Aimee Semple McPherson

October 9th, 1890 to September 27th, 1944

Introduction

Aimee Semple McPherson was a described as a person before her time.1 It was written of her, “We had never heard the voice of Aimee Semple McPherson except via radio and then our thought had been, ‘She, too, is one of God’s screechers.’ But when she greeted us with her voice was well modulated, pleasant, with its vibrant quality of violins which lifts you with it as it soars. We could understand how that voice, come from a vigorous, confident, graceful, perfectly dressed woman, emotion-inspired, could sway multitudes. In ten minutes we found we had lost another old belief- that Barnum was the greatest showman of the age. Color, pageantry, vivid contrast, symbolism and broad human appeal mark everything Sister Aimee does or directs, whether it’s a Salvation Lighthouse or a Foursquare Gospel Lifeboat which flashes a message of rescue to the passer, or a preacher uniformed in garments symbolic of love and purity, or a dramatic demand- not a mere appeal- that some case of human suffering be relieved at once, or an impassioned sermon which is a vocal moving picture.”2

Aimee was a lady who stirred controversy. “Sister simply operated by a different set of rules.”3 She was unrelenting in preaching the message of divine healing and that Jesus was the same yesterday, today and forever. “The press diligently pursued the subjects of Sister’s prayers, usually with her blessing. Reporters faithfully acknowledged that she made no claim to possess healing powers, nor was she comfortable with the emphasis the crowds and the press placed on healing.”4

To Sister Aimee, Pentecostalism was not another Christian movement, but New Testament Christianity. Her life and her ministry saw many challenges in a time when the world seemed to be struggling to itself. Her life, like her ministry was filled with drama that even today still fascinates. Like so many heroes of faith, she was a frail human vessel that accomplished great things for the Lord, yet she was far from perfect. Many still would and did disqualify her, but despite everything she reached many for the Lord.

Her Birth

At the end of the nineteenth century, Ontario was the hub for Canadian Protestantism. The majority were Methodists, then Baptists followed by other Protestant denominations. The Salvation Army was a fast-growing movement that saw great success in Ontario.

Aimee was born on Thursday, October 9th, 1890 on Salford to James and Minnie Kennedy. It was during harvest, which almost seemed symbolic of the life of Aimee. Her father was a hard-working farmer, who with the help of his father had cleared the land. He was Methodist and had been married to Elizabeth Hogg. They had three children, Mary Elizabeth who eloped with a local boy called, Joseph Sabine, Charles who died of tuberculosis, and William who died in an accident. 5 In March of 1886, once again  tragedy would strike the family, as Elizabeth   became seriously ill and was unable to doing her daily work around the house and take care of things. They invited an orphan from the Salvation Army, Mildrad Ona Pearce, or Minnie as she was called. Minnie took on the woman’s work on the farm.

Minnie was the youngest child of Mary and John Pearce. 6 The family were Methodists but soon that would change when the Salvation Army came to town in 1883. Mary Pearce soon became an active member. However, she became seriously ill and when she realized she was dying asked the Salvation Army to take care of Minnie. Mary died in late October 1884. Her father would remarry in 1885. For some reason, Mary decided to leave her family and travel with the Salvation army. 7 She was extremely devoted to the Salvation Army and even when she worked for the Kennedy’s she would travel back every day to the Salvation Army’s meeting, either by bike or walking.8

In March of 1886, Elizabeth passed away, but Minnie stayed on helping James Kennedy. Sometime, during the summer, James proposed to Minnie, even though “no records preserve any hint of romance.”9 Ontario law prevented marriage under the age of sixteen without parental consent. So, Minnie and James traveled to Michigan where the law was not so strict. On the marriage license application, Minnie claimed she was twenty-two and James who was fifty claimed he was forty-two. 10 They were married in a civil ceremony.

Minnie continued to remain loyal to the Salvation Army, traveling the five miles daily from the farm to thee local barracks. The day after getting married, Minnie prayed to the Lord for a child. She had felt that she failed in her ministry calling and wanted the Lord to give her a child that would fulfill it in her place. She prayed…

“If you will only hear my prayer, as You heard Hannah’s prayer of old, and give me a little girl, I will give her unreservedly into Your service, that she may preach the Word that I should have preached, fill the place I should have filled, and live the life I should have lived in Thy service. O Lord, hear and answer me…”11

In 1890, a new Methodist church was built and along with it came a great religious celebration. In the midst of this celebration, James and Minnie had their only child, Aimee. She was born during the early hours of the 9th of October. 12 After three weeks, Minnie dedicated little Aimee to the Lord at the Salvation Army jubilee service.  She consecrated her child “to spend all its life in Salvation War.”13 Aimee was born within days of the death of Catherine Booth, the wife of William Booth. From the very beginning she was anointed into God’s service.14

Aimee’s Childhood

Aimee’s mother who was still a young lady never really knew a traditional home life and was radically sold out to the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army played a major role in American history at this time and during the First World War, Eva (Evangeline) Booth and 250 Army soldiers left for the front line in France to support the troops with “seven-days-a-week” Christianity. So grateful was America to the Salvation Army’ support that after the war they paid them $13 million to cover the costs for canteens, hostels, rest rooms, and the care provided by the Army for the troops. Amy would alter become acquainted with Eva Booth. The impact of the Salvation Army on Aimee was clear. She used a lot of their techniques in her own ministry.15

Aimee Kennedy spent a lot of her youth at the local Salvation Army Barracks involved in prayer meetings (knee drills), street evangelism and meetings. Aimee also attended the Methodist church with her dad. He taught her to play the organ, ride horses and enjoy nature. In looking at Aimee she was clearly a dreamer and it is easy to wonder if the time spent with her dad enjoying nature helped create that in her.

