Biography of Aimee Semple Mcpherson

Sister Aimee (early 1920s)
Born October 9, 1890 Salford, Ontario, Canada
Died September 27, 1944 (aged 53) Oakland, California
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery (Glendale)
Known for Founding the Foursquare Church
Parent(s) James Morgan Kennedy, Mildred Ona Pearce
In her time she was the most publicized Protestant evangelist, surpassing Billy
Sunday and her other predecessors. She conducted public faith healing demonstrations before large crowds; testimonies conveyed tens of thousands of people healed. McPherson’s articulation of the United States as a nation founded and sustained by divine inspiration continues to be echoed by many pastors in churches today. News coverage sensationalized her misfortunes with family and church members; particularly inflaming accusations she had fabricated her reported kidnapping, turning it into a national spectacle. McPherson’s preaching style, extensive charity work and ecumenical contributions were a major influence to Charismatic Christianity in the 20th century.

Early life
McPherson was born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy in the upstairs room of the
family farmhouse outside the village of Salford, southeast of Ingersoll in Oxford County Ontario, Canada. She had early exposure to religion through her mother, Mildred (known as “Minnie”) who worked with the poor in Salvation Army soup kitchens. As a child she would play “Salvation Army” with her classmates, and at home she would gather a congregation with her dolls, giving them a sermon. As a teenager, McPherson strayed from her mother’s teachings by reading novels and going to movies and dances, activities which were strongly disapproved of by both the Salvation Army and the religion of her father, James Kennedy, a Methodist. Novels, though, made their way into the Methodist Church library and with guilty delight, McPherson would read them. At the movies, she recognized some of her fellow Methodist church members. She learned too, at a local dance she
attended, that her dancing partner was a Presbyterian minister. In high school, she was taught Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. She began to quiz visiting preachers and local pastors about faith and science, but was unhappy with the answers she received. She wrote to the Canadian newspaper, Family Herald and Weekly Star, questioning why taxpayer-funded public schools had courses, such as evolution, which undermined Christianity. This was her first exposure to fame, as people nationwide responded to her letter. While still in high school, after her Pentecostal conversion, McPherson
began a crusade against the concept of evolution, beginning a lifelong passion.

Robert and Aimee Semple (1910) While attending a revival meeting in December 1907, Aimee met Robert James Semple, a Pentecostal missionary from Ireland. There, her faith crisis ended as she decided to dedicate her life to God and made the conversion to Pentecostalism as she witnessed the Holy Spirit moving powerfully.
Marriage and family
At that same revival meeting, Aimee became enraptured not only by the
message that Robert Semple gave, but also with Robert. She decided to dedicate her life to both God and Robert, and after a short courtship, they
were married on August 12, 1908, in a Salvation Army ceremony, pledging
never to allow their marriage to lessen their devotion to God, affection for
comrades, or faithfulness in the Army .The pair’s notion of “Army” was very
broad, encompassing much more than just the Salvation Army. Robert supported them as a foundry worker and preached at the local Pentecostal
mission. Together, they studied the Bible, Aimee claiming Robert taught her
all she knew; though other observers state she was far more knowledgeable
than she let on. After a few months they moved to Chicago and became
part of William Durham’s Full Gospel Assembly. Durham earlier had visited
the mission where the Azusa Street Revival was taking place, returned and
applied its teachings. Under Durham’s tutelage, Aimee was discovered to have
a unique ability in the interpretation of speaking in tongues, translating with
stylistic eloquence.[17] Aimee Semple and her second husband Harold
McPherson. For a time Harold traveled with his wife Aimee in the “Gospel Car”as an itinerant preacher, helping her to set up tents for revival
meetings . After embarking on an evangelistic tour to China, both contracted malaria. Robert also contracted dysentery, of which he died in Hong Kong. Aimee recovered and gave birth to their daughter, Roberta Star Semple, as a 19- year-old widow. On board a ship returning to the United States, Aimee Semple started a Sunday school class, then held other services, as well, oftentimes mentioning her late husband in her sermons; almost all passengers attended. Shortly after her recuperation in the United States, Semple joined her mother Minnie working with the Salvation Army. While in New York City,
she met Harold Stewart McPherson, an accountant. They were married on May 5, 1912, moved to Providence, Rhode Island, and had a son, Rolf Potter
Kennedy McPherson, in March 1913. During this time, McPherson felt as
though she denied her “calling” to go preach. After struggling with emotional
distress and obsessive–compulsive disorder, she would fall to weep and
pray. She felt the call to preach tug at her even more strongly after the
birth of Rolf. Then in, 1914, she fell seriously ill, and McPherson states she
again heard the persistent voice, asking her to go preach while in the holding
room after a failed operation. McPherson accepted the voice’s challenge, and she suddenly opened her eyes and was able to turn over in bed without pain. One spring morning in 1915, her husband returned home from the night shift to discoverMcPherson had left him and taken the bchildren. A few weeks later, a note was received inviting him to join her in evangelistic work.

