OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ About 300 disgruntled members of a Methodist church held their own service to protest the return of their minister after his acquittal in a church court on charges of performing a lesbian unity ceremony.

The Rev. Jimmy Creech received a standing ovation from about 600 parishioners when he returned to the pulpit of First United Methodist Church on March 15.

Most of Creech's opponents were absent that day, and Sunday, an estimated 300 of them attended a ``laity rally'' at Westside High School.

Tad Freeburg, 40, said it felt good to reunite with his fellow church members.

``It's kind of nice seeing people that I haven't seen in months because of this situation,'' Freeburg said. ``It gives me hope just seeing that other people feel the same way I do.''

Many signed petitions outside the high school asking Nebraska United Methodist Bishop Joel Martinez to discontinue Creech's appointment.

Creech had been suspended from his post at Omaha's largest United Methodist church since Nov. 10. On March 13, a jury of Methodist ministers from across Nebraska acquitted him of charges that he broke church rules by performing the lesbian unity ceremony in September.

The case was the first challenge to United Methodist policy on homosexual marriage. The jury's decision could shape how the 9.5 million-member denomination interprets rules governing its treatment of gays.

In the audience Sunday was Marvin Koelling, superintendent of the church's Northeast District in Norfolk, who oversaw the congregation during Creech's suspension.

Koelling said he was there to let members know that the church still cared about them. ``I think these people needed a time together, and the message wasn't divisive,'' he said.

Koelling said he hoped Creech's opponents and supporters will reconcile.

``If they follow the message they heard this morning, they will try to reach out,'' Koelling said. ``They are good people and good United Methodists.''