Chaplain Terry Hollister is the calm in the storm, especially when he’s strumming his guitar.
Hollister has served as a hospital chaplain at St. Vincent Healthcare since 2004, a vocation that he calls a gift because he loves helping people. Hollister is the coordinator of ministry formation and clinical pastoral education at St. Vincent Healthcare. In that role, he is also helping train new chaplains.
SAINTS 2017 on Saturday night at the Radisson Convention Center will benefit the pastoral education program.
On a recent morning, Hollister strummed the chords to old church hymns for a patient he’d met the day before. Then Hollister walked into a waiting room and performed “Lady, Are You Crying?” a John Denver song. A man with a cowboy hat beamed at Hollister and thanked him for the song.
“You just can’t go wrong with John Denver or James Taylor,” Hollister said.
After 13 years of serving as a chaplain, Hollister feels led to be in certain places at certain times where his calming presence relieves the tension for patients and medical staff alike. It’s something you can’t teach, rather you need to feel it.
“I just pray every day, 'God put me in the place I'm needed most,'" Hollister said.
Registered nurse Kathy Ensign has felt the impact of hearing Hollister’s music. A mandolin player herself, Ensign said music can lift spirits or calm you down.
“When you come around the corner and he strums just one note, your heart rate goes down. It resets your brain. You rush around here and then you hear the music and you know it will be OK,” Ensign said.
'Good for the soul'
Patient Jeffrey Mosser and his wife, Linda, nodded their heads to the beat as Hollister played music for them last week.
“It relieves your pain and touches the spirit,” Jeffrey Mosser said. “It brings me peace.”
Linda Mosser said that her husband had struggled through a difficult night so it felt good to have Hollister’s presence in his room. The music makes it even better, she said.
Hollister often performs with violinist Elizabeth Wagner, who has known Hollister since the 1980s when he was a pastor at Grace Fellowship in Billings and she was in the congregation.
“It’s fun,” she said. “After all these years of playing together, it’s nice to be here playing for the patients.”
Hollister doesn’t read notes, but rather takes cues from Wagner who is classically trained and used to perform with the Billings Symphony Orchestra.
"Music touches the heart. It’s hard to measure that,” Hollister said.
They head upstairs and start playing music in a hallway near the nurse's station.
“A little music is good for the soul,” Hollister tells a woman who is visiting a patient at St. Vincent.
The two musicians warm up on a stirring duet of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” then Wagner feels like playing a jazzier tune, “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue." As soon as the song ends, a tearful woman who said she's there to visit her husband of 70 years thanked Wagner for the memories.
Moments like these bolster not just the patients' moods, but those of the performers as well.