PITTSFIELD -- The South Congregational Church is well on its way to raising $200,000 -- and possibly more -- to pay for improvements necessary to keep serving the social, economical and spiritual needs of the city.

The church's first capital campaign in more than 20 years has already received 28 major gifts totaling $160,542, according to church officials.

"The campaign will strengthen our mission and hopefully involve more families so we can move forward," said fundraiser co-chair Mary Rentz during a kick-off luncheon over the weekend.

Rentz noted the capital campaign is expected to wrap up in mid-March, with contributors expected to follow through on their pledges over the next three years. With the fundraiser already at 80 percent of the $200,000 mark, organizers hope to raise an additional $25,000 toward unexpected costs and establishing a capital maintenance fund.

Church leaders say the 165-year-old church and 80-year-old Parish House on South Street need significant upgrades that include roof and steeple repairs, an exterior paint job and a revamped kitchen that provides meals for weekly community dinners and other functions.

"If you get up close to look at the steeple, it's scary," said campaign co-chair John Robertson. "We need to spruce things up before they get beyond repair."

He noted the projects have been prioritized and will be done as the money comes in.

Church pastor, Rev. Joel Huntington, says the capital improvements are necessary if his congregation is to maintain and expand it's mission in the future. Besides Sunday service and school, Huntington noted nearly 20 church groups and community-based organizations regularly meet at South Congregational. Church volunteers also provide on-going programs and services such as the weekly food pantry -- serving 400 families each week -- a thrift shop and partnership with Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity that benefit the entire city.

"There is so much stuff that goes on in the church, that's why we need to keep it going," he said.

The planned upgrades are actually an extension of major improvements that began nearly two years ago, according to church officials. Thanks to a pair of memorial gifts totaling $160,000, 42 new storm windows were installed in the Parish House, the church parking lot and driveway were repaved and a modern-day walk-in refrigerator/freezer was installed in the kitchen.

"Those gifts gave us the impetus to go out and do a feasibility study of more things we needed to do," Robertson said in an Eagle interview prior to the luncheon.

With only 200 members, the church hopes those with a connection to South Congregational will also contribute to the campaign.

"A lot of people do use the church and we have couples who were married here years ago; so we're encouraging others to get on board and help out," said Jean Robertson, John Robertson's wife and chairwoman of the church's mission board.

Anyone wishing to contribute can send a check payable to: South Congregational Church Capital Campaign, 110 South St., Pittsfield, Mass. 01201.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233