Answering a call to the post: Former contractor a chaplain at race

Ten years ago, Richard Mena heard the call, and he hasn’t looked back since.

Then a general building contractor, Mena felt a strong urge to head down a radically different career path: ministry. Now, Mena, 59, is the chaplain to the race set and for the month of August, he will be at the Del Mar racetrack.

As the Jockeys Guild chaplain, Mena works under a number of organizations, including the California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT).

He worked under the Race Track Chaplaincy of America (RTCA) until three years ago, and he heads a racetrack Bible study group (www.racetrackbiblestudy.com) every Tuesday evening at the Winners Foundation Trailer at Santa Anita racetrack.

Mena entered his chaplaincy by first working as a layman. He received his ordination at the Calvary Chapel La Verne and, today, his job takes him all over the country.

“We were in New Mexico and Wyoming last year through Racetrack Bible Study and we were at a fair in Nevada the year before. We are hoping, Lord willing, to go to a fair in Fresno Turndale later this year,” Mena said. “We get together and do park events and fairs, mainly for backstretch workers, the workers who take care of the horses and live on the grounds.”

Mena grew up in Pico Rivera. Often, chaplains to a particular sport are former participants of that sport, and Mena is no exception. He owned horses and even tried to race them at one point, but later found his calling was on a different end of the racetrack.

“The feeling I had wasn’t anything new, because I had been raised in a Christian family, but 10 years ago, the call to the ministry was rather strong,” Mena said. “I simply listened to the call.”

Tell us what a chaplain at the track does.
A chaplain is a person who shares spiritual guidance with people, one-on-one. Anybody who is interested can speak to me; for example, Charlie McCaul, who is the clerk of scales, has been a faithful follower for years. I talk to jockeys and I am able to go, with permission, to just about anywhere on the track if someone wants to talk.

What duties do you perform?
I have performed many weddings and many funerals. I did the famous jockey Johnny Longden’s funeral in Santa Anita. While I don’t call what I do “counseling,” I do give advice if someone wants to know how God can change their life. I share that through the scriptures.

What is a typical day at the track for you?
If I am on the grounds, I will usually walk around to see if anybody wants to talk. Pretty much, that is it, because I try not to impose on anybody. If someone wants to speak to me, depending on the situation, they could call me, or come meet me at Bible study in Santa Anita. While I do offer Bible study only in English, I am a bilingual Spanish speaker as well.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done on the job?
The toughest thing, certainly, happened when I was an assistant chaplain early on and I was doing a devotion at the Pomona fair. For some reason, not too many people were interested in listening that day, but one jockey named J.C. Gonzales was, and I shared Psalm 121 with him. One hour later, he was dead. He had died in an accident, and that event made me question my decision to be in the ministry, because one hour you are sharing your love of God with someone and the next hour, he is dead.

What do you like best about your work?
For those people who have allowed the Lord to work in their lives, it has been very rewarding for me to see God’s word transform the person. That’s what I have enjoyed the most. Apart from that, I have made a lot of friends that have allowed me to learn more about the character of God. I also enjoy being able to work across denominations, especially with my friends and CTT directors Alan Balch and Angie Carmona, who have allowed me to volunteer and help them over the years, which has really helped me. My Catholic brother at CTT, Deacon Arnie Lopez, has also been an inspiration.

Related posts:

  1. ‘Call to the Post’ played ‘dangerously’ for 25 years
  2. Harper: Synthetic surface to stay at Del Mar Racetrack
  3. Tedesco assumes role of track superintendent at Del Mar
  4. Pinback kicks off Del Mar Race Track concerts
  5. Track readies for marquee race

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Posted by on Jul 31, 2010. Filed under Archives. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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