Many associate Churchill Downs, Kentucky’s famed racetrack, with the beauty of thoroughbred racing. While that’s certainly true, I would argue that Churchill Downs is not just a destination, it’s a community. A community of horse fans, workers, and aficionados; a place that boasts traditional community roots: food, excitement, work, and even spirituality. Today I have the privilege of telling you more about the spirituality of the track + the transforming of lives at Churchill Downs via the Kentucky Race Track Chaplaincy.
The Kentucky Race Track Chaplaincy
If you grew up in/around the church, chances are you have learned about ministry and mission work. We often think that mission work takes place outside of our communities, either in different states or in different countries. What surprises many Louisvillians to learn is that the profound, international impact of mission work lives right at home at Churchill Downs. While the Kentucky Race Track Chaplaincy on the track’s backside looks small to the eye, it is profound in impact.
The Backside of Churchill Downs
Behind the glorious Twin Spires of Churchill Downs lives a vibrant community with a culture, flavor, and personality of its own: the Backside. During training and racing season, hundreds of individuals live in dorms/apartments on the Backside. When they are not working, they are just like any other community: they share food, fun, friendship, and fellowship.
If you have not visited the Backside, I implore that you do so. It’s important to appreciate and validate those that make Kentucky’s signature event, the Kentucky Derby, happen.
The History of the Program
The Race Track Chaplaincy of America, which is a non-profit interdenominational organization, started in 1972. With this, chaplains began serving at Kentucky race tracks. As the ministry grew in scale, the Kentucky division of the chaplaincy formed in 1998. Their ministry is clear and familiar to many: to nurture the spiritual and material needs of all people in the horse racing industry and their families through Christian ministry, while envisioning salvation of all people of the industry.
Sitting Down With Leaders
I had the privilege to sit down with Scott Neal and Chaplain Joseph Del Rosario of the Kentucky Race Track Chaplaincy; after our sit down in Christ Chapel, we toured the backside together and I learned more about their life-changing work.
Q: Chaplain Joseph and Scott, for those unfamiliar, please tell us about the Kentucky Race Track Chaplaincy.
Chaplain Joseph: “The stable area of any race track is like a small town, made up of hundreds of people caring for the horses, training, grooming, walking, and riding. The chaplaincy seeks to come alongside the horsemen on the tracks to care for their physical and spiritual needs. We work to be a friend to each person, bringing them the love of Christ Jesus, as we walk around while they are working, being with them in their stalls, checking in on them, seeing how they are doing.”
Scott: “Our ministry strives to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of race track workers by offering: daily interaction with workers in the barn area and around the race track; weekly worship services and Bible studies; Christ-centered activities that promote fellowship; baptism, marriage, and funeral services; along with individual biblical counseling.
The chaplaincy also serves as extended family for many workers. It helps to meet those in physical need by providing: an emergency food pantry and closet; help with transportation; and other related services.”
Q: Chaplain Joseph and Scott, what inspired you to do ministry work?
Scott: “I got here through the Grace of God. I spent most of my career in Radio and TV sales and some things in between. I always believed in God but never followed him. My life was about success and pleasing people. I wasn’t responsible for my choices: I met my wife and she introduced me to Christianity and after a few years I was saved and baptized. From there, I then began serving at my Church and got into discipling to people and sharing my testimony. Years later I ended up at the Church newspaper and used that as my ministry. The church closed the newspaper and I prayed God would open a door for me to stay in ministry and KRTC opened up.”
Chaplain Joseph: “This started during my time in college as I got involved with a campus ministry, Campus Crusade for Christ, now known as Cru. It was in Cru, that some important errors in my view of God and how to get to heaven were corrected. I thought that doing good things was enough to get me into heaven but I was shown in the Bible how the biggest need people have is the need to be reconciled with God because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Rather, I had to trust in the work Jesus did on the cross as my substitute, taking my sin and punishment, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The other error is that even though I trusted Jesus for my salvation, I was still unsure that I would get into heaven, until I was taken to the first Letter by the Apostle John where he writes, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13). It was freedom and such a refreshing wave.
It was during this time that I felt the call to ministry, I also realized how much I loved learning the Bible and about the Bible, how much I loved telling people about Jesus and how he saved and forgave me of my sin, and how they too might be reconciled with God. I also loved teaching the Bible to people. So by my third semester, I set my eyes away from law school toward seminary.”
Support The Mission During Derby Week: Race For Grace
If you would like to support the work of the Kentucky Race Track Chaplaincy – all while attending a dinner on Millionaire’s Row during Derby Week – listen up. The 2022 Race for Grace is on Monday, May 2nd. The Master of Ceremonies this year is Pat Day (Hall of Fame Jockey and Kentucky Derby Winner). Bob Russell will be the keynote speaker.
Tickets are available on an individual and a table basis. To purchase tickets to the evening of food and fellowship, click here.
To learn more about the work of the Chaplaincy, click here.
Planning to experience the Race for Grace benefitting the Kentucky Race Track Chaplaincy? Share your adventures with #NotableKentucky + tag us!
Kentucky first, forever, and always.
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