Foundation for Evangelism honors Tonkel


Special to the Advocate

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

The award will be presented at the foundation’s annual banquet on Nov. 1.

Tonkel serves as pastor of Wells Memorial United Methodist Church in Jackson, Miss.

Tonkel has a 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.” 

“Keith Tonkel is a gift; a gift to Wells United Methodist Church, a gift to Jackson, a gift to Mississippi, a gift to the world,” said Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the Mississippi Conference.

“It is glorious to know the witness of one who has dug in with long focus on what is important and good and right in ministry. Keith continues to be our teacher, our mentor and our spiritual guide toward greater faithfulness and fruitfulness in Christ’s ministry.”

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. Tonkel was assigned to Wells UMC in June 1969, a congregation he still serves.

Wells UMC 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.

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. 

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 including the Harry Denman Evangelism Award from the Mississippi Conference and the Friendship Award from Jackson 2000.

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

The author of three books — Finally The Dawn, HeartStuff and GodStuff — Tonkel 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