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McPherson, Aimee Semple

Aimee Semple Mc Pherson

Born: October 9, 1890
Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada
Died: September 27, 1944
Oakland, California

Canadian-born American evangelist

Aimee Semple McPherson, American evangelist (one who preaches Christianity), symbolized important traits of American popular religion in the 1920s and 1930s. She was one of the first female evangelists, the first divorced evangelist, and the founder of the Foursquare Gospel church.

Early life

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 (1865; founded by William Booth [18291912] as a religious organization with military structure for the purpose of bettering life for the poor and evangelizing the world). 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 (a branch of Christianity that supports individual religious experience and evangelism) conversion under the guidance of Scottish evangelist Robert Semple. In 1908 she married Semple and followed him to China as a missionary (one who travels to spread religious teachings). 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.

Travels

Semple married a New York grocery clerk, Harold S. McPherson, in 1913; this marriage ended in divorce five years later. Thereafter she set out as an untrained lay evangelist to preach a Pentecostal-type of revivalism (a religious practice focused on restoring the spirit of God into people) to the people of Ontario, Canada.

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. Though she initially lived an almost hand-to-mouth existence, following the route of traveling evangelists from Maine to Florida, success meant a move to larger cities in America, England, and Australia. 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 healingboth practiced by Pentecostal churcheswere 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.)

Her own temple

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 (when a person is taken to court for telling lies that damaged another's reputation) with her daughter, publicly quarreling with her mother, and carrying on well-publicized vendettas (intense and lengthy fights) 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.

For More Information

Austin, Alvyn. Aimee Semple McPherson. Don Mills, ON: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1980.

Bahr, Robert. Least of All Saints: The Story of Aimee Semple McPherson. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1979.

Blumhofer, Edith L. Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody's Sister. Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1993.

Epstein, Daniel Mark. Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1993.

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

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Aimee Semple McPherson

Aimee Semple McPherson

Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944), American evangelist, symbolized important attributes of American popular religion in the 1920s and 1930s.

Aimee Kennedy was born on Oct. 9, 1890, near Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada. Her father was a struggling farmer, her mother a former member of the Salvation Army. Aimee remained a nonbeliever until, at the age of 17, she experienced conversion under the guidance of Scottish evangelist Robert Semple. In 1908 she married him and followed him to China as a missionary. He died soon after arriving in China, leaving her penniless and with a month-old daughter. Returning home, Semple married a grocery clerk, Harold S. McPherson, in 1913; this marriage ended in divorce five years later. Thereafter she set out as an untrained lay evangelist to preach a Pentecostal-type of revivalism to the people of Ontario.

Physically attractive and possessed of a dynamic personality and instinctive ability to sway crowds, Aimee Semple McPherson gradually perfected her skills. By this time professional revivalism had achieved a distinctive style and organization; McPherson illustrated the newer tendencies. Though she initially lived an almost hand-to-mouth existence following the route of itinerant evangelists from Maine to Florida, success meant a move into larger cities in America, England, and Australia. In the cities audiences were often immense, with 10,000 to 15,000 partisans deliriously applauding her. McPherson's preaching also identified her with the "fringe" sects of American Protestantism that were especially influential among the masses in America's newly emerging urban centers. "Speaking with tongues" and successful efforts at faith healing—both practiced by the Pentecostal churches—were a part of her performance.

By 1920 McPherson was permanently established in Los Angeles. In 1923 she and her followers dedicated Angelus Temple. Seating over 5,000 people, this served as her center of activity. Backed by a shrewd business manager (her mother), the evangelist organized a private cult of devoted followers. She also became a public figure in tune with the garish, publicity-oriented life of the film capital of the world.

As a popular evangelist, Aimee Semple McPherson symbolized the vulgarization that occurred when grass-roots religion fused uncritically with secular mass culture. Popular evangelists always ran the risk of identifying their personal concerns too much with the nonreligious aspects of culture. This tendency was strikingly illustrated by McPherson. She thrived on publicity and sensationalism. The most astounding incident occurred in 1926, when McPherson, believed to have drowned in the Pacific Ocean, "miraculously" reappeared in the Mexican desert. Her tale of kidnaping and mistreatment was challenged by some who claimed she had been in hiding with one of her male followers. The ensuing court battle attracted national attention.

McPherson continued her unconventional ways until her death in Oakland, Calif., on Sept. 27, 1944. She engaged in a slander suit with her daughter, publicly quarreled with her mother, and carried on well-publicized vendettas with other religious groups.

Further Reading

Aimee Semple McPherson's own reminiscence, The Story of My Life (1951), is too romanticized and sketchy to be of much value. A biographical study is Lately Thomas, Storming Heaven: The Lives and Turmoils of Minnie Kennedy and Aimee Semple McPherson (1970). One account dealing principally with the celebrated "kidnaping incident" of 1926 is Thomas's The Vanishing Evangelist (1959). An older though valuable study is Nancy Mavity, Sister Aimee (1931). □

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McPherson, Aimee Semple

Aimee Semple McPherson (ĕmā´, məkfûr´sən), 1890–1944, U.S. evangelist, founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, and, in the 1920s and 30s, one of the most famous women in America, b. near Ingersoll, Ont. Born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy, she was converted to Pentecostalism as a young girl and married a preacher, Robert Semple. The couple went as missionaries to China, and when he died a year later, she returned to the United States. Not long afterward she married Harold McPherson, but she left him in 1915 to take up a life of itinerant preaching, holding revival meetings along the Atlantic coast. With her mother, Minnie Kennedy, as business manager, she went to Los Angeles in 1918. There she became phenomenally successful and was noted for her healing sessions. In 1923, she opened Angelus Temple in Los Angeles and began to preach the foursquare gospel (see Foursquare Gospel, International Church of the) at the temple, in an evangelical newspaper, and on her own radio station. Her disappearance in May, 1926, while swimming in the Pacific, and then reappearance in June with a bizarre tale of kidnapping caused a huge uproar that resulted in a trial for fraud. Although she was acquitted, her business activities as head of Angelus Temple resulted in numerous other legal actions. She died as a result of an allegedly accidental overdose of sleeping pills.

See biographies by R. Bahr (1979, repr. 2001), E. L. Blumhofer (1993), D. M. Epstein (1993), and M. A. Sutton (2007).

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McPherson, Aimee Semple

McPherson, Aimee Semple (1890–1944) US evangelist who founded the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (1927). McPherson's controversial brand of evangelicalism incorporated faith healing and glossolalia (speaking in tongues). In 1923 she opened the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, California. McPherson also used the radio to broadcast her message of personal salvation. In 1926 she claimed to have been kidnapped and was unsuccessfully tried for fraud. McPherson's use of church funds saw further legal actions. See also Pentecostal Churches

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