“Chappy K,” Harley Davidsons and Faithfulness: A Q-and-A with Chaplain Stephen Kellough

Chaplain Kellough

Amanda Morris | News Editor

On the morning of Monday, April 28, the usual chapel bells calling students into a time of worship rang longer than usual — 25 times, to be exact. As the bells rang, all in attendance stood to give Wheaton College chaplain, Stephen Kellough, a standing ovation for the 25 years that he has served as chaplain. Monday’s chapel was Kellough’s last time presenting a chapel message to the Wheaton College campus body before his retirement in August. Following the chapel service, a collage of pictures and videos was presented in honor of Chaplain Kellough, and President Ryken and the Wheaton College student chaplains presented Kellough with a book filled with letters from the Wheaton College community.

Following the chapel service, the Wheaton Record sat down with Kellough to discuss topics such as the different jobs that Kellough has held throughout his life, his most embarrassing moment in chapel, his Harley Davidson adventures and some final pieces of advice that he has to give to the Wheaton College community.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Record: You’ve been chaplain for 25 years. President Ryken hinted at chapel that you had different jobs before becoming chaplain. What were you doing before you got this job, and how did you get this job?

Kellough: After seminary, I went into parish ministry, local church ministry and I was a senior pastor in a few churches. The longest term was in northern Illinois in a town called Forreston. I was there about ten years, and then I took a one-year sabbatical to serve as chaplain at Tyndale Theological Seminary in Amsterdam. It was because I had that experience of doing pastoral ministry in an academic setting that some alumni and faculty at the college were led to nominate me for the position here. So, it was a year after I had returned to my church that I was invited to come to be the chaplain at Wheaton. 

The jobs that Dr. Ryken was referring to were stories I tell that actually preceded my work as a pastor. There are a number of stories that I like to tell about summer jobs that I had in high school, summer jobs during college years and summer jobs during seminary years. Those were the unusual stories.

The Record: Did you actually work on railroads and mine for gold?

Kellough: I did. I didn’t do the gold mining, but it’s interesting that Dr. Ryken would recall some of the unusual positions that I had that led to my telling stories about them. Those jobs, although some of them were just summer jobs, really did give me a view of life in lots of different contexts.

The Record: Many students call you “Chappy K.” Do you know how that started?

Kellough: I don’t know exactly. I think it was ten or twelve years ago, and I think it was Steve Ivester who was the first one to coin the term, but I’m not even sure if that’s true. 

At first, I wasn’t sure whether it was a respectful label or whether it was a joke, so I’d ask people what they thought of that term. The funny thing is — to confirm my uncertainty of the meaning of the label — people would ask me, ‘Is it okay if we call you Chappy K?’ The mere fact that they would ask me if that’s possible led me to some suspicion that maybe it wasn’t as affirming as maybe I had hoped it would be. But, I have concluded — and I hope that I am not deceiving myself — that it’s a term of endearment, and I appreciate it, actually.

The Record: You’ve participated in many chapels during your time here. We’re sure you’ve seen your fair share of chapel pranks — are there any that stand out?

Kellough: I’ll tell you this: In the spring of 1989, that’s before I actually started — I began as chaplain in the fall of 1989 — I had an interview with the Record to ask me questions about coming to Wheaton. The first question the Record editor asked me was, ‘What do you think of chapel pranks?’ That was the first heads-up that I got about the significance of chapel pranks. Of course, I was a student at Wheaton some years before, so I knew of the concept. But I have to say this about chapel pranks: Over the years, I think that we’ve done something to reduce the number of chapel pranks. Especially in recent years, the whole concept of chapel pranks is almost just a distant memory. I think that’s good, because we’ve been able to move away from the idea of chapel being a lecture or a rally or an assembly and sometimes worship, to seeing chapel as always worship. Therefore, that puts the whole notion of chapel pranks in another light, and that puts it in a negative and disruptive light. I think students have come to understand that and appreciate it, so my desire is to try to eliminate those memories and not to reinforce them. A lot of times, we’ll have chapel speakers who are alumni, and they’ll lead off, maybe, in a chapel message referencing a chapel prank. The problem is that sometimes, that’s throwing down the gauntlet and challenging people to something that will be better than what the old stories have revealed. So I just don’t like to repeat chapel prank stories. 

The Record: Do you personally have a most embarrassing moment in chapel?

Kellough: I would say one of the most embarrassing moments probably was when Huntley Brown called me up on stage. We had Huntley Brown for about 15 years consecutively do a fall break chapel on the Friday before fall Break. He called me up to sing with him “When the Saints Go Marching In” and dance with him, so that’s probably my most embarrassing memory.