“Her childhood was picture perfect. She was raised as an only child on a large country farm in a rambling farmhouse with farm animals as playmates. She grew up with the stories of Daniel in the lion’s den, Joseph and Pharaoh, and Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt.”16

In 1897, James Kennedy began construction on a new and larger home which Minnie would call the “Kosy Kot.”17 At school Aimee did well and was on the honors roll. From an early age she became known for being an elocutionist. 18 At home Aimee would gather up the chairs in her room and practiced preaching to an imaginary crowd. 19

In 1905, Aimee passed the entrance exam to get into Ingersoll College (High School). Here she studied the sciences and learn French. It was here she had the first challenge to her faith. As part of Biology she was taught Darwin and his theory of Evolution which directly conflicted with Creationism. She initially began by marking the texts in her study book that she felt were at odds with the Bible. She also began to see the impact of those who believed in Evolution and what it meant for their lives. A local Bishop, Hamilton of Ottawa, wrote an article in the Family Herald and Weekly Star challenging the school of teaching things opposed to the Bible.21 Such boldness inspired Aimee.  In college she would have also been exposed to the rising tide of rational thought and the religion of nature as taught by Voltaire. “According to his theory, the only religious duty of humanity was to be virtuous.”22

In the local churches Aimee saw how they no longer practiced what was in the Bible and “seemed the church was only a social gathering for plays and entertainment, and there were no miracles being worked like those she read about in the Bible. So she began debating with visiting ministers and questioned why they preached if there were no miracles today.”22 A local pastor at the same time declared that the miracles God works today were “drugs, surgeons,” and medicine for those who were sick.23

Aimee reasoned that if part of the Bible was not true then the whole of the Bible was not true. We all must come to the place where we discover are we running on the convictions and beliefs of another or our they real to us. Aimee decided initially to throw it all away and become an atheist. However, one night as she gazed at the stars out of her bedroom window she prayed that if God was real that would He reveal Himself to her.” Such a simple prayer that the Lord would soon answer.

It is also important to realize the role her mother Minnie played in her life. Minnie was a strong and a determined lady which of course Aimee would take from her. As Roberts Liardon put it, “Just holding her own around Minnie served to groom Aimee for answering the many hard questions that would could her way as a future Christian leader.”24

The Ulster Pentecostal Man

Growing up in Northern Ireland, I love reading the role Ulster men played in church history and especially in revivals. It would be an Ulster man who would help launch Aimee into her divine destiny.

Aimee was now seventeen. Her family where financially very comfortable so she enjoyed the best of everything. Aimee loved to go to the dances and had fun. The day after she had prayed for the Lord to reveal Himself to her, she was driving home from school with her father when she noticed a sign in a store front that stated: “Holy Ghost Revival: Robert Semple, Irish Evangelist.”25

Aimee had heard about Pentecostals and how they jumped, danced and spoke in tongues and she felt it would be fun to observe them. She figured she could take a few moments and have fun then go to the Town Hall. The next, she came to the Mission at the corner of Thames and Carnegie Street in Ingersoll. When she joined the meeting, Aimee felt like she was slightly above the people. 26 She turned up wearing a beautiful dress, elegant hat and covered in jewelry. The people in the room were plainly dressed and soon began to dance with all of their might.

Just as she was about to slip out and go to her drama rehearsal and young Irish man stepped on to the stage. Being from Magherafelt, he spoke with soft Northern Ireland accent and not as broad as for example Belfast. He preached from Acts chapter two and the Day of Pentecost. He earnestly pleaded with the people to repent of their sins and then come receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost, with the evidence of speaking in tongues. 27 Soon, Aimee forgot about the drama rehearsal and was captivated by what was happening. Inside of Aimee was a struggle as she considered the cost of submitting to the Lord. She wanted to shout but how could she as she was now an atheist. But she was drawn to Robert Semple.

Robert Semple was from a small town in Northern Ireland, close to where the revival of 1859 happened. He had traveled to Toronto and then Chicago, where he met some of the early Pentecostals in Chicago who were speaking in tongues. He had been working at Marshall Fields as a clerk at the time when God called him into ministry. He soon became a very successful evangelist throughout the Northern States and Canada.28

Aimee wrote of the event, “I had never heard such a sermon. Using the Bible as a sword, he cut the whole world in two.”29

Robert Semple preached an absolute Gospel with no middle ground. You either served the Lord or the world. His preaching pierced the heart of Aimee.

Aimee knew the Lord was answering her and calling to her.

“From the moment I heard that young man speak with tongues, to this day, I have never doubted for the shadow of a second that there was a God, and that He had shown me my true condition as a poor, lost, miserable, hell-serving sinner.”30

The Lord has a way of speaking directly to us even as someone preaches. The preacher may never even imagine someone would get a certain thing from the Lord out of what was said, but the Lord can take words and anoint them so they get our attention. Those words sink deep and continue to reverberate in us. They stir and provoke us. Well, Aimee three days later had to stop her carriage in the middle on a lonely road and cry out to heaven. Aimee wrote that when she did…

“The sky was filled with brightness. The tree, the field, and the little snow birds flitting to and fro were praising the Lord and smiling upon me. So conscious was I of the pardoning blood of Jesus that I seemed to feel it flowing over me.”31

Many like to simply put their toes into the barrel. But the Lord is calling us to jump in. It is time for a divine encounter that changes everything. We personally one on one discover a personal Jesus and enter the most wonderful relationship with Him. We can simply seek to pacify the stirring inside of us by attending some church and serving. But the Lord wants us to have a full encounter where we are forever changed. Like Jacob, we wrestle with Him and when it is finished, we walk away blessed and never walking the same. The difference is we no longer go to church, we become part of the church. The fire rages in us and we come with an overflow when we gather with the church. Blessed and now we are a blessing!

Consecrated to the Lord

That day, Aimee consecrated her life to the Lod as she sang a song she had sung so often, but now the words were a real prayer…

“Take my life and let it be

Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;

Take my moments and my days,

Let them flow in ceaseless praise.”32

Such prayers reach the heart of the Father and they become a covenant between us and Him.

