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A Chaplain for Life

Commemorating the quarter-century tenure of Wheaton’s longest-serving chaplain. by Beau Westlund ’14


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“I have observed that there is one issue that students—and all people—struggle with above all others: God loves you. When we understand this intellectually, and when we embrace it emotionally, it will allow us to do what God calls us to do: to love God with all our hearts.”

—Chaplain Emeritus Stephen Kellough ’70

“It’s been quite a ride.”

These words, spoken by Chaplain Emeritus Stephen Kellough ’70 at his retirement celebration in Coray Alumni Gymnasium, perfectly encapsulate the quarter-century journey of Wheaton College’s longest-serving chaplain. He concluded his chaplaincy on August 1, 2014, exactly 25 years after he began his service to the College in 1989.

Over the years, Chaplain Kellough has served campus in a variety of ways. He was the architect of approximately 2,250 chapel services attended by some 15,000 Wheaton students, faculty, staff, and administration now spread around the globe. He has also overseen and guided small group ministries and facilitated campus visits and events, including serving as a personal escort for Billy ’43, LITT.D ’56 and Ruth Bell Graham ’43, LITT.D ’75 during 1993 commencement, guiding students through the spiritual revival of 1995, and acting on occasion as the Harley-Davidson marshal during the College’s annual student orientation parade (also known as the “Mastodon March”).

According to Dr. Dorothy Chappell, Wheaton’s dean of natural and social sciences, who served on the search committee for the chaplaincy, his biblical and theological education played a large role in his hire—as well as his compelling personality.

“Our search committee saw in Dr. Kellough a humble person dedicated to the Lord and the authority of Scripture, a sensitive person whose dedication to the spiritual needs of students was immense,” she says. “He is a person with a great sense of humor, and one who is very approachable.”

After 25 years, she believes that the “personal characteristics we saw in the initial interview . . . have played out well.

“He has held tightly to the theological distinctives of evangelicals, and has great respect for the wide variety of expressions of the great diversity of students, faculty, and staff on our campus,” Dr. Chappell says.

stephen-kellough-billy-grahamHistory in the Making

Chaplain Kellough, or “Chappy K,” as students affectionately refer to him today, has been associated with Wheaton College for much of his life, as he attended Wheaton for his junior year. He then transferred to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in biology before earning a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1974.

“The call to ministry wasn’t easy, and wasn’t quick—I really went to seminary to answer theological questions,” says Chaplain Kellough, who initially set out to teach.

God had other plans, however. Summer internships at various parish ministries during his time in seminary—including a pastoral internship at a small church in Lakota Sioux Territory in the Black Hills of South Dakota—helped him discern his calling to the ministry.

He was ordained by the Presbyterian Church USA in 1975 and completed a D.Min. at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis in 1984, while serving for ten years as pastor of Forreston Grove Presbyterian Church in Illinois. When he was called to serve at Wheaton in 1989, he was spending a sabbatical year as chaplain and professor at Tyndale Theological Seminary in Amsterdam.

During his 25 years at Wheaton, Chaplain Kellough served for 4 years with Dr. J. Richard Chase, 17 years with Dr. Duane Litfin, and 4 years with Dr. Philip Graham Ryken ’88.

“It’s very symmetrical,” he muses, smiling before proceeding to confess, “The period between 1970 and 1989 was 19 years with four chaplains, and then only one chaplain for 25 years—that’s kind of sobering to me.”

Looking back, Chaplain Kellough says the past 25 years represent three distinct phases: a spiritual emphasis through small groups from the mid-80s to the 90s; worship renewal sparked by the spiritual revival of 1995, “when contemporary Christian music was gaining ground and students were thirsting for corporate worship together” in the mid-to-late 90s and 2000s; and in more recent years since 9/11, a movement toward social justice.

“I think campus is at a very healthy spiritual level right now,” Chaplain Kellough says. “The biggest challenge facing students today is knowing that they’re loved by God, especially in Wheaton’s performance-based, perfectionist-driven college culture. There is a huge need to embrace the love of God—to know and to believe and have confidence that God loves you and is for you.”

wheaton-student-chaplainsPeople First

While Chaplain Kellough’s official role is to plan and carry out the 90 chapel services that occur each year, he prioritized meeting with students over all else.

“I love it when students seek me out for conversation and prayer,” he says.

Simeon Sham ’12 worked with Chaplain Kellough as an undergraduate, first as a resident assistant and then as a chapel band leader, witnessing Chappy K’s personal investment in students’ spiritual growth.

“He was always really supportive,” Simeon says. “He’d always greet me with a smile, and his eyes would light up. He had a lot more energy than what I even have.”

Simeon and many others note that Chaplain Kellough has proven adept at balancing the dual roles of providing a public spiritual presence for the entire campus while also being available to students, staff, and administrators as an attentive confidante and prayer warrior.

“I learned from Steve, was encouraged by Steve, and was ministered to by Steve during those 17 years, as he was pastor to this entire community,” President Emeritus Duane Litfin said at Chaplain Kellough’s retirement reception. “I suspect not least because of Stephen Kellough, I finished my time at Wheaton College a more graceful person than when I started.”