The Record: On a different note, we saw a few pictures today in chapel, and you’re an avid motorcyclist. How long have you been biking, and can you give us some details on the current motorcycle that you have now?

Kellough: I’d like to tell the story. There’s one picture that I don’t have (and so it wasn’t shown in chapel), but there is a family film in existence of my father when he was a motorcycle cop working his way through law school. He was serving in Maywood in the Police Department as a motorcycle cop. 

I have a family film of him in his police uniform on his police motorcycle leaning over and picking me up as a toddler and putting me on the gas tank and then pulling away from the curb. So, I like to say that I kind of began my motorcycling career as a toddler, and I never gave it up. I come to that (biking) kind of honestly and almost genetically because of my father’s interest in motorcycling. 

I’ve always owned Harley Davidsons, and my current Harley Davidson is a 2006 Springer Softail.

The Record: We’ve heard that you’ve attended the Sturgis South Dakota motorcycle rally?

Kellough: I did, 11 years ago. 2003 was the hundredth anniversary of Harley Davidson, and so that was, I think, the biggest gathering ever at Sturgis. They had about a half-million bikers at Sturgis.

The Record: Do you have a favorite route that you like to ride?

Kellough: I like to ride out into the country, west of the Western Suburbs, where the traffic is light across the country roads. It’s kind of a mental health break for me to have the wind in my face and the bugs in my teeth. I do wear a helmet, though, and, actually, that’s a rare practice among Harley Davidson owners. Most Harley riders don’t wear helmets when they don’t have to, and the state of Illinois does not have a helmet law.

The Record: Could you explain the significance of your license plate — is it a Bible verse?

Kellough: Actually, it isn’t. It’s “REV 28” on my Camero, and it really stands for Reverend. It’s not a vanity plate — it didn’t cost me extra. In Illinois, you can request certain numbers, and I just asked for any “REV” number.

The Record: Once you retire, what are a few plans that you have in mind?

Kellough: Well, one big thing is that I’m really looking forward to this year’s sabbatical that I’m planning, beginning August the first, which is my last day. In fact, when my retirement was announced initially, we said it would be July first. But, since then, I’ve decided for the transition’s sake that I really needed at least another month, so we made it August the first. 

I’m planning a year of sabbatical, and that’s intentional to be a time of refreshing, a time of renewing physically and spiritually and also a time of discernment and trusting God for what might be next — the next chapter for my wife, Linda, and myself. I’ll always be a pastor, I know that, and exactly what the sheep will look like, I’m not sure. So that’s the way that I like to describe the next chapter. The sabbatical is an important time of renewal, refreshment and discernment and I’m intentionally kind of taking the pressure off with regard to decision-making concerning any major move. 

We also, in that one year, are really thinking about accepting some invitations that we’ve already received for travel, which may or may not include ministry along with, and it includes travel to the Netherlands, travel to Indonesia and possibly also to England to do some study. 

One of the things that I might want to do, and I certainly at least (want to) begin to try to get a jump start on — and maybe this would happen at Cambridge — is to get started on writing a devotional book for college students. I’m not sure exactly what it would look like or (what) it should look like, but I’ve done so much thinking these 25 years about college student ministry, and I’d love to do a devotional book focused on college students. That’s a big thing. 

And then, like I said, I’ll always be a pastor, and exactly what the venue will be, I’m not sure. I think my wife and I both are interested in working together in the life of a local church, and we want to trust the Lord to call us to exactly what that place might be.

The Record: What last piece of advice would you give to the student body, and the Wheaton College community in general — as you leave, things you’ve reflected on during your time here?

Kellough: I think today’s (chapel) message. I wasn’t thinking of this when I put together this series of Parables of Jesus as the chapel series for this year and when I put the sequence together with the parable of the builders to start out with and then the parable of the talents to conclude with. I was really thinking of students more than myself, thinking of students leaving the college for the summer or as a graduate. I think that that theme of the talents — and that is that the call to a faithful stewardship of God’s gifts — is a lifetime call, and I think it’s worth consideration by every believer that we give God the recognition and the thanksgiving for enabling us to do what we do, recognizing that our Lord is a source of all that we are and have, and that our call and our challenge as disciples of Jesus is to be faithful with what we’ve been given. That has to do with our time, our talents, our opportunities, and it’s a matter of faithfulness. In the end, I guess it probably was an appropriate last chapel message.

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