Worshippers at a church in East Yorkshire discovered that their bell had been stolen when it failed to ring for a Sunday service.
Rev Martin Faulkner said thieves ransacked St Matthew's in Withernsea last Monday, causing serious damage to a set of cellar doors.
However, the damage failed to arouse suspicion amongst the leaders - in fact, the doors had been struck by the falling church bell when the thieves let it drop from 30ft above.
It "didn't occur to us to look up," Rev Faulkner told the BBC.
The thieves are thought to have hoisted the bell into the church's wheelie bin to take it away.
Rev Faulkner said the combined cost of the bell and the interior damage was estimated at £8,000. He said the church is requesting that the bell be returned with "no questions asked".
"The loss of the bell will be felt right across the community and is likely to be a very costly repair when included with the damage to the belfry, cellar and cellar outbuilding," Rev Faulkner added.
The bell "has a special place in the hearts of the Withernsea community", the vicar said.
Humberside Police are appealing for information about the theft, which took place overnight on 4th October.
"At the time of reporting it was not thought that anything had been stolen in the church and that the extensive damage to the cellar and doors were the main areas of concern," the police said.
"However, it has now been discovered that the historic church bell has been taken."