Once upon a time there was a little girl named Hattie May Wiatt. She lived in a house near her church in Philadelphia. It was a small church and very crowded. It was so small that people had to get admission tickets so as to take their turn going to church. One day a group of children were waiting outside to get into the Sunday School, but it too was already full. The children waiting were not very happy. One of the little children was Hattie May Wiatt. She had in her hand an offering and some books. She was debating on whether or not to wait or just go back home. Then all of a sudden Pastor Conwell happened by. He took her up in his arms and put her on his shoulder. She held on to his head tightly as he carried her through the crowd in the hall and into the Sunday school room. There was room for her in a chair away back in a corner.
The next morning as the pastor came down to the church from his home he passed by the Wiatt’s house, and met Hattie coming up the street on her way to school. As they met he told Hattie of his hopes that they would soon have a larger Sunday School room. She hoped they would too. Little Hattie was afraid to go to Sunday School alone because it was so crowded. The pastor repeated his dream to build a larger one soon and said he was only waiting for enough money to build a school building large enough to get all the little children in.
A couple of years later Hattie became very sick, and Pastor Conwell went to her home to see her. He prayed with her and walked up the street praying for the little girl as well. Somehow he knew it would not be long. And so it was that the sad day eventually came and Hattie May Wiatt died. Before she died Hattie had saved up 57 cents to start the Sunday School. She had it in a little bag and her mother handed it to the pastor. He took it to the church that week and announced that the church had the first gift toward the new Sunday school building. It was a gift from little Hattie May Wiatt who had gone on ahead of everyone else into the shining world that God has prepared for us.
Pastor Conwell then changed all the money into pennies and offered them for sale. He received about $250 for the 57 pennies, and 54 of those cents were returned. He then had the remaining 54 cents put in a frame where they could be seen by everyone. Then he took the $250 and changed it into pennies. By selling those pennies, the church received enough money to buy the house next door. The Wiatt Mite Society was formed to honor the small 57 cent mite given by Hattie. It owned the new building which became a department of the Sunday school.
But the crowds kept growing because in those days church was very important to people. Pastor Russell H. Conwell and the people remembered Hattie and knew that with a small offering like hers and faith anything was possible. The people had faith in God and believed God could build a larger church even though they did not even have money for a down payment. Some even had enough faith to say they ought to build on the main road.
Mr. Baird owned some nice land on Broad Street and Pastor Conwell asked him what he wanted for it. He said that he wanted $30,000 which might be worth almost a million today. Pastor Conwell told him that the church had only 54 cents toward the $30,000 but that they were foolish enough to think that some time the church would own that lot. Later the pastor went and asked Mr. Baird if he would hold the lot for five years. Mr. Baird said that he had been thinking about it and decided to lower his price to $25,000 and that he would take the 54 cents as the first payment. The church could give him a mortgage for the rest at 5% interest. So the pastor left the 54 cents with Mr. Baird who later returned it as a gift. So the church bought the lot, and began a new church building. Eventually the church turned the house purchased by the sale of the 57 cents into the first of many educational buildings which eventually became Temple University.
It all began with Hattie May Wiatt, a schoolgirl from a hard-working Philadelphia family. Her family was not wealthy but God multiplied her 57 cents into a large church of thousands, Philadelphia’s Temple University, the Samaritan Hospital, the Garretson Hospital and untold deeds of Christian kindness. Think of the people who have earned degrees and now serve their communities in law, medicine, dentistry, theology, and teaching because one little girl Hattie May Wiatt saved her 57 cents. She laid the foundations. Never underestimate what great things can be done by the smallest of gifts given in faith.
When Jesus comes back he will say ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ And so when we give to little children or those in need at Christmas time we are giving to Jesus. But giving is not just for Christmas. It is a way of life.