The United Presbyterian Church in the United States overwhelmingly rejected efforts to stop the church from studying homosexuality and possible ordination of gay ministers.

After an emotional hour-long debate, delegates at the 189th General Assembly of the church, which claims 2.6 million members, voted down a motion to kill a task force created last year to make a report on the issue in 1978.

Delegates also rejected, 381 to 278, a substitute report that would have banned ordination of avowed homosexuals as improper now or in the future.

Then the delegates adopted by a show of hands the majority report calling for continuation of the study.

The Rev. J. Harry McElroy of Elmhurst, Pa., led the fight to kill possible ordination of homosexual ministers.

"A pastor needs to be above reproach in his ministry, and homosexuality is a sin and bars a person to ordination," he said. "We should devise a ministry for the homosexuals so they can be cleared of this sin."

The Rev. Edward D. Gehres Jr. of Decatur, Ill., said the process started last year should be allowed to continue and argued that to do anything else would be an error.

"We shouldn't be stampeded by a motion to take an uninformed position," Mr. Gehres said. "This decision can affect the lives of millions of humans beings. If we truly are in fear of God, we will take every precaution to make informed decisions. We must be positive, not negative."

The issue came before the assembly on resolutions from presbyteries in Huntsville, Ala., and Pittsburgh. They alleged that the task of studying homosexuality was an improper function, claiming Scriptures were clear and unequivocal that homosexual practices are just as sinful as prostitution, adultery and fornication.