Aimee Semple McPherson
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"Never did I hear such language from a human being. Without one moment's intermission, she would talk from an hour to an hour and a half, holding her audience spellbound."
"In 1913 a 23-year-old Salvation Army daughter was rushed to the hospital with appendicitis, her life hanging in the balance. But for months the young woman had felt her spiritual life was also in peril. She'd had a deep, gnawing sense that God expected more of her.
As she later recounted, her condition deteriorated until a hospital attendant came to move her into a room set apart for the dying. She struggled to breathe as she heard a nurse say, "She's going."
Then she heard another voice: "Now will you go?" She understood it to mean she was to choose between going into eternity or going into ministry. She yielded to ministry. Instantly, she said, the pain was gone, her breathing eased, and she soon regained her strength.
Within a decade, the young woman would become an American phenomenon. Though hardly known today, during the 1920s her name appeared on the front page of America's leading newspapers three times a week. Today, as her International Church of the Foursquare Gospel carries on her legacy, historians consider her (along with Billy Sunday) the most significant revivalist in the early twentieth century.
Living in a gospel car
Aimee was born in October 1890, to James and Minnie Kennedy, a Methodist and a Salvation Army devotee respectively, in Ontario, Canada. As a teenager, Aimee was introduced to Pentecostalism through the preaching of Robert Semple, whom she eventually married. When he died two years later, she married young businessman Harold McPherson. For a few years, they shared a hand-to-mouth existence. They lived in a "gospel" car plastered with Bible verses and slogans (like "Where will you spend eternity?") and loaded with religious tracts. Slowly she began attracting crowds and the attention of the press.
Though Aimee and Harold quietly divorced, Aimee's ministry continued to expand. Using Hebrews 13:8 ("Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever") as her theme, she preached that the "full menu" of Bible Christianity was available for listeners' firsthand experience. Around the country, she spoke about the lavish feast Christ offered the faithful and summoned people with the words of a familiar gospel song: "Come and dine, the Master calleth, come and dine!"
From Los Angeles in 1919, McPherson launched a series of meetings that catapulted her to national fame. Within a year, America's largest auditoriums could not hold the crowds. She acquiesced to popular demand that she pray for the sick, and "stretcher days" became hallmarks of her campaigns.
On January 1, 1923, McPherson dedicated Angelus Temple, which held up to 5,300 worshipers. The ceremonies included hundreds of colorfully clad gypsies (who had named her their queen), a roster of prominent Protestant preachers, and thousands of adoring fans. A church-owned radio station was launched in 1924.
While she continued to preach "the four-square Gospel" (Jesus as the Only Savior, the Great Physician, the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, and the Coming Bridegroom), she become a citizen of note in a burgeoning city. Angelus Temple floats won prizes in Rose Bowl parades, and the Temple itself became a tourist attraction. The comings and goings of "Sister" (as she was affectionately known) from the city's Union Station drew more people than visits of presidents and other dignitaries.
Well-advertised illustrated sermons offered the faithful who shunned nearby Hollywood entertainments a taste of theater. Parades, uniforms, award-winning bands, and catchy music attracted people of all ages. Ambitious programs to feed the hungry and respond to natural disasters gained goodwill.
© 2005-2019 Chuck Cunningham