CLEARWATER — The Rev. Walter Campbell will leave behind more than parishioners and a building when he steps from the pulpit at Bayview Baptist Church for the last time later this year.
He will leave a legacy of a man who persevered on blind faith in God to usher in positive change — change in the religious sector and his community at large.
"Walter is a kind and gracious gentleman," said the Rev. William Rice, senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater. "He has faced hardships in life with grace, and he has faced hatred and prejudice with love and forgiveness. He is a reconciler.
"Bayview itself was born out of an interracial relations emphasis between two churches decades ago. I think that in itself illustrates Walter's life and ministry."
Campbell, 70, could have taken a different path. He knew prejudice firsthand.
Campbell remembers an incident from 1963 or '64 when he was the maintenance supervisor for a Clearwater mobile home park. He was working that day with the park owner's son, who was white.
"He stopped for lunch at a Holiday Inn on U.S. 19," Campbell said. "I looked at him and said, 'I can't go in there.'
They wound up picking up some sandwiches and taking them back to the job, he said.
"Now a man can go wherever he wants for a meal as long as he can pay for it," he said.
Campbell has long since earned a bachelor's of science degree and a master's in Bible theology. He served 12 consecutive years as president of the NAACP Clearwater/Upper Pinellas County Branch, and held positions on many civic, community and religious boards.
The Rev. William Sherman, pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Clearwater, has known Campbell as a pastor and a friend.
"For 14 years, Rev. Campbell has been at the forefront providing leadership on many issues that affect the community at large."
But it was in 1974 that Campbell's life and Clearwater both changed.
A mostly black congregation of Mount Carmel Baptist Church and mostly white congregation of Skycrest Baptist (a mission of Calvary Baptist) had been sharing pastors for six months. Ten couples also shared social time.
The joint fellowship was so successful that in October, six members from each church, with Campbell as pastor, became the Condon Gardens mission, which changed to Bayview Baptist in 1988.
For 21 years, Campbell's congregation worshipped in the administration building of Condon Gardens. No baptismal pool. No sanctuary.
In the meantime, $38,000 had been raised to purchase a 1.8-acre piece of land just off Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. Many neighbors fought against having a church built. Yet during the 12 years it took to raise the money to finish the building, most befriended Campbell's congregation.
Today, Bayview and Calvary Baptist share joint services.
"Over the years, I've seen a closeness and unity among churches in the community," Campbell said. "We've come a long way. We're not there yet, but I've seen a closing of the gap between various denominations."
Cinder Berrian, 54, of Clearwater has attended Bayview since the 1980s. She has served in many capacities within the church from usher to finance committee chairwoman.
"Rev. Campbell has a vision. He's a great leader," she said. "I give him a mark of distinction, who like Moses, was obedient and listened to the Lord to lead us out of the land of Egypt in Clearwater."
Though retiring Sept. 30, Campbell plans to continue God's work through writing. He might write a book to help anyone planning to grow and develop a church from the ground up. However, he knows he will write a guide to help young pastors.
"Over the years, I've seen so many young pastors get off on the wrong track," Campbell said. "I want to give them some direction.
"I believe if you walk humbly, as the Bible says — 'Be still and know I am God.'— God will make it happen. He has done it for me and for this church."