Aimee meant the words too and immediately everything changed for her. She dropped out of Christmas play and started to spend all of her time at the Pentecostal Mission. Those who knew Aimee wondered where the old person they knew went. She was dead and a new Aimee was born. It is hard to imagine at this moment how a young lady in a small rural town in Ontario would become a worldwide voice for Jesus. What He can do with a vessel consecrated to Him goes beyond what we can even imagine. In a million years Aimee could never have conceived where He would lead her. But the journey had begun.

Aimee devoted her time to “seeking God” as the Pentecostals called it.33 Aimee called it being hungry and she was hungry. She was in a place of holy desperation seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Everything around her lost its luster and she found it hard to concentrate at school. Friends and family, even her mother Minnie could not understand what was going on with Aimee.

Persecution Arises

Aimee was a woman consumed with the Lord. She dreamed of the rapture and longed to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. Such passion causes fear in the enemy camp and persecution always follows. He seeks to stop the person while they are yet a babe and no real threat. The fire threatens him, and he knows that every day it grows means his kingdom is in danger.

At school, Aimee once a star student was now so distracted that the principle warned that if she did not get serious about her studies she would fail.34 Then the Salvation Army became very unhappy about Aimee’s association with Pentecostals and came to Minnie to file a complaint. As a result, Minnie told Aimee if she left school once more to go the Pentecostal Mission, they would remove her from school and keep her home.

We must learn to allow the Lord to defend us. He is more than able if e will trust Him. Well the next morning, January 31st, a major snowstorm hit. Aimee was unable to drive to school, so she took the train. As she made her way to the school from the train station, she passed the Mission. Feeling strongly convicted she turned around and went to the Mission. In her heart eternity was on the line and that was more important than school.

Aimee spent the day in prayer. What a crime that even believers felt compelled to stop her. What they could not see was what God was doing.

Well, because the snow was so heavy the train home was cancelled. She tried calling home, but the phone lines were down. To Aimee it was an answer to prayer. She was forced to stay at a Pentecostal sister’s house. In the morning Aimee began to pray again. Being trained by the Salvation army, she stormed heaven and made a whole lot of noise as she shouted, sung and prayed. Suddenly, she began to shake, and she slipped to the floor. She then began to laugh and speak in tongues. Finally, she had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The next day was a beautiful Sunday morning, which to Aimee was a reflection of her spiritual wellbeing. She turned up at the Mission for service and as Robert Semple did communion, she was slain in the Spirit. A family friend disturbed by what she saw and called Minnie who came to get Aimee. Minnie was determined to end this once and for all. On the way home, Aimee kept singing a hymn which further irritated her mother.

At a loss at what to do, Minnie threatened Aimee that if she ever went to the Pentecostal Mission again, they would pull her out of school and only allow her to Ingersoll if she was supervised. Aimee gave her mother a challenge. If she could prove through the Word that the Pentecostals were wrong, she would never associate with them again. Aimee left for school and was distracted as usual. Minnie was also distracted as she pored over the Word. When Aimee came home, Minnie concluded that the Scriptures were on the side of the Pentecostals. 35

Robert James Semple 1881-1910

Robert Semple was from a Presbyterian family and was born in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland. The town is located near Derry on the road from Belfast. It was close to the sites where the Ulster revival on the early seventeenth and mid nineteenth century had occurred and the birthplace of Charles Thomson who helped with the writing of the Constitution and designing the seal of the United States. Robert Semple’s parents ran the general store in that town.36 In 1898, Robert emigrated from Northern Ireland and came to New York. He would according to Blumhofer in an unconfirmed report make his way to Chicago and worked at Marshall Fields. 37 It was during this time that he came encounter with a small Pentecostal storefront believed to be run by William H. Durham in 1907. Semple was a six-foot-six inch handsome looking man who became associated with Durham.38 Durham who was from Kentucky had gone out to the Azusa Street revival.

“Pastor Seymour said that he had retired to rest early in the evening, and the Spirit had spoken to him, and said, “Brother Durham will get the Baptism tonight,” and he arose and came down. When he beheld the wondrous sight of the Chicago pastor being filled with the Spirit, he prophesied that wherever this man would preach, the Holy Spirit would fall on the people.” Durham now returned to his North Avenue Mission where some had already received but who were eagerly waiting for their Spirit-filled pastor”39

Durham returned to his church on North Avenue in Chicago and began preaching the full Gospel including the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. Durham preached that when you were born again you began the process of being made holy or sanctified and that this was a process and not a discreet experience. He therefore preached that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was not a third experience but a second.

Aimee and Robert were attracted to each other and when Robert returned to Ingersoll in the spring of 1908 he proposed to Aimee. They were married a few months later on August 12th, 1908 at Aimee’s family farm near Salford, Ontario. The ceremony was conducted by Lt-Col. John D. Sharp of the Salvation Army. 40 Aimee as a result did not finish school, but “left everything behind in order to love, honor and obey her new husband. Robert was all she needed for a fulfilled and enriching life.”41

Robert began working at a boilermaker factory and preaching in the evenings at the Pentecostal Mission in Stratford. 42/43 The mission met at 20 Erie Street, Stratford. Many Pentecostal churches trace their roots back to house meetings and the Semples started a house meeting in the home of the Armstrongs in late 1908.44 However, soon, Robert and Aimee decided to head to Chicago.

