Volume. XXXiiI, No. 10
Sunday, 02 September 2018

From the Pastor’s Heart: Character Example

As you know, I have been speaking about Christian character through a series of messages.  One of the problems of this sort of message is that though we could glean some ideas about the need of becoming good Christian characters, we want more visible examples to learn how to apply what we have learnt to our character growth.  I’d like to talk about a woman whose name is Frances Perkins.  She was the first female cabinet member in the US government.  She was an Episcopalian, and Michelle Kew wrote an essay about her, “Frances Perkins: Private Faith, Public Policy.”  In this essay, “Michelle Kew has illumined the central place of religious faith in Frances Perkins’ consequential role in designing and advancing the essential domestic policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.  We learn that Miss Perkins (her preferred designation) did not emphasize her Episcopalian faith in public but in private she relied on the consolation and structured devotion of her religion to help carry the heavy burdens of her public and private responsibilities.  Her monthly sessions of prayer and reflection at an Episcopalian retreat center near Washington, symbolizes the importance of her religious beliefs and practices to her national leadership in fighting for such essential elements of America’s safety net as Social Security, unemployment insurance, workman’s compensation and the minimum wage.  She explained that she ‘came to work for God, FDR and the millions of forgotten, plain, common working men,’ to which we surely can add, women and children.”  As you can see, she was an extraordinary woman.


On March 25, 1911, there was a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which is one of the most notorious fires in American history.  Perkins happened to be around this factory at the time and saw a few floors of the building ablaze.  Factory workers who could not escape the fire hurled themselves to their death, and every one of them who jumped from the building was killed.  When the firemen held out nets, they could not save anyone because the weight of the bodies from that height (8th-10th floors) yanked the nets from the firemen’s hands or the bodies ripped through.  There were so many contributing causes to this tragedy.  Most of all, the working condition of the poor factory workers was deplorable.  The fire and its aftershocks left a deep mark on her.  Her moral indignation flared up, which led her to her lifetime vocation: working for the workers.


In her case, she did not find her vocation by asking “what do I want from life?”  She could not say that she found her vocation because she had followed her dreams and passion although we know that many famous people give speeches to young people to follow their dreams.  As for Frances, her life called her for vocation.  Her circumstances brought her to a place where she had to be.  She did not find an answer to her quest of her life from inside of her, but rather outside.  She did not begin with her autonomous self to know what she should do with her life.  She was in that particular place to eyewitness the fatal fire incident, and it led her to devote herself to improving the workers’ life. 


She was born on April 10, 1880 in Boston.  Her parents knew the importance of her education, but she never earned good grades.  She went to Mount Holyoke College in 1902.  In those days, rules in students’ dormitories were very different from today.  Their private lives might be free as they saw fit, but they were under restrictions to inculcate deference, modesty, and respect.  Here is an example: “Freshmen should keep a respectful silence in the presence of sophomores.  Freshmen meeting a sophomore on the campus should bow respectfully.  No Freshman shall wear a long skirt or hair high on head before the mid-year examination” (Lillian G. Paschal, “Hazing in Girls’ Colleges,” Household Ledger, 1905).  I thought the following stories may interest you: “Today, teachers tend to look for their students’ intellectual strengths, so they can cultivate them.  But a century ago, professors tended to look for their students’ moral weaknesses, so they could correct them.  A Latin teacher, Esther Van Dieman, diagnosed Perkins’s laziness, her tendency to be too easy on herself.  Van Dieman used Latin grammar the way a drill instructor might use forced marches, as an ordeal to cultivate industriousness.  She forced Perkins to work, hour upon hour, on precise recitations of the Latin verb tenses.  Perkins would burst into tears in frustration and boredom, but later expressed appreciation for the enforced discipline: ‘For the first time I became conscious of character.’ (George Martin, Madam Secretary: Frances; A Biography of America’s First Woman Cabinet Member, Houghton Mifflin, 1976, 85)” (David Brooks, The Road to Character, p. 28).


