First Congregational Church

Camden, Maine

An open and affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ

The Steeple Preservation Project

First Congregational Church, UCC, of Camden at 55 Elm Street is launching a $330,000 project to restore the exterior of its steeple and spire beginning July 26, 2021. The project assures that the steeple and spire will continue to inspire generations as it has for the past 149 years.

The work will require intricate staging to reach to the 110 foot peak of the spire. The work will be done by Taylor-Made Builders, Inc., the lead firm responsible for the 2017 totally new composite spire at the Chestnut Street Baptist Church. Unlike the Baptist church spire, the structure of the First Congregational Church steeple and spire is structurally sound, so only sheathing will need to be replaced. Composite materials in the exact configuration of the present wood sheathing will be used.

First Congregational Church, UCC, of Camden, established in 1805, has a long and active history as a part of the Camden Community. Its congregants met originally in the 1799 Meeting House located 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 which still rings in the present steeple was purchased for that bell tower in 1835.

The Church was extensively modified, including the addition of the current steeple and spire, between 1870 and 1872. 149 years later, the interior of the structure remains untouched and is structurally sound. The exterior of the steeple and spire was re-sheathed in 1949, 77 years after it was built — and now 72 years later, it needs to be re-sheathed again. This time its restoration will feature composite material to protect against the ravages of weather to make it last beyond 72 years. The Church has launched an Inspiring Generations campaign to raise at least half of the funds from its congregation and from the community.

The steeple houses Verizon transmission equipment which is being relocated to a temporary facility on the rear of the church grounds. Rent from Verizon provides income to the Church. This income enhances the Church's mission work, and thus preservation of the steeple is important on many levels.

The Steeple Story

Our 12-minute video is the story of our steeple, how steeples came into being, and how steeples are constructed. It was made by a wonderful local filmmaker Dale Schierholt and is narrated by our own Roger Burke.

Through drone footage taken by Todd Anderson, you will have the opportunity to see the exterior damage that alerted the Trustees to start our initiative to restore the steeple.

For those of you who have never been inside a steeple, you will have a trip up and through the interior of our steeple and will view the bell that has been a part of our church life since 1835.

You are definitely in for a treat!

A Steeple Story from Dale Schierholt on Vimeo.

If you would like to be part of this exciting project to raise $150,000 toward the preservation of our steeple, start by simply clicking our donation button:

Make a Donation

Reaching for the Heavens

A Steeple Story for the Generations

In the fall of 2018 a few of us as Trustees were talking in the parking lot, and we saw a few dark spots on the ribbing of the steeple's spire. We didn't yet know what we were looking at—but we knew it was going to need our attention. Through conscientious exploration we now have the knowledge to proceed with the repair and the contractor who will do it with care—subject to your approval of the budget at the Annual Meeting. If you haven't read the Steeple Report by the Chair of Trustees in the annual report, please do, as it gives the full extent of our preparations.

This project has been developed and reviewed with Cabinet and involves our choosing one of three options for this repair. Option 1 was simply to patch and repaint the steeple. Our last repainting was in 2012 and barely lasted 8 years. Option 2 was to sheathe the entire steeple and spire with composite materials that will last between 50 and 100 years. Option 3 was to replace the entire steeple and was deemed unnecessary by the experts we consulted. We have chosen Option 2 and strongly recommend that this project be done NOW so that we do not run the risk of suffering additional expense if weather were to get into the steeple and cause rot or interior deterioration. This would also impact our lease with Verizon which produces $27,000 a year for us.

The cost for the steeple is expected to be $319,000 plus contingency funds of an additional $40,000. In light of the many difficulties brought to our community by COVID, including financial issues as well as emotional ones, we are especially grateful that careful financial management and the generous care and concern of all those who came before us have provided us with our existing unrestricted reserve funds and our endowment funds. At this time we are recommending that we pay in full for this steeple project out of the unrestricted reserve funds as well as use some income from our endowment. It is our intention to establish a Steeple Fund and campaign over the next three years to raise funds which will then replenish at least half of the funds we take out for this project.

In many ways your Trustees wish that this expenditure wasn't necessary and that the church had never changed its original building. The 1799 meeting house eventually led to the formation of our church in that building in 1805. And in 1834 our present sanctuary was constructed with its bell tower but no large steeple or spire.

But as both the community and the church grew, height became a way to keep an eye to the heavens. Vertical spires lifted us up. They became a navigational aid, both literally and figuratively, leading to a place of security and hope for the community. The architecture of the New England Protestant Church followed the architectural designs of Bullfinch, Gibbs, Wren, and Benjamin where verticality added harmony. Our church community stepped up to make needed repairs in 1870-1872 and added the steeple and spire at that time. For those of us who have been up and in our steeple and spire, it is a thing of beauty, built by men whom we believe were shipwrights and master carpenters.

This is the same steeple we have now and which we need to protect, just as it has been protected over the last 148 years by successive congregations which knew of its importance as a community symbol in Camden.

The church underwent extensive renovations in 1925 when it became a white New England church. Photographer Steve Rosenthal wrote a book "White on White, Churches of Rural New England” in which he says

Collectively they are as important to the cultural and architectural history of these villages as are the great cathedrals to the cities of Europe. Regardless of one's religious persuasion, one cannot help but be moved by their presence, as they are a part of all of us.

So now it is our turn. Our steeple and spire have served as a beacon over all these years to lead one to our church and to the work that we do to offer spirituality, hope, security, and openness to our community.

We have established a committee of 9 members and friends to lead this 3-year campaign, and we look forward to getting back to you shortly with plans of effective opportunities for us all to participate in this endeavor over the next 3 years.

I wish that there was a real pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. But I do believe that God was telling us that there is gold within the heart of this community and that with hard work and a commitment to our future that we will continue to serve as a beacon in our Camden community, both literally and figuratively.

Thank you. And you will be hearing from us.

John Hufnagel
Chair of Trustees

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