On January 2nd, 1909, Robert Semple was ordained by Durham at his mission at 943 West North Avenue, just north of the downtown area of Chicago. The couple would stay a year and during the stay, Aimee would also be ordained. 45 The Semples worked closely with Durham traveling with him to Findley OH and Canada. 46/47

During their time in Chicago, the Semples did a great work among Italians and Persians and saw many come to the Lord and get filled with the Holy Spirit. 48 Nothing mattered but the cause of Christ to the Semples. 49 Aimee said of Robert, “He was my theological seminary… my spiritual mentor, and my tender, patient, unfailing lover.”50

Aimee would have her first real encounter with divine healing after she fell downstairs and broke her ankle while with Durham in the Mission in Findley OH. Her foot was put in a cast and she was told that she would never have full use of four ligaments. She was to stay off her foot for at least a month. Aimee was in a lot of pain and one night the pain became so intense she returned to her room during a prayer meeting. She looked at her black and swollen foot and heard a voice saying, “If you go over to the (Mission) and ask Brother Durham to lay hands on your foot, I will heal it.”51

Aimee went over to the mission. As Durham walked up and down the aisles, he stopped and laid hands on Aimee’s foot. Immediately, she felt like electricity hit her foot and the blackness left her toes and the pain went. Aimee knowing the Lord had healed her called for someone to cut off the cast. She then began dancing as she rejoiced that the Lord had healed her foot.

Off to the Missions

At the end of 1909, Aimee and Robert felt called to go to China and evangelize there. The Missions they had been associated with already supported works in China. Robert had assisted in local outreaches in Chinatown. 52 Among early Pentecostals there was a strong emphasis on evangelism. They believed the Baptism in the Holy Spirit empowered them to be witnesses. They felt the Spirit say, “Go” and they did. So, on January 6th, 1910 the Semples left with Durham, Chicago and headed to Canada.

Their first stop was in Berlin, Ontario. 53 During the meetings people would “fall and lie as dead under the power. Others would be shaken mightily, and some would be praying, some singing in the Spirit, some speaking in tongues, yet all seemed to be praising God in perfect harmony.”54

The Semples then left for Northern Ireland. Robert took Aimee to meet his family in Magherafelt. There his mother showed Aimee the barn where Robert “would always be out…crying to God to use him.”55 While there they preached in Belfast (the capital) and between forty and fifty people were baptized in the Holy Spirit. 56 After leaving Ireland they traveled to London where they would meet with Cecil Polhill. He was the head over the Pentecostal Missionary Union or PMU. He asked Aimee to give a message at the meeting that night at the Royal Albert Hall which had an audience of 15,000. 57 The Royal Albert Hall would become a blueprint for her future Angelus Temple in Los Angeles. They left London and in June 1910, they arrived in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong was a different world than anything Aimee had seen or known before. The Chinese had a diet of caterpillars, bugs and all kinds of animals. Their apartment was small and noisy, so it was hard to get rest. One day she watched the Hindus burn a man alive outside her window.58

With the poor living conditions, Robert and Aimee soon contracted malaria. They were both taken to the hospital where there were separate dormitories for males and females. 59 Aimee was confident God would heal them. At the same time, Aimee was pregnant. Aimee was given permission to sit by Roberts bed and there they talked about the baby. Robert knew he was going home and told Aimee, he “was going to be with Jesus.”60 His last words to Aimee were “Good night my dear; I’ll see you in the morning.” At 1 Am on August 19th, Robert went home to be with the Lord.61 Robert was only twenty-nine years old and Aimee just nineteen.

Aimee then gave birth to Roberta Star on September 17th, 1910. Robert had longed to see his child before he died. The child was named after Robert and was given the middle name of Star as she was a “bright star of promise amid darkness.”62

Aimee was left alone with Roberta in a world she did not know. Roberta was a frail baby and the other missionaries encouraged Aimee to return home to the States. Minnie wired Aimee the money to make the trip home and in November they left Shanghai for San Francisco.

Regarding Robert, Aimee would later return to Northern Ireland and in an interview said, “Her conversion and all her success were due to the influence of her husband.”63

Blumhofer stated…

“Robert awakened her emotions, defined her spirituality, and took her off the farm and around the world, all before she was twenty years old… Robert Semple’s shadow loomed over the rest of Aimee’s life: he- and what he stood for- never really left her, or perhaps she opted not to let him go. He was the only man whose influence she acknowledged in her recitation of her life story… Everything within her had vibrated in response to Robert.”64

Back in America

Aimee would mourn over Robert for a year as she continued in this wilderness, she now found herself in to know God’s will for her life. She would go to New York and then to Chicago. She had hoped to continue where Robert left off, ministering at the churches he had ministered at. However, Roberta remained a frail child, so she returned home. But her restless spirit soon had her back in New York.

In New York she went to Glad Tiding’s Church which was pastored by Mary Burgess Brown and Robert Brown. They were from Zion, Illinois and received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit when Parham visited the city in 1906.65 When she returned the second time, she would meet Harold McPherson. He fell in love with her and did everything he could to sweep her off her feet. Before she would marry him she made one stipulation, “all my heart and soul were really in the work of the Lord, and that if at any time in my life He should call me back into active ministry, no matter where or when, I must obey God first of all. To this he agreed, and we were married on February 28th, 1912 under these conditions.”66

Harold’s mother invited the family to come live in Rhode Island. Here they had a beautiful home close to the sea. As Aimee wrote, “I should have been happy. Roberta was beloved, petted to her heart’s content, and made strong and healthy.”67 However, Harold’s money ran out and Aimee went back to New York and worked as a solicitor for the Salvation Army.

On March 23rd, 1913 her son, Rolf McPherson, was born. However, throughout this time period the call was disturbing her on the inside. She kept hearing a voice that shouted loudly inside of her, “Reach the Word! Do the Work of an evangelist!” 68 In 1914, Aimee became seriously ill and the doctor was called. The doctor said there was no hope and soon Aimee would be gone. Her mother remembered her vow- that her daughter Aimee would fulfill Minnie’s call as she had failed to fulfill it. So, Minnie prayed and held to the promise that Aimee would live and not die so that she might fulfill the vow. Aimee was moved to a room where the dying were taken. It was here Aimee heard the Lord calling for her to repent and telling her, “Will you go?” Finally, Aimee surrendered to the call. She opened her eyes and found all the pain gone. Within two weeks she had recovered and was up and well.69

What’s Wrong with You?

