The prominent steeple and spire of the First Congregational Church of Camden is now surrounded by net-covered staging in preparation for preservation of the exterior, which has started to show damage from the elements.

Taylor-Made Builders has been chosen to do the work, which is expected to cost $330,000 and take three months to complete.

A Church Steeple Preservation Committee that has been formed to oversee the construction and fundraising from the congregation and community is underway. The goal is to raise $150,000 towards the cost of the work, though anything raised above that will add to funds for the church’s health and missions programs, according to John Hufnagel, chair of Trustees, who is leading the project.

The restoration involves sheathing the entire steeple and spire, which reaches a height of 110 feet. Hufnagle has reported to the congregation that the restoration option chosen is to replace the exterior with composite materials, in the exact configuration of the present structure. The finished work is expected to last between 50 and 100 years.

The recommendation was to undertake the project now, to prevent the elements from getting into the steeple and causing rot or interior deterioration, he explained.

The First Congregational Church  is a very special place for Amy Rollins, who grew up going to the church, and was married there. Since 1999, she has been active in committees and the bell choir and now serves as moderator, a two-year position. Being part of the steeple preservation project is important to her, as the project is tangible and the church is such a presence in the community, she said.

The Church was established in 1805 as a Congregational Church (now United Church of Christ). Its congregants originally met in the 1799 Meeting House (now gone) on the northeast side of Park and Elm streets. The Church relocated to its present location in 1832 and built what is currently the sanctuary between 1832 and 1834. This early Church had a bell tower, and the large bell that still rings in the present steeple was purchased for the tower in 1835. From 1870-72, the Church was extensively modified around the original sanctuary and the steeple and spire were constructed.

One hundred and forty-nine years later, the interior of the structure remains untouched and is structurally sound. The exterior of the steeple and spire was re-sheathed only once in 1949, 77 years after it was built.

The steeple also houses Verizon communications equipment that produces annual revenue of $27,000, used to enhance the church’s mission work. The equipment has been temporarily removed from the steeple, and relocated behind the church.

The Steeple Preservation Committee has made a short film, with the help of local filmmaker Dale Schierholt. “A Steeple Story”¬†takes viewers on an interior and exterior walk around the steeple while telling the story of how the iconic New England steeple was constructed. It is available on the Church’s website and Facebook pages along with other information about the project.

Contributions for the preservation work can be made electronically on the church website, www.camdenucc.org, through the donate button in the upper right hand corner. Donors can request a pledge form by calling the church at 236-4821. Contributions also can be mailed to the First Congregational Church at 55 Elm St., Camden, Maine 04843, and need to specify that the gift is for The Steeple Preservation.