News Articles

Churchill Downs chaplain says backside is mission field

Pavel Urruchi has developed relationships with the workers on the backside of Churchill Downs. He has been the track chaplain since last November. Kentucky Today photo.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Racetrack workers on the backside of Churchill Downs number around 1,000.

Pavel Urruchi, the track chaplain since last November, sees it as his mission field. He wants to make sure each one of them has an opportunity to hear the gospel.

“Most of our people here don’t have a Christian background,” he said. “They do have a Catholic background and know who Jesus is. But understanding the gospel and what it means to be born again sometimes that take some time.”

Urruchi holds church services in Christ Chapel on the backside of Churchill Downs on Monday nights since that is the only day the track is closed during racing season. He said the service was canceled this week because of Kentucky Derby preparation, making it an even busier time for the backside workers.

The chapel and ministry have been at Churchill Downs for nearly two decades, opening in 2006 as a year-round ministry for racetrack workers.

“We get to connect with people working with barns and the ministry of presence by working with them,” he said.

The ministry also runs a clothes closet that is open twice a week, providing donated clothes and toiletries at no cost. The chaplaincy also serves lunch every Thursday and coffee and snacks on Mondays.

Urruchi is from Lima, Peru and became a Christian through an International Mission Board missionary on the field. “That was my connection to later come to the U.S.,” he said. “From then I began attending Southern Baptist churches and God called me to ministry.”

He met his wife, Leah, in Centerton, Ark., then moved to Hattiesburg, Miss. to attend William Carey University for his undergraduate degree where God allowed him to plant a Hispanic church. Urruchi earned his M.Div. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, began his Ph.D. program at Southeastern Seminary and is working to complete it at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Before accepting the position at Churchill Downs, he was the chaplain at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky for nine years. Urruchi was a member of Erlanger Baptist Church.

He said the ministry has been received well at Churchill Downs.

Urruchi said 40 volunteers help make it all work. They help coordinate events for children and women and growth has come quickly. His first service was the Monday prior to Easter with 50 adults and 20 children and last week there were more than 100 adults and 30 children.

“The response has been very, very good,” he said. “People appreciate the help and what we are trying to do for them.”

But Urruchi said his goal is to introduce them to Jesus and the gospel story.

“We focus on the gospel to tell them who Jesus is and why He came. We love seeing people understand and come to faith and trust in Jesus. We try to connect them with churches here.”

Unlike in northern Kentucky, where several churches were part of the ministry at Turfway Park, Urruchi said that is not the case at Churchill Downs. However, he had a good conversation with Todd Robertson, the associational mission strategist of the Louisville Regional Baptist Association, for some partnerships with churches.

“One church that has helped us with volunteers is Southside, a plant from Highview Baptist,” Urruchi said. “Todd wants to help me with our churches getting involved.”

For more information about Christ Chapel and the Kentucky Race Track Chaplaincy, click here.