By ROB HERBST
The Catholic Week
MOBILE — When Deacon Stephen Tidwell was asked to be part of prison ministry in 2012, he said he wasn’t completely sure he was ready for it.
“It’s an ironic mission for me in the fact that it’s not something I thought I would be prepared for,” Deacon Tidwell said. “But God absolutely has designs on us and paths and plans. He never gives us a mission that He doesn’t give us the resources for.”
About six years after initially volunteering for prison ministry, Deacon Tidwell is now the Archdiocese of Mobile Director of Prison Ministry.
Deacon Tidwell was assigned to that position earlier this month and only two months after being ordained a permanent deacon for the archdiocese.
Deacon Tidwell, who is now assigned to St. Maurice Parish in Brewton, has a long public service and military background. He will fill the shoes of former director Deacon John Ross, who passed away earlier this year.
“It’s definitely an education,” Deacon Tidwell said of prison ministry. “You learn more about your faith and it’s a truly blessed experience.”
The Archdiocese of Mobile prison ministry is responsible for bringing the Word and Eucharist to those incarcerated at various prisons, work centers and jails located within the Archdiocese of Mobile.
Now that he’s been named director of prison ministry, Deacon Tidwell said he’d like to reach out to those who are not Catholic.
“We need to expand our focus,” Deacon Tidwell said. “Our Lord, our Holy Father, our Archbishop remind us we are all God’s children and to pray for one another.”
Deacon Tidwell described prison ministry as a ministry that provides one with a wide variety of situations and backgrounds.
What he has encountered are “people in pain. They’re trying to recapture something that they had taken away from them – their freedom.”
But he’s also encountered those who are yearning for God.
“There are guys in there who love Jesus, who love God. We don’t talk about their cases,” Deacon Tidwell said. “There are those who you can tell are fervent. They truly worship God and that is their parish.”
In his six years with prison ministry, Deacon Tidwell has met volunteers who can’t handle going into a prison. “I know people who have absolutely resisted. They hear that metal door slam behind them and it has an effect on them. It truly does.”
Those who can’t handle it, can still be part of prison ministry, he said.
“Everybody can be part of prison ministry. We can pray,” Deacon Tidwell said. “Prayer is a very important element of it. We can turn our thoughts to prayer.”
— For more information on prison ministry, visit www.mobarch.org/prisons/
By ROB HERBST