Minnie Kennedy, her mother, rented the largest hall they could find, the 3,seat Philharmonic Auditorium known then as Temple Auditorium. People waited for hours to get in, and McPherson could hardly reach the pulpit without stepping on someone. Rather than touring the United States to preach her sermons, McPherson stayed in Los Angeles , drawing audiences from a population which had soared from , in to , people in , 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 Glendale Blvd. 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. McPherson began a campaign in earnest and was able to mobilize diverse groups of people to help fund and build the new church.
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. Raising more money than she had hoped, McPherson altered the original plans, and built a " megachurch " that would draw many followers throughout the years. However, this price was low for a structure of its size. Costs were kept down by donations of building materials and volunteer labor.
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 civic leaders, who came to the Angelus Temple.
They were welcomed and many made their way to her podium as guest speakers.
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 s, 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. McPherson strove to develop a church organization 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.
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. 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 , 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.
McPherson quickly arranged for volunteers to be on the scene with blankets, coffee, and doughnuts. Drawing from her childhood experience with the Salvation Army, in , McPherson opened a commissary at Angelus Temple which was virtually the only 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. 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 nurses to help treat children and the elderly. She encouraged individuals and companies of all types to donate supplies, food, cash, or labor.
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, 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. Establishing an employment bureau, as well, McPherson desired to help "the discouraged husband, the despondent widow, or the little mother who wants extra work to bear the burden of a sick husband".
We are all one in the eyes of the Lord. In , the commissary was raided by police, allegedly to locate a still used to make brandy out of donated apricots. Some sauerkraut and salad oil were purportedly observed leaking from their respective storage areas. As a consequence, the commissary was briefly shut down. The press got involved and the public demanded an investigation. Since no one really wanted to stall the temple's charity efforts, the acceptable solution was to replace the immediate management. The newspaper media, generally cynical of the Temple and in particular of McPherson, recognized "the excellent features of that organization's efforts" and that "the faults of the Angelus Temple are outweighed by its virtues.
As McPherson tried to avoid administrative delays in categorizing the "deserving" from the "undeserving," her temple commissary became known as one of the region's most effective and inclusive aid institutions. Few soup kitchens lasted more than several months, but McPherson's remained open. Because her programs aided nonresidents, as well, such as migrants from other states and Mexico, she ran afoul of California state regulations. Though temple guidelines were later officially adjusted to accommodate those policies, helping families in need was a priority, regardless of their place of residence.
This was all during the height of the Depression, when hunger and poverty permeated America. Many Mexicans were terrified of appealing for county help because most of them were in the country illegally. When in distress, they were comforted by the fact that they could call one of Aimee's branches at any time of the night. There, they would never be asked any of the embarrassing questions posed by the authorities. The fact that they were hungry or in need of warm clothing was enough. No one even asked if they belonged to Aimee's church or not. In August and away from Los Angeles, McPherson decided to charter a plane so she would not miss giving her Sunday sermon.
Aware of the opportunity for publicity, she arranged for at least followers and members of the press to be present at the airport. The plane failed after takeoff and the landing gear collapsed, sending the nose of the plane into the ground. McPherson boarded another plane and used the experience as the narrative of an illustrated Sunday sermon called "The Heavenly Airplane".
In this sermon, McPherson described how the first plane had the devil for the pilot, sin for the engine, and temptation as the propeller. The other plane, however, was piloted by Jesus and would lead one to the Holy City the skyline shown on stage. The temple was filled beyond capacity. On another occasion, she described being pulled over by a police officer, calling the sermon "Arrested for Speeding ". Dressed in a traffic cop's uniform, she sat in the saddle of a police motorcycle, earlier placed on the stage, and revved the siren.
You're speeding to Hell! McPherson employed a small group of artists, electricians, decorators, and carpenters, who built the sets for each Sunday's service.
Religious music was played by an orchestra. McPherson also worked on elaborate sacred operas. Some Hollywood movie stars even assisted with obtaining costumes from local studios. The cast was large, perhaps as many as people, but so elaborate and expensive, it was presented only one time. Rehearsals for the various productions were time-consuming and McPherson "did not tolerate any nonsense.
