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Randy Keeler, Class of 1986
a report by Laura Lehman Amstutz
Randy Keeler, a 1986 graduate of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, was the first graduate of Bluffton University (then Bluffton College) and Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Keeler has since returned to Bluffton as campus pastor and has initiated a wide variety of campus ministries that speak to students and even call some to ministry.
EMS graduate Randy Keeler is now campus pastor of Bluffton University.
Keeler began his pastoral career as a youth minister, but when a former president of Bluffton asked him to candidate for the position of campus pastor, he and his wife, Karen, felt a growing sense of call. “In many ways I consider college ministry as an extension of youth ministry. It’s just dealing with youth in their late adolescent stage of development. So the transition to college ministry from denominational youth ministry work was a natural transition.”
The campus ministry programs at Bluffton have grown considerably since Keeler began his ministry there. Before he began, the chapel program at Bluffton had on average 30 to 40 students in attendance. Today the service, held each Thursday, has 250 to 300 students. Keeler says, “The basic premise I started with was ‘how can the students own chapel?’ This has not been an easy question to grapple with, because as the students have gradually owned chapel, the faculty have felt the loss of their ownership.” However, Keeler and the students who plan and organize chapel continue to try to make the chapel service a worship service for students, faculty and staff.
Not only has the chapel program grown but other student-led ministry groups have been initiated. A hall chaplain program places students in the residence halls to plan worship services and Bible studies for the students. Diakonia, a student missions group was started. Sunday morning worship services are held every other week on campus. There are now a variety of ministry teams that go to churches and give programs and a Sunday evening worship service called Reignstorm happens three Sunday evenings a month. Keeler’s leadership has initiated these programs. Not only are these programs ministering to students, but they also give students a taste for ministry.
In the last few years several students from Bluffton have attended EMS and are interested in pastoral ministry. For second-year seminary student and Bluffton grad Bill Eberly, Keeler was a model and a mentor. Eberly says, “Randy is one of the few guys who lives what he says. You knew that if he was asking you to do something, it was something he was doing. “
When Eberly was considering ministry and seminary, Keeler encouraged him. “When I was considering seminary I asked people who I knew were Godly people. Randy told me that if I was even considering seminary I should do it, and I knew that if he said it, it was God speaking as well. I liked Randy’s way of ministering and I knew that it was fostered at EMS. That’s one of the reasons I decided to go here.”
Keeler’s method of calling students to ministry seems simple. He says, “When I see someone who loves the Lord, who has a servant heart, who loves and has a spiritual burden for people, and who enjoys theological reflection at some level, I see in them the potential to be a pastor. And when I see that type of person with these gifts and abilities, I'm generally not slow to say something to them about whether they've ever considered pastoral ministry as a vocational calling.”
Second-year seminary student Phil Wiechart had a similar experience with Keeler and being called to ministry and seminary. Weichart says, “Randy basically put the idea of seminary in my mind. I hadn’t even really thought about it. I was in the process of leaving another graduate program when he mentioned seminary as a possibility.” Wiechart said that he felt supported by Keeler, even when he chose to wait a year before beginning seminary. “Randy played a huge role in my going to EMS, and making me aware of God’s call upon my life.”
Keeler also has a knack for knowing who will fit at EMS, although he does not readily admit this. Wiechart says, “I trusted Randy’s judgment about seminary. He told me that knowing who I was and my identity, EMS would be a good fit for me.”
College can be a time to test faith and calling and the students of Bluffton know Keeler not only as a creator of new and interesting programs, but also as a provider of support during difficult years.