GREENFIELD — Russ Jarvis still has the papers from a Michigan church, the one he attended as a teen, the one where adults in the congregation said he could make a good minister someday.

They sometimes gave him opportunities to bring a message in the service. A few years later, just a few months before he graduated from Bible college, they had an ordination service.

“That was very meaningful for me that they would bless that,” he recalls.

He remembers those who invested in him, and for more than 40 years he’s invested in others. The last 20 of those have been at Hancock Regional Hospital, where he’ll retire next week as the hospital’s director of chaplaincy services.

In that role, he’s offered a listening ear to patients, arranged for on-call chaplains to cover nights and weekends, and provided a supportive presence to colleagues — who weathered the upheaval and uncertainty of COVID-19.

“Chaplain Russ has been a peace and encouragement to patients and a friend and fatherly encouragement to co-workers,” associate chaplain Laura Baker, who will succeed Jarvis, wrote in an email. “… He has paved the way for spiritual care in Hancock Health … I have been blessed to be mentored under his direction, he has spurred me on to stand in a place that God has called me to …”

Family members, past and present colleagues, and others celebrated Jarvis during a gathering Friday at the hospital with food and games. This milestone is a change of chapters for a minister interested in stories — both others’ and his own.


Jarvis’ own story includes the church in upstate New York that his family attended. They started going when he was about 10 years old, after his mother “came to a spiritual awakening at that time in her life,” he said. He remembers youth activities, summer projects, and the names of all the ministers of his youth.

By the time he started high school, his family lived in Michigan. As he considered career paths, he desired “a sense of doing something important with your life,” he said. “I just wanted to have a sense of difference making.”

He was considering military service or perhaps the ROTC, but by his senior year he had shifted to a different path: ministry.


Jarvis met his wife, Nadine, at Johnson Bible College (now Johnson University) in Tennessee. After graduation, they went to Brandywine, West Virginia, where he was minister of a church for five years. He spent another five at a church in Warrington, Virginia, near the metro area of Washington, D.C.

Then, in 1989, the family moved to Hancock County. Jarvis became the minister at Shiloh Christian Church in Blue River Township. Their oldest child was a second-grader. All four of their children would grow up here.

Elvin Thomas and his family had just moved in from Iowa when a friend recommended Shiloh.

“When we first visited Russ really made us feel welcome so we made that our church home,” Thomas wrote in an email. “We will always remember Russ as delivering good sermons as well as being a good singer and piano player.”

Thomas wrote that a 1993 hymn sing and ice cream social at Shiloh helped give birth to the Melody Masters group and its traveling hymn sings, performed for several years at local churches and the Hancock County 4-H Fair.

The group always wanted a host church to provide a musical number of its own, Thomas said. So when Shiloh later welcomed the group for a hymn sing, it formed a men’s quartet to sing “I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary.” Joe Beyers sang melody, Mike Stanfield sang alto, Thomas sang bass and Jarvis sang tenor. “It really sounded nice and everyone really enjoyed it,” Thomas said.


Jarvis remained at Shiloh until August 2003, when he became lead chaplain at the hospital.

The work has had different facets, and seasons, over the last two decades: Visiting with patients and their families, showing up to a crisis that just came through the door, and supporting colleagues as they offer care.

That support became particularly desired as hospital staff responded to COVID-19 cases a few years ago. Jarvis tried to stop by and chat with nurses coming off of and onto their shifts. People were particularly open to having someone praying for them, he said.

“The waves of sick people that would come — we had those waves through 2020, 2021 maybe even early 2022,” he said. “We were doing a lot to try to support each other and debrief our staff. …

“A lot of people dug deep into their heart.”


Jarvis said even in more typical days at a hospital, some people are coming to grips with difficult news, be it a serious diagnosis or an ongoing condition that will change life.

“There’s time for reflection, and we try to provide good listening for that …,” he said. “One of my favorite parts of the job is when people start telling stories … People matter, and the stories matter, and we’re all trying to find our way.”


Jarvis is not only a listener to stories; he’s a teller of them. He has a few self-published novels on Amazon (“Promiseland,” “Wavelength” and “Xavier’s Emporium: Ten Risky Tales”), along with the non-fiction work “A Simple Guide to Golf,” published by Luminis Books. He’s also working on a memoir and a mid-20th-century novel.

While he hopes retirement will offer more opportunities for him and Nadine to travel, and to enjoy time with their four children and six grandchildren, he’s also setting up a home office for continuing those stories.

“That’s definitely going to be part of my life, going forward, is continuing that creative writing.”