As Aimee recovered, Harold found himself in a good job and doing well. He expected Aimee to simply be like other housewives and keep the house clean and cook the food. But Aimee couldn’t. She knew she had to fulfill the call. So, one day while Harold was at work she bundled up the kids and left for Toronto.70 She would wire Harold and said, “I have tried to walk your way and have failed. Won’t you come now and walk my way? I am sure we will be happy.”71

Harold’s response would come several months later and by that time the gap between them was great. They spend months trying to work out their differences without success.

Her mother agreed to take care of the kids while Aimee focused on ministry. Aimee knew she had to repent before the Lord so at a camp meeting she went down to the mourner’s bench and sobbing she cried, “Oh, Jesus, forgive me!”72 She experienced God’s grace and acceptance wash over her. Aimee wrote of it, “Such love… was more than my heart could bear. Before I knew it I was on my back in the straw, under the power.”73

On Her Own

By 1915, Aimee was preaching on her own. Aimee would use any method possible to draw a crowd and soon people would travel from all over to hear her preach. Aimee was one of the few woman preachers at the time and that along with her dramatics and anointed preaching she could draw people.

She bought a tent that was offered at a bargain price with money people had given her. However, she soon found out that the tent was ripped to shreds in places. With the work of volunteers, they painstakingly patched it together in time for her meeting. In the crowd that night was Harold. He had come to hear her preach and by the end of the night he was baptized in the Holy Spirit. Harold would then for a short period join Aimee at her meetings.

In her meetings people experienced the presence of God and a preacher who understood them. They saw great power manifested and many were baptized in the Holy Spirit.

From 1917 through 1923, Aimee would preach in over one hundred cities. Her meetings would last from two nights to month. In one meeting she received enough money to purchase a 1912 Packard touring car. It would soon become a rolling church for her as she would stand in the back seat and preach eight to ten meetings a day. Between service Aimee would hand out tracts and invite people to come.

The Price of a Pioneer

Aimee was a spiritual pioneer paying a great price to spread the Pentecostal message. She was an affection and strong lady. Her upbringing in the Salvation Army had taught her how to ‘storm heaven’ in prayer. She had endured a lot at such an early age but her holy desperation and produced holy aspiration. When we knock and keep knocking with such persistence, Heaven will answer. Through the process it changes the person. We see one characteristic of Aimee is that absolute persistence. She locks into something and does not let go.

A long the way, Aimee would pay a great price that it is easy to overlook. She came across as a mother like figure, soft and caring. But she was strong. One time an oil lamp exploded in her face and left her covered in flames. She plunged her head into a bucket of water, but she was still covered in blisters. As it happened there were hecklers who loved it and jeered.

Aimee was in a lot of pain and even though the tent was filled with people she went out the back. There she was meeting with a heckler who said, “The lady who preaches divine healing has been hurt. She burned her face, so there will be no meeting tonight.” This made Aimee furious, so she rushed back out and leapt onto the platform. Despite the terrible pain she cried out, “I praise the Lord Who heals me and takes all the pain away!” Within a few moments of singing the song, Aimee’s lobster red face turned back to its normal color.74

Aimee was always seeking to gain the attention of people. Once she was visiting a town during a Mardi Gras parade. Noticing the themed floats she decided to take her 1912 Packard and make it into a floating church.  She painted on it, “Jesus is coming soon,” and “I am going to the Pentecostal camp meeting R.U?” 75

The Bridal Call

In 1917, Aimee began publishing the “Bridal Call.” She sought to change the image of church, by taking “away the damnation and sin to take on the tone of a celebration, a happy wedding.”76 It was a monthly magazine. In it the repeated themes was “If you are a lost sinner today, there is yet time to put on your wedding garments: there is yet room in the bridal procession, and the Bridegroom Himself stands ready to help you…”77 It stressed her emphasis on the Second Coming and was based on the parable of the Ten Virgins awaiting the Bridegroom. Even the cover showed Jesus appearing in the clouds with trumpets blowing. 78

The first issue was published in June 1917 while she was in Savannah with Harold. It was filled with sermons, news, photographs of her campaigns and much more. 79

Harold McPherson and Minnie

Harold who had joined and worked with Aimee for a season. They traveled up and down the east coast. Traveling in the car proved a difficult lifestyle. Aimee shared some of those hardships- “driving rainstorms that left their sleeping tent ankle-deep in water and her struggles cooking on a smoky oil stove.”80

When they were back in Florida, Aimee and Harold agreed to separate. Harold went to work with some evangelists up in Maryland and West Virginia. However, “everywhere frustration and disappointment plagued him until he gave in to what he must have known all along- that full-time work as an evangelist simply was not for him.”81

Minnie quickly filled the gap, joining her daughter Aimee.

Several years later Harold would file for divorce claiming that Aimee had deserted him. He also claimed she treated him with “extreme cruelty.”82 Aimee would file a counter suite that claimed he deserted her. After the divorce Harold remarried and settled down to a more normal life that he wanted. 83

Aimee suffered much criticism for the divorce. Many pointed to divorces caused by one spouses’ dedication to the Angelus Temple. It was as Blumhofer wrote that the call preceded anything even marriage. “Heeding a higher calling was all that mattered in a subculture preoccupied with Christ’s return.” 84 Aimee had met Harold while she was still mourning Robert and needed some sense of stability. We must understand that at that time society was designed to support single mothers. Women were supposed to stay at home and take care of their children. Harold, who was nine years older than her, offered her what looked like stability and wisdom for her and Roberta. However, the burden of the call consumed Aimee.  For Harold, it was too hard to live in the shadow. He wanted to be the leader and he wanted a different life which he ultimately found

Aimee also became a voice for women. She held fast old fashioned values but as Blumhofer stated… “she wrestled with the frustrations of being a modern woman- free to nurture and express her calling and to have a public career while still finding a haven in family and home.”85

Also, as you look at the example at her own home, Minnie was a strong and independent woman. She often abandoned her husband to do what she felt led to do. When she was with Aimee, her husband was left alone in Toronto. Aimee sought a husband that understood the value of her call and like Aimee was committed to paying any price to fulfilling that call.