Clayton Keenon ’05, ministry associate for discipleship and graduate chapel at Wheaton, knew Chaplain Kellough as a student, and worked with him for four years as a colleague in the chaplain’s office. His admiration has only grown over time.

“He’s a public figure that people can rely on, but also someone who can poke fun at himself,” Clayton says, adding that he has made the chaplain’s office “a place where there is calm and peace, and a place that is ready to receive people who are in need.”

A strong spiritual leader, Chaplain Kellough arranged for an impromptu chapel on the morning of September 11, 2001 along with Provost Stan Jones.

Chaplain Kellough recalls the uncertainty of the moment. He says of the service, “It was a statement of our need to gather together as a community of faith and to find our help in the Lord.”

Though he may have felt shaken, others say he appeared as resolute as usual. Marilyn Brenner, who has served as ministry associate for care and administration in the chaplain's office for the past 18 years, remembers the event, and Chaplain Kellough’s resolve, well.

“Over the years, I’ve been witness to Chaplain Kellough’s wisdom and compassion as he’s helped navigate the College and individuals through times of loss and crisis,” Marilyn says. “I’ve been grateful for his humility, which warmly welcomes the ideas of his staff; his humor; the depth of his prayer life; and especially his even-keeled nature. The Lord’s grace and faithfulness have seen Chaplain Kellough and the College through the joys, challenges, and vicissitudes of the past 25 years, and I trust the Lord’s provident love and care for the Kelloughs will continue to be evident in his next assignment for them, and for each day in the adventure to come.”’


The Open Road

Chaplain Kellough met his wife, Linda Burgess ’69, a conservatory student and organist, during his sophomore year as a student at North Central. When she came to his home church in Maywood to play the organ, he volunteered to drive her back to Wheaton after the services, and that soon became a pattern. They started dating shortly thereafter, and Steve transferred to Wheaton for his junior year of study. He spent much time at Linda’s place of residence, which happened to be the home of Chaplain Evan Welsh ’27, D.D. ’55 and his wife, Olena Mae Hendrickson Welsh ’41. In time, Chaplain Welsh officiated the young couple’s wedding (during Linda’s commencement weekend—May 31, 1969), and was instrumental as a spiritual mentor and friend who encouraged them in their path into the ministry.

The couple celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary this year, and look forward to spending more time with their “grandtwins”— born to son Jeffrey Kellough ’98 and his wife Sheralynn Manasse Kellough ’00 in November 2011—also known as “the delight of our lives.” Chaplain Kellough describes babysitting as an incredibly fulfilling ministry.

To recharge from the demands of chapels, sermons, prayer meetings, devotionals, and campus crises, Chaplain Kellough occasionally goes riding on his 2006 Springer Softtail motorcycle, which he claims “is the best model Harley-Davidson has ever built.” His father was a motorcycle policeman while working his way through law school, and Chaplain Kellough attributes his initial love of biking to this.

“I owned a motorcycle before I owned a car,” he says. “Usually I just like to get out for a couple hours on country roads, breathe in the country air, and thank God for the beauty of creation.”

wheaton-harleyHe rode 1,000 miles to Sturgis, South Dakota, in August of 2003 with Wheaton College electricians Mark Cruse and Mark Stevens ’80, decked in his black leather jacket, helmet, and chaps (his license plate reads “Chaps 4”). The 100th anniversary of Harley-Davidson at Sturgis that year drew more than a half-million bikers to a town of only 7,000 people. While there for the event, Chaplain Kellough enjoyed connecting with Christians in the biker community.

Mark Cruse, who has been with Wheaton College’s physical plant for 31 years, has ridden with Chaplain Kellough many times.

“He jumps right in, does bike blessings and stuff like that,” Mark says, explaining that by bike blessings, he means approaching other motorcyclists and offering to pray for their safety. “Almost all riders are open to it, and will even share specific prayer concerns.”

On August 2, Chaplain Kellough officially began a sabbatical year for refreshment, renewal, rest, and an intentional time of discernment—waiting on the Lord to learn what the next chapter of life and ministry will look like. While he and Linda are open to whatever God has in store, their priority is to actively participate in local church ministry in the Chicago area. They plan to remain near family so as not to be accused of “grandtwin negligence.” He also hopes to write a devotional book for college students, drawing on his experience and interest in the spiritual formation of 18-22 year-olds.

“Following the call of God to the chaplaincy of Wheaton College has been always and most importantly a journey with Jesus and for Jesus,” Chaplain Kellough says, reflecting on his tenure. “I’ll always be a pastor—I just don’t know what the sheep will look like for this next chapter of pastoral ministry.”

In his final chapel message on Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, he closed with these words: “God always judges his people by their faithfulness—what we do with what we have. When our master returns and inspects what we have done with our talents, the evaluation will be made on the principle of faithfulness. The number of gifts will not matter. The raw talent and ability will not matter. What will matter is this—have we been faithful with what we have been given?”


Photo credit (top): Mike Hudson '89.

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