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Her husband later followed McPherson to take her back home though changed
his mind after he saw her preaching to a crowd. Describing his wife as “radiant, more lovely than he had ever seen her,” he joined her in evangelism.
Their house in Providence was sold and he joined her in setting up tents for
revival meetings and even did some preaching. Throughout their journey,
food and accommodations were uncertain, as they lived out of the “Gospel Car”. Her husband, in spite of initial enthusiasm, wanted a life that was more stable and predictable. Eventually, he returned to Rhode Island and around 1918 filed for separation. He petitioned for divorce, citing abandonment; the divorce was granted in 1921. She married again on September 13, 1931, to actor and musician David Hutton, followed by much drama, after which she fainted and fractured her skull. While McPherson was away in Europe to recover, she was angered to learn Hutton was billing himself as “Aimee’s man” in his cabaret singing act and was frequently photographed with scantily clad women. Hutton’ much-publicized personal scandals were damaging the Foursquare Gospel Church and their leader’s credibility with other churches. McPherson and Hutton separated in 1933 and divorced on March 1, 1934. McPherson later publicly repented of the marriage, as wrong from the beginning, for both theological and personal reasons and therefore rejected nationally known gospel singer Homer Rodeheaver, a more appropriate suitor, when he eventually asked for her hand in 1935.
Early career
While married to Robert Semple, the two moved to Chicago and became
part of William Durham’s Full Gospel Assembly. There, Aimee was discovered to have a unique ability in the interpretation of glossolalia, translating with stylistic eloquence the otherwise indecipherable utterances of speaking in tongues. Unable to find fulfillment as a housewife, in 1913, McPherson began evangelizing and holding tent revivals across the Sawdust Trail in the United States and Canada.
After her first successful visits, she had little difficulty with acceptance or
attendance. Eager converts filled the pews of local churches which turned
many recalcitrant ministers into her enthusiastic supporters. Frequently,
she would start a revival meeting in a hall or church and then have to move to
a larger building to accommodate the growing crowds. When no buildings
were suitable, she set up a tent, which was often filled past capacity.
She wanted to create the enthusiasm a Pentecostal meeting could provide,
with its “Amen Corner” and “Halleluiah Chorus”, but also to avoid its unbridled chaos as participants started shouting, trembling on the floor, and speaking in tongues, all at once. McPherson organized her meetings with the
general public in mind and yet did not wish to quench any who suddenly
came into “the Spirit”. To this, she set up a “tarry tent or room” away from the
general area for any who suddenly started speaking in tongues or display
any other Holy Ghost behavior by which the larger audience might be put off.
In 1916, McPherson embarked on a tour of the Southern United States in
her “Gospel Car”, and again later, in 1918, with her mother, Mildred Kennedy. Mildred was an important addition to McPherson’s ministry and managed everything, including the money, which gave them an unprecedented degree of financial security. Their vehicle was a 1912 Packard touring car emblazoned with religious slogans. Standing on the back seat of the convertible, McPherson preached sermons over a megaphone. n the road between sermons, she would sit in the back seat typing ermons and other religious materials. She first traveled up and down the eastern United States, then went to other parts of the country. By 1917, she had started her own magazine, Bridal Call, for which she wrote many articles about women’s
roles in religion; she portrayed the link between Christians and Jesus as a
marriage bond. Along with taking seriously the religious role of women,
the magazine contributed to transforming Pentecostalism from a
movement into an ongoing American religious presence. While McPherson was traveling for her evangelical work, she arrived in Baltimore, where she was first “discovered” by the newspapers in 1919, after a day of conducting
evangelistic services at the Lyric Opera House. Baltimore became one of the
pivotal points for her early career. The crowds, in their religious ecstasy,
were barely kept under control as they gave way to manifestations of “the
Spirit”. Moreover, faith healings now became part of the public record, and attendees began to focus on that part of her ministry over all else. McPherson also considered the Baltimore Revival an important turning point, not only for her ministry, “but in the history of the outpouring of the Pentecostal power”.[
Career in Los Angeles
In late 1918, McPherson came to Los Angeles, a move many at the time were
making for better opportunities. Minnie Kennedy, her mother, rented the largest hall they could find, the 3,500-sea Philharmonic Auditorium (known then as Temple Auditorium). People waited for hours to get in, andMcPherson
