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The 2013 Easter Sunrise Service at Turf Paradise is shown. (Photo courtesy of Turf Paradise)

PHOENIX -- This Sunday is Easter, and hundreds of people will be getting up early to attend an early service at a place you wouldn't normally think of as a church.

They'll be going to the Turf Paradise horse racetrack in Phoenix.

In 1962, the pastor of Lutheran Church of the Master realized that his building wasn't big enough to handle the hundreds of people who were coming to worship that day.

"He contacted the Turf Paradise racetrack at 19th Avenue and Bell (Road), and inquired as to whether we could use their grandstand for the Easter Sunrise Service," said John Draftz, a deacon at the church.

The racetrack said yes, and thus initiated something that's been an annual tradition ever since.

"Sunday marks the 52nd 'running' of the Easter Sunrise Service sponsored by Lutheran Church of the Master," Draftz said.

The service attracts people who wouldn't normally set foot in a church, he said.

"We have people who are not members of our congregation," said Draftz. "But, for them, Easter Sunday at 6 in the morning, they will be at Turf Paradise, because that is the way they celebrate Easter Sunrise Service."

Draftz admits that he sometimes thinks about the implications of having the service at a place where gambling and drinking usually happens. But the church sees it as an outreach ministry, he said.

"We look beyond the setting, and look at what we are trying to do," Draftz said. "We look at it as taking advantage of a beautiful situation to let the gospel message go out to as many people as are wanting to hear it."

Click here for more information about the Easter morning service at Turf Paradise.

Bob McClay, Reporter

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