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105-year-old leads hospitality ministry


12:00 P.M. EST Sept. 3, 2010

Jean Christy took on a new telephone ministry at age 104.  A Web-only photo by Kandy Barnard.
Jean Christy took on a new telephone ministry at age 104.
A Web-only photo by Kandy Barnard.

Jean Christy felt she was not doing enough for her church, so she called her pastor and asked how she might volunteer.

She was a mere 104 at the time.

Christy suggested she might use her telephone skills to cheer up her fellow Christians, and the Rev. Mike Macdonald, her pastor, agreed.

Since March, Christy has been the “birthday ambassador” for Andrews (N.C.) United Methodist Church. She estimates she calls at least one person a week. She offers well wishes not just to regular worshippers, but also those who have not gone to church in a while.

“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.”

Her church recently returned the favor by hosting a community birthday party for Christy, who turned 105 on Aug. 20. Members read letters of congratulation from U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and TV personality Willard Scott.

At the church’s 11 a.m. worship service on Aug. 22, Macdonald announced the congregation was naming its young adult Sunday school class in honor of Christy and her family. After the congregation stood and sang “Happy Birthday,” she told those gathered, “I love all of you.”

A person is never too old to heed God’s call to ministry, Macdonald said.

“I lift her up as an example,” he said. “If 105 is not too old to serve the church, what’s your excuse? I wish we had more people like her calling up and asking what they can do.”

Always on Sunday

When asked her secret to long life, Christy will smile and say, “Never get married. Never have children. Never go to the doctor.”

She could easily add: Never miss a Sunday.

Christy has been a member of the Andrews congregation since she was 12 or 13 years old. Growing up, she said her parents taught her and her six siblings to go to church “every time the door opened.”

Her favorite memories of going to the church back then were mingling with other churchgoers. She still looks forward to seeing members as often as possible.

Christy is greeted by friends at her 105th birthday celebration at Andrews United Methodist Church. Photo by Monica Hoel.
Christy is greeted by friends at her 105th birthday celebration at Andrews United Methodist Church. Photo by Monica Hoel.
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She now uses a walker and relies on her niece, with whom she lives, to drive her. However, she tries faithfully to attend church each week, though she acknowledges that’s difficult when the weather is very cold or very hot.

Christy’s family shared a lifelong commitment to Methodism. A brother was the treasurer of Andrews United Methodist Church for 36 years. Her late nephew, the Rev. John Holmes Christy, was a district superintendent in the Western North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference, and his children include two ordained elders, a diaconal minister and a full-time local pastor.

For decades, Christy taught the youth Sunday school class and helped lead the church’s youth group. Many of her young charges at church were her high school students during the week.

“I thought that was giving them too much of one old woman,” said the retired high school teacher. “But the other people didn’t seem to want the high school students. I don’t know why. They were great to teach.”

Many former students return her affection. One member, Pete Nichols, said the best part of his birthday was when he got a call from his former teacher.

Everybody knows her name

Almost everybody in Andrews, a town of about 1,600 in southwestern North Carolina, has a story to tell about “Miss Christy,” Macdonald said.

He was hearing about her before he started his appointment at Andrews slightly more than a year ago.

As a teacher, he said, she had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian, and she still commands the respect of former students, some of whom are now in their 70s. Macdonald said that once Christy walked into a restaurant and saw a group of men she had taught, all wearing their ball caps indoors.

“When she walked by, she didn’t say a word,” Macdonald said. “She just flipped off their ball caps.”

A visitor to town seeing what she was doing quickly removed his ball cap as well.

“She loves to tease people, and she loves for them to tease her in return,” said longtime church member and friend, Louise Gilbert.

“She always has an answer for you,” Gilbert said. “But she is always very much a lady.”

Christy said one of her nephews teases her that God does not want her in heaven quite yet because she would just try to take it over.

That’s fine by Christy. She hopes to continue going to church and making her birthday calls as long as she is able.

“I haven’t had much in the way of money,” she said. “But I have had a long and happy life, and I am thankful.”

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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