Keith's Blog


       Keith 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 was 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. 

     He 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 served as pastor of Guinn Memorial Methodist Church in Gulfport for seven years before his present assignment.

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

     He is the author of two 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.

      Keith has written a secular newspaper column, "Probing," and emceed two public affairs radio shows of that name . He currently serves 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. Tracy and her husband, Jeff, are the parents of Porter Dayton Furniss, Carson Keith Furniss, and Griffin Wells Furniss.  If prompted in the slightest way, Keith will agree to tell you about Porter, Carson and Griffin.  He might even be coaxed to show you a picture..or two.  Several foster children are still active in family life.

      Over the years, he has received state and national awards for community service and he continues to serve 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)

      In his spare time, he enjoys helping people find good deals on cars, and he enjoys traveling--especially in the Western United States and overseas.    

     He also maintains a regular physical exercise regimen and enjoys reading, writing and listening to books on tape.