Wherever in the world Rear Admiral Mark Tidd wakes up, he loves to tell the story of “the great things our service members are doing and the privilege that it is to serve as a chaplain to them.”
A highly decorated 28-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Tidd has served since September 2010 as chief of Navy chaplains.
“Whether I wake up at a Navy base or in Afghanistan or in the Persian Gulf aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise on her last deployment, I love the opportunity to spend time with our chaplains and hear their stories of ministry,” Tidd says. “I like to say to them, ‘I appreciate what you’re doing, and other folks appreciate what you’re doing.’”
Tidd was here for the first time on April 25 to meet with national church leaders, including Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC), Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the PC(USA), and Roger Dermody, deputy executive director for mission of the GAMC.
“We covered a lot of ground,” Tidd says. “We talked about the ways that chaplains appreciate the support that they receive from their civilian colleagues and the ways that civilian pastors can reach out to chaplains to build a peer-to-peer relationship.”
Tidd said that military chaplains enjoy having an opportunity to tell their stories of ministry to a civilian congregation, particularly since many members of the military worship in such congregations.
“If there’s a base nearby, just inviting a chaplain to visit the pastor’s church can be very refreshing for us,” he says. “We welcome opportunities to talk about ministry both within as well as outside of the military. We learn tremendous things from each other when we do that.”
While in Louisville, Tidd took care to express his gratitude to the church for its ongoing support of the Presbyterian Council for Chaplains and Military Personnel (PCCMP), which relates to the PC(USA) through its office of Vocation, a joint ministry of the GAMC and the Office of the General Assembly.
“The PCCMP is the visible expression of the support of the Presbyterian Church for her chaplains,” Tidd says.
For Tidd, the best example of PCCMP’s support is also a highly personal one.
Twenty-one years ago—when Tidd deployed with the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in support of Operation Desert Storm— his young family’s future seemed uncertain. “At that point, there were many unspoken questions,” Tidd recalls. “‘Would I be injured?’ ‘Would I return at all?’ It’s hard to remember now, but at the time, the media was filled with stories about needing thousands of body bags for all the casualties.”
Three weeks after Tidd had boarded a plane for Saudi Arabia, Chuck McMillan and Blant Ferguson—then PCCMP’s director and associate director—made a special trip to Camp Lejeune and took his wife, Jennifer, and the wives of two other Presbyterian chaplains out to dinner.
“That simple act of hospitality was a very concrete expression of care by the larger Presbyterian Church for us,” Tidd says. “But even more than that was Chuck and Blant’s very visible and sincere commitment that if something happened to one of us, they would be right there to walk with our families through whatever challenges they faced. To this day, Jennifer recalls that evening with great appreciation. And so do I.”
Without such support, Tidd said that he couldn’t do what he does.
“We chaplains represent the church in providing a reminder of God’s presence to people in places that often seem as though they would be the last place God would walk,” says Tidd. “Being that visible reminder of God’s grace and mercy in times of combat and trauma is a real privilege and something we absolutely cannot do alone.”
On those rare occasions when Tidd finds himself at home in Washington, D.C., he worships at National Presbyterian Church, with which he has had an association since the mid 1990s. He said that he wants to model the importance of having a connection with a congregation.
“Community is important because that’s part of where we identify with other people and build relationships that nurture and sustain us,” he says. “We also identify our sense of what’s worthwhile and meaningful in the world. The importance of people reconnecting with their faith communities—whatever faith tradition they come from—is critical, particularly communities that affirm the value of the sacrifices that they’ve made when they’ve been deployed overseas for the sake of their country.”
In challenging times such as these, Tidd hopes that congregations will be mindful of those who are returning from wartime deployments and struggle with visible injuries or invisible wounds.
“A first step could be talking to a Sunday school class or at a session meeting about how to help,” he says. “Even if a church isn’t near a military base, there are often many reservists in the community whose families might appreciate assistance, such as running errands or providing transportation. We covet people’s prayers and are also grateful for the financial and other support that congregations provide toward the PCCMP’s mission.”
As a pastor to pastors in a military context, Tidd leans often on the wisdom of Psalm 139, especially as a Navy officer.
“’If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast,’” Tidd says, quoting the psalm. “Knowing that there’s no place that we go where the Lord hasn’t already prepared a place is a great comfort. We do this because we’re following God, who has already walked those deck plates before us and invites us to follow.”
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Find resources and information on how congregations can support military personnel and their families on the website of the Presbyterian Council for Chaplains and Military Personnel (PCCMP), or make a gift to the General Assembly Mission Council to support PCCMP’s ministry.