SEMPLE McPHERSON 1890-1944
This amazing lady was a gifted missionary
and healing evangelist, editor, author and founder of the
International Church of the Foursquare Gospel that today has
over 25,000 churches and over 3 million members. She became
internationally famous as the leader of the 5,300-seat Angelus
Temple in Echo Park, Los Angeles, where she conducted church
in an attractive theatre-style. She often used extravagant
props and effects that resembled Hollywood stage productions
more than church services. The innovation worked well as great
crowds flocked to her standing-room-only meetings, sometimes
three times a day and seven days a week. She believed that
the Gospel should be presented in an enjoyable and contemporary
way and she saw thousands come to Christ through her ministry.
Although a church girl she began to slip
into worldly activities during her teens but was invited by
her father to attend Robert Semple’s tent revival at
Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada, during the winter months of 1907-8.
She was not only converted to Christ during this time but
also fell in love with this young Pentecostal preacher. He
was 27 and she was 17 when they were married on August 28th
1908. They were involved in new church planting in Canada
and U.S. until January 2nd 1909 when they were both ordained
by William H. Durham.
In 1910 they left Chicago for China as missionaries
but within weeks of their arrival Robert caught malaria and
died in a Hong Kong hospital on August 19th. Aimee stayed
in Hong King until she produced Robert’s child, Roberta
Star on September 17th.
Back in the States
Aimee arrived back in New York City, where her mother, Minnie
Kennedy, was working as a member of the Salvation Army. Aimee
cared for Roberta and worked at the Glad Tidings Mission.
She met Harold McPherson (1890-1968) and soon became Mrs.
McPherson on October 24, 1911.
After their son Rolf was born on March 13,
1913 they moved to Canada where Aimee continued evangelistic
meetings in a tent. In 1917 she produced a monthly magazine
called ‘The Bridal Call’ to minister to her expanding
number of followers. Their relationship found the taxing demands
of the ministry too great and they divorced in August 1921.
It was also in 1921 that she decided to design
and build Angelus Temple in Echo Park, Los Angeles. On January
1, 1923 the Temple was dedicated and Aimee committed herself
to pastoring he growing flock. Nevertheless, she was able
to hold evangelistic tours, in such places as San Diego, San
Francisco, Denver, Winnipeg, San Jose, and Canton, Ohio. In
addition she also wrote books, edited the Bridal Call and
created a vibrant radio preaching ministry.
Aimee's Bridal Call Magazine
Her public ministry at Angelus temple was
extraordinary, resembling magnificent stage productions, drawing
people who would never have thought to enter a church. Her
illustrated sermons attracted the imagination of the lower
classes as well as people from the middle and upper classes
and those who worked in the entertainment industry. She employed
a brass band, large choirs, costumes, and elaborate sets to
draw people to church.
Her services became known for divine healing,
where repentants would walk without crutches, regain lost
eyesight, heal broken bones, and leave their wheelchairs to
walk. Although her first manifestation of divine healing occurred
in Corona, New York in 1917, it was not until she had the
attention of major city newspapers, such as the Los Angeles
Times and the New York Times, that many people nationally
learned of such phenomena occurring in her services. The critics
had a field day but thousands flocked to her services. She
never ceased to be loyal to the Pentecostal testimony and
many were baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke with tongues.
Her Foursquare movement began to grow and
churches began to appear across the States. Her novelty as
a female religious leader was heightened through the use of
radio, which expanded her access to the public's attention:
she was a featured performer on various Los Angeles stations
in 1923 and became a radio station owner herself in 1924.
By the late 1920’s she was preaching twenty times a
week and overseeing the burgeoning Foursquare movement. It
was then that disaster struck.
The Vanishing Evangelist
It was the dramatic incident of her presumed drowning in May
1926 while swimming at the beach in Venice, California that
brought calamity to her ministry. Later it was found that
she had been kidnapped and hidden away for some days in a
desert shack. Her disappearance made Aimee a front-page interest
in many newspapers across the country. Analysing and discrediting
her story became an addictive pastime for many. The District
Attorney became involved, charging her with corruption of
public morals, manufacturing evidenc and falsifying police
reports. She was called before the Grand Jury to testify.
After several months of inconclusive evidence the District
Attorney dismissed the case in January of 1927. Though she
won that battle the following years saw several attempts to
bring her into court again.
“When she attempted campaigns in the
British Isles (in 1926?) the press was solidly against her.
She stayed in a fashionable hotel in the West End which just
"wasn't done" in British evangelistic circles, though
calculated to impress American communities. Her visits to
hair-stylists were duly described. There were scathing comparisons
with the early apostles. George Jeffreys, then at the height
of his fame, and the Elim Pentecostal Alliance arranged campaigns
in the Royal Albert Hall, and in other cities but it became
clear that she did not possess the same appeal to the more
conservative British temperament. No further visits were attempted.”
On September 13, 1931, Aimee married David
Hutton, a singer in one of Angelus Temple's productions. Hutton,
a vaudeville and cabaret performer, was purported to have
a questionable past with ladies and alcohol. This marriage
caused a scandal both inside and outside the walls of Angelus
Temple as many held views of celibacy for anyone whose divorced
spouse was still alive.
By 1933, Aimee was under considerable pressure
medically and emotionally, with lawsuits against both her
and her husband. The stress of it all began to take its toll.
David Hutton sought a divorce which was granted in January
of 1934. This was followed by various lawsuits, charges and
counter-charges. Aimee took a trip around the world for relaxation
and rest in 1936, but her popularity had begun to wane.
Aimee and her Gospel car
She regained some of her popularity, as the
Second World War approached. Her combination of patriotism
and Christian idealism reinforced the public war bond rallies
she worked in and the servicemen's rest centres she had established.
During the war she honoured military personnel by awarding
them Bibles on the platform at Angelus Temple. She continued
to hold evangelistic rallies across the US, though on a much
reduced scale. By 1944, Aimee had transferred the presidency
of the Foursquare Church to her son Rolf, hoping that the
relief of everyday pressures would lessen her load. It was
in September of 1944, while at a church in Oakland, California
that Aimee Semple McPherson suddenly died from an accidental
overdose of Seconal sleeping pills or more specifically from
“shock and respiratory failure.” She is buried
at Forest Lawn in Glendale in a tomb befitting a queen.
Aimee had an amazing impact on her world
as preacher and founder of a vigorous evangelistic organisation.
She was a colourful, yet controversial figure who was either
loved or loathed. A gifted communicator and organizer; a competent
musician and prolific writer; a convincing visionary and a
compelling evangelist, Aimee was undoubtedly one of the most
prominent women of the Pentecostal movement in her time.
Bibliography: Donald Gee, 'These Men I Knew' 1965;
C. M. Robeck, Jr., art. 'International Dictionary of Pentecostal
and Charismatic Movements' 2002.