The Racetrack Chaplain





You can add Keith Berryman’s name to the list of pastors who are reaching areas of American culture not usually associated with faith. Berryman, who is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmington, N.M., also serves as the chaplain of the SunRay Park and Casino Racetrack, according to the Daily Times.

Berryman spends between 25 to 30 hours a week at the track preaching to jockeys, trainers and horse groomers. Most of his time is spent with jockeys, who lead a dangerous lifestyle and want the support and prayer of the pastor to get them through. Most of them admit it’s not an easy job to serve among a culture associated with drinking, gambling and cursing.

"You got to be thick-skinned just because of the type of people you're dealing with out here," said horse owner Vance Mikkleson. "It's not like having church where people come to you. (Berryman) comes to them."

When Berryman first started holding services inside the jockey’s quarters, he had a hard time winning over the group, who seemed more interested in watching TV and playing cards. But the pastor stuck with it, because, he says, that’s what Jesus would do. The turning point in his ministry came when he injured himself after falling off a medical van. After going to the ER, Berryman toughed it out and showed up the next day.

"Everyone looked at me like I was walking on water," he said. "After that day it's been a dramatic turnaround."

Now the preacher holds quiet, 30-minute services every Sunday before the races start. He prays for safety before every practice. He visits jockeys in the hospital after injuries and holds bake sales and other events to help the families of the injured riders. He’s bringing the church to them. [daily-times.com, 5/11/10]

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