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Unsung Hero

Unsung Hero

On Saturday 4 March at Addington Raceway in Christchurch, Salvation Army Chaplain Andrew McKerrow was presented with the New Zealand Harness Racing ‘Unsung Hero’ Award. According to the online award notation, Andrew was recognised by the industry for ‘helping hundreds of drivers, trainers and other participants every year’.

Andrew was surprised to be nominated, let alone to win. ‘I was bit embarrassed at first. I mean, I love my job, so it seems a bit funny to get an award for just doing what you love,’ he says. ‘But on the flip side, and after some reflection, receiving the award is really encouraging because it shows that the industry values the work because it’s making a real difference.’

Andrew explains that previous winners have been involved with the industry for decades, whereas he’s only been in racing chaplaincy for about six or seven years. In that short time, Andrew’s work has clearly had a big impact. And while there are plans to expand and eventually have four fulltime harness racing chaplains across the country, for now it’s just Andrew.

‘We’re just getting started really. From a Christian perspective, the racing industry is such a significant and massive mission field,’ says Andrew. ‘I can count on one hand the number of Christians in the industry, which is why I’m so passionate about it.’ 

A huge part of Andrew’s work is mental health-related. ‘The biggest thing that I’m trying to address and work with is the issue of managing stress and avoiding burnout. That would easily be the biggest challenge in the industry—that and addiction. People are trying to mask what they can’t manage with substances,’ he says.

Like all good chaplains, providing a ‘ministry of presence’ is crucial. ‘People know me now and they trust me, which is great, but it’s still not easy for people to pick up the phone and ask for help. But me being around the stables asking: “Hey, are you alright?”, and them saying, “Actually, nah, not really, everything’s a bit crap”, that’s when the pastoral work kicks in,’ explains Andrew. ‘I genuinely love the people in this industry and I know this is where I am meant to be.’

Andrew works all over the country across the three industry codes of thoroughbred racing, harness racing and greyhound racing. But a significant piece of work he’s currently involved with is supporting the apprentice jockeys. ‘The young ones coming up have an education component to their four-year apprenticeship, meaning they attend classes. I teach classes around their wellbeing. It’s like they get taught how to manage horses, but we also want to teach them how to manage their own lives as well so they can sustain their work in the industry long term.’

When Andrew left school in the early 90s, he became an apprentice jockey. ‘I wasn’t very good at it though,’ he says. ‘I look back on that time—I was in the middle of addiction and living without Christ—and there was nothing in place in the industry in terms of someone to reach out to for help. I think about the me back then and what I really needed, and the dream for this work emerges from there,’ explains Andrew.

Andrew has no plans to slow down or stop any time soon. ‘I continually find myself standing on a racetrack saying, “Lord, your kingdom come, your will be done—on this racetrack!” I want to know what that could look like—I want to be part of that!’

War Cry congratulates Andrew for this well-deserved award!

Check out the video interview with Racing New Zealand below.

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