Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Kidnapping of Aimee

“We are all making a crown for Jesus out of these daily lives of ours, either a crown of golden, divine love, studded with gems of sacrifice and adoration, or a thorny crown, filled with the cruel briars of unbelief, or selfishness and sin."~ Aimee Semple Mc Pherson

Aimee Semple McPherson, American evangelist, symbolized important traits of American popular religion in the 1920s and 1930s. She was one of the first female evangelists, the first divorced evangelist, the first to broadcast her sermons on the radio and the founder of the Foursquare Gospel church.

Aimee Kennedy was born on October 9, 1890, near Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada. Her father, James Morgan Kennedy, was a struggling farmer. Her mother, Mildred "Minnie" Pearce was a former member of the Salvation Army. Soon after Aimee's birth, her mother took her to the Salvation Army and dedicated her to God's service. Aimee's training was particularly geared toward religious work.

When Aimee was in high school, she began to question her religious beliefs. At the age of seventeen she went to a religious meeting and experienced Pentecostal conversion under the guidance of Scottish evangelist Robert Semple. In 1908 she married Semple and followed him to China as a missionary. He died soon after arriving in China, leaving her pregnant and penniless. After the birth of Roberta Star, she returned home and continued her Pentecostal work. She also worked with her mother for the Salvation Army.

Semple married a New York grocery clerk, Harold S. McPherson, in 1913; this marriage ended in divorce five years later. Physically attractive and possessing a dynamic personality and the instinctive ability to charm crowds, Aimee Semple McPherson gradually perfected her skills. By this time professional revivalism had achieved a distinctive style and organization; McPherson was in the forefront. In the cities audiences were often immense, with ten thousand to fifteen thousand people deliriously applauding her. "Speaking in tongues" and successful efforts at faith healing—both practiced by Pentecostal churches—were a part of her ministry. (Pentecostals believe that the sounds made by people while "speaking in tongues" are biblical messages that can be interpreted by another worshipper.)

By 1920 McPherson was permanently established in Los Angeles, California. In 1923 she and her followers dedicated Angelus Temple. She called her new breed of Christian church the Foursquare Gospel, a complete gospel for body, soul, spirit, and eternity. Seating over five thousand people, this served as her center of activity. Backed by a sharp business manager (her mother), McPherson developed a large group of devoted followers. She also became a community figure in tune with the publicity-oriented life of Los Angeles, the film capital of the world.

A popular evangelist, McPherson thrived on publicity and sensationalism (causing an intense and/or unnatural emotional reaction). The most astounding incident occurred in 1926, when McPherson, believed to have drowned in the Pacific Ocean, "miraculously" reappeared in the Mexican desert. Some challenged her tale of kidnapping and mistreatment, claiming she had been in hiding with one of her male followers. The resulting court battle attracted national attention.

McPherson continued her unconventional ways by engaging in a slander suit with her daughter, publicly quarreling with her mother, and carrying on well-publicized vendettas with other religious groups. Aimee Semple McPherson died of a sleeping pill overdose in Oakland, California, on September 27, 1944. The Foursquare Gospel church continues to thrive in America today.

N Posted by Rain at 5/18/2006 12:19:00 AM


  • Blogger Sheila posted at 2:05 AM  
    She sounds fascinating, has she had a book written about her? How did you find out so much about her?
  • Blogger Rain posted at 3:22 AM  
    Hi Sheila,
    Actually there is a movie coming out this summer based on her life, and I am really looking forward to seeing it.
    My Grandfather was a devout follower of Mrs. McPherson and her minstry. Raising both my mother and her brother alone, he would take them to services when they lived in California. Grandpa would leave two hours early to ensure getting a seat right down in front. It was in her church that my grandpa met his second wife Virgina, who after his death contined to raise my mother into adulthood.
    My mother thought her white gowns along with her cape made her look like an angel from heaven.

    References include:
    Edith W Blumhofer, 1993
    "Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody's Sister"
    Grand Rapids: W.B Eermans

    Epstein, Daniel Mark. "Sister Aimee: The life of Aimee semple Mc Pherson"
    New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

    Lately,Thomas. "Storming Heaven: The Lives and Turmoil of Minnie Kennedy and Aimee Semple McPherson"
    New York: Morrow 1970.

    Thanks for stopping by!
  • Blogger Sheila posted at 3:23 AM  
    Thankyou for all the references. I love the stuff you write about and will continue to pop in and see what you're up to, Sheila (My Arms Fold Back)
  • Blogger Richard Rossi posted at 2:19 PM  
    Thank you for your interest in Sister Aimee Semple McPherson and mentioning our film on your blog. It will be released soon worldwide. The official website for the film is:
    Richard Rossi
    Writer/Director, "Aimee Semple McPherson"
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