The uproar that greeted the decision to drop "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" from a new church hymnal because of the "military images" in the songs has forced the United Methodist hymnal revision committee to schedule a special session to reconsider its decision.

The longtime favorites were voted out by a close vote -- 10 to 8 -- at the committee's May 17 meeting. The committee encouraged church members around the country to respond to the decision.

They did.

The hymnal revision office in Nashville received more than 4,000 letters and hundreds of phone calls, and a number of the denomination's annual conferences have taken formal action calling for the decision to be reversed.

Bishop Reuben P. Job of Iowa, head of the 25-member committee, called the special session. "It's clear the membership of the church wants us to take another look at these issues," he said.

Job added that it "seems wiser to do it now rather than to allow one issue to sap our energies." Greater Role Seen for Laity The president of the Catholic bishops conference said that a greater use of laity is one way bishops will cope with the growing priest shortage in the church.

But Bishop James Malone of Youngstown, speaking at a news conference after a week-long closed-door retreat of American bishops, said no consideration will be given to the idea of married clergy or the ordination of women, both of which have been forbidden by Rome.

Malone commented on papers presented by seven prelates at the retreat, which was held at Collegeville, Minn. He said the goal of the discussion was an exchange of information and views rather than development of a plan of action.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago said the church will not attract more candidates to the priesthood "until we project an image of reasonably happy, healthy, satisfied men -- men of deep faith who have made a firm commitment and show a certain enthusiasm for their ministry."

He also warned that "despite our pronouncements, support for celibacy continues to erode. While most people will admit that celibacy has value, a growing number see no reason to make it a precondition for priesthood."

Bernardin said that development of a sound understanding and appreciation of celibacy should take place "within the framework of a more positive theology of sexuality."

Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston said in his paper that the vocations crisis "reflects the inroads made by sin in the hierarchy of values, the accepted customs and the standards which characterize so much of our cultural milieu." 2 Prochoice Nuns Quizzed The headquarters in Rome of the order of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur has asked two American nuns who signed a newspaper ad two years ago asking for church "dialogue" on abortion to explain their "public prochoice stance."

Sister Elizabeth Bowyer said the order's General Governing Group feels "grave concern" over the position taken publicly by Sisters Barbara Ferraro and Patricia Hussey, who operate a shelter for the homeless in Charleston, W.Va.

Of the 23 nuns who originally faced expulsion for signing the advertisement, all but four have been cleared by the Vatican.

The four not yet cleared include Ferraro and Hussey, who refused to make a statement to the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Securlar Institutes saying they accepted "the authentic teaching of the church on abortion."

But Bowyer, one of five members of the order's governing group, said the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are not primarily concerned with the advertisements.

She said the "main concern" of the order is the fact that the two marched in the March 9 prochoice rally "with no reference to the sanctity of life or the place of moral responsibility in decision-making." Anglican Unity Threatened A new report issued by the Church of England preparatory to the General Synod meeting in York next month warns that the church may split if it approves plans to ordain women as priests.

In 1984, the synod -- comprising the houses of bishops, clergy and laity -- voted 307 to 183 to draft legislation for the ordination of women.

The report, drawn to serve as a basis of discussion for drafting the necessary legislation, said the committee of representatives from all three houses "found itself about equally divided" on the issue.

It said that there are those within the church who are vehemently opposed to the ordination of women and that the church "must make some provision" to protect them.

"It is our united belief that every effort must be made to preserve the peace and unity of the Church of England," the committee said.

Essentially, the report outlined ways the church could try to remain unified by maintaining what would amount to separate wings, one for those who accept women priests and one for those who do not.

But at the same time, it recognized the possibility some might leave the Church of England to form "a separate body related to the Church of England" but with an all-male priesthood or even a "complete separation."