imyeyes-banner-sqIn My EyesBy Edward B. Antonio

The temple made of 57 cents

You heard of amazing stories performed by kids, fellas.

At least this one is different from the ones we usually read every day. You eat eggs three times a day and that’s Covid-19 news, not only boring but very, very boring.

In these times of crisis when we are challenged by our daily lack of food or fear of being infected, sometimes we need a dose of confidence to continue fighting on.

Children are a delight in every home. They fill the four corners of the house with their laughter and tantrums so much so that once they started frolicking around, all stress and fatigue vanish.

One of the most amazing stories I came into touch lately is the story of an 11-year old kid who swam the English Channel. Ever since the English Channel was first swum without assistance by Captain Matthew Webb in 1875, swimming the approximately 34 kilometers (21 mi) between England and France has been a high-profile way for people to prove their athleticism. Swimming that distance is both incredibly taxing and dangerous. Among the people who have tried it, six of them have died in the attempt, even while accompanied by safety personnel.

So you wouldn’t expect a kid to be allowed to try it. Nevertheless, in 1988, United Kingdom citizen Thomas Gregory set out from France to swim to Shakespeare Beach at only age 11. Two weeks earlier, a 20-year-old swimming expert had died in a similar attempt.

With a crossing time of roughly 11.75 hours, Gregory became the youngest person to swim the channel, beating the previous record-holder’s time by about three hours and his age by almost three months. When Gregory arrived at Dover, the first thing he said was that he wanted to sleep for two days, which is one of the more understandable statements in the history of sports.

As of this year, he still holds the record as the youngest person to have done so. Gregory’s coming-of-age story about being the youngest person to swim the English Channel, was later retold in a book, A Boy in the Water.

Well, that’s in sports, fellas.

But this one’s an achievement even to the child’s death – the story of the temple made of 57 pennies.

The penny is a US coin worth one cent. One hundred pennies make a dollar. One cent can be written 1¢ or $0.01.

This true story is from a sermon delivered in December 1912 by Russell H. Conwell, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia. He tells the story of his former church home and his encounter there with a little girl named Hattie May Wiatt.

Hattie May Wiatt lived near a church where the Sunday School was very crowded. As head of the church, Rev. Conwell told her that one day they would have buildings big enough to accommodate anyone and everyone who wanted to attend Sunday School at the church.

A short time later, Hattie May became sick – so sick that she died as a child. Rev. Conwell was asked to officiate the funeral, and also was told by the child’s mother that Hattie May had been saving her money to help build a bigger church to house the people interested in Sunday School.

Hattie May died in 1886 when 57 cents was no small amount for a little girl from a poor family. Her parents sent for the minister and gave him a worn out red pocketbook they had found beneath Hattie’s pillow. The pocketbook contained fifty-seven pennies she had earned by running errands. With the money was a note in Hattie’s handwriting that read, “This is to build the church bigger so more children can go to Sunday school.”

The Sunday following Hattie’s funeral, the minister carried the little red pocketbook into the pulpit, took out the fifty-seven pennies and dropped them one by one back into the purse. Rev. Conwell converted the 57 cents into 57 pennies, then told his congregation the story of little Hattie May’s saved gift. Like a seasoned fundraiser, he was able to “sell” the pennies to those in attendance for a return of approximately $250. Additionally, 54 of the original 57 pennies were returned to Rev. Conwell and he put them on display.

After the service, a visitor came forward and offered a piece of desirable land for a new church building. He said, “I will let the church have it for the fifty-seven pennies.”

Some of the members of the church formed what they called the Wiatt Mite Society, dedicated to making Hattie May’s 57 cents grow as much as possible and to purchase property for the Sunday School operations. A nearby house was purchased with the $250 that Hattie May’s 57 cents had produced, and the rest is history. The first classes of Temple College – later Temple University – were held in that house. It later was sold to allow Temple College to move and grow. This, along with the Society’s founding of the Good Samaritan Hospital (now the Temple University Hospital) are significant testimony to the power of a very small amount of money with a very large share of commitment.

Today, visitors are impressed with the Temple Baptist Church in Philadelphia. Seating capacity for the church now is 3,300.

And it all began with a little girl who wanted to help. What a difference she made!