Even though McPherson condemned theater and film as the devil's workshop, its secrets and effects were co-opted. She became the first woman evangelist to adopt the whole technique of the moving picture star. She wanted a sacred drama that would compete with the excitement of vaudeville and the movies. The message was serious, but the tone more along the lines of a humorous musical comedy.
Animals were frequently incorporated and McPherson, as a once farm girl, knew how to handle them. McPherson gave up to 22 sermons a week and the lavish Sunday night service attracted the largest crowds, extra trolleys and police were needed to help route the traffic through Echo Park to and from Angelus Temple. McPherson preached a conservative gospel, but used progressive methods, taking advantage of radio, movies, and stage acts.
Advocacy for women's rights was on the rise, including women's suffrage through the 19th Amendment. She attracted some women associated with modernism, but others were put off by the contrast between her different theories. By accepting and using such new media outlets, McPherson helped integrate them into people's daily lives.
McPherson used the media to her advantage and became the "first modern celebrity preacher. The battle between fundamentalists and modernists escalated after World War I , with many modernists seeking less conservative religious faiths. McPherson sought to eradicate modernism and secularism in homes, churches, schools, and communities. She developed a strong following in what McPherson termed "the Foursquare Gospel" by blending contemporary culture with religious teachings. McPherson was entirely capable of sustaining a protracted intellectual discourse as her Bible students and debate opponents will attest.
But she believed in preaching the gospel with simplicity and power, so as to not confuse the message. Her distinct voice and visual descriptions created a crowd excitement "bordering on hysteria. The appeal of McPherson's 30 or so revival events from to surpassed any touring event of theater or politics ever presented in American history.
She broke attendance records recently set by Billy Sunday  and frequently used his temporary tabernacle structures in which to hold some of her meetings. Her revivals were often standing-room only. One such revival was held in a boxing ring, with the meeting before and after the match. Throughout the boxing event, she walked about with a sign reading "knock out the Devil".
In San Diego, California , the city called in the National Guard and other branches of the armed forces to control a revival crowd of over 30, people. She became one of the most photographed persons of her time. She enjoyed the publicity and quotes on almost every subject were sought from her by journalists.
McPherson's ability to draw crowds was also greatly assisted by her apparently successful faith healing presentations. According to Nancy Barr Mavity, an early McPherson biographer, almost by accident, the evangelist discovered when she laid hands on sick or injured persons, they got well. Mavity further wrote, describing the healing power "beyond her conscience [ sic ] control" and "profoundly troubling" however a phenomenon familiar to the psychiatrist although "none the less [ sic ] mysterious.
During a revival meeting in Corona, Long Island, New York, a young woman in the advanced stages of rheumatoid arthritis was brought to the altar by friends. McPherson would have preferred to pray with her privately. However, the woman insisted upon immediate prayer. McPherson laid hands on her and prayed.
Before the gathered parishioners, the woman walked out of the church without crutches. McPherson's reputation as a faith healer rapidly became known and the sick and injured people came to her by the tens of thousands. The Faith Healing Ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson was extensively written about in the news media and was a large part of her early career legacy. Scheduled weekly and monthly healing sessions nevertheless remained highly popular with the public until her death in Eventually, McPherson's church evolved into its own denomination and became known as the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel usually referenced as the "Foursquare Church".
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The term Foursquare represents the Full Gospel theological concept, and refers to the four defining beliefs of Pentecostalism: the nature of Jesus Christ's character is that he was Savior, baptizer with the Holy Spirit, healer, and soon-coming King. The four main beliefs were: the first being Christ's ability to transform individuals' lives through the act of salvation; the second focused on a holy baptism which includes receiving power to glorify and exalt Christ in a practical way; the third was divine healing, newness of life for both body and spirit; and the fourth was gospel-oriented heed to the premillennial return of Jesus Christ.
She began broadcasting on radio in the early s. On a Sunday morning in April , the Rockridge radio station in Oakland, California , offered her some radio time and she became the first woman to preach a sermon over the "wireless telephone. McPherson racially integrated her tent meetings and church services. On one occasion, as a response to McPherson's ministry and Angelus Temple being integrated, Ku Klux Klan members were in attendance, but after the service, hoods and robes were found on the ground in nearby Echo Park.