could hardly reach the pulpit without stepping on someone. Afterwards, grateful attendees of her Los Angeles meetings built a home for her family and her, which included everything from the cellar to a canary bird. At this time, Los Angeles had become a popular vacation spot. Rather than touring the United States to preach her sermons, McPherson stayed in Los Angeles, drawing audiences from a population which had soared from 100,000 in 1900 to 575,000 people in 1920, and often included many visitors. Wearied by constant traveling and having nowhere to raise a family, McPherson had settled in Los Angeles, where she maintained both a home and a church. McPherson believed that by creating a church in Los Angeles, her audience would come to her from all over the country. This, she felt, would allow her to plant seeds of the Gospel and tourists would take it home to their communities, still reaching the masses. For several years, she continued to travel and raise money for the construction of a large, domed church building at 1100 Glendale Blvd. in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles. The church would be named Angelus Temple, reflecting the Roman Catholic tradition of the Angelus bell, calling the faithful to prayer, as well as its reference to the angels. Not wanting to take on debt, McPherson located a construction firm which would work with her as funds were raised “by faith”.She started with $5,000.The firm indicated it would be enough to carve out a hole for the foundation. McPherson began a campaign in earnest and was able to mobilize
diverse groups of people to help fund and build the new church. Various
fundraising methods were used, such as selling chairs for Temple seating at
US $25 apiece. In exchange, “chair- holders” got a miniature chair and
encouragement to pray daily for the person who would eventually sit in that
chair. Her approach worked to generate enthusiastic giving and to create a
sense of ownership and family among the contributors. McPherson dedicating Angelus Temple in 1923.
Raising more money than she had hoped, McPherson altered the original
plans, and built a “megachurch” that would draw many followers throughout
the years. The endeavor cost contributors around $250,000 in
actual money spent. However, this price was low for a structure of its size.
Costs were kept down by donations of building materials and volunteer
labor. McPherson sometimes quipped when she first got to California, all she had was a car, ten dollars and a tambourine.
Enrollment grew exceeding 10,000, and was advertised to be the largest single Christian congregation in the world.According to church records, Angelus Temple received 40 million visitors within the first seven years McPherson intended the Angelus Temple as both a place of worship and
an ecumenical center for persons of all Christian faiths to meet and build
alliances. A wide range of clergy and laypeople consisted of Methodists,
Baptists, the Salvation Army, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Adventists, Quakers, Roman Catholics, Mormons, and even secular civil leaders, who came to the Angelus Temple. They were welcomed and many made their way to her podium as guest speakers. Eventually, even Rev. Robert P. Shuler, a once-robust McPherson critic, was featured as a guest preacher. Because Pentecostalism was not popular in the United States during the 1920s, McPherson avoided the label. She practiced speaking-in-tongues and
faith healing within her services, but kept the former to a minimum in sermons to appease mainstream audiences. Discarded medical fittings
from persons faith-healed during her services, which included crutches,
wheelchairs, and other paraphernalia; were gathered for display in a museum
area. As evidence of her early influence by the Salvation Army, McPherson
adopted a theme of “lighthouses” for the satellite churches, referring to the
parent church as the “Salvation Navy”. This was the beginning of McPherson
working to plant Foursquare Gospel churches around the country.
Charitable work
McPherson (left) prepares Christmas food baskets (about 1935)
McPherson strove to develop a churchorganization which could not only provide for the spiritual, but also the physical needs of the distressed.
Though she fervently believed and preached the imminent return of Jesus
Christ, she had no idea of how soon that Second Coming might be. Two
thoughts pervaded the mind of most devout Pentecostals of the time, “Jesus
is coming, therefore how can I get ready,” and “how can I help others to
get ready?” For McPherson, part of the answer was to mobilize her Temple congregation and everyone she could reach through radio, telephone, and word of mouth to get involved in substantial amounts of charity and social work. “True Christianity is not only to be good but to do good,” she preached. The Charities and Beneficiary Department collected donations for all types of
humanitarian relief to include a Japanese disaster, as well as a German
relief fund. Men released from prison were found jobs by a “brotherhood”. A
“sisterhood” was created, as well, sewing baby clothing for impoverished
mothers.Branch churches elsewhere in the country were likewise encouraged to follow the Angelus Temple’s example. Even people who considered McPherson’s theology almost ridiculous helped out because they saw her church as the best way to assist their community. In June 1925, after confirming reports of an earthquake in Santa Barbara, McPherson immediately left the parsonage and interrupted a broadcast at a nearby radio station. She took over the microphone from the startled singer and requested food, blankets, clothing, or whatever listeners could give for emergency supplies to assist nearby Santa Barbara. As the Red Cross met to discuss and organize aid, McPherson’s second convoy had already arrived at the troubled city. In 1928, after a dam failed and the ensuing flood left up to 600 dead in its
wake, McPherson’s church led the relief effort. Later, in 1933, an earthquake
struck and devastated Long Beach. McPherson quickly arranged for volunteers to be on the scene withblankets, coffee, and doughnuts.

