The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church has called upon Episcopalians to "presevere in seeking to understand" the complexities surrounding sexuality and the priesthood as controversy over ordaining homosexuals is growing in his and other denominations.

In his first public comment since the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore Jr. of New York ordained avowed lesbian Ellen Barrett as a priest last month, the Rt. Rev. John M. Allin cautioned against reacting too quickly or too vehemently.

He told Tennessee Episcopalians, "One ordination does not make and does not break a church at any place, point or diocese. The church has not gone down the drain; it really hasn't. Pass the work along."

This church has produced some damn fool decisions, but it is also a church with the capacity to learn (from its mistakes). Let's respond in faith, and quit reacting in fear," Bishop Allin said.

He did not take a position on the issue of ordaining homosexuals, but he did say he is still not convinced that women should be priests. The Episcopal Church opened the priesthood to women, effective Jan. 1.

The bishop's remarks underscore an increasingly troublesome dilemma for religious groups. While homosexuals reportedly have been ordained to the clergy in the past, it has been done without public acknowledgement or discussion of their sexual orientation.

The traditional opposition has stemmed from the conclusion, based on some biblical texts, that homosexuality is sinful. Some church members are challenging that interpretation.

In the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia's annual meeting last week, the Rt. Rev. Robert B. Hall, a progressive bishop, outlined the nature of the problem for churches. He said he had protested Barrett's ordination because "such an action goes beyong the certainties that this bishop possesses concerning the theological, psychological and cultural implications of such an ordination."

In Pittsburgh recently, the highest official of the United Presbyterian Church told an organization of Presbyterian conservatives that he is opposed to ordaining homosexuals.

William P. Thompson, a layman who is president of the National Council of Churches, said, "As I read the Bible, homosexuality is a sin."

An avowed practicing homosexual in New York has requested ordination, and the local governing body in his area, the Presbytery of New York, has sought guidance from the church at large. A commission has been appointed to study such ordinations.

Meanwhile, the board of the massachusettes Council of Churches has rejected the membership application of Metropolitan Community Church of Boston, which specializes in ministries to homosexuals.

While not explaining its reasons, the board did urge its churches in a resolution to "provide care for homosexuals" and work to eliminate "all social discrimination against homosexuals."