Rev. Keith Tonkel died last week in Jackson, Mississippi. It was a very sad time for the hundreds, maybe thousands, who knew and loved him. His new appointment in the 60s to an inner-city church landed him at Wells Church, a place of worship that was one of the many “downtown” churches that experienced “white flight.” Keith and his wife Pat dove right in.
He was motivated to not only reach out to the people who were clinging to their lifelong place of worship, but Keith was also inspired to help the people in the neighborhood, including poor people, drug addicts, alcoholics, the homeless, and, yes, much to the surprise of many, African-Americans.
Keith joined dozens of Methodist ministers in the state in signing a document that made it clear that the color of a person’s skin, in the great words of Martin Luther King, does not herald “the content of their character.” That alone was enough for me. His church was a church with which to be reckoned
But, the overwhelming goodness of Wells United Methodist Church is not why I am writing this piece. What I want to share is what I learned from Keith Tonkel, and what I am pretty sure everyone else who knew him learned, as well:
- God is love!
- God wants us all happy, protected, fed, accepted, healed, surrounded by friends, and loving one another.
- Accept the unaccepted.
- Give others second, third, fourth, up to ninety-ninth, chances.
- Have fun.
- Love music and sing with vigor.
- Ask people for help because it will bless them.
- Hold hands.
- Love and support your family and your significant others.
- Eat together joyously.
- Call everyone you meet “Babe.”
- It really is all about love.
- We are all connected. God sees us all in the same way.
- Give what you can to those in need.
- Laugh! Laugh often.
- “Church” is not just about being there on Sunday.
Yep, he was a great man.