Men wait in line to enter Aimee Semple McPherson’s Angelus Temple Free Dining Hall & Commissary, located at 2210 W. Temple Street.
At the time she was married to David Hutton and all branding reflected his last name.
Drawing from her childhood experience with the Salvation Army, in 1927,McPherson opened a commissary at Angelus Temple which was virtually theonly place in town a person could get food, clothing, and blankets with no questions asked. It was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and became
active in creating soup kitchens, free clinics, and other charitable activities
as the Great Depression wore on. She fed an estimated 1.5 million people.
When the government shut down the free school-lunch program, McPherson
took it over. Her policy of giving first and investigating afterward “alleviated
suffering on an epic scale”. McPherson got the fire and police departments to assist in distribution. Doctors, physicians, and dentists were persuaded to staff her free clinic that trained 500 nurses to help treat children and the elderly. She encouraged individuals and companies of all types to donate supplies, food, cash, or labor. To prevent the power from being turned off to homes of overdue accounts during the winter, a $2,000 cash reserve was set up with the utility company. Many people, who otherwise would have nothing to do with the Angelus Temple, would receive a call from McPherson, and then loot their mansion closets or company stores for something to give. The
Yellow Cab Company donated a large building and, in the first month, 80,000
people received meals there. Laboring under a sign “Everybody and anybody is somebody to Jesus”, volunteer workers filled commissary baskets with an assortment of food and other items, as well as Foursquare Gospel literature, and handed them out. Even a complete kit designed to care for newborn babies was available. A reporter wrote he had always thought the breadline was a “drab colorless scar on our civilization”, but of the Angelus Temple commissary, he observed, was “the warm garment of sympathy and Christian succor.”A note, which reflects the sentiment of many of those who received
assistance, was left in June, 2010 at McPherson’s virtual gravesite:
My grandpa always talked about when he was a kid, he and his family moved to California from Missouri, during the depression, and his family was starving and they met you and you gave them abag of vegetables, and some money, he never forgot it.
1. Obituary Variety, October 4, 1944.
2. 30148022
3. Williams, George Hunston; Petersen, Rodney Lawrence; Pater, Calvin Augustine (1999), The Contentious Triangle: Church, State, and University, Truman State University Press, p. 308.
4. “Aimée Mcpherson in Singapore” (newspaper article). NL. Retrieved 2013-11 14.
5. Aimee Semple McPherson Audio Tapes, /GUIDES/103.htm#602
6. Epstein, Daniel Mark, Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson
(Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1993), p. 111.
“The healings present a monstrous obstacle to scientific historiography. If
events transpired as newspapers, letters, and testimonials say they did,
then Aimée Semple McPherson’s healing ministry was miraculous…The
documentation is overwhelming: very sick people came to Sister Aimee by the
tens of thousands, blind, deaf, paralyzed. Many were healed some
temporarily, some forever. She would point to heaven, to Christ the Great
Healer and take no credit for the results.”
7. “The Incredible Disappearing Evangelist” . Smithsonian. Retrieved 2014-05-03.
8. “RD10Q: Aimee Semple McPherson, Evangelical Maverick” . Religion
Dispatches. 2008-09-26. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
9. ” “Between the refrigerator and the wildfire”: Aimee Semple McPherson,
pentecostalism, and the fundamentalist- modernist controversy” . The free
library. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
10. Matthew Avery Sutton, Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), page 9
11. “From the Archives: Aimee Semple McPherson Dies Suddenly in Oakland”
Los Angeles Times (September 28 1944) Retrieved August 26, 2017
12. Edith Waldvogel Blumhofer, Aimee Semple McPherson: everybody’s sister
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Inc., 1993), pp.24, 43-44
13. Sutton, p. 9
14. Sutton, pp. 9–10
15. Epstein, pp. 28–29
16. Sutton, p. 10
17. Edith Waldvogel Blumhofer, Aimee Semple McPherson: everybody’s sister
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Inc., 1993), pp.79- 81
18. Sutton, p. 58

