Editorial – Solidarity at the backside

Marnie McAllister

Marnie McAllister

The celebrities and tourists are gone, but Churchill Downs is still teeming with people — workers and their families whose lives revolve around the racetrack.

As Jessica Able reported in last week’s Record, about 600 people — mostly immigrants from Latin America — live and worship at the track year-round.

The Kentucky Racetrack Chaplaincy operates Christ Chapel on the backside of Churchill Downs, an ecumenical ministry that’s supported by about 40 area churches.

The efforts of the churches — including the Catholic churches of St. Edward, Our Lady of Lourdes, Epiphany and St. Gregory — are worth noting again.

Volunteers provide a weekly meal after an ecumenical worship service. They provide donated clothing for those in need. Donors fund Christmas gifts for the children and new boots for the workers. And there’s a program for children called Children’s Church.

Epiphany parishioners Muffy Sinclair and Brayton Bowen, both regular volunteers on the backside, told Able that they see the racetrack ministry as a way to live their faith, noting that Catholic social teaching and the Jubilee Year of Mercy call Catholics to this work.

“It fits in directly with what our pope is talking about in terms of mercy,” Bowen told Able. “Compassion is not about charity. It’s about mercy. In the case of the backside, it’s about solidarity.”

The notion of solidarity is an important one. It’s one of the core principles of the church’s social teaching. And it’s rather beautiful to think it’s flourishing on the backside of one of the most famous racetracks around.

Solidarity is one of those words that can be thrown around casually, without really pinning down its meaning. The website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — usccb.org — provides some helpful information, if you want to delve into the topic.

It includes the following explanation from St. John Paul II:

Solidarity “is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”

This quote comes from the saint’s 1987 document “On Social Concern.”

Muffy Sinclair lives and experiences this solidarity when she works with the children at the racetrack’s Children’s Church.

“It’s so important that what we do here is to continue to help learn about each other,” she said. “We are learning about another culture and they are learning about us. The best way to live in peace and love is to keep doing things together.”

According to The Rev. Ken Boehm, the chaplain at the track, there is much to learn from those who live and work at the track. He told Able that those who work on the backside are among the hardest working and faith-filled people he knows.

He’s disheartened by those in the community who have a negative opinion of the backside and its workers.

“A lot of people think of the backside in a negative light because it’s the gambling industry. There are some who see someone who speaks Spanish and immediately assume they are undocumented workers,” he said. “The people here are working hard, doing a job many others don’t want. They get up before the crack of dawn and continue working until the work is done. And, they are getting up to do it all again the next day.”

Many of us could learn a few things about hard work and integrity from backside workers. And it seems, if we were to get to know them as individuals, we might find ourselves inspired by their faith.

Let’s give thanks for those who are ministering in solidarity with the track workers. And let us pray that this ministry will continue to flourish.

Record Editor

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