“She was interested in history and literature, and she floundered badly in chemistry. Nonetheless, her chemistry teacher, Nellie Goldthwaite, hounded her into majoring in chemistry. The idea was that if she was tough enough to major in her weakest subject, she’d be tough enough to handle whatever life threw at her.  Goldthwaite urged Perkins to take the hardest courses even if it meant earning mediocre grades. Perkins took the challenge. Goldthwaite became her faculty adviser.  Years later, Perkins told a student with the school’s alumnae quarterly, ‘The undergraduate mind should concentrate on the scientific courses, which temper the human spirit, harden and refine it, and make of it a tool with which one may tackle any kind of material’ (Russell Lord, “Madam Secretary,” New Yorker, September 2, 1933)” (Brooks, p. 28).  Probably, this way of thinking is still quite prevalent in most older folks even today, though it is strange to modern education and helicopter parents. 


This sort of education taught her and other students to learn and practice their self-control, and it also helped them to discover new things to love.  It also taught them morality.  It was about character.  It is no wonder that from this school, hundreds of women missionaries went out to northwest Iran, Natal in southern Africa, and Maharashtra in western India.  The school’s founder, Mary Lyon, implored her students by saying, “Do what nobody else wants to do; go where nobody else wants to go.”  In 1901, a new president arrived, Mary Woolley.  She wrote an essay titled, “Values of College Training for Women” for Harper Bazaar, in which she said, “Character is the main object for education.  A true perspective implies poise.”  The word “poise,” means  “deeper qualities of steadfastness and balance.  Wooley also said, “The lack of these qualities is often the weak place in the armor, and good impulses, high purposes, real ability, fail of their end.”  Character matters. 


The Mount Holyoke education was dominated by theology and the classics.  In her Harper's Bazaar essay, she quoted the Stoic philosopher Epictetus: “To live in the presence of great truths and eternal laws, to be led by permanent ideals, that is what keeps a man patient when the world ignores him and calm and unspoiled when the world praises him.”   As class president, Perkins selected her class motto, “Be ye steadfast” from 1 Corinthians 15. 


In comparison to such philosophy of education in Perkins’ day, today we can hardly find any character education in schools, not to mention even in churches.  They may talk about an altruistic life style by encouraging people to do more community services.  People are more interested in questions like “how can I serve more people” or “how can I make more impact?”  There are no specific thoughts about how to build their character.  Think about compassion, for example.  We may help the poor, but we do it because it makes us feel good about ourselves.  For such cases, Nathaniel Hawthorn said, “Benevolence is the twin of pride.”  Perkins joined the National Consumers League, and later she was appointed to the Industrial Commissions in New York and put herself in the middle of major strikes and industrial disputes.  Eventually, she became a Secretary of Labor under Roosevelt’s presidency.  While she was in that office, she worked so much for public works programs, minimum wage laws, Social Security programs for old age insurance, and the abolition of child labor. 


Friends, our character matters!



Your Pastor


More Lively Hope



  • Welcome to our pulpit: Rev Willy Ng.
  • Wishing all fathers a Blessed Father’s Day.
  • Special thanks to YAF for organising the Missions Fair, & to all fellowship groups, food contributors & helpers.
  • Congratulations to Bro Paul & Sis Sophia (Kim) Lee on the birth of their son on Thursday.
  • Church Service Roster for Oct-Dec: please indicate your availability to serve by emailing hopebpcrosterer@gmail.com.
  • Holiday Bible Club flyers & registration forms are available in the foyer. Volunteers needed. If able to help, please notify Dn John Wong ASAP.
  • Kitchen Committee requests for more food contributions for fellowship lunch. Your contribution is much appreciated.
  • IF Retreat forms available at the foyer. Please complete & submit to Sis Seong Yeng Chu by next Lord’s Day.
  • Missions Committee is planning a Missions trip to Cambodia in Jan 2019. If interested, please see Elder Michael D Lee.
  • Adult & Junior RPGs (Jul-Sept) available in foyer. Donation: $1 per copy.
  • New Clerk of Session: Dn Kevin Low. Special thanks to Elder Colin Gan for his faithful service as the Clerk of Session these past years.
  • Lunch Duty: This week: AFG. Next week: VFG.


Praise & Thanksgiving

  • Newborn boy to Bro Paul & Sis Sophia (Kim) Lee.
  • Seniors’ Lunch @ Payathai on Wednesday.
  • Missions Fair



  • Missions: IBPFM Missionaries & Rev Pong Sen Yiew (Cambodia).
  • Year 12 students: Exam preparation.
  • God’s provision of funds for our church missions, piano & building extensions.






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