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Aimee Semple McPherson

Editorís note: Aimee Semple McPherson will be remembered as one of the greatest women evangelists of our time. Much like Kathryn Kuhlman she would find herself in several disputes that didnít agree with church leaders of her day but the testimony of her work is still fascinating.

       In one meeting in a Los Angeles, California, crusade it was recorded that ushers with garbage cans and shovels had to go through her tent to shovel the cancerous growths that had been left on the ground after scores of healings.

McPherson was also recognized as the first person to have a Christian Radio station in the United States of America as she built a radio station at the Angeles Temple in Los Angeles, California.

By David Littlewood - Remnant History Editor

With a flair for the dramatic which appealed to the movie capital of America in the glamorous 'roaring twenties', Aimee Semple McPherson provided the best show in town. And with her emphasis on divine healing -- many outstanding miracles were reported under her ministry -- it wasn't surprising that she drew the crowds.

People queued for hours hoping for admission to the 5,300-seater Angeles Temple where her illustrated sermons held audiences spellbound. From relatively simple beginnings, such as when she dressed as Little Bo Peep (seeking lost sheep), they grew to spectacular productions involving the use of elaborate sets and full orchestras. Having once been stopped by the police for speeding, she appeared in the Temple on a motorbike dressed in a police uniform, warning her hearers to stop speeding down the road to hell! And on a night she announced a new illustrated sermon, the city provided additional trolley cars and police to control traffic.

Aimee Semple McPherson was undoubtedly the most prominent woman leader Pentecostalism has produced. A strikingly beautiful woman, she was a colorful and, at times, controversial figure who won the hearts of a whole generation of American Christians.

Essentially Pentecostal, preaching the 'Four Square Gospel' of Jesus as Savior, Healer, Baptize, and Coming King, she nevertheless appealed to Christians across the board. At a time when Pentecostalism was in danger of becoming narrow and separatist, Aimee used the popular idioms of the day to communicate the gospel and, in an era devoted to vaudeville, caught the public imagination. She was way ahead of her time and also made extensive use of writing and broadcasting.

Born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy on a small farm near Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada, in 1890, she was nurtured in the Christian faith by her mother Minnie (at that time a Salvationist) and came to a personal knowledge of Christ at 18 through Pentecostal evangelist Robert Semple. After receiving the baptism in the Spirit, Aimee married Robert and the young couple set about pioneering in Canada and the USA.

Determined to serve as 'faith' missionaries in China, the Semples reached Hong Kong in June 1910 but within a few weeks Robert died of malaria, leaving Aimee widowed with a newborn baby at the age of 20.

Recovering from the shock, she returned to New York where she met and married aspiring evangelist Harold McPherson. They toured together in their 'Gospel Car' holding evangelistic campaigns. Harold acted as the advance man while Aimee followed him up with her preaching -- and her striking presence, wonderful powers of communication and emphasis on healing drew the crowds. In 1917 she launched 'The Bridal Call', a monthly magazine in which she wrote many articles expounding the essence of her teaching.

Unfortunately Aimee's success strained her marriage beyond redemption. Harold seemed unable to accept the fact that his wife's ministry far exceeded his own and left Aimee to pursue an (unsuccessful) evangelistic career of his own. For her part it appears that Aimee put her own call well before her duties as a wife and the couple were divorced in 1921.

Dedicated, talented and energetic, and with a burning desire to see the lost won for Christ, Aimee toured America. Known simply as 'Sister' to her many followers, she showed not only formidable oratory in the pulpit but a deep compassion for people in all walks of life. She would go anywhere -- nightclubs, theatres, dance halls, jails and even brothels -- to tell people of the Savior. There was no pleading, no fire and brimstone, no criticizing -- just a warm-hearted welcome from a woman who cared. Believing that people who most needed the gospel were not likely to be found in church, she visited red-light districts where she hugged, cried and prayed with the women.

Settling in Los Angeles, Aimee founded the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel and the Angeles Temple was dedicated in 1923. She became the first woman to receive a license to operate a radio station, and programmers from the Temple brought the gospel to thousands. (On a visit to Britain in 1928 she met the inventor Marconi and told him that God had raised him up to enable the masses to hear the gospel.) Seeing the need for training, she established the Lighthouse for International Foursquare Evangelism (LIFE) Bible College and also invested in foreign missions. But her later years were dogged by controversy. Her mysterious disappearance, believed drowned, in 1926, gave rise to speculation of an affair with a former employee. But in fact she had been kidnapped in Mexico and such was the relief at having her back that 50,000 people lined the streets to welcome her on her return to Los Angeles.

Nevertheless Aimee and her mother were charged with perjury and ridiculed from pulpit to press. Ultimately the charges were dropped and the district attorney who instigated the case was himself sent to prison for corruption.

A nervous breakdown in 1930 may have precipitated a disastrous marriage to David L. Hutton in 1931 which alienated some of her contemporaries. But her tremendous resilience prevailed and during the depression she met the physical needs of over 1.5 million people regardless of race, creed or color. A journalist sent to investigate relief efforts reported, amidst much corruption among charitable organizations, Aimee's compassion for the needy: "I saw her feeding, encouraging and giving hope, faith and strength to the poor as they jammed the Temple...and I saw her insulting those who had folding money into parting with it for their destitute brothers. She had sick women on the floor of her home and old men in her garage."

By the time of her death in 1944, Angeles Temple had over 400 branch churches (with some 22,000 members) and 200 mission stations abroad. Her son Rolf McPherson took over the leadership of ICFG and today the denomination has over 25,000 churches in 74 countries with a total of 1,700,000 members. Such is the legacy of this remarkable woman who liked to be known as 'Everybody's Sister'