The peal of the bell at Nichols-Bethel United Methodist Church on Sunday will signal more than the call to worship.
For the church family, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Nichols-Bethel, it will mean the return of a piece of its past.
And for that, they have Merle Rager to thank. It was Rager and a group of youngsters who found the bell 19 years ago while doing a good deed.
The crew had decided to mow a field near the Odenton church after the regular maintenance man called in sick.
"Then we thought, 'What the heck, we'll mow around the church and get it done,' " Rager recalled.
That's when they struck the bell, lodged in dirt, shrouded in a thick growth of mint planted years ago.
"We looked inthere and saw this thing laying there," Rager said. "I got the kids,and we pulled it out."
The bell belonged to the Nichols-Bethel church and was lost in 1962 when the congregation moved its sanctuary from Lokus Road across Route 170 to Murray Road. It last chimed on Sept. 16, 1962.
Rager said it took five men to lug the 400-pound bellinto the church. After looking it over, they took it to a workman onDorsey Road, who sandblasted away 29 years of dirt and grime.
Children from the church spent two weeks polishing it.
The well-traveled bell still had another trip to make. Trying to determine its value, the church asked the McShane Bell Foundry Co. in Glen Burnie to inspect it.
The bell was one of McShane's own, cast more than 100 years
ago. It was worth $4,000.
Back to the church it went, whereit sat in a room next to the alter until just a few months ago.
Church officials and historians decided it was time to restore the bell to its natural spot, up in the tower. Workers finished the job about a month ago.
The bell will chime Sunday -- 100 years and two days after the date inscribed on its flared side.
"It was interestingpiecing the history together," said Francis Bingen, chairwoman of the Nichols Historical Committee. "I'm not a native of Maryland. I've only gone to this church since 1967. But I've been fascinated by this."
How the bell got separated from its home remains a mystery. Rager said he thinks that when the old church was demolished, the bell came down with the walls. How it got across the road . . . well, no oneseems to know.
Reuniting the bell and its congregation was the work of many. Rager, who will be at Sunday's ceremony, said he often thinks about how the bell was found and restored.
"There was a lot of people involved in it," he said. "I often wonder where all those kids are who took the time to clean it. I think about them a lot. It's kind of nice to see something like that has been preserved. And it will be there for many years after we're gone."
Rager thinks of another person, too.
"I have a sentimental thing about the bell. My dad was in World War I, stationed at Fort Meade. I feel that at one time, he may have heard the bell while stationed there. People probably won't remember the story of finding the thing, but they will hear thebell."