Rev. Dr. John Jey Deifell, Jr., age 80, of Black Mountain, NC went home to His Lord Jesus on Friday night, November 6, 2020, after succumbing to the COVID-19 virus while living at Givens Highland Farms Healthcare. His wife (Joan), son (David), and granddaughter (Madilyn) were able to do a “window visit” with him earlier in the evening, while his son (Tony) and daughter (Heather) joined them via FaceTime, and, covered in PPE, daughter (Hope) comforted him by his side. It was a sweet time of letting go, sharing their love with him, and giving him permission to go. A few hours later, they got the call that his “stats were dropping” and he wouldn’t last through the night, so they quickly devised a plan to take turns being with him through the night. Around 10:30 p.m, Heather arrived and donned PPE to sit with her father during his final moments. She caressed his face and sang Amazing Grace, and then he peacefully took his last breath and released his spirit into the hands of his Creator. Jey joined his parents, Joan’s mother (Cema Chreitzberg Chapman) and father (Lamar Stuart Chapman), his nephew (Christopher Hubbard), and his brother-in-love (Wade Bryant) in heaven.
On December 31, 1939, Jey was born in Florence, SC, to the late Louise Holliday and John Jey Deifell. He was raised in Wallace, NC, and Greensboro, NC, as the middle child between two sisters. While at Greensboro High School, he was active in student government, Key Club, and Glee Club. Graduating in 1958, Jey went to UNC-Chapel Hill and began working for Southwestern Book Co. every summer to put himself through school. While at UNC, he served as the treasurer of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, President of the Freshman class, a member of the Honor Court, and an inductee into the Order of the Old Well. Jey earned his B.S. in Business Administration in 1962.
After attending Princeton Theological Seminary for a semester on a Rockefeller Scholarship, Jey left wondering what to do next. In the spring of 1963, he met his soon-to-be wife Joan Chapman while visiting Converse College over May Day Weekend for a blind date, though not with her, and they had their first of many dances together. On their first date, they spent the whole day together: playing tennis, golfing, and swimming. To no surprise, they married just over a year later on June 5, 1964 at the First Baptist Church in Greenville, SC. Listen to them tell the story of their engagement. During their courtship and with Joan’s prayerful support, Jey decided to return to a path towards the ministry and, in the fall of 1963, enrolled in Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA to be closer to Joan. During his years in seminary, he served as a preacher at Little Memorial Presbyterian Church in Murrells Inlet, SC; as youth director at First Presbyterian Church in Myrtle Beach, SC; and as a student assistant to Dr. Fred Stair at Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. While there, Jey and Joan hosted some Freedom Summer students, who were there to register blacks to vote. After receiving a M.Div. in Systematic Theology in 1966, he was ordained at the First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC, by Rev. Dr. John Redhead.
In 1966, Jey and Joan moved to Scotland, where Jey pursued a doctorate from New College of the University of Edinburgh. With a dissertation entitled, “The Ecclesiology of Charles Hodge,” Jey earned a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology in 1969. In 1967, he began to serve as an assistant to The Very Rev. Robert Leonard Small CBE at St. Cuthbert’s Parish Church. In 1968, their first son, Anthony (“Tony”), was born in Edinburgh. Their time in Scotland cultivated a love for the British Isles, to which they returned three times for “pulpit exchanges” in Lanark (Scotland) in 1976, Edinburgh in 1983, and London in 1992. In each case, the family loved crossing the English Channel to tour the European continent, camping and visiting friends.
Returning to the U.S. in 1969, Jey’s first church was Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church in Gaithersburg, MD, where he served as pastor for 8½ years. During that time, his family grew, adding another son, David, in 1971 and daughter, Heather, in 1973, both born in Washington, DC. Jey and Joan also took in a member of their church youth group, Betsy Lodwick, when Jey became her legal guardian after she lost her parents. While in Gaithersburg, Jey was active in the National Capital Union Presbytery and invited to join a National Covenant Group of leaders committed to renewal of the Presbyterian Church. With access to the Washington Post as his local paper and with the nation’s capital at his doorstep, Jey became a news junkie, which he remained throughout the rest of his life. During this time, he also began taking regular summer trips to Topsail Beach, NC, for extended family time and fishing for blues, pompano, spot, and flounder.
