Terry Hollister's work is helping vulnerable people face their own mortality. "I'm with them walking through it," he says. "It fills me up and drains me at the same time."
The Rev. Hollister is a chaplain at St. Vincent Healthcare.
At first glance "reverend" may appear a misnomer. His white beard, graying ponytail and his arriving to work on a motorcycle belie the image of his profession. But he comes by it honestly. His religious roots are from "the Jesus movement out of California," he said. "A bunch of old hippies."
His path to St. Vincent's includes some switchbacks, he admits, but "this job here fits my personality and my gifts. It has been a convergence. I am a much more whole person now."
An eclectic mix of denominations makes up that person.
Hollister, 53, is a minister of the Association of Vineyard Churches, an offshoot of Calvary Chapel. "I was raised a Presbyterian and was a Baptist minister for 18 years," he said. "I'm married to a Lutheran."
Now he is one of five chaplains in a Catholic hospital.
"This institution is patient-driven, it is for their needs," he explained. "I am comfortable with that."
A team approach to the spiritual needs of the sick and dying includes a priest, a nun, a lay Catholic and two Protestants. It almost sounds like a title to an Ernest Hemingway short story.
While Hollister is responsible for the third floor, each member of the chaplaincy is sensitive to the needs of all. For Catholics, the priest is available to administer the sacraments.
For his part, Hollister focuses on "the Spirit and the Word." Vineyard theology is Protestant, evangelical and charismatic, he explains.
Here in Billings for 3½ years, Hollister graduated from Western Baptist Seminary in Portland, Ore., with a master's degree in divinity. After 18 years as a Baptist minister, he gravitated toward caring for souls in a hospital setting.
"It was first articulated about 15 years ago," he says, recalling a monthly get-together with ministers of diverse denominations. "We'd spend one day a month together, refocusing." Out of that networking emerged his new path.
A year of additional study in Boise, Idaho, concentrated on clinical pastoral care.
"It is like a (medical) residency program," he says. It requires 400 hours of experience in the hospital setting.
"It is a long process, but it is credible," he says. "I could have gotten a doctorate (of divinity) easier than getting certified for this." He was "board certified" 2½ years ago.
His ministry leaves him "energized," says Hollister. It is a word he uses frequently to describe his feelings about his work. "And you always receive more than you give."
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He appreciates the team concept in place at St. Vincent. "You are not alone" in trying to meet the needs of patients, he says, and "I get to use all my strengths."
That is needed when someone "is terminal and knows it," Hollister says. "This is their most vulnerable point. Facing their own mortality, walking through it.
"They share that walk with me. That gets personal and rewarding."
The walk can be especially intense when it is short in instances of trauma and newborn deaths, he admits.
The best and hardest aspects of his work come at the same time: life-and-death situations inextricably mixed with family dynamics.
"I am walking with people in the process of letting go but it is challenging and I have to pay attention."
At times he is called upon to "translate." After a doctor has conveyed bad news to a patient and family, they are told the "chaplain is here to help you," Hollister says. Usually he begins with a question: "Tell me what you heard?"
"I am not there to tell them, but more to be a teacher," he says. "To help them figure it out. To be patient while they discover" the meaning of having to face the end.
Hollister relishes the peer relationships he has developed with the hospital staff; he has performed weddings for co-workers.
To unwind, he has the open roads of Montana.
"I got my first motorcycle when I was 14," Hollister says, laughing with his own version of Waylon Jennings' lyrics. "I've been riding for 40 years."
"It is part of who I am. It is creative and restorative. It is the wind in my hair."
Riding is also a connection to four old friends from college and high school. "It is the camaraderie, the male thing, riding, sleeping on the ground," he says, admitting to not having read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."
"I don't read now as much as I did," he says. "I read a lot for educational and professional reasons. Now I am more focused on 'just being,' integrating what I know."
Hollister explains it: "As a pastor for 27 years, I talked. Now, I listen. It is about being a Christian instead of talking about it."
That is encapsulated in when patients and family say, "Thank you for being with us," he says. "That is the theological construct of Jesus being with the apostles."