Aimee Semple McPherson Biography

Aimee Semple McPherson

Aimee was an evangelical pioneer, determined to spread the message of her Pentecostal faith, who used her fervour and flamboyance to win a huge following.

The Foursquare Gospel Church she founded is now a movement with more than two million members across the world.

Born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy, Aimee's childhood world was strongly influenced by the teachings of the Salvation Army and her father's Methodist devotion.

Despite this, she started to question her beliefs in her teen years until she attended a revival service conducted by Pentecostal evangelist Robert Semple at 17 years of age.

This meeting changed her life both in terms of love and religion as she continued to attend the revival services and became a Pentecostal Christian. This sector of Christianity places special emphasis on a direct experience of God through the baptism in the Holy Sprit.

Aimee fell in love with the Irish preacher and they married on 12 August 1908, just shy of her 18th birthday.

After her first husband died of typhoid in Hong Kong, as they were travelling to China to work as missionaries in 1910, Aimee travelled around California in her 'Full Gospel Car', covered in religious slogans. At the time of her husband's death, she was pregnant with her first child, who was born on 17 September 1910. Aimee named her Roberta Star Semple and returned to the US as a single mother.

In 1912, Aimee married salesman Harold Steward McPherson. Their son, Rolf Kennedy McPherson, was born a year later.

Aimee started hosting tent revival sessions in 1915, many of which only had standing room available. One such revival was held in a boxing ring with the meeting both before and after the match. Aimee walked about wearing a sign reading 'Knock Out The Devil' throughout. In California, police were needed to control crowds of over 30,000.

She practiced speaking in tongues but rarely emphasised it. She was also known as a faith healer, with claims of physical healing occurring during her meetings but this got less important as her fame increased.

In 1916, Aimee, her mother and the two children settled in Los Angeles, and continued cross-country revival tours, even travelling to Canada and Australia.

However, Harold came to resent Aimee's travelling and they were eventually divorced in 1921.

Aimee also founded a newspaper, 'The Bridal Call', and organised the construction of the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, with a capacity of 5,000. The temple opened in 1923, with Aimee seated on a red velvet throne and dressed in a nurse's uniform and cape. Two hundred singers, three bands, two orchestras and six quartets supported her.

Aware of the power of the media, Aimee was a brilliant publicist. She tried to faith heal a lion in a zoo, dropped leaflets from planes, entered floats in parades and started a radio station.

In 1926, she disappeared on a beach; it was assumed she had drowned. Five weeks later, she miraculously reappeared in the Arizona desert claiming to have been kidnapped and tortured, before she managed to escape.

Despite the fact that it was rumoured that she had disappeared to have an affair with a radio operator, and was accused of perjury and fraud, Aimee's popularity continued unabated.

She married actor and singer David Hutton on 13 September 1931, which led to criticism from her church as her second husband was still alive. They separated in 1933 and divorced in 1934.

Taking inspiration from the Salvation Army, Aimee set up a 24 hour, seven day a week soup kitchen at her temple in 1936 to help families through the Great Depression. She also became involved with war bond rallies and linked religion to patriotism in her sermons when America joined the Second World War in 1941.

She died of an overdose of sedatives in 1944. Officially her death was reported an accident, although many suspected suicide after her third marriage, to David Hutton, failed.

Aimee was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in California. The Foursquare Gospel church was led by her son Rolf for 44 years and now boasts 8.7 million members worldwide.

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