In 1978, Jey and his family moved to Clearwater, FL, where he served as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church for the next 12½ years. Soon after their arrival, another daughter, Hope, was born in 1979. Active in the South Florida Presbytery, he became the Moderator for one year and traveled to visit the Presbytery’s sister city in Guatemala. Under his leadership, Trinity grew into a loving, energetic, intergenerational church. In 1988, Trinity encouraged Jey’s love for travel by blessing Joan and him with a trip to Africa, where they visited Presbyterian medical missionaries in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, and Ghana. In addition to participating in Leadership Pinellas (county) while in Florida, Jey enjoyed year-round golf and tennis, and loved fishing for mackerel, tuna, grouper, and snapper.
In 1990, First Presbyterian Church of York, PA called Jey to pastor their inner-city congregation, where he championed the church’s ministry to the poor and served in the Presbytery of Donegal for 6 years. A member of one of the largest Rotary Clubs in the country, he particularly enjoyed assisting with the international youth exchange program. With most of his children in college, he began to enjoy renting movies, from popular blockbusters and old westerns to classics and obscure films.
In 1996, God rewarded Jey’s years of service with a call to New England to lead the First Church of Christ, Congregational in Wethersfield, CT for 13½ years. Undaunted by moving to lead a church twice the size of his previous churches, Jey flourished in this last church, whose motto was “Where the Spirit is alive and miracles happen.” Receiving permission from the Presbytery of Southern New England to pastor a Congregational church, he was installed in the historic Meeting House (built in 1761) of this church that first gathered in 1635 and where George Washington once worshiped. Remaining committed to the Presbytery, Jey served on the Committee on Ministry while leading a large staff including his wife, Joan, who directed Caring Ministries. Together, they brought their Southern warmth of open arms and abounding hugs to this vibrant New England community. In 2013, this congregation honored Jey with the title of Minister Emeritus for his years of faithful service and care.
After retiring on Father’s Day in 2009, Jey and Joan moved to their home, “Rest and Be Thankful”, in Black Mountain, NC, where they had spent decades of summers since 1986. Once settled in Western North Carolina (WNC), Jey became a retired member of the Presbytery of WNC, preached on several occasions, and volunteered in various capacities in Montreat and with Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry in Black Mountain. His health and mind began to decline in 2015 with a diagnosis of vascular dementia, but Jey never lost his sweet, generous, appreciative, tender, loving, and pastoral spirit. All the way to the end, he enjoyed his family’s singing during window visits, gladly prayed with his family at the end of their regular video conference calls, and continually thanked the wonderful staff at Givens Highland Farms for their care for him. As a family, we also thank the awesome staff at Givens Highland Farms Healthcare for their exceptional care for him since his arrival in March 2019.
Jey is survived by his wife of 56 years, Joan Chapman Deifell; four children: Tony Deifell of San Francisco, CA, David Deifell (Elizabeth) of Black Mountain, NC, Heather Deifell (Richmond) of Asheville, NC, and Hope Deifell of Black Mountain, NC; three grandchildren: Madilyn (15), Durham (8), and Iona (6); two sisters: Holly Deifell Ormond (Lyman) and Ann Deifell Hubbard (Steve); and his late father’s widow, Naomi Mathews Deifell.
The family will celebrate Jey’s life with a more intimate gathering in the coming weeks, but they will wait to hold a memorial service and celebrate on a larger scale once it is safe to do so. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be given to the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministries, the Montreat Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), the Christ Community Church Montreat (EPC), or First Church of Christ in Wethersfield (Congregational).
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