The Rev. William A. Wendt has resigned as pastor of the Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation.

The priest's surprise announcement came at a congregational meeting Saturday which had been called to discuss the restructuring of the parish following Father Wendt's schedule return from a sabbatical year on May 1.

Father Wendt has spent his sabbatical studying and working on problems of death and dying. The restructuring proposals which the congregation was slated to discuss were designed to permit him to continue to spend part time in these concerns.

He told the congregation, however, that he felt he should resign as rector of the parish and devote full time to "dealing with death, before, during and after."

He reminded parishioners that when he came to St. Stephen in 1960, he had promised to stay only ten years.

Father Wendt could not be reached yesterday to elaborate on his plans for the future.

In his 18 years in Washington, Father Wendt has been at the center of controversies ranging from civil rights to ordination of women to the Episcopal priesthood. He built St. Stephen into one of the most integrated churches, both racially and economicalty, in the city.

Parish leaders acknowledge that both attendance and financial support has declined during Father Wendt's sabbatical.