Wednesday, November 8, 2017

What can you buy for 57 cents?

Hattie Mae Wiatt (1877-1886) lived near Temple Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Located in a small house, the church was so crowded that pew-owners had to get admission tickets weeks in advance. One Sunday in 1884 the pastor, Rev. Russell Conwell, noticed Hattie and other children standing outside the Sunday School door. They couldn't enter because the room was full. Rev. Conwell put Hattie on his shoulders and took her inside, finding a small seat for her in a dark corner. He promised that someday there would be a Sunday School big enough for everyone.

Hattie Mae Wiatt

Two years later, Hattie contracted diptheria and died. After Rev. Conwell conducted her funeral, her parents gave him a small purse she kept under her pillow. Inside were 57 cents she'd saved to build a bigger Sunday School.

First, Conwell converted the money into pennies. Then, after telling his congregation Hattie's story, he auctioned off each penny. They earned $250, and 54 of the pennies were returned to the pastor  to be framed. Converting the $250 into pennies, he auctioned them off and raised enough money to buy the home next to the church, which became the new Sunday School building.

Some members then formed the Wiatt Mite Society (see Luke 21: 1-4), hoping to grow their church even larger by faith. Conwell approached the owner of a vacant lot downtown on Broad Street and asked the price. It cost $35,000. After hearing about Hattie, the owner lowed the price to $30,000, and agreed to accept Hattie's remaining 54 pennies as a downpayment. He later returned the pennies. After buying the lot, members erected victorian Philadelphia's first mega-church, seating over 4,500 people. When it opened in 1891, it was the largest Protestant church in the United States, with a spacious Sunday School. Meanwhile, the little house purchased with Hattie's auctioned pennies was not abandoned. Church members who were uneducated laborers asked Rev. Conwell to tutor them in the evenings. The Wiatt Mite Society donated books and chairs so Conwell could convert the former Sunday School building into classrooms for his tiny "Temple School." The school eventually became Temple University, which today has 35,000 students on nine campuses.

In 1912, twenty-six years after her death, Rev. Conwell remembered Hattie with these words. "When that little lad brought five loaves and two small fishes to be used by Christ for his great work, it was precisely the same thing Hattie Mae Wiatt did when she gave her 57 cents. The humblest of His servants do just as much for His kingdom as the mighty and the great, when they give all they have."

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