21/06/2024

I want people to connect with God' | Christ Chapel at Churchill Downs creates space for worship

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I want people to connect with God' | Christ Chapel at Churchill Downs creates space for worship

With busy schedules, church meets people where they are. There's a chapel on the backside of Churchill Downs called Christ Chapel.

With busy schedules, church meets people where they are. There's a chapel on the backside of Churchill Downs called Christ Chapel.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- As excitement builds for another Kentucky Derby, there's work being done behind the scenes to prepare not only The Run for the Roses, but other races, as well.

Many people who work there also live on site.

With busy schedules, church meets people where they are. There's a chapel on the backside of Churchill Downs called Christ Chapel. It provides clothes, food, and worship opportunities primarily for people working on the backside.

"Without God, I mean, He wakes you up in the morning to do this seven days a week. It's hard work. You're away from your family four months out of the year. He's the provider. That's all I can say," Michael "Homie" Wise, who works on the backside and attends services at Christ Chapel, said.

Michael "Homie" Wise

Michael "Homie" Wise talks about his experience at Christ Chapel. (WDRB image)

Wise said he's been working with horses for years and his job duties include a little bit of everything.

"I'm 67. We work through aches and pains," he said. "With prayers and God, 'Thank you for waking me up this morning and letting me get through the day.' We don't feel pain. I don't."

The chapel and ministry have been here for years. According to the Kentucky Race Track Chaplaincy, the chapel at Churchill Downs opened in 2006 as a year-round ministry for race track workers.

The current chaplain, Pavel Urruchi came to Churchill Downs in late 2023. Urruchi said his start in ministry began nearly two decades ago at a church in Northern Kentucky.

He ended up getting a phone call that led him to take on the role as chaplain at Turfway Park before eventually coming to Louisville to take over as chaplain at Christ Chapel at Churchill Downs. He said he wasn't necessarily looking to become a chaplain but it was something he felt God called him to do.

"I want people to connect with God. That's one of my priorities. But as they connect with God they can also connect with each other. They can find a family, a place to belong," Urruchi said.

Christ Chapel Chaplain Pavel Urruchi leads worship Monday, April 15, 2024

Christ Chapel Chaplain Pavel Urruchi leads worship Monday, April 15, 2024. (WDRB image)

There are no races held on Mondays, so instead of Sundays, services are held on Mondays at Christ Chapel. Urruchi said an average week will draw around 60 adults and 20 to 30 children. The chapel offers Bible studies, children's programming and more.

"That's an awesome thing they did up there. Put that church up there for us," Wise said.

Regina Showalter is a hot walker on the backside. She also attends services at Christ Chapel. 

"We get the horses when they finish training off the track. When they're hot, they need to walk and come in. We give them a bath and cool them down," she said.

Her family has a long history in the horse industry.

"This is Catalano's barn. Cat man. Wayne Catalano, my big brother," said Showalter, working through the barn. "I have two brothers that were jockeys. The race track's been good to our family, been very successful."

Showalter said her faith has been strong her entire life and she's thankful to have the ministry of Christ Chapel on the backside. She called those there "everyday heroes."

"I'm alive and life is challenging and I don't know what I would do if I didn't have my faith and people to talk about God with and remind me how great everything is. Sometimes you need that," she said.

Regina Showalter

Regina Showalter talks about her experience at Christ Chapel. (WDRB image)

Some are trying to help spread awareness about the chapel, like Travis Foley. He said for the past 12 years, he's worked as an assistant trainer for his father, Greg Foley.

"Racing is our life and this is our home track and it's a very special place," he said, talking about Churchill Downs.

Foley said he serves as an advisor of sorts in connection with the chapel, helping let people know about the ministry.

"When people can't go to church, the chaplaincy steps in and fills that void and brings the church to them which changes a lot of lives in the process," he said.

Showalter said she doesn't have a vehicle, and having Christ Chapel on site makes a difference.

"It's very convenient. It's very important. We need that support," she said.

When people aren't worshiping inside the chapel, Urruchi spends his time taking a golf cart barn to barn on the backside, meeting people and inviting them to services, checking in on them, and seeing how they are.

Christ Chapel

Christ Chapel

"The idea is to allow them to have a place where they can connect with God and call it church," Urruchi said.

Marty Way has been the Clothes Closet Coordinator at the chapel for years. Through donations, it provides clothes and toiletries to people free of charge.

"We get people that come in and they might have two or three things with them. I've had people come in that didn't have a thing," Way said.

He said part of the mission is to be a "ministry of presence."

"There's just a lot of highs and lows in this business so having faith to fall back on is just a great sounding board, where, at the end of the day we do as best as we can, but knowing that kind of stuff is ultimately the most important thing helps shape your day," Foley said.

Urruchi said this is the most rewarding job he's ever had.

"The love of God that we have received is the love that we want to show them," he said.

To get involved, volunteer, or donate to Christ Chapel, click here.

Each April, ahead of the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Race Track Chaplaincy hosts a fundraiser known as Race For Grace. For details, click here.

More Kentucky Derby 150 Coverage:

  • Kentucky Derby 150 guide to everything you need to know for Oaks and Derby Days
  • 'No words for this' | Churchill Downs kicks off Kentucky Derby 150 week festivities with Opening Night
  • Kentucky Derby 150 favorite Fierceness must overcome winless post No. 17
  • CRAWFORD | Entering our 150th Kentucky Derby week, let's travel back to the first one

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