Organizers of a local rite of spring are banking on the Lord rather than Mother Nature to provide sunshine and the pink-and-white canopy of dogwood blossoms to set the picture-perfect scene for the 80th Dogwood Festival this weekend on the grounds of the historic Greenfield Hill Congregational Church.

"Last year, we didn't have any dogwoods (in bloom). Rev. David Rowe (one of the church pastors) is in charge of prayer for good weather and dogwoods," said Lori Fernandes, chairwoman of this year's event, which will include familiar traditions and new features during the popular three-day fest from Friday through Sunday.

The event annually allows church members to share the beauty of their historic hill with the thousands of visitors who descend on the church at 1045 Old Academy Road and its neighborhood hoping to see an explosion of pink-and-white petals, Fernandes said.

Over eight decades, it's come a long way from its humble beginnings, still ranking among Fairfield's most popular tourist attractions every year. The first festival in 1936 consisted of a card table set up on the church lawn, where members of the church Women's Guild sold handmade crafts and fudge.

"This is our 80th anniversary. That's amazing that we've been able to sustain the festival," said Marcia Carothers, director of Christian education for the church. She called the festival "a kaleidoscope of lenses. You get a different view, spin, take on the value or meaning of the festival. There's something for everyone."

The festival has evolved over the years. Carothers said 30 years ago, when she first became involved, the event was spread over three weekends. It since has been condensed to three days. She also remembers large coach buses lumbering up the hill bringing thousands of people from throughout Connecticut and even New York to view the blossoms.

The large buses are long gone, but thousands of people still flock to the church grounds for the popular event, which features more than 50 juried crafters and artists from throughout New England, food booths, walking tours of historic sites, musical performances, children's games, a plant and garden boutique, the Dogwood Dash -- a two-mile family fun run around Greenfield Hill, and a Mini Dash for kids ages 2 through 7. Both races take place on the morning of May 2.

Also featured is Kate's Corner and Antiques, the church-wide "tag sale," and Kate's Clothes boutique.

During the Sunday church service on the festival's final day, the organizers will honor all the past Dogwood Festival chairmen.

"We traced as far as we can go back in the records and reached out (to former chairpersons)," Fernandes said. Some of them will attend the service.

A catered luncheon May 1 in the Blossom Cafe will feature a representative of Fairfield-based Bigelow Tea to talk about the history of tea.

Gone this year is the usual indoor art show.

To commemorate this year's 80th anniversary, Fairfield artist Karl Soderlund has done an original painting of the Greenfield Congregational Church; 225 limited-edition prints of the work will be available for sale at the festival for $399 with proceeds going to charity, Fernandes said.

"He made us a beautiful painting," she said.

Proceeds from the Dogwood Festival are used to support local, national and international charities that help families and at-risk children, the homeless and other civic endeavors.

Next year, organizers plan to return to another long-held tradition that was changed several years ago. The Dogwood Festival will return to Mothers Day weekend, May 6-8, as it had been for many years.

"We got away from it for a while. We'd like to bring that back," Fernandes said.

Admission to the festival is free, and there is free shuttle bus parking nearby.

For more information about the 80th annual Dogwood Festival, visit www.greenfieldhillchurch.com.