One comment I would make is sometimes the passion and commitment to the call can cause us to lose sight of the compassion and kindness of the Lord. Marie Woodworth Etter faced a similar situation, in that she was called, and her husband resisted her. Marie went to prayer and put the burden on the Lord. Aimee just left in Harold one night while he was gone. I can only imagine the damage that did to the marriage. Their marriage also shows the powerful importance of being on the same page and purpose before you marry.

Shout! For the Lord Has Given Us the City!

By now Aimee was drawing very large crowds. Her message was designed to appeal to all.  She was “burdened by the eliteness she had seen in the Church that kept needy sinners away. She called sin, sin, inviting everyone to repentance. 86

She was traveling across America as World War 1 raged. In 1918 an influenza outbreak occurred.  Aimee had undergone two surgeries and was still recovering. 87 Roberta came down sick with the flu and even came close to death. Aimee called on believers to pray. Aimee herself got down on her knees to pray. As she prayed she the Lord spoke and said, “I will give you a little home- a nest for your babies- out in Los Angeles, California, where they can play and be happy and go to school and have the surroundings of other children.”88

After the war, thousands of Americans felt the call to go west. California seemed the perfect place, with the ideal weather and a society that was diverse and suitable for all tastes. Los Angeles at the beginning of the century was seeing a building boom.

So, Aimee began her trip across America to Los Angeles. She traded in her old Packard and bought a seven-seater Oldsmobile touring car. She had painted on it, “Jesus is Coming Soon- Get Ready,” and “Where Will You Spend Eternity?” 89 When she arrived in Indianapolis, Indiana she would meet with Marie Woodworth Etter. Aimee had been greatly inspired by Marie and it was an opportunity to hear Marie preach. Marie was at this stage an elderly lady and pastoring a church in Indianapolis.

In late 1918, Aimee finally made it to Los Angeles. Many were eager to hear her preach. Two days after she arrived, Aimee was preaching to a crowd of around seven hundred at the Victoria Hall. 90 She titled her message, “Shout! For the Lord Hath Given You the City.”91

A Divine Assault on Los Angeles

Around 1920 Los Angeles was described by Essayist H. L. Mencken as “the osteopaths, chiropractors and other such quacks had long marked and occupied it. It swarmed with swamis, spiritualists, Christian Scientists, crystal-gazers and allied necromancers. It offered brilliant pickings for real estate speculators, oil-stock brokers, wire tappers and so on. But the town pastors were not up to its opportunities.”92

But Aimee Semple McPherson “attacked Los Angeles with a force of a physical and mental eagerness and a devout belief that she was following God’s call. Her ambitions were great and the obstacles tremendous.”93

Aimee came with an anointing and by the Hand of God launched a divine assault on Los Angeles. By the end of 1919 she was filling the Philharmonic Auditorium with people coming to hear her preach.  To Aimee California was the place to be in order to win souls for Jesus.

One Sunday night a lady stood up and felt the Lord told her to give Aimee a lot to build a house on. A builder in the auditorium then agreed to offer his services to build the house and three months later, “the house that God built,” was occupied by Aimee and her family. The family now had a housekeeper, which allowed Aimee the freedom to travel for ministry.94

After the revival at Azusa Street, Pentecostals in Los Angeles became divided on doctrine and religious politics and Aimee was a breath of fresh air. “No individual had risen high enough among them truly to command their devotion.”95 Aimee came in with energy and excitement and above all she was free from all the fighting that had gone on over the years. Aimee had “moved away from the solemn, gloomy, and archaic sermons of ordinary preachers.” 96

A Burden for Souls

Aimee truly was moved to reach the lost and knew she needed a permanent place to preach but she would have to raise the money to build that place. So, from 1919 through 1923 she traveled across America nine times.

In 1917, Robert Craig had organized the Assemblies of God into a Pentecostal denomination. In April 1919, Aimee became an evangelist in the Assemblies of God. She would preach in many cities including Chicago at the Bethel Temple at Ogden Ave/ Ashland/ Monroe Street, in June 1919.

“Chicago Pentecostal friends have been greatly blessed through the ministry of one of our Lord’s handmaidens, Sister McPherson, who has just closed a series of meetings at Bethel Temple on the West Side.

A blessed spirit of unity and fellowship has been felt in the meetings, which has enabled the Lord to work in the hearts of all. In the early days of the outpouring, some twelve years ago, we were impressed with the simplicity, the childlike faith, the intense zeal and warm love for His coming. It seems that all of these early fruits of the Spirit’s incoming are being renewed in the present manifestation of His power. Many were saved, healed and baptized and the Lord added daily to the fellowship of the saints those who were being saved.

The clear, solid, scriptural presentation of the deeper truths through our sister has been convincing. We believe that God has given her an insight which is rare even in Pentecostal circles. 97

This church was close to the site of Dowie’s infamous War on Doctors, Drugs and Devils.

