Keith Tonkel, Pastor 

      Keith Tonkel served as senior pastor of Wells United Methodist  Church from 1969 until his death, March 8, 2017.

      Tonkel was born in New Orleans on January 15, 1936, and
  was reared in the Crescent City and in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.  He
  has served as pastor of Wells United Methodist Church in Jackson
  since June, 1969.

       He was licensed as a local preacher in the Methodist church in
  1954 and ordained as an elder in 1962, after he graduated from
  Millsaps College with a BA in Philosophy and from Emory University
  School of Theology. During his time at Emory, he served a psychiatric residency at Georgia Baptist Hospital and on the staff of Northside Methodist Church in Atlanta. 

     Tonkel served as a student pastor at Springridge Methodist Church in Jackson, and later, during a period of recovery from cancer, as Director of Christian Education at Fondren Presbyterian Church in Jackson.  He also served as pastor of Guinn Memorial Methodist Church in Gulfport for seven years.

     During his tenure at Wells, a church that has maintained an active witness to its inner-city neighborhood in transition, Keith had the opportunity to accept invitations to conduct revivals, seminars and camp meetings across the continental United States and in other countries. He led an average of 18 revivals each year, primarily in Mississippi and Louisiana.

     Tonkel is the author of four books, Finally The Dawn, an account of an evangelical trip to England during his student years, and HeartStuff, a volume of "stoetry" (a combination of story and poetry). A third book, GodStuff, is now available.   In Red Door, Green Door, a children's book, Keith explores families, adoption, and being chosen.

     Keith wrote a secular newspaper column, "Probing," and emceed two public affairs radio shows of that name. He served as Sunday School teacher and Ministerial Advisor of The United Methodist Hour: Time That Makes A Difference, which is seen on television stations throughout Mississippi and the southeast.

     During his years at Guinn Memorial in Gulfport, Keith served as a single foster parent for children under the jurisdiction of the Harrison County Youth Court.  In 1968, he acquired a partner in that effort—and in his larger ministry—by marrying Patsy Joyce Myrick.  Pat Tonkel shared ministry with Keith until her death on June 9, 2011.  Their children include Shelley Tonkel Herndon, Tracy Tonkel Furniss, and Anthony Tonkel Puckett.   Five precious grandchildren brought joy to his life. Several foster children remain active in family life.

     Over the years, Keith received state and national awards for community service and he  served on the boards of several service agencies. Some specific awards include:

  • Fannie Lou Hamer Humanitarian Award, 2009
  • Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, 2008 (Foundation for Evangelism)
  • Emma K. Elzy Award, 2007  (Mississippi Conference Commission on Religion and Race)
  • Distinguished Religious Leadership Award (2005)
  • Alvis Hunt Humanitarian Award (2002)
  • Humanitarian of the Year, Epilepsy Foundation (2001)
  • Harry E. Denman Evangelism Award, MS Conference, UMC (1999)
  • Friendship Award, Jackson 2000 (1999)

      Keith's ministry impact went far beyond Wells Church. He was deeply loved and will be missed. His vision continues in ministry at Wells.