19. Epstein, pp. 72–73
20. Epstein, pp. 74–76
21. Epstein, pp. 91, 95, 128
22. Sutton, p. 172
23. Epstein, pp. 374–375
24. Blumhofer, p. 333. Note: in 1932, after having to continuously answer questions about McPherson’s marriage to Hutton, 33 Foursquare ministers
thought this was too much of a distraction and seceded from the Temple and formed their own Pentecostal denomination, the Open Bible Evangelistic Association.

25. Epstein, p. 434
26. Blumhofer, p. 333. Note: Homer Rodeheaver, former singing master for
evangelist Billy Sunday, was refused; even when it was suggested she
married the wrong man and to try again to have a loving marriage, she
responded negatively and redoubled her evangelistic efforts, forsaking personal
fulfillment in relationships. McPherson knew Rodeheaver from working with him at the Angeleus Temple and he introduced her to David Hutton. In the
case of Rodeheaver, however, biographer Sutton, according to Roberta
Star Semple, stated McPherson liked him but not the way he kissed.
27. Aimee May Marry Homer Rodeheaver (North Tonawanda, NY Evening News June 21, 1935)
28. Epstein, p. 172
29. Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America, Keller, Rosemary Skinner; Ruether, Rosemary Radford (Indiana University Press, 2006) p. 406-407
30. 55208322
31. Edith Waldvogel Blumhofer, Aimee Semple McPherson: everybody’s sister
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Inc., 1993), p. 147
32. Epstein, pp. 170–172
33. Epstein, p. 151
34. Epstein, p. 153
35. “Aimee McPherson” . Aimee McPherson. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
36. Blumhofer, p. 246
37. Blumhofer, p. 244
38. More than $65,000 in 2012 dollars.
39. over $320 in 2012
40. Blumhofer, p. 245

41. More than $3.2 million in 2012 dollars.
42. over US $130 in 2012.
43. Thomas, Lately Storming Heaven: The Lives and Turmoils of Minnie Kennedy and Aimee Semple McPherson (Morrow, New York, 1970) p. 32.
44. Bridal Call (Foursquare Publications, 1100 Glendale Blvd, Los Angeles.)
October 1929, p. 27
45. Sutton, p. 335
46. Blumhofer, p. 210
47. Epstein, p. 249
48. Sutton, pp. 186–191

49. Blumhofer, p. 269
50. Sutton, pp. 189, 315. Note: author states over 400 dead
51. Blumhofer, p. 348. Note: author indicates 1934 but probably a typo
52. Epstein, p. 369
53. about US $28,000 in 2012
54. Epstein, p. 370
55. Sutton, p. 316
56. Sutton, p. 317

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