Also in 1991 the press really discovered Aimee and developed “one of America’s most celebrated media love/hate relationships ever on record.”98 She would preach in Baltimore and the first auditorium she rented which seated three thousand had to urn people away. She then rented a sixteen thousand seat auditorium. It was here that Aimee rebuked a person for overly demonstrative worship. Up until then it was considered unethical to confront an ecstatic worshipper for God. Aimee told the leadership…

“The woman proved to be a maniac who had been in an asylum… Yet this was the kind of woman many of the saints would have allowed to promenade the platform fearing lest they quench the Spirit.”99

It was also during her Baltimore campaign that incredible miracles would occur, and the headlines screamed the results. “It was said that when Aimee would enter the hall before a meeting, there were often throngs of desperately ill people seeking to touch her.”100

While preaching in Montreal the local newspaper recorded that Aimee prayed for eight hours with the sick.101 No one left without what Aimee “Sister” called “a touch of love- a smile, a handshake, and a God bless you.”102

Aimee would go to Dallas and the meetings were so successful that on their second week she needed police to address traffic issues and help with the crowds. Within minutes ever seat would be filled. 103 At her meeting ministers from the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and Congregational along with Pentecostal came to help her.104 From Dallas she went to Denver. In Dallas a powerful and influential leader in the Methodist church, Arthur C. Peck supported her giving her immediate credibility.105 It was estimated that the crowds were well over 100,000.106 In meeting in St Louis prior to Dallas saw over 5,000 baptized in the Mississippi River. 107 The photo of the water baptizing of 5,000 appeared in Newspapers throughout the country.  So, Aimee’s name preceded her. However, Bill Sunday was holding a series of meetings at the same time in Denver.

When Aimee discovered that the papers were presenting her as a successful healer she responded, “My healings? I do nothing. If the eyes of the people are on Me, nothing will happen. I pray and believe with others who pray and believe, and the power of Christ works the cure.”108

Aimee preached at the People’s Tabernacle. Once again many local ministers rallied around and supported Aimee. She then preached at the Auditorium, which seated twelve- thousand. She would have two thousand converts the first night exceeding Bill Sunday’s tally. 109

Minnie, Aimee’s Mother

Aimee’s ministry was now in high gear. Minnie, her mother, strongly supported and guarded Aimee. According to Liardon, instead of mother-daughter they were more like sisters. 110 Minnie brought great organizational skills to the table. She ran the ministry, including the finances. “Minnie was tough, and sometimes only slept two hours a night.”111 Minnie was also a control freak and didn’t want anyone close to her daughter. Minnie would immediately go after her daughter if she formed any kind of relationship with somebody, harassing her until she broke it. This would ultimately lead Aimee to feel “owned” and “controlled” by Minnie that lead to their parting of ways.

Back in Los Angeles

When Aimee returned home, she began to look for land to build her church. People from all over began contributing to her building project. Even the Ku Klux Klan gave to her and even though Aimee disagreed with them, still they loved her.112

Land was donated to Aimee in Echo Park, California and it was here she began construction on her 5,300 seat Angelus Temple.113. Aimee used all kinds of techniques to raise money. She once stood on a truck bed and sold sacks of cement. 114

Finally, on January 1sth, 1923 the Angelus Temple was dedicated, and the church was filled to capacity. 115 The church would be filled to capacity three times each day, seven days a week. She had a fourteen-piece orchestra and a one-hundred voice choir. During the first week that it was open, over eight thousand were converted. 116

The Foursquare Gospel

It was during 1922 that Aimee had her Foursquare Gospel Revelation…

“Oh, it’s the Foursquare Gospel

From the Foursquare City

With a Foursquare message to bring-

Jesus only Savior, Baptizer and Healer;

Jesus the coming King.”117

Throughout 1922, Aimee’s motto in the Bridal Call was “Full Gospel Evangelism.” In the summer issue she ran an ad for the church she was building, the Angelus Temple, and she printed for the first time “foursquare gospel.” She stated, “This Temple will be opened January 1, 1923 (D.V), for the preaching of a four-square Gospel: Jesus the only Saviour, Jesus the Great Physician, Jesus the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, Jesus the coming Bridegroom and King.”118

Aimee would begin to share her revelation on the Foursquare Gospel throughout the year. Some accused her of adopting Albert A. Simpson’s “Fourfold Gospel.” A. A. Simpson claimed Jesus was Christ the Savior, Christ the Healer, Christ the Sanctifier, and Christ Coming King.” He belonged to the Holiness Movement and he was not Pentecostal. 119 So, the clear difference was Jesus the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit. She would base it upon Ezekiel’s vision.

Ultimately, it led to the formation of the Foursquare Gospel denomination, a leading Pentecostal denomination.

Kidnapped

The year 1922 was a big year for Aimee. She had traveled across America with powerful revivals and saw Angelus Temple built. But on June 18th, 1922 when she was leaving a meeting, someone stopped and asked her for prayer. She was then quickly put into a car filled with Klansmen and driven off. Three days later, Aimee would be found walking into Douglas Arizona. The three days she was missing became a sensation and scandal. She would make the front page of newspaper’s worldwide as everyone wondered where she was.

Aimee was reaching gamblers, drug addicts and prostitutes in her city which put her in a dangerous position with certain groups in society. Often when people would share their testimonies they would tell of their criminal deeds of the past and expose those who were with them.

On June 20th, she found herself pushed into a car and a chloroform-soaked cloth over her mouth. She would awake in a shake where she was held by two men and a woman. Aimee claimed they threatened her and then went on to cut off a piece of her hair, and to burn her fingertips with cigars. 120 Finally, Aimee was able to escape when the woman went shopping.

Aimee would spend a night in hospital. Aimee described her kidnappers, but they were never found. When the police asked her to retrace her steps in the desert, they found no shack that matched the description she gave. The Los Angeles District Attorney, Asa Keyes, then accused Aimee of lying and sought to discredit Aimee.

