Chaplain tackles Mount Kilimanjaro

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WASHINGTON (UMNS) — The Rev. Karen Meeker is between peaks in her career. Really, really tall peaks.

Lt. Col. Meeker, an Army chaplain and United Methodist ordained elder, is on her way up Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Africa. Her alpine adventure started Dec. 9 and is scheduled to end at the summit on Dec. 23, which, in case you are wondering, is 19,330 feet.

She just completed her assignment as executive officer for the Army Chief of Chaplains at the Pentagon. Her next assignment is as division chaplain supervising more than 30 other chaplains at Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas.

Once you get to know Meeker, it makes perfect sense she would be climbing the world’s highest mountain as a “retreat” before taking on the challenge of division chaplain at Fort Bliss. She is one of few women to hold this position in a career that has included many highs and honors.

Ain’t no mountain high enough

She admits she could have chosen closer, more comfortable locations for some quiet time with God.

“Why choose a retreat that includes meds for malaria, altitude and diarrhea? The extreme challenge of going from sea level with minimal training will require a singular focus to push through the altitude and weather. Sounds perfect to me!” she said.

Before embarking on her journey, she told United Methodist News Service, “I go to the mountain confessing my sins, praying God’s forgiveness and asking all things not Christlike would be purged from my life. I go to the mountain to receive vision and a renewed desire to serve. I pray God will strengthen me in body, mind and spirit for the next assignment.”

Keep up with her climb through cybercasts.

An active ministry

Meeker enlisted in the Army in 1986 and has served in many locations since becoming an Army chaplain, including serving with the Joint Task Force 101 in Afghanistan as well as other overseas assignments. She has received numerous awards and badges for distinguished service over the years, and was the first female chaplain assigned to the Army Special Operations Command. She is also a master parachutist, one of the few female chaplain jumpmasters. It is nothing for her to get up and run several miles before she preaches on Sunday morning. She just shrugs and says she has always wanted to be active.

“I always wanted to be outside, running. I have a very active ministry that started with the 82nd Airborne Division (Fort Bragg, N.C.), jumping out of airplanes,” she said. “My dad was in the 82nd so I am following family tradition.”

Not all her assignments have been so physical.

She said one of her most difficult roles was as part of a team that goes to a family’s home to notify them of the loss of a loved one. A chaplain is always part of the team, she said.

“Those times were so difficult because you know you are taking a message into a home where they don’t know — most likely they don’t know yet — a loved one has been killed overseas.

Probably most difficult thing (to do) as an Army chaplain … at those times I know that is why God has me here. To minister in those really difficult moments to Army families,” she said.

Strong and safe

Meeker is proud to be clergy in uniform. She is proud our country has always had chaplains to provide religious needs for service members.

“I think that is really incredible. We are right there with the troops, to provide sacraments, rights and rituals of the church to that soldier no matter how far flung. Our men and women can celebrate communion, sing hymns, be baptized, have Bible study, all of that which they wouldn’t be able to have if we weren’t here.”

She said she never feels safer than when she is with a group of military folks.

“They are so motivated to represent the good, fight for the good, beat the bad guys.”

Military families have to endure so much—always moving, making new friends, starting in new schools, establishing a home.

“Military members and their families are just the strongest people I know. They are willing to stand up and do what is right,” she said. “We don’t have a draft, people are not forced, they are willingly volunteering to come in and serve. We are at war and they are volunteering to come to do what’s right for our country.”

Biggest game in town

Another thing she is deeply proud of is being a part of The United Methodist Church. She grew up in rural central Pennsylvania and is a member of the Susquehanna Annual (regional) Conference.

“The United Methodist Church was the big game in town, the whole area was focused on Town Hill (Shickshinny, Pa.) United Methodist Church. I grew up in the church.”

She quotes John Wesley — “Give me your hand if your heart is as mine” — as a strength she pulls from for her role as an Army chaplain.

“Jesus said, ‘No greater love than this to lay down your life for a friend,’” she said. “I’m all in. I will serve fully. This is not IBM, our soldiers are giving their full measure of devotion for country and, for many, for God. They are putting their faith in action, they are there to defend the eternal light of freedom for our country.”

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or[email protected].

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