2006 Regular Session

To: Rules

By: Senator(s) Frazier, Burton, Clarke

Senate Concurrent Resolution 615

(As Adopted by Senate)


     WHEREAS, the Reverend Keith Tonkel, Pastor of Wells United Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, has turned 70 years old, which, according to church rules, means he is supposed to retire, but the church will not let that happen; and

     WHEREAS, Reverend Tonkel, who wears wire-rimmed glasses and has a full head of salt and pepper hair, has led the same church for 37 years, unheard of in the Methodist Church where Pastors typically don't serve more than four years at the same church; and

     WHEREAS, when Tonkel joined Wells in 1969, he faced an aging, dwindling congregation and a working class neighborhood shifting from white to black.  Wells soon helped set up the community services organization Operation Shoestring and later opened a free health clinic.  Today, church attendance is at an all-time high of 500, and most members travel from outside Jackson; and

     WHEREAS, Reverend Tonkel preached that Wells would be revived.  The church continued with Keith because he represented the future and new ideas; and

     WHEREAS, the son of a drummer and a New Orleans debutante, Tonkel was born in the Crescent City in 1936.  Raised in Bay St. Louis, Tonkel attended Roman Catholic Churches as a child, but later joined the Methodist Church; and

     WHEREAS, he had always wanted to become a doctor and perform medical missions, but a bout with cancer after college changed his plans.  After surviving 18 operations and months of radiation treatment, Tonkel pursued ministry, despite his father's admonition; and

     WHEREAS, at age 26, he became Pastor of a Gulfport Church, for the starting salary of $1,600.00 a year.  During this time, he married his wife of 38 years, the former Patsy Joyce Myrick, a Medical Technologist who cared for Tonkel during his cancer treatments; and

     WHEREAS, the couple raised three children of their own:  Anthony Tonkel Puckett, 49, a postal worker; Tracy Furniss, 33, a former teacher and now a stay-at-home mother; and Shelley Tonkel, 30, a hospice representative; and

     WHEREAS, though not listed as a ministry in the church's brochure, some say racial reconciliation lies at the heart of Wells Church's work.  A historically white church, membership has grown more racially and economically diverse, with many blacks active in church leadership.  Tonkel publicly declared his views on race in 1963 when he became one of 28 white Methodist Ministers in the state to sign the "Born of Conviction" statement, which denounced racism; and

     WHEREAS, when people meet Keith Tonkel and when they hear him preach, what they experience is a person who is so genuine and has the gift to speak the truth.  People perceive that he connects them to God; and

     WHEREAS, Reverend Tonkel, who works seven days a week, serves on numerous local boards, preaches throughout the state and teaches Sunday School on the television and radio broadcast, "The United Methodist Hour" and "The Time That Makes a Difference"; and

     WHEREAS, today, due to Reverend Tonkel's leadership, Wells Church has an extensive menu of community ministries, which includes building Habitat for Humanity houses, running a food pantry, conducting worship at the state veterans home, adopting the public school across the street, and hosting an annual music and arts festival called WellsFest that raises thousands of dollars for charity.  The church also supports a dozen community service organizations; and

     WHEREAS, it is with great pride that we recognize the civic and humanitarian contributions of this Christian leader who is an inspiration to all Mississippians:

     NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES CONCURRING THEREIN, That we do hereby commend the humanitarian and civic leadership of the Reverend Keith Tonkel, whose retirement as Pastor of Wells United Methodist Church will not stop a lifetime of service, and extend to him and his family the best wishes of the Legislature in their future endeavors.

     BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That this resolution be presented to Reverend Tonkel and be made available to the Capitol Press Corps.