Police and the pastor of a York City church feared nine bronze handbells stolen from the church -- and worth about $2,600 -- had been melted down for scrap.
Still, the Rev. Jason Schwartzman wasn't entirely surprised when York City Police Officer Ryan Anderson returned all nine bells undamaged, in time for Otterbein United Methodist Church's Easter service.
"I believe if you give people the opportunity to do something good, they're going to do it. And they did," Schwartzman said. "There were just one or two people involved in actual crime, but a whole army of people involved in the solution."
Anderson didn't share the pastor's faith.
"I can't believe we got them back," he said. "I thought for sure they'd be melted down and at a scrap yard already.
Anderson has so far not made any arrests in the theft, but said he's following leads.
The theft: Nine choir bells from the 37-bell, three-octave set were stolen perhaps as far back as November, according to police, who said the theft was reported March 15.
Replacing the nine black-handled bronze bells would have cost about $2,600, Schwartzman said. The entire set is valued at more than $10,000.
Last month, Schwartzman told The York Dispatch the thief had a better option than turning to crime, because his congregation has a "huge heart" and would have at least listened to the person's situation, "to see what we could do."
Five of the bells ended up in a York-area musical instrument shop, where the owner listed them for sale on eBay, according to Anderson.
An Ohio man submitted the winning bid, but was later contacted by the music shop owner who canceled the sale and returned the man's money, saying he'd just learned the bells were stolen.
Calls made: The Ohio man called York City Police, and the music shop owner called the church, according to Anderson.
The other four bells had been seized in December by another police agency in York County as part of a different investigation, and police figured out the seized bells were the stolen ones being sought, according to Anderson.
The officer said he was able to return the last group of bells to the church on Good Friday.
Two days later, Otterbein UMC's bell choir performed "Celebrate this Glorious Day" at the congregation's Easter Sunday service, Schwartzman said.
He called the selection fitting.
Good news: Schwartzman shared the good news about the bells during his Easter sermon, which he said focused on "God's plan for redemption and renewal for all the world."
He said he wrote the piece before knowing the bells were being returned, so he was able to weave the news into the sermon.
"They were shocked, and I don't blame them," Schwartzman said. "As I'm telling the story, as it's unfolding, I just saw so much expression (in their faces). ... There was actual applause."
Shining light: The pastor said he fervently believes people are inherently good.
"It goes way beyond church bells, in my opinion," he said -- it's about good people coming together and doing the right thing, and about having a sense of community.
"Darkness can't overcome light unless we turn the lights out," Schwartzman said.
Otterbein UMC is located at 301 W. Philadelphia St.
Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call Officer Anderson at (717) 846-1234.
-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at email@example.com.