Jean Christy, 111 years old, was a devout United Methodist who will be missed every time other people's birthdays come around in her congregation in southwestern North Carolina. She died May 28, leaving a void as the community's phone-based "birthday ambassador." The congregation of Andrews United Methodist Church celebrated Christy's life on June 4.
When Christy was 105 years old, she felt she needed to do more for her congregation of Andrews United Methodist Church. According to the United Methodist News Service, Christy called her pastor, Rev. Mike Macdonald, to suggest she could use her telephone skills to cheer up fellow Christians. He agreed, and Christy's ministry began.
"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 told United Methodist News Service in 2010. "And they seem really happy to hear it."
Christy estimated she called at least one person a week.
Her faith was a large part of her life, exemplifying Christian discipleship in various ways. In fact, she celebrated her 107th birthday by renewing her baptismal vows at Andrews church, where she had been a member since adolescence. She once said her parents taught her and her six siblings to go to church "every time the door opened."
Her faithfulness stood out even in a family that included a church treasurer, a district superintendent, three ordained elders, a diaconal minister and a full-time local pastor, pointed out UMNS.
"In our family, a lot of us are preachers, but we will never have the kind of influence that Aunt Jean had," said her great-nephew, the Rev. David Christy, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Gastonia, N.C.
"It was so consistent for so many generations. Both in the church and the school, everybody knew Aunt Jean."
For decades, Christy taught the youth Sunday school class and helped lead the church's youth group. Many of the youth at church also were her high school English students. The town's elementary school is on a street now named for Jean Christy. In 2010, Andrews United Methodist Church also named its young adult Sunday school class in honor of her and her family.
In recent years, she lived in a nursing facility, and could no longer worship at Andrews United Methodist Church. Church members and others routinely took Andrews to her, however.
The Rev. Mary Brown, the pastor of Andrews United Methodist since 2013, said the centurion had a tremendous impact during the three years she knew her. "I've heard her thank God countless times (literally, countless) in a prayer: 'Thank you, thank you, thank you...' How powerful to see someone in her stage of life filled with gratitude," she said.
"When I visited her I felt peaceful, just to be in her presence. The light of Christ shone brightly in her."