday that the appeals committee "erred in reversing and setting aside the verdict and penalty from Rev. Stroud's trial."

Thomas Hall, counsel for the United Methodist Church said the decision provides some relief, but is "not the end of this whole conversation."

"An issue like this takes so much energy on both sides, and takes the focus off a lot of the great things the church is doing," Hall said. "This gives us some space so we can hopefully channel our energies into the great things we're doing." The UMC is the nation's third-largest denomination.

Stroud, who became an associate pastor at Philadelphia's First United Methodist Church of Germantown in 1999, has said she never revealed her sexual orientation in documents related to her ordination, but didn't keep it a secret.

She said she decided to come out in 2003 because she felt she was being held back in her faith by not sharing the complete truth about her life. A complaint was filed against her last year.

"I thought I was prepared for anything, but still the news came as a blow," Stroud said in a phone interview. "It's a sad day for me and for my family and for my congregation and, I think, a sad day for the United Methodist Church."

Stroud will continue as a lay staff member at her congregation, preaching, supervising children's and youth work and conducting pastoral visits. She told the congregation Sunday that she and her partner are applying to be foster parents.

"There's really no question that the United Methodist Church practices discrimination. That's been made abundantly clear," she said.