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Church to hold Easter morning service at Turf Paradise in Phoenix

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.

About the Author

Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I am married to my wife Rene', who is a librarian in the Washington school district. During free time, I may be found playing basketball in the driveway with my son, Devin. He's also keeping me busy with school, Little League, and playing in chess tournaments around the Valley.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: Doug Oldham gospel concert in the 1970s at the old East High School in Phoenix.

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Northern Hills Community Church in Phoenix. We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.


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