As the sun rises Easter Sunday morning, Christians will gather on the local waterfront to greet the start of another day with prayers and song in celebration of their transcendent holiday of rebirth.

Sunrise Easter services on beaches in Fairfield and Westport attract worshippers in both communities to celebrate their belief in Christ's resurrection from the dead, as sea breezes and rippling waves set the atmosphere of nature's steady rhythms.

The sunrise services attract people from afar, as well as those who rarely, if ever, step inside a church, according to the Rev. David W. Spollett of First Church Congregational in Fairfield.

"We have people that come from as far away as Winsted who used to live in Fairfield," he said. "Half of the people who gather are members of our church. The other half is folks from the community who know about our service and tradition and want to be part of it and, of course, they're welcome."

The Fairfield service will take place 5:45 a.m. at the end of Jennings Beach, where Beach Road meets Fairfield Beach Road.

The sunrise service has been an Easter tradition at First Church Congregational since 1966.

"The gospel stories tell us that the women went to the tomb at dawn, so we thought we would do what the women did," Spollett said. "We would meet the rising sun in order to celebrate the resurrection of Christ."

A few miles over the town line in Westport, there will be an ecumenical Easter sunrise service organized by churches of three denominations -- Saugatuck Congregational Church, Greens Farms Congregational Church and the United Methodist Church of Westport and Weston. That service will start at 6:15 a.m. by the cannons at Compo Beach.

For some, an outdoor service provides special atmosphere for the Easter celebration, "because we are in the midst of life, as opposed to separated from it," said the Rev. Howie Tobak of Saugatuck Congregational Church, who will be leading the Westport service.

"We get to experience its fullness in a way that we sometimes miss."

Joy Nazarro, who has attended the First Church sunrise service in Fairfield at least a dozen times, looks forward to it every year.

"I think it's such a wonderful community gathering because it's not just First Church members that attend," she said. "You're out on the beach. It's beautiful being out in nature. And when the weather's nice, the sunrise is absolutely beautiful. It's just a great place to have moments of prayer, meditation and to hear the word of God while sharing it with other members and community people."

Spollett said there's a "deep sense of community with everyone who gathers."

When those who do not regularly attend church come to the sunrise service, Spollett said that indicates they're "open to the spirit" and also recognize that "our congregation is open to all people, regardless of who they are or where they are on life's journey."

The sunrise services typically are not lengthy.

Westport's service, for example, is expected to last no longer than one-half hour. It will feature a reflection and two hymns, as well as a bonfire that Boy Scout Troop 39 will start before the service begins.

Tobak said that people often are too busy in their lives to take in a church service, so the sunrise service is an opportunity to experience something they usually miss. Non-church goers also come out because, "It's for a specific purpose and people enjoy coming out for a celebration, especially when it's in the midst of life," Tobak said.

Weather conditions vary from year to year, since Easter can fall on the calendar anytime from early March to late April. Forecasts for this Sunday indicate that rain is possible.

Despite such predictions, Tobak hopes for solid attendance, although the sunrise event is also taking place the same week that Westport students and families are on spring vacation.

Longtime Westporter Larry Aasen encourages anyone who has not attended a sunrise Easter service to make the effort. "It's worth getting up," he said. "It's so beautiful. It makes you feel good."

And for those not used to getting up so early, Aasen pointed out they can always return to bed when it wraps up. "I think I've done that," he said.

In addition, Trinity Baptist Church and Southport Congregational Church, both in Fairfield, also plan Easter services on the shoreline a little later in the morning. Trinity's service takes place at 7 a.m. at Jennings Beach and Southport Congregational's is at 8 a.m. on Sasco Beach.