CAPE ELIZABETH — Worshippers gathered overlooking Portland Head Light and Casco Bay early Sunday to celebrate Easter and watch the sun rise.

The unseasonably warm temperatures drew more than 130 people to the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ’s annual sunrise service at Fort Williams Park. At the start of the Protestant service, the Rev. John McCall asked those in attendance if they were ready for the first hymn.

“Are you all in tune?” McCall asked, standing on a rock overlooking the crowd.

The crowd began singing the closing hymn.

“Hold it,” McCall said, laughing. “I was on the wrong page.”

As worshippers sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” the sky began to lighten. During the service, some worshippers went to the edge of the walking path overlooking Casco Bay to take pictures of the sunrise.

“It was really breathtaking,” McCall said.

Kristen Silvia of South Portland said celebrating Easter in the natural setting at Fort Williams helped her feel closer to God.

“It made the Easter message more meaningful to me,” Silvia said after the service. “This church has a great sense of community. I appreciated looking around and seeing a lot of people from the church, but there were people I’ve never seen before. There was a broader community there, which felt really good to me.”

The South Portland church has held an Easter sunrise service for the past 30 to 40 years, McCall said. About half the worshippers at the service were church members.

The faithful came from as far as Saskatchewan to attend the service. McCall said it affirms his belief that what he and other church members are doing is about God.

“I believe that any opportunity we have as Christians to invite others to turn our focus and attention to God is an opportunity, which we need to be open to,” he said. “The church is not just about taking care of our internal daily details, it’s much larger. It’s about welcoming people in God’s spirit.”

Ed Saxby, a church member, handed out church bulletins before the service and greeted worshippers walking through the grass.

“It was a simple, beautiful and elegant service,” Saxby said after the service. “It was a lovely sunrise.”

Mike Kasputes of Cape Elizabeth held his coffee mug in one hand and a Bible in the other.

“I think it’s important to experience your faith in an element that’s not attached to a building,” Kasputes said. “To have a group of people share in that commonality or belief creates another family experience.”

Pam Herrmann of Cape Elizabeth attended the service with her daughter.

“I thought it was wonderful,” Herrmann said. “It’s wonderful to see all these people here and to see the beautiful sunrise.”

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

[email protected]