McPherson traveling about the country holding widely popular revival meetings and filling local churches with converts was one thing, settling permanently into their city caused concern among some local Los Angeles churches. Though she shared many of their fundamentalist beliefs , such as divine inspiration of the Bible, the classical Trinity , virgin birth of Jesus, historical reality of Christ's miracles, bodily resurrection of Christ, and the atoning purpose of his crucifixion; the presentation of lavish sermons, and an effective faith-healing ministry presented by a female divorcee whom thousands adored and about whom newspapers continuously wrote, was unexpected.
Moreover, the Temple, especially the women, had a look and style uniquely theirs. They would emulate McPherson's style and dress, and a distinct Angelus Temple uniform came into existence, a white dress with a navy blue cape thrown over it. Her voice, projected over the powerful state-of-the-art KFSG radio station and heard by hundreds of thousands, became the most recognized in the western United States. Her illustrated sermons attracted criticism from some clergy members because they thought it turned the Gospel message into mundane theater and entertainment.
Divine healing, as McPherson called it, was claimed by many pastors to be a unique dispensation granted only for Apostolic times. Rival radio evangelist Reverend Robert P. Shuler published a pamphlet entitled McPhersonism , which purported that her "most spectacular and advertised program was out of harmony with God's word. The new developing Assemblies of God denomination, Pentecostal as McPherson was, for a time worked with her, but they encouraged separation from established Protestant faiths.
McPherson resisted trends to isolate as a denomination and continued her task of coalition-building among evangelicals. McPherson worked hard to attain ecumenical vision of the faith, and while she participated in debates, avoided pitched rhetorical battles that divided so many in Christianity. She wanted to work with existing churches on projects and to share with them her visions and beliefs. Assisting in her passion was the speedy establishment of L. Bible College , adjacent to the Angelus Temple. Ministers trained there were originally intended to go nationally and worldwide to all denominations and share her newly defined "Foursquare Gospel.
McPherson and others, meanwhile, infused them with Pentecostal ideals. By early , McPherson had become one of the most charismatic and influential women and ministers of her time. According to Carey McWilliams, she had become "more than just a household word: she was a folk hero and a civic institution; an honorary member of the fire and police departments; a patron saint of the service clubs; an official spokesman for the community on problems grave and frivolous.
McPherson made personal crusades against anything that she felt threatened her Christian ideals, including the drinking of alcohol and teaching evolution in schools. McPherson became a strong supporter of William Jennings Bryan during the Scopes trial , in which John Scopes was tried for illegally teaching evolution at a Dayton, Tennessee , school.
Bryan and McPherson had worked together in the Angelus Temple and they believed Darwinism had undermined students' morality. According to The New Yorker , McPherson said, evolution "is the greatest triumph of Satanic intelligence in 5, years of devilish warfare, against the Hosts of Heaven.
It is poisoning the minds of the children of the nation. While her mother Mildred Kennedy was a registered Democrat, no one was certain of McPherson's registration.
She endorsed Herbert Hoover over Franklin D. Roosevelt , but enthusiastically threw her support behind the latter and his social programs when he was elected into office. She saw in them the possible activities of Communism , which sought to infiltrate labor unions and other organizations. McPherson intensely disliked Communism and its derivatives as they sought to rule without God; their ultimate goal, she believed, was to remove Christianity from the earth. McPherson's opinion of fascism fared no better; its totalitarian rule was wrongly justified by claiming to represent the power of God.
McPherson did not align herself consistently with any broad conservative or liberal political agenda. Instead, she explained if Christianity occupied a central place in national life, and if the components of God, home, school and government were kept together, everything else would fall into place. It is not accurate to draw a parallel between today's extreme fundamentalist, right-wing Christianity and the style or focus of Sister McPherson. She related that when Christ returns, the Jews would receive him, their suffering will end, "and they will establish at Jerusalem a kingdom more wonderful than the world has known.
The reported kidnapping of Aimee Semple McPherson caused a frenzy in national media and changed her life and the course of her career. After disappearing in May , she reappeared in Mexico five weeks later, stating she had been held for ransom in a desert shack there. The subsequent grand-jury inquiries over her reported kidnapping and escape precipitated continued public interest in her future misfortunes. Presuming she had drowned, searchers combed the beach and nearby area, but could not locate her body.
