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Christmas Homily: 57 Cents

A little girl left outside of Sunday School saves her money and builds what becomes a Philadelphia landmark.

A Christmas Homily: 57 Cents

This Christmas Eve I would like to tell you a true story of a Christmas gift that made all the difference in the world.

It happened many years ago in the city of Philadelphia. A sobbing little girl stood near a small church from which she had been turned away because it was "too crowded."

"I can't go to Sunday school," she sobbed to the pastor as he walked by. Seeing her shabby, unkempt appearance, the pastor guessed the reason she had been told the classes were full and, taking her by the hand, led her inside and found a place for her in the Sunday school class.

The child was so touched by what had happened that day that she went to bed at night thinking of the children who had no place to worship Jesus.

Two years later, near Christmas, this same child died in one of the poor tenement buildings in the city. The parents called for the kind-hearted pastor who had befriended their daughter to handle the final arrangements.

As her poor little body was being moved, a worn and crumpled purse was found, which seemed to have been rummaged from some trash dump. Inside was a Sunday school envelope with 57 cents in it and a note scribbled in childish handwriting, which read, "This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday school."

For two years she had saved for this offering of love. When the pastor tearfully read that note he knew instantly what he would do. Carrying this note and the cracked, red pocketbook to the pulpit, he told the story of her unselfish love and devotion. He challenged his church leaders to get busy and raise enough money for a larger building.

But the story does not end there. A newspaper learned of the little girl's gift and published the story in the Sunday paper. A Realtor who read the story offered them a parcel of land worth many thousands of dollars on which to build.

When told that the church could not pay anywhere near that much money, he offered it to them for 57 cents.

The church members got together and made large gifts.

Checks came from far and wide. Within five years the little girl's gift had increased to $250,000 -- a huge sum of money for the early 1900s.

The pastor told his board about the gift and they were inspired to try to build. They contacted a Realtor who sold them the land for $10,000 but only required a 57-cent down payment and offered very good terms, allowing the church to continue its fund raising.

Her unselfish love, her Christmas love, had paid incredible dividends.

When you are in the city of Philadelphia, find Temple Baptist Church. It has a seating capacity of 3,300. Temple University, where hundreds of students are trained, as well as Good Samaritan Hospital are also a part of what was built with this little girl's gift.

So is the huge Sunday school building that houses hundreds of Sunday school students so that no child in the area will ever need to be left outside at Sunday school time.

In one of the rooms of this building may be seen a picture of the sweet face of the little girl whose 57 cents, so sacrificially saved, made such remarkable history.

Alongside of it is the portrait of her kind pastor, Dr. Russell H. Conwell, author of the book, Acres of Diamonds, and one of the two founders of the seminary I attended 20 years ago.

Christmas is about gifts, particularly the incredible gift sent to us in Bethlehem. In many ways, Jesus' birth was about as significant as that gift of 57 cents. But that just makes clear the obvious -- it isn't the amount of the gift, or its size, or its importance. All that really matters is the love attached to it.

This Christmas, be sure to enjoy the loving gifts that come your way and send love with every gift you give. And please, please remember this more than anything else: in Jesus, God sent his love for you. Amen.

Author's note: While based on actual events, some details in this story are apocryphal. Go to for more on this.


Jeff Farley, Presbyterian pastor in Otisville, NY.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa ( via Flickr. Used by permission.

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