Walking the Deck

Mark Tidd (second from left) aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 1996.

​An Interview with Chaplain Mark Tidd

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Mark L. Tidd retired in 2014 after serving as the 25th Chief of Navy Chaplains. During his assignment, Chaplain Tidd provided oversight to more than 1,000 active and reserve officers serving as Navy chaplains, as well as an equivalent number of enlisted Religious Program Specialists who served alongside them.

Chaplain Tidd grew up as a “military brat” in a Navy family and became involved in Young Life as a student. He would continue his involvement with Young Life as a volunteer leader in Hingham, Massachusetts, and as an intern with Young Life’s Dale House in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Chaplain Tidd currently serves on the Club Beyond® Board of Directors. Young Life’s ministry to military teens is known as Club Beyond on installations around the world.

Jodi Chesemore, director of Communications for Young Life Military-Club Beyond, recently caught up with Chaplain Tidd and his wife, Jennifer, whom he met while both were on staff at the Dale House.

Relationships: Describe your experience with Young Life as a teenager.

Mark Tidd: I was first introduced to Young Life in Northern Virginia as a junior in high school and became more involved my senior year. I’d grown up in the church but I was hearing the gospel from a different perspective, with a different set of ears and in a different environment. It penetrated more deeply in some ways at that point because it was so different. It was like reading the old King James Version and then reading the JB Phillips New Testament (which was huge at that point). That was life changing. I went to Frontier Ranch the summer after I graduated and the following two summers while in college I served on La Vida staff [Young Life’s adventure program based at Saranac Village] and totally loved it.

Jennifer Tidd: I moved about a week before school started for my sophomore year and a girl on the school bus asked me if I wanted to go to Young Life. I asked, “What is that?” And she said, “Well it’s a club and they sing and do stuff like that.” I said, “No.” It just sounded weird! On the way home from school that day she asked again, “You sure you don’t want to go?” And I said “yes” because I didn’t want to do my homework. I’m pretty used to being the new kid because the military does that, so I walked in and the girl leader, Judy Britton, said, “Hi, what’s your name?” She then said, “It’s good to have you.” It was odd being in a big room with about 50 kids goofing around. I thought the singing was cool, and the skit, I had never seen anything like that before. I remember listening to the leader, Newt Hetrick, give a message but, not having any background about Christianity or the Bible, I was kind of neutral on the whole thing. When I was leaving, Judy came up and asked, “What was your name again?” I was stunned because she asked me my name for the second time. It was a place I wanted to go, because someone cared who I really was.

Relationships: Talk a little bit about your experience while at the Dale House.

MT: When I arrived, Jennifer had been on staff at the Dale House for six months. This was an opportunity to learn more about ministry in a different context. I sensed an emerging call to ministry but didn’t know exactly what form that would take. I didn’t see myself in a pulpit necessarily every Sunday. Working at the Dale House seemed to be another step along the road of discerning what the call to ministry might be like. As a residential ministry, it’s very incarnational, very involved in people’s lives and the brokenness of people’s lives. I saw how grace can do amazing things in the lives of people who are very broken and in the lives of staff as well, who are pretty broken in their own ways.​

Relationships: Did living in a residential home prepare you for living as a chaplain with the people you were ministering to?

MT: Yes, there’s a sense in which you’re always aware you’re with people watching you to see if anything is different about your life. Living on board a ship in pretty cramped quarters is not too far from being in a residential setting like Dale House.

Relationships: How did your experience in Young Life influence your chaplaincy in the military?

MT: In many ways, ministry as a chaplain is an awful lot like ministry for Young Life leaders. We talk within the Navy about “deck plate ministry,” in other words, the ministry of just walking the deck plates and talking with sailors. When I was assigned to a cruiser or an aircraft carrier, I’d walk through the spaces on the ship. On the cruiser, I’d spend time in the boiler room or the machinery room and just talk to the sailors. Conversations like, “So how about those Red Sox?” or, “What are you hearing from home?” In the process of those basic conversations it’s amazing how many sailors say, “Chaplain, I was meaning to come by your office.” Now in reality they might never want to darken the door of a chaplain’s office, but because you were there in their space, on their turf, on their terms, it was natural to have a conversation. Sometimes, they were profound conversations about family issues back home or spiritual struggles or what they’ll do with their life. We teach new chaplains, “The point of ministry is not to stay in your chapel and have sailors come to you. It’s not just the chapel service that you do. It’s going to the places where your Sailors and Marines are. And being accessible to them. Then you also have the opportunity to speak the Word, whether it’s in a chapel service or a casual conversation. You’re able to be God’s presence in that person’s life, but you also have to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. You have to have great wisdom in how you do that.” It was a great privilege that continued to the end of my service, including my time as a senior chaplain. It’s doing Young Life in a different context.

Relationships: What’s the importance of having Club Beyond for Military Teens?

MT: When I was growing up, my father’s career was one where we traveled coast to coast and moved 11 times from the time I was born until college. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I encountered Young Life. After that experience, as Jennifer and I had our two children and they grew up moving places, we were very attuned to what was available for our kids. They each attended three different high schools. That constant transition can have a real impact. It’s important for kids to be able to find those communities that will help them discover the true meaning of life. Just by virtue of being a teenager, you’re going through some challenging times and if you’re moving around every two to three years, that community is changing as well. For kids to have access to Club Beyond can be the difference from having challenges that expose all the cracks in your life to discovering you’re not alone in that walk. There are other people — in fact there is a person walking alongside you, someone who cares deeply about who you really are and wants you to have the opportunity to discover the meaning of life itself. Club Beyond provides that opportunity to military teens in a powerful way.