Aimee Semple McPherson, A Short Biography

Unknown Origin
          The year was 1921, and broadcasting history was about to be made. An effervescent young woman was escorted from the darkness of a clear California evening into the studio at the Oakland Rockridge radio station. Once inside the building, she found herself in a strange world filled with glowing vacuum tubes and humming electrical transformers, interconnected by miles of wires. She surveyed her eerie surroundings. Beyond the riser on which she stood sat a small studio audience. In the back of the room a newspaper cameraman sent to cover this important event paced the floor. At her side sat the requisite radio engineer, his eyes riveted on the large clock on the wall.
Meanwhile, in the comfort of their homes, thousands of listeners anxiously awaited the start of the female speaker's message. Entire families gathered in their parlors. Some fiddled with the knobs on their console-sized radios, hoping to find a quiet spot among the crackles, pops and the squeals so prevalent in those early days of radio.
Finally, the second hand stood straight up, and the radio operator pointed to the woman, the signal indicating the start of the program. She stepped up to the large black horn attached to the microphone, cleared her throat, and began to speak forcefully. At that moment Aimee Semple McPherson became the first woman in history to preach a sermon over the "wireless telephone."
Certainly Aimee Semple McPherson - or "Sister Aimee" as many called her - was no stranger to innovation. She and her mother are thought to be the first two women to successfully travel alone across the continental United States in their automobile. Aimee introduced jazz music into the church. She popularized the use of sermons illustrated and dramatized through stage plays. And she turned the religious establishment of her day upside down.
Nor was she a stranger to controversy. Aimee's life - and even her death - was a succession of highly unusual events. In fact, the controversy began even before she was born.
Beginnings
James Morgan Kennedy was heartbroken. His wife, Elizabeth, lay dying and required the care of a live-in nurse. There were few trained medical personnel in the small town of Salford, Ontario Canada. So after placing an ad in the newspaper, