TOWN 'N COUNTRY — After a year of commuting from Georgia, Ralph Arnold has accepted the position of pastor at Calvary Community Church of Tampa, bringing stability to the congregation after the death of its popular founder, Hank Lindstrom.
In Georgia and South Carolina, people often recognized Arnold's voice from a radio and television show he did for many years. In Tampa, members of Calvary knew him through guest sermons and his work with the youth camp he directed for the past two years.
Known simply as "Yankee," a nickname his mother gave him as a child, Arnold's passion is evangelism.
Salvation is a "free gift" available to all, he said. "I was 18 years old when I heard this for the first time."
He was attending a summer Bible camp in Tennessee when he learned about the Lord, after being raised in Georgia by parents who didn't mention God or take him to church.
His life has changed significantly from those days. In December, Arnold, 68, was elected and formally installed as Calvary's pastor.
Lindstrom founded Calvary in 1966 and became well-known through the Bibleline call-in radio show on Christian station WTBN-AM 570. The show was broadcast throughout the country and in Canada. Lindstrom died in late 2008 from diabetes complications.
"It was a difficult time for all of us," said Greg Bizzell, a member of the church for four years who now works in the church office. But members kept the church running smoothly, he said.
They relied on guest preachers for more than a year, including Arnold, who frequently drove from Georgia to deliver the Sunday message. As a committee searched for a new pastor, they kept coming back to Arnold, who had been longtime friends with Lindstrom.
"He is very similar in style (to Lindstrom)," said James Taylor, who organizes the church's youth programs. "He seemed to fit like a hand in a glove."
Arnold and Lindstrom met at Florida Bible College in 1964. Though they went separate ways, they shared the same fundamental beliefs and took similar career paths. Each founded his own church and used radio and television as a medium to reach out to more people.
Following college, Arnold went to Colorado, where he founded the Arvada Christian School and the Colorado Bible College. He directed the Christian Youth Ranch there for many years. He later moved to Athens, Ga., where he served as pastor of Northside Baptist Church. He hosted the Northside Bible Hour on television for eight years and was on the radio for 17 years.
A few years ago, he decided to focus on evangelism. With his wife, Betty, he traveled around the country, preaching at revival meetings. At first, he refused Calvary's offer to become pastor. But as time went by and the position remained vacant, Arnold warmed to the idea.
"I kept thinking about the church and who they were going to get," he said, "and I lost my desire to plan (revivals)."
He served as interim pastor before the church's formal vote two months ago.
Now, Arnold says, "I like the quality of leadership in this ministry, and I love their vision to want to do more."
Elizabeth Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.