'To greet the day on Easter is a gift': Sunrise service returns to Compo Beach

WESTPORT — After the pandemic sidelined this special religious event last year, close to 75 people were pleased and grateful to be back at Compo Beach for the annual Easter Sunday sunrise service.

“We could not gather in this place last year,” Thomas Burke, associate minister with the Norfield Congregational Church in Weston, told the assembly. “We could not feel the warmth of the sun.”

In the spirit of the holiday, however, the tradition was resurrected, thanks to the joint work of four churches: Greens Farms Congregational, Saugatuck Congregational, United Methodist of Westport, and Norfield.

As it does each year, the foundation of the service began around 5:30 a.m. with the making of the central fire pit by Rick and Totney Benson, the perennial first arrivals at the event.

“We’re grateful to be back at the beach,” Totney Benson said. “It’s such a lovely tradition.”

For many, the service is a reflection of their families’ tradition, having attended similar Easter services growing up.

“I would wake up with my mom and go to the sunrise service,” said Jack Mahoney, who grew up in Granby and is now a ministry intern at Saugatuck.

“I appreciate getting to share an older tradition in a new way,” he said.

The setting is also a draw.

“Look at the backdrop,” Becky Stambaugh, youth minister at Greens Farms, said as she motioned to the pastel rainbow slowing burgeoning in the eastern sky.

She said the sight reflected “the beauty of the service and the beauty of the story.”

“It’s just a beautiful way to begin the day and gather with the community,” said Heather Sinclair, pastor at United Methodist.

For many the service is worth the early rise.

“Every year the alarm goes off and it feels very early,” said Rev. Alison Patton of Saugatuck, “but when I step out on the beach and I can see the moon setting and the sun rising, it is an astonishing thing. To greet the day on Easter is a gift and to do it with others is even better.”