FORT MILL, S.C., OCT. 9 -- Ron Aldridge, the boyish-looking cohost of "The New PTL Club," wasn't on the air today, but he acted as if he were as he stood before almost 1,000 people in the studio of the most notorious TV ministry in the country.

"Let's go to you," he shouted, pointing to a PTL singer. Then, changing his mind, he signaled to another singer: "No, you!" Then he shrugged and asked no one in particular, "Who's in charge here -- isn't that the pervading question these days?"

The crowd laughed, though not heartily, perhaps because the quip hit a little too close to home. Since the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the entire PTL board of directors resigned Thursday, "Who's in charge?" has been a question no one seems able to answer.

Some, like gospel singer Doug Oldham, who resigned as cohost of the program, wondered whether the ministry, almost $70 million in debt, can survive this latest blow. Others, like the Rev. Samuel Johnson, pastor of the Heritage Village Church here, seized the moment to exert leadership. "We have the people in place to run the {PTL} ministry," Johnson, an Assemblies of God minister, said in an interview.

And some of those who man the lifeline of PTL -- the television technicians, producers and crews -- met to voice their unwillingness to work for an administration that might include Bakker, the defrocked evangelist who founded PTL with his wife Tammy Faye. Bakker resigned in March and turned the ministry over to Falwell after confessing adultery with a church secretary, Jessica Hahn, and the payment of hush money to silence her.

"Jim and Tammy can talk about PTL being their baby, but we birthed it too," said Lee Nagelhaut, an 11-year veteran and vice president of network operations. "We're tired of working for crooks." Some talked of hiring an attorney to express the staff's point of view to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Rufus Reynolds.

Falwell and the board resigned Thursday after Reynolds agreed to consider a reorganization plan by PTL creditors, including supporters of Bakker, along with a plan offered by Falwell. Falwell said he feared the judge's decision could lead to Bakker's return as leader of PTL.

At a late-night meeting of about 700 major PTL donors tonight, Falwell said by telephone hookup that he would consider returning to PTL as a consultant if Judge Reynolds appointed a "Christian" trustee to run the ministry who was not connected to former PTL leader Bakker.

But that is unlikely to happen, Falwell said, because he predicted Reynolds would appoint a "non-Christian" trustee, perhaps as early as Saturday. Such an appointment, some said later, could lead to further defections from the PTL staff. "It would be like me trying to run Playboy magazine," sniffed Jonathan Falwell, the minister's son, who stood in for his father at tonight's gathering.

The well-heeled group, somewhat chastened by Falwell's news, became more exuberant when it was announced that one woman in the audience had pledged $1 million to help the ministry pay off its immediate creditors. Smaller donations then started filling up the paper buckets being passed around -- $100 here, $500 there -- but it was unclear by the end of the night how much had been collected.

"It looks very dim, very dim," said Warren Marcus, PTL's executive vice president for television, earlier today. "From a business standpoint, it looks impossible."

Technically, the Falwell board is in place until Tuesday, by which time Reynolds is supposed to appoint a trustee for the ministry and its parent, Heritage USA. But few, if any, of the board members were here for what was one of the most difficult days of a trying six months for Heritage USA's 1,200 employes.

Federal bankruptcy officials, meanwhile, met today with ministry creditors and the Falwell board to arrange an orderly transfer of power from Falwell to a new court-appointed trustee.

Tim Stack, a lawyer representing the Office for the U.S. Trustees, confirmed yesterday that Falwell personally informed the office that he intends to remain at PTL until Tuesday. Under the federal bankruptcy code, the Office for the U.S. Trustees appoints temporary custodians over bankrupt entities when granted authority by a federal bankruptcy judge.

Stack said that upon learning of Falwell's announcement Thursday, U.S. Trustee John Waites filed a motion with Reynolds requesting authority to appoint a trustee. Waites also dispatched two attorneys and an accountant to the PTL grounds to ensure that the property was secure. Stack said the group reported back to Waites that "things were operating normally."

But on the Heritage USA grounds today, things were anything but normal.

By this evening, most employes went home with their paychecks -- even that was in question on Thursday -- but with little assurance they would be employed much longer.

"I don't know how much more of this we can take," said Don Hardister, PTL's public relations director and Bakker's former bodyguard. "We're on instrument control and the instruments aren't working."

This morning the nontelevised PTL Club was filled with songs heavy in meaning of the moment -- such hymns as "We're Going to Walk Right Out of This Valley (With My Lord)" and "Where There's Hope."

Their Lord is about the only concept most people here, both staff and visitors, would agree they can count on. Signs that the religious theme park is in trouble are everywhere. The little shops that make up the "village" are stocked with religious memorabilia and baked goods, but at any given moment today, only a few people could be seen even browsing, and merchandise discounted up to 50 percent went begging.

Attendance at Heritage USA over the summer was down considerably from last year, a PTL spokesman said -- 10 percent in June, 15 percent in July, 24 percent in August.

"There's support here for building the PTL ministry back up centered around the church, rather than the TV show," said the Rev. Jeff Park, an associate of Johnson.

That's not to say, however, that Johnson is not prepared to cohost a new version of the television show if the court-appointed trustee directs him to. Johnson said he believes he and Aldridge, who joined PTL about two years ago, would work well together.

But some sources doubted that Johnson and Aldridge were well known enough to bring in the millions of dollars PTL needs to stay afloat. A reorganization plan Falwell submitted to the bankruptcy court contained the names of two big-name evangelists as new board members, ministry sources said. No names were revealed, but Christian singer Pat Boone and Texas evangelist James Robison have surfaced as possibilities.

There was some speculation today as to whether Falwell's resignation was a negotiating ploy, but most of the lawyers involved in the case said yesterday that events have gone too far. "He's being treated as if he's gone," said Jim Toms, a lawyer for the Bakkers.

Toms yesterday also reaffirmed that the Bakkers are not seeking to return to PTL leadership but are eager to help out with "fund raising," perhaps as guests on the "PTL Club" program. "I would think he {Bakker} could help turn the thing around financially and would gladly do it if asked," said Toms.

Staff writers Michael Isikoff in Washington and Art Harris in Atlanta contributed to this report.