Immediately, McPherson sightings occurred around the county, often in widely divergent locations many miles apart on the same day. The Angelus Temple received calls and letters claiming knowledge of McPherson, including demands for ransom. After several weeks of unpromising leads, Mildred Kennedy regarded the messages as hoaxes, believing her daughter dead. Just as the Angelus Temple was preparing for a service commemorating McPherson's death, on June 23, Kennedy received a phone call from Douglas, Arizona.
Her distraught daughter was alive resting in a Douglas hospital, and was relating her story to officials. McPherson stated, at the beach, she had been approached by a couple who wanted her to pray over their sick child. Walking with them to their car, she suddenly was shoved inside. A cloth laced with some type of drug was held against her face, causing her to pass out. Eventually, the revivalist was moved to a small shack in the Mexican desert. When her captors were away on errands, McPherson escaped out a window.
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Collapsing exhausted near a house, the evangelist was finally taken by locals to adjacent Douglas. The turnout at her return to Los Angeles was greeted by 30,—50, people, more than for almost any other personage. The parade back to the temple elicited a greater turnout than President Woodrow Wilson's visit to Los Angeles, attesting to her popularity and the growing influence of mass media entertainment.
To head off developing rumors that her disappearance was not the result of a kidnapping, McPherson, against the advice of her mother, who thought the press would continue to unfavorably exploit the story, presented her complaint in court. While various speculations were proffered about the reason for McPherson's disappearance, the Los Angeles prosecution settled on the contention McPherson ran off with a former employee, Kenneth Ormiston.
She was accused of staying with him in a California seaside cottage he rented in a resort town prior to her May 18 disappearance. After leaving the cottage at the end of May, the pair traveled for the next three weeks and remained hidden. Then, around June 22, Ormiston drove McPherson to Mexico, dropping her off 3 miles outside of nearby Agua Prieta, where she walked the remaining distance and presented herself to a resident there. McPherson maintained all along, without changing anything in her story, that she was taken, held captive by kidnappers, and escaped as she originally described.
Defense witnesses corroborated her assertions     or McPherson herself demonstrated how the disputed parts of her story were plausible. Issues of trial by media and court of public opinion were apparent, as much of the proclaimed evidence against McPherson came from reporters who passed it on to police.
Evidence and testimonies were hotly debated by an evenly divided public. The secrecy of California's grand jury proceedings was ignored by both sides as the Los Angeles prosecution freely passed any new developments on to the press, while the evangelist used her radio station to broadcast her side of the story. On November 3, the case was to be moved to jury trial set for mid-January, If convicted, the counts added up to a maximum prison time of 42 years.
Witnesses changed their testimonies  and evidence often had suspicious origins  or was mishandled and lost while in custody. Regardless of the court's decision, months of unfavorable press reports fixed in much of the public's mind a certainty of McPherson's wrongdoing. Various influential individuals offered their opinions on the inquiry.
The Reverend Robert P. Shuler stated, "Perhaps the most serious thing about this whole situation is the seeming loyalty of thousands to this leader in the face of her evident and positively proven guilt. Mencken, noted journalist, satirist, cultural critic, and scholar and an ideological opponent of McPherson, opposite each other in the Scopes "Monkey" trial, unexpectedly came to McPherson's defense. He wrote that since many of that town's residents acquired their ideas "of the true, the good and the beautiful" from the movies and newspapers, "Los Angeles will remember the testimony against her long after it forgets the testimony that cleared her.
Numerous allegations of illicit love affairs  were often directed against McPherson. Suspected lovers generally denied involvement. Ends 9pm 24 September Barcode Examines the life and career of mid-twentieth-century evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson in terms of her role as a pioneer in the movement of Pentecostal Christianity from the margins of Protestantism to mainstream American culture, explaining how her integration of politics and faith set the stage for the growth of the religious right.
Book Preview Click the Google Preview button to view an excerpt from the book. More by Matthew Avery Sutton. Toggle navigation Raru. Edit Cart Checkout Close. Matthew Sutton deftly addresses Sister Aimee's fame and her legacy in his fine biography, but he does so with care and attention to her humanity as well. Americans of the s and s were fascinated by her, and readers today will feel the same way, thanks to Matthew Avery Sutton's timely and absorbing biography. This is terrific history, reflecting meticulous research, persuasive argumentation, and a writing style as vibrant as the story it tells.
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