Aimee Semple McPherson
She was born Aimee Kennedy, October 9, 1890, near Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada, to devout Methodists. At age 4, she could recite Bible stories as others her age recited nursery rhymes. Aimee remembers Sunday school as the most exciting event of childhood.
In 1907, she attended a prayer meeting conducted by Irish evangelist Robert Semple. This was a turning point in her life. She wrote: “Suddenly, in the midst of his sermon the evangelist closed his eyes and with radiant face began to speak in a language that was not his own. To me this Spirit-prompted utterance was like the voice of God thundering into my soul.”
While caught in a blizzard at the home of a family who conducted the local prayer meetings, Aimee beseeched God to fill her with his “promised Spirit of power.” After a week of fervent prayer, she received answer. “Ripples, waves, billows, oceans, cloudbursts of blessing” flooded her being. A few weeks later, Robert Semple proposed to Aimee and she accepted. They were married on August 12, 1908.
Robert was soon called to preach in London, Ontario. In 1910, the couple went to Chicago. Six weeks later, they returned to Canada and set sail from St. Johns, New Brunswick, to bring the gospel to China. En route to the Orient, Aimee preached her first sermon in London, England. Robert died from dysentery on August 19, 1910, shortly after arriving in China, leaving Aimee pregnant and without financial support.
Following the birth of daughter, Roberta Star, Aimee went to New York to join her mother, who worked as solicitor for the Salvation Army, and later to Chicago. There, on February 28, 1912, she married Harold McPherson, under the stipulation that if at any time she should receive the call to resume active ministry, she must obey God first of all. Later Aimee accepted an offer to work for the Salvation Army in New York to supplement their family income. “Dutifully I walked the beat between Columbus Circle and the Battery” until right before her son, Rolf, was born. During this time, Aimee remembers, “a voice kept hammering at the doorway of my heart” to “preach the Word!”
Calling to evangelism
Following the birth of her son, Aimee underwent a serious operation. She knew her choice was of either “going into the grave or out into the field with the gospel.” When she chose the latter, she was healed by Jesus and determined to preach. One night at 11 o’clock, she called for a taxi, packed her belongings, gathered her children under her arms, and left for her parents’ farm in Canada. She wired her husband: “I have tried to walk your way and failed. Won’t you come now and walk my way? I am sure we will be happy.” He joined her for a time but then returned to the business world, later divorcing her and remarrying.
Aimee began preaching in tents and churches in Canada and the United States along the Atlantic seaboard. In 1916, while conducting a revival meeting in New York, Aimee prayed for and God through her healed Louise Messnick, a young woman severely crippled by rheumatoid arthritis. In the winter of 1916–17, she carried her ministry to the South and began to edit her monthly magazine, Bridal Call.
In July 1917, a nationwide camp meeting in Philadelphia was disrupted by a group of young men who stood around the edges of the tent and mocked anyone who spoke, sang, or prayed. Aimee describes the event:
As I praised the Lord, I seemed to see a lot of demons with outspread, batlike wings, each of which was interlocked with that of his neighbor, surrounding the tabernacle. But every time I cried “Praise the Lord!” I noted that the demonic forces took a step backward until finally back, back, back, they disappeared amid the trees. But now that I had once begun it was difficult to stop, so I continued shouting, “Glory to Jesus! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!”
Suddenly I noticed that from the place where the powers of darkness had been lost to view a great square of white-robed angels were advancing with outspread wings, each of which likewise was interlocked with that of his neighbor. Bless the Lord! With each “Praise the Lord,” the angels took a step forward. On, on, on they came until they entirely surrounded the outer edges of my canvas cathedral. Startled, I opened my eyes and looked about me. The young men who had been our tormentors were still there, but now they stood as quiet as mice.
In 1918, Aimee’s daughter became severely ill and she prayed to Jesus to spare her life. In answer to the prayer, Jesus spoke to her, saying, “Fear not. Your little one shall live and not die. Moreover, I will give you a home in California.”
Aimee journeyed to California with her two children, her mother, and stenographer, conducting revivals and working on her magazine as she went. She settled in Los Angeles, but continued to travel to other parts of the United States to preach.
In 1919, prior to a sermon in Baltimore, Maryland, Jesus spoke to her about her ministry:
When you lay your hands on them, I will lay my hands on yours. And all the time you are standing there, I will be standing right back of you. And when you speak the Word, I will send the power of the Holy Ghost. You are simply the mouthpiece of the telephone. You are the key on the typewriter. You are only a mouth through which the Holy Ghost can speak.
In Oakland, California, July 1922, Aimee presented a sermon “The Vision of Ezekiel” and received the inspiration from Jesus to call his message “the Foursquare Gospel” of Jesus the Saviour, Jesus the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, Jesus the Healer, and Jesus the Coming King.
On January 1, 1923, she opened the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, her international headquarters. There she preached to thousands, sometimes in a costume designed to express the theme of her sermon. (For the sermon “God’s Law” she dressed in a police uniform.) From 1923–26, Aimee stayed close to the Angelus Temple. She opened her 24-hour-a-day Prayer Tower, LIFE (Lighthouse of International Foursquare Evangelism) Bible College, and her radio station KFSG (Kall Four Square Gospel).
On May 18, 1926, at the height of her career, Sister Aimee disappeared from a Pacific Coast beach. Thousands searched for her, suspecting that she had drowned; several gave their lives trying to recover her body.
Thirty-two days later she reappeared in the Mexican border town of Agua Prieta where she recounted the story of her kidnapping. She told how she was approached on the beach by two strangers who asked her to pray for their sick baby. When she reached their car, she was asked to get in, then forcibly pushed inside and taken to a house, later to a desert shack. Aimee escaped and set out across the desert until she reached the border.
Los Angeles district attorney Asa Keyes launched a full-scale investigation into charges of conspiracy between Aimee and her mother, misappropriating church funds by staging a phony kidnapping. Newspapers spread rumors whispered by eyewitnesses, who testified that they had seen Aimee with the married operator of her radio station, Kenneth Ormiston, during the five weeks she was missing. Keyes was ready to begin criminal proceedings. But publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst intervened on Aimee’s behalf, and charges were dropped.
Aimee recalls: “Though unbelievable and wildly inconsistent, so persistent were these stories...that some people who did not know me or know my life could not be blamed for believing this absurd, paper-selling propaganda.”
In 1927, following her vindication, she once again devoted her life to preaching. A brief marriage to David Hutton ended in divorce in 1933. On September 27, 1944, she was found unconscious in her hotel room in Oakland and died a few hours later. Following her death, her son, Rolf, succeeded her as church leader.
By the late sixties, Foursquare membership grew to nearly 90,000. During her entire ministry, Aimee lived in anticipation that Jesus would come and receive her as his waiting bride. The theme of her preaching was always “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”
For more information
Aimee: Life Story of Aimee Semple McPherson (Los Angeles: Foursquare Publications, 1979)
This Is That (Los Angeles: Echo Park Evangelistic Assoc., 1923)
Pearls of Wisdom, vol. 25, no. 24, June 13, 1982., endnote.