Foundation for Evangelism honors Tonkel


LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. —The Foundation for Evangelism has named Dr. Keith Tonkel the 2008 Distinguished Evangelist of The United Methodist Church Award.

The award will be presented at the Foundation's Annual Banquet on Nov. 1.

Tonkel has a remarkable record of ministry, leadership and service within The United Methodist Church. As described in the nomination letter, "He epitomizes grace, love, commitment, vision, integrity and openness to the movement of God's Spirit." 

A native of New Orleans, Tonkel was licensed as a local preacher in the Methodist Church in 1954 and ordained an elder in 1962. A graduate of Millsaps College with the Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and Candler School of Theology, he served a psychiatric residency at Georgia Baptist Hospital and was on the staff of Northside Methodist Church in Atlanta. After appointment to two United Methodist churches in Mississippi, Tonkel was assigned to Wells Memorial United Methodist Church in Jackson in June 1969, a congregation he still serves.

Wells United Methodist Church is an old church located originally in a working class neighborhood of Jackson and now situated in one of the poorest areas of the city. Although the area has changed radically since the church was established in 1926, the congregation has made a firm decision to remain at the site, believing that they have a "ministry of presence." Under the leadership of Tonkel, the church has increased worship attendance by more than 40 percent over the last decade while the population of this area has decreased by 19 percent since 1990 and is projected to decrease 5 percent more in the next three years. It has become a symbol of a congregation's determination to continue ministry in a depressed area and to enter fully into the life of that community.

Tonkel's ministry and his commitment to manifesting the Gospel within the world in which the Christian community lives have  been recognized through a number of awards:

• The Alvis Hunt Humanitarian Award, the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Epilepsy Foundation

• The Harry Denman Evangelism Award from the Mississippi Conference

• The Friendship Award from Jackson 2000 (an interracial organization in Jackson that promotes racial reconciliation

• The Outstanding Young Man award from the Gulfport Jaycees while serving in Gulfport.

In addition, he and Wells church received the Emma Elzy Award from the Commission on Race and Reconciliation at the Mississippi Annual Conference.

The author of three books — Finally The Dawn, HeartStuff and GodStuff, Tonkel is a gifted preacher who averages 12 to 18 three-day revivals a year, primarily in Mississippi, but beyond as well. He preaches in small and large churches, on college campuses, at camp meetings and at Wesley Foundations. In addition, he has been featured preacher on the United Methodist Hour in Mississippi since its inception in 1971, has been acting director and has served as a presenter of the Sunday school lesson through that ministry.

After receiving the award in North Carolina, Tonkel will preach at First United Methodist Church of Waynesville, N.C. on Nov. 2.