ZEPHYRHILLS — For quite some time, the 500-pound bell encased in the steeple at First United Methodist Church on Fifth Avenue was silent due to mechanical problems. It's unclear when it last rang with purpose.
It could have been a decade or perhaps even two, church members and staff say. On Sunday, though, it will ring in grand jubilation as the church celebrates its centennial.
What started as 30 members meeting with the Rev. N.J. Hawley in the dining room of a home in 1912 has grown into a church that is more than 1,000 members strong. And at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at the church community members will celebrate First United Methodist's past, present and future.
"This celebration, it's not an event on a calendar as much as it is a mile marker on the heart," said the Rev. Ken Minton, who became the church's 33rd pastor a few years ago.
The celebration combines the usual three Sunday services into one, featuring elements from traditional and contemporary services, and will be followed by a luncheon feast. Minton's message will be one about the 12 apostles and how "ordinary people who know an extraordinary Christ do amazing things."
His hope for First United Methodist's future is that its people continue to embrace their faith and the community even in troubled times.
"Bottom line, what we've learned over the past 100 years is that we keep pressing on and Sunday is the first day of the next 100 years," Minton said earlier this week at the church offices.
Gathered with him were centennial planning committee members Judy Sibley, Bobbie Crosby and Susan Smith, all 66 and part of the Zephyrhills High class of 1963. None ever imagined they would plan their church's 100th anniversary.
"We've all been together so long, we are so blessed," said Mrs. Smith.
"It's family," said Mrs. Sibley, whose late father-in-law, Roger Sibley Sr., was the construction superintendent for the current sanctuary that opened on June 13, 1963.
The three women are thrilled to be a part of the celebration.
"I think it will be very nice to be one and worship as one congregation," said Mrs. Crosby, who was the organist for the first service in the new sanctuary.
While they say it's the people who make up the church, they are also pleased that pieces of the past, such as stained-glass windows, wooden chairs and, of course, the original bell, are spread out throughout buildings on the church campus in the heart of downtown.
The bell is the same one that rang from the belfry of the original 1914 sanctuary on 10th Street, where the church's parking lot now sits.
On Wednesday, Jerry Tadlock, director of student ministries, made the precarious climb inside the steeple to examine the bell.
"When I saw the bell it looked like it was frozen completely, completely weathered and rusty," Tadlock said, adding that he gave it a push not expecting it to move. "It was perfect. It moved slowly and loudly."
His ears didn't stop ringing for hours. As in the old days, the bell will now ring manually by a rope dropped through the steeple.
Shirley Trebour, 83, who has attended the church since the 1930s, recalls her grandfather ringing the bell each Sunday in such a singsong way that it seemed to be speaking to the community.
"The bell said, 'Come to church. Come to church,'" she said.
The next ringer never seemed to get the hang of it.
"It just went ding-dong," Mrs. Trebour recalled.
But on Sunday, the bell will have another message: The church is still going strong.