On the walls of the Baptist Temple Church (now Grace Baptist Church) in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, you’d find the picture of a little girl named Hattie May Wiatt. Her picture is precious. Her story is priceless.
In the early 1900’s, Hattie May Wiatt was like most other elementary age children of her time. On Sundays, she went to Sunday school and church. Her pastor was Russell H. Conwell, the famous Baptist pastor and author of the bestselling book, Acres of Diamonds. The building that housed the church was unfortunately small and very crowded. In fact, many times they’d give out tickets of admission several weeks in advance for each of their services.
One particular Sunday, Pastor Conwell said as he walked up the street towards the church, he noticed a large number of children outside who were upset they couldn’t get in due to the large number of children who were already in the Sunday school rooms. Some were trying to decide whether to stay and try to get in or just go back home. One of the little girls standing there was Hattie May Wiatt, books in hand along with her offering. Pastor Conwell said he took Hattie May in his arms, lifting her to his shoulder and carried her inside the building to a Sunday school room, placing her in the only remaining seat in the corner.
The next day, as he was making his way to church, he walked by Hattie’s house as she was on her way to school. He stopped and said, “Hattie, we are going to have a larger Sunday school room soon.” She replied, “I hope you will.” “Well,” Pastor Conwell said, “When we get the money with which to erect a Sunday school building, we are going to construct one large enough to get all the little children in, and we are going to begin very soon to raise the money for it.”
At the time, Pastor Conwell later admitted, there really was no formal plan for such a building yet. It was just a vision in his mind. But he was trying to encourage Hattie and hoped she’d pass the word to others. The next day, he received word that Hattie had become very sick and the family asked him to come and pray for her. As he walked up the steps to her home, he prayed for her but his heart ached knowing, somehow, she was not going to recover.
Later that week, Hattie May Wiatt died. After the funeral, her mother handed Pastor Conwell a little bag with 57¢ inside. Mrs. Wiatt explained that Hattie had been wanting to give that money for the new Sunday school building at the church. Pastor Conwell converted the money into 57 pennies. On Sunday, he stood in the pulpit announcing to the congregation that he had the first 57¢ towards the new Sunday school building. He offered the coins for sale and received $250.00. (Remember, this was the early 1900’s.) 54 of the original 57 pennies were returned to the pastor and he put them in a frame where they could be on display.
With the $250.00 received for the original 57¢, the church was able to purchase a house just north of their building. They tried to purchase an additional lot and when told by the realtor it would cost $30,000, they said they only had 54¢ and asked for a mortgage on the rest. Obviously moved and inspired by the story of Hattie May Wiatt’s contribution, the realtor accepted the framed 54¢ for the property and eventually returned it to the church as a gift.
Within a period of less than five years, as her story was shared again and again, Hattie’s gift had grown to over a quarter of a million dollars. The church grew to over 5600 members and her story inspired such generosity, they were able to start Temple University and Temple University Hospital (formerly Samaritan Hospital).
Over the years, because of little Hattie May Wiatt, millions of people have been inspired and moved to give millions of dollars to Christian causes.
This Christmas season, let me encourage you to give to your church in such a way that should your story be told, like Hattie’s, it would honor the Lord and inspire the world.
© 2021. Barry L. Cameron