Woman, 111, started 'birthday ambassador' ministry at her church

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Jean Christy makes a call as the "birthday ambassador" for Andrews United Methodist Church. Christy died May 28 at the age of 111, leaving a void in her community of 1,800 in North Carolina. | United Methodist News Service/Kandy Barnard

ANDREWS, N.C. (Christian Examiner) – The members of Andrews United Methodist Church had grown accustomed to receiving a call from Jean Christy on their birthdays.

The 111-year-old was the church's "birthday ambassador," and phoned each member to wish them a pleasant day. She came to her telephone ministry of making people feel special and loved on their birthdays late in life – really late, in fact.

Christy, who died May 28, decided at 105 years old that she needed to be more active in support of her congregation, the United Methodist News Service (UMNS) has reported. So she told her pastor at the time, Rev. Mike Macdonald, that she could make calls to cheer up the members of the church.

In our family, a lot of us are preachers, but we will never have the kind of influence that Aunt Jean had.

In 2010, she told the news service she phoned at least one person a week.

"I just call up and say, 'Your church wants you to have a very happy birthday, and Miss Christy wants you to have one also,'" she said. "And they seem really happy to hear it."

Christy was at the church every time the doors were open when she was being raised and came from a ministry-focused family. Her relatives served as a church treasurer, a district superintendent, ordained elders, a deacon and full-time pastor. She, however, never felt like she did enough for her church. That led her into her phone ministry at 105 and to renew her baptismal vows at 107.

Christy, also a retired high school English teacher, told the news service her long life was the result of a simple formula: "Never get married. Never have children. Never go to the doctor."

Many in the town of 1,800, tucked into the Great Smoky Mountains in southeastern North Carolina, will miss "Miss Christy," her great nephew – also a Methodist pastor – said.

"In our family, a lot of us are preachers, but we will never have the kind of influence that Aunt Jean had," Rev. David Christy, senior pastor of First United Methodist of Gastonia, N.C., said.

"It was so consistent for so many generations," he added. "Both in the church and the school. Everybody knew Aunt Jean."

Christy taught generations of youth at the church in the town. She taught them English. She taught them in Sunday school. And she taught them manners and social graces, Christy said. He told the UMNS baseball caps were particularly bothersome to her.

Macdonald said Christy once entered a restaurant in the town and saw some of her former students sitting together wearing baseball caps indoors. According to her former pastor, she didn't have to say anything.

"When she walked by, she didn't say a word. She just flipped off their ball caps," Macdonald said. He added that a visitor to the town saw the incident and removed his cap, as well.

Andrew's current pastor, Mary Brown, told UMNS that Christy was a jovial person, even at her advanced age. She liked to tease and be teased. She was also steeped in prayer, offering thanks for her long life.

"When I visited her I felt peaceful, just to be in her presence. The light of Christ shone brightly in her," Brown said.