The box they pulled from the stone looked ordinary enough: a 12-inch rectangle, a silver-colored tin container, dented and rusted from years of being encased in cement.
But nearly 80 people flipped up their collars against the cool breeze yesterday and stood in front of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in New Windsor to catch a glimpse of it -- and peek into the lives of their forefathers nearly a century ago.
It was a sentimental moment for the congregation, which yesterday celebrated their church's 150th anniversary. Some parishioners wiped tears from their eyes as its history unfolded from the box in the form of newspapers, letters, diaries and notes.
"What faith these people must have had," said the Rev. Bernard Keels, northwest superintendent of the United Methodist Church, as the Rev. Charles H. Acker Jr. of St. Paul's pulled papers from the box. "They put these things here without knowing we'd be here today to praise their work, without knowing the church survived."
The bulk of the items in the box -- including a list of subscribers to the church newsletter, names of town officials and a list of contributors to the church's building fund -- were well preserved since being placed there July 3, 1897.
Several editions of period publications, such as the Democratic Advocate and The American Sentinel, both published in Westminster, were brown with age, but legible and virtually intact.
The sunlight shimmered and reflected off the 1897 nickels and pennies that shone like newly minted coins.
The church's 150th anniversary activities -- such as "Bring a Friend Day" in which the congregation tried to raise the attendance one Sunday to 150 worshipers -- have been held on the third Sunday of each month since October 1992.
Each of those services has begun with six chimes from the church organ and ended with six tolls of the commemorative bell, a gift from Mrs. D. H. Maynard when the building was completed in 1897.
Yesterday, six children each rang a ceremonial bell once at the end of the service to culminate the yearlong ceremony and ring the bell a total of 150 times in recognition of the church's 1 1/2 centuries of existence.
The celebration yesterday included the participation of several former pastors of the church, and an address by Mr. Keels. He told the congregation that, while the problems facing the church have changed since it was founded, God's power has been constant.
The congregation also participated in two dedication ceremonies when a commemorative bell was donated by longtime resident and member Mary Crawmer. Two small trees were donated by Ronald and Glenda Warehime in the names of their children, Russell and Jenny.
St. Paul's was organized by the followers of Robert Strawbridge in 1843, but the current building was not constructed until more than 50 years later.
Some of the descendants of the original congregation are still members of the church, Mr. Acker said.
The materials in the cornerstone will be copied and returned there within the next few weeks along with current information about the town and the church and its ministry.
"This gives us an idea of what was happening at the time, what their activities were like and how they lived," Mr. Acker said of the information in the cornerstone.
"We will do the same thing when we put in our things," he said. "We want to have something to show them when the cornerstone is opened again, maybe in the next 50 years."