The Bridgewater Congregational Church is undergoing long-needed repairs to its steeple and painting of the entire structure.

"Since 1810, the Bridgewater Congregational Church has been the sentry over our town center," Dennis MacDonald, chairman of the church's trustees, wrote in a letter to residents last month. "And for those 200-plus years this sturdy white church has helped define Bridgewater as quintessential New England.

"The time has come for important restoration, repair, and repainting ... so we are asking for your help."

And that help has been pouring in.

By mid-May, contributions toward the project had reached 20 percent of the estimated $40,000 cost.

"We are so grateful for and encouraged by the generosity of our community," said the church's minister, the Rev. Peter Hammond. "There is a strong spirit of caring and pulling together in Bridgewater to meet all kinds of challenges, and that spirit has shown itself again."

Professional steeplejacks from Valley Restoration of Torrington began their work recently, rigging the steeple with ropes and pulleys.

In addition to the painting, they will repair weather-related damage to the steeple and replace dozens of cracked and broken window panes with antique glass.

"As grand as these steeples are, directing our sight heavenward, they take an awful beating from rain, wind and snow," Hammond said.

It wasn't long after construction of the church began in 1810 that lightning struck the steeple, splintering it down to the roof, and delaying completion of the building for another 10 years.

Almost nothing has changed in the exterior appearance of the church since it was built and the interior has seen very few alterations, the most obvious one being the addition of stamped tin to the walls and ceiling in the late 19th century.

Contributions are still needed to help the church reach its goal. They may be mailed to BCC, P.O. Box 7, Bridgewater, CT 06752.

For more information, call 860-354-8283.