The Bluegrass Farms Chaplaincy, designed to meet the needs of horse farm workers in Central Kentucky, officially kicked off its program Jan. 14 with its first prayer breakfast at Keeneland during the January mixed sale. The chaplaincy hopes to line up 12 facilities to serve as "founding farms."
Bluegrass Farms Chaplaincy is a division of the national Race Track Chaplaincy of America, a 33-year-old organization with a presence at about 80 racetracks. Dr. Enrique Torres, executive director of the RTCA, said the program has moved to training centers, with breeding farms a logical next step.
The Bluegrass endeavor is a major undertaking, but Torres noted how the RTCA has overcome obstacles in the past. Torres told a story of how one racetrack, which he wouldn't name, refused to allow a chaplain on the grounds. The man then opted to preach and minister outside the gate, and some Hispanic backstretch workers began to congregate to hear him.
"The track saw a difference in these workers and invited the chaplaincy" onto the grounds, Torres said.
Lonny Powell, president of the Bluegrass Farms Chaplaincy, said the effort actually began in 2001 when the RTCA had a vision to start chaplaincy programs--trained individuals assist in the spiritual, physical, emotional, and social needs of workers--at horse farms in Central Kentucky and Marion County, Fla.
Powell said the official start of the effort was the "ice storm meeting" in the winter of 2003 in Central Kentucky. "We managed to meet at restaurant that had power in Lexington to talk about the need for a ministry in the Bluegrass," he said. "In April, the RTCA came back and called for a commitment."
The commitment began with establishment of an office, at first a temporary facility offered by the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association at the Kentucky Horse Park. As of Jan. 1, Bobby Aldridge was hired as chaplain.
"This is a faith-based ministry designed to serve the horse farms of Central Kentucky," Powell said. "We've got a lot to do. The work has just begun."
Bluegrass Farms Chaplaincy is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization guided by directors who serve without compensation. In an effort to build support, the chaplaincy is seeking farms that would commit to support the ministry for an initial period of three years at a minimum of $10,000 a year. Supporters at that level would become members of the national White Horse Fellowship, which honors backstretch and farm workers with the White Horse Award each year.
Ben Walden Jr., vice president of the Bluegrass Farms Chaplaincy, noted that establishing a farms ministry could prove difficult and quite different from starting one at a racetrack.
"It's an incredibly ambitious task, but our God is pretty awesome," Walden said. "We'll get it done. We need your help and your prayers."
Among those who attended the prayer breakfast were jockey Pat Day, who gave his testimony. Day serves as racing industry representative for the RTCA executive committee.