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Definition: McPherson, Aimee Semple from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Canadian-born US religious leader. As a popular preacher, ‘Sister Aimee’ reached millions through radio broadcasts of her weekly sermons, in which she emphasized the power of faith. She established the Church of the Four-Square Gospel in Los Angeles 1918.

Born in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada, McPherson worked as a missionary to China before becoming an itinerant evangelist in the USA, gaining a large following through her revival tours. Her brief but suspicious 1926 ‘disappearance’ tarnished her reputation. She committed suicide 1944.

Summary Article: McPherson, Aimee Semple (1890-1944)
from The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

Flamboyant preacher and founder of the Foursquare Gospel Church. Aimee Kennedy was born in Ingersoll (Ontario), Canada, on October 9, 1890, the only child of James and Minnie Kennedy. Her mother was an active member of the Salvation Army and Aimee followed in her mother's footsteps. Aimee was converted under the preaching of evangelist Robert Semple, whom she married at the age of 17. Within two years they had left for China to serve as missionaries. Less than three months after their arrival, Robert was stricken by a fatal illness, leaving Aimee a widow with a 1 month old daughter, Roberta.

Upon returning home to America she and Mother Kennedy traveled together and held revival meetings in Canada and the North-eastern United States.

In 1912 Aimee met and married Harold McPherson, a salesman, and settled down to an ordinary life. The following year a son was born, whom they named Rolf. In 1916, Aimee was ready once again to hit the gospel trail. She packed up the children and her mother, and got in her “Full Gospel Car,” which she had decorated with Bible banners and painted Scriptures. They journeyed up and down the East Coast of the United States preaching the good news of salvation in tents, churches, or rented halls. She also began publishing The Bridal Call, and building a mailing list wherever she preached. As her fame grew, Aimee and her family headed westward, preaching along the way, until they arrived in Los Angeles. Large crowds gathered to hear the preacher whose reputation preceded her. She spoke of forgiveness, hope, heaven, and success instead of judgment and hell fire. She dubbed her message the “Foursquare Gospel” and proclaimed Jesus to be the savior, healer, baptizer with the Holy Spirit, and soon-returning king.

Establishing Los Angeles as her home base, Aimee started a new church in 1918, which she named Angelus Temple. Within five years a 5,300 seat auditorium was constructed, which became the hub for revivals, healing, and social ministries. It was filled to capacity at each of the three daily services which were held seven days a week. From the start, Aimee accepted into the Temple people of all ethnic, racial, and economic backgrounds.

Harold McPherson, frustrated over their hectic life and resenting his wife's success and long absences from home and family, divorced Aimee in 1921 on the grounds of desertion.

Aimee launched into radio after one of her sermons was aired over a local station during a revival in San Francisco in 1922. This fired her imagination and she applied for and was granted a license to operate a station out of Angelus Temple; thus, she became the first female radio station owner and operator in America.

In May 1926, Aimee disappeared while swimming in the Pacific Ocean. Her mother and closest friends thought she had drowned, but a few weeks after the disappearance, reports trickled in that Aimee had been sighted with Kenneth Ormiston, a former radio station employee, at a cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea. It was fodder for the press. Amidst the confusion Mother Kennedy produced a ransom note. As mysteriously as she disappeared, Aimee suddenly reappeared south of the border in Mexico on June 23, claiming she had escaped her kidnappers. Despite the scandal, Aimee's celebrity among the masses grew. Among the church members, however, the thought that their pastor had possibly succumbed to an affair caused initial shockwaves at the Temple. In time the crisis passed.

Aimee broadened her theological tent even further and endeared herself to people from all denominations. She invited civic groups, theater productions, and political parties to use the facilities. In time she became a recognized community leader. The Angelus Temple entered floats in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, produced extravagant theatrical productions that rivaled Hollywood, and offered classes to the underprivileged.

Forty-one year old “Sister” Aimee, as she had affectionately become known, tried her hand again at marriage when she tied the knot in 1931 with David Hutton, a church member 10 years her junior. The marriage lasted only two years and ended in divorce.

During the last decade of her life, Aimee continued doing what she did best, serving as pastor of Angelus Temple and supporting world-wide missions. She died in 1944 of an accidental overdose of sedatives, complicated by kidney failure.

After her death the church continued to grow as many went forth to plant Foursquare churches around the world. From its humble beginnings the denomination now includes churches in 147 countries with more than 5 million members.

SEE ALSO: Aesthetics, Pentecostals and; Radio Evangelism; Women in Pentecostal Ministries

References and Suggested Readings
  • Blumhofer, E. (1994). Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody's sister. Eerdmans Grand Rapids, MI.
  • Epstein, D. M. (1994). Sister Aimee: The life of Aimee Semple McPherson. Harcourt Brace Orlando, FL.
  • McPherson, A. S. (1923). This is that. Echo Park Evangelistic Association Los Angeles.
  • R. Alan Streett
    Wiley ©2012

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