Horse Racing Community

This has to be one of the best kept secrets in Methodism but one of the best pieces of work carried out by a Methodist Minister that I have come across !!

Rev. Graham Locking is a Methodist Minister who works full time as chaplain to the Horse Racing Community in this country. Based at Newmarket and appointed through the Score organisation, Graham treat me to a fascinating insight into the world of horse racing  and his work in particular. 

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The night before, I stayed at Grahams manse and we were up till the late hours talking theology (and Grahams passion for clocks !!). All that we spoke about was carried through the following day as I observed Graham at work.

We rose at 5.00 a.m. as Graham likes to be out and about early enough to catch the morning training on the Heath. Consequently by 6.00 a.m. we were watching the trainers, the jockeys and the horses on the gallops. Graham commented that he liked to do this as many trainers would come across and have a few words with him while waiting for their horses to approach. Its about building relationships and although there were no life changing conversions (as such) those conversations about the other persons life sometimes led into situations which could be deemed to be more meaningful, baptisms, funerals, searching questions etc. How often do we miss out on the simple day to day chat as if it is not a vital part of relationship building.

After this we returned for breakfast at 8.00 a.m. and then out again to visit the stables. As a complete novice to the racing world I hadn`t realised how many stables there were just in the vicinity of the town; Grahams job is to relate to them all if they`ll let him. We went to visit one where I was entertained by listening and watching the banter between Graham and the owners daughter who Graham would like to see married !! So would her Father ! It was good natured banter that would keep open the door of friendship. Graham used this opportunity to chat to the stable owner who had played a major part in the setting up of the chaplaincy. Interesting parts of the conversation centred on the owners daughters marriage or no marriage, his recent barge holiday and his new member of staff in the office. The subject of racing didn`t really figure but Graham  made sure that the gentleman knew that Graham was interested in him beyond the sport.

Then we went to the largest stud farm in the area where the security was very tight, but Graham has an all areas pass. Once again it was interestng to see the ease with which Graham related to the employees, thinking of their families and their lives beyond the sport.

Finally we went to the British Racing School where potential jockeys are trained and given life skills beyond the sport. Rory Macdonald, the chief executive, was generous with his time in talking about how the young people are trained, looked after and cared for. He was also, like others, full of praise for Grahams role and especially the part he played in the life of the school, where he would be on hand to offer advice and support to all. Indeed, I had the privilege to see Graham in action as he offered advice to one of the members of the school.

Throughout the day I came across people who had nothing but respect for Graham and the work he is doing. However, I was more than aware that Graham is a national chaplain and as such has to relate to other stables, race courses, jockeys and members of the community up and down the country. Consequently part of his work was to travel the motorways to race meetings and to visit a wide variety of stables. Graham acknowledged that the work at Newmarket was a full time job in itself without the addition of the rest of the country. He spoke about the need for a second chaplain, but I wonder if there is a need for more, or for stadium based chaplaincies similar to rugby and football ?

Certainly, I was impressed by the work and world in which he operated. It was a truly fascinating day and I thank Graham for it.

In our conversations we explored how Graham is heavily influenced by Rick Warrens book “The Purpose Driven Church” which is one of my favourites also. In it Rick Warren urges Christians to see life through the eyes of  surfers; we need to paddle in the water waiting and looking for the next big wave of God, then get on and ride it for all its worth. In other words we need to see what God is doing instead of expecting him to follow what we are doing. As with all surfing it involves a lot of paddling. We reflected on how the paddling is symbolic of talking, listening, being a presence, reflecting and the wave is the move of the Holy Spirit raising up opportunities.

In a similar fashion Jesus told his disciples to “wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit comes……” We need to be led by the Holy Spirit. True evangelism is listening and getting involved in the lives of others before the subject of Jesus arises. True evangelism is NOT having the answers but being part of Gods answer even if you don`t know what it is or what God is doing.

All this related to how Graham approached his work in the racing community. It is a world of strong, ripe language, a world of broken relationships, of bankruptcies, of cheating, a world of loyalty towards ones own, of incredible generosity and a world of strong community. It isn`t a lot different to the world that the church often doesn`t get involved with. Consequently Graham saw the work of a chaplain as ……..

being available

being accepting

being respectful

We spoke of Johns Gospel of life. The Church needs to accept that there is a life to live and we need to help people enjoy it, not hinder them with guilt, sin etc. We need to offer them “life in all its fulness”. Jesus said “I have come that they may have life…….” Jesus didn`t seek to condemn people but he wanted to lift them up; we too are called to love others not judge. I think that there is a major lesson here for the church.

I came to the end of a fascinating, enjoyable, tiring, busy day in which I felt my understanding of Christianity to be affirmed in a way that circuit life often fails to do with our determination to uphold the church as it has always been and our failure to deal with the hurting world; our detemination to maintain a middle class institution rather than meet the needs of the ordinary person who is seeking to make sense out of life; our preoccupation with sexuality rather than our enjoyment of what God has given us.

Here endeth the rant for today !!!!!

This has been one of the most enlightening and challenging days of the whole sabbatical and I wsould love to visit a race meeting now, to see the other side of it all. You never know I might take a day off to visit Nottingham or Southwell !!!!

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