Twenty-two New Jersey Episcopalians have filed ecclesiastical charges against Bishop John S. Spong of Newark, a maverick who has urged the church to consider blessing some nonmarital sexual relationships.

A statement of charges, was sent to Presiding Bishop Edmond Lee Browning, according to George T. Smith-Winnes of Red Bank, N.J., executive director of the Committee of Concerned Episcopalians, formed in New Jersey in January to bring the action against Spong.

The statement accuses Spong of conduct unbecoming of a bishop, conduct unbecoming of a member of the clergy, violations of ordination vows and violation of church canons.

If two church boards of inquiry find grounds for pursuing the matter, the action could lead to a church trial, a rare occurrence in the case of a bishop of the church.

The charges by the New Jersey group are based on two actions by the Newark bishop:In a 1985 article he wrote for a church publication challenging conventional views, he said, "Though the Bible feeds me constantly, I do not for a moment believe that it is the word of God in any literal way. Metaphors, contradictions, and even errors of history abound." His support of a study paper on human sexuality calling for debate on whether the church should grant recognition and acceptance to the sexual relationships of unmarried homosexual and heterosexual couples.

The presentments were signed by three priests and 19 lay members -- a priest and seven lay signers are from Spong's diocese -- Smith-Winnes said.

In order for a presentment against a bishop to be valid, it must include signers from the bishop's own diocese.

Spong termed the charges "one more nagging complaint, a harassment tactic, the buzzing of a fly," and said he did not take them seriously."

Archdeacon Leslie Smith, press officer for the Newark Diocese, said the diocese had "supported the bishop in his role as scholar and challenger."

The diocesan convention approved this year "the goal to continue the prophetic ministry of the diocese to get people to wrestle with their doubts."