Some eyewitnesses came forth and claimed she was at the beach taking a break.121

During the volatile situation, Aimee took the opportunity to get a well-earned rest. She rented a room at the Ambassador Hotel and took time to simply relax and write. 122 Aimee was taken to court in 1926 and on July 20th, 1926 the jury would find insufficient evidence against Aimee to warrant an indictment. 123

Aimee’s Vindication Tour and A Broken Nose

After what happened, Minnie wanted Aimee to take a low profile until everything cooled down. However, Aimee saw things differently. Aimee would go to where sinners were, night clubs, dance halls, pool halls, etc. But throughout 1926 saw lawsuit after lawsuit filed against her. Tensions between mother and daughter also grew and soon Minnie was publicly criticizing Aimee. With everything that was going on, Aimee felt betrayed by Minnie. The Board of Elders sided with Aimee and agreed to work out a retirement plan for Minnie. 124

A fight would break out between Minnie and Aimee with the newspapers claiming Minnie ended up with a broken nose. After Minnie’s forced retirement, Aimee would have a series of managers. The truth was Minnie had undergone plastic surgery on the eve of the argument.125

In the Spring of 1927, Aimee with her new set off on a three-month transcontinental tour. Aimee would see great success in some cities and at others she would fail to fill the auditorium.

In 1927, The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel was incorporated. Soon they were sending missionaries all over the globe126 The Bible School was renamed to LIFE- Lighthouse of International Foursquare Evangelism.127

It was around this time that actor Anthony Quinn visited the Temple. He had been raised Roman Catholic but was invited to come for a service. What he experienced was nothing like the Mass he knew from the Catholic Church. “It was bells and whistles, hoots and hollers. A brimstone- bit beneath this warm-up act of a sermon there was singing, and laughter, and joyous shouts of Amen! And Hallelujah! And Praise the Lord! Quinn felt that none of the great actors of the day could touch Aimee. Soon Aimee and Quinn became friends. Quinn later said, “She gave me hope, and confidence and dignity.”128

Marriage

In 1930, Aimee suffered an emotion and physical breakdown and was confined to a Malibu beach cottage under doctor’s orders. This would last ten months. In 1931, Aimee found herself very lonely. Even her son, Rolf married  one of the Bible students.

After she returned, she completed her opera “The Crimson Road.” She was looking for a singer for the role of the Egyptian Pharaoh in the opera and came across David Hutton, Jr. She loved his voice and soon they became romantically involved. On September 13th, 1931 Aimee and David were married. They went to Yuma Arizona to avoid publicity.129

Immediately after the marriage, Aimee was informed by a reporter that a lady was suing David as he had proposed to her. She was demanding $200,000. Aimee would stand by her husband through it.

“Aimee had always followed the church doctrine that insisted divorced persons should not marry as long as their former partners lived. “130 Many had wondered why she had remarried. She later wrote how she felt lonely and sought “the protection of a man, the thoughtfulness and tenderness and devotion of a good husband.”131

The proceedings against David lasted a year and in the end he lost his case.

Aimee continued traveling and preaching. She saw great success in New England. Then on April 22nd, 1932, Aimee offered to resign as pastor of Angelus Temple for health issues. It was rejected. The following January, Aimee set off for Europe following doctor’s orders. 132 Scandals continued around David Hutton, Jr, who remained in Los Angeles while she went to Europe. 133 David would file for divorce during this time.

In 1933, Aimee began a whirlwind tour of the United States. She would hold revivals in 46 cities in 21 states. She would also broadcast on 45 radio stations. It was the time of the Great Depression and Aimee “not only preached but became a robust conservative debater and proclaimed, “America is not in the market for a red flag (a symbol of communism.)”134

In 1933, her marriage to David Hutton, Jr., had failed. And in February 1934 they were officially divorced.

The Quiet Years 1938-1944

During this season very little was said about Aimee in the press. However, she was sued by disgruntled employees, associate pastors and anyone who felt they could make money off of her.

The era of the Great Depression saw many migrate west and in California many found salvation and Angelus Temple. She continued her heavy workload. She suffered agonizing arthritis and insomnia.

During the war years, Aimee stood up front and center in support the war effort. She helped sell war bonds and pray for the troops. She used her radio to help inform people of blackouts and rationings. Her messages had a patriotic theme to them such as “Foursquare and Uncle Same,” “Remember Pearl Harbor,” and “Praise the Lord and pass the Ammunition.” 135

Finally, Home

In 1944, Aimee’s health was very poor. She was suffering from some tropical infections she picked up during her missions trips. In February 1944, she named Rolf as the Vice President of the ministry.  Rolf had proven to be faithful to his mother throughout it all. He was the one person she could fully trust.136

In September, Aimee and Rolf flew to Oakland to dedicate a new church. Due to the war these was blackouts at night which prevented them preaching. Aimee was suffering from severe insomnia and was taking sedatives. The next day, Aimee was planning to preach her classic sermon, “The Story of My Life.”

Near dawn the next day, Aimee called for a doctor as her heart was racing. He was in surgery and unable to take her call. When her son Rolf came to wake her, she had gone into shock. She was unconscious. He immediately called for medical help, but it was too late. Aimee had gone home to be with the Lord.

An article in the Time magazine claimed “After performing an autopsy, three surgeons were unable to agree on the cause of death. Her heart was strong and there was no evidence that she had taken an overdose of sleeping pills.”137

A lengthy inquest was held with the jury not reaching a verdict until October 13th. They would rule out suicide. The coroner then attributed her death to an accidental overdose of sleeping tablets. 138

Twelve days after her death on her birthday, Aimee was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles. The Life Magazine wrote…

“Mrs. McPherson’s personal history was almost as spectacle r as her evangelical craftsmanship. During her careers she figured as a defendant in no less than 45 lawsuits… Her first husband, Robert Semple, an evangelist, died in China. Her second and third marriages… ended in divorce. Sister Aimee’s trouble did not, however, diminish the ardor of her followers, who trooped by the thousands to her funeral. They sobbed when her son and chosen successor, Rolf McPherson, arose and stood where his mother had so often preached the Foursquare Gospel. ‘Mother today is not sorrowing,’ he said tremulously. ‘She is rejoicing with Our Savior.”139

Her funeral procession consisted of six hundred motor vehicles.

Aimee was fifty-three when she died.

In her life she had preached thousands of sermons, graduated over 8,000 ministers from LIFE, composed 175 songs, helped over one and a half million during the Great Depression and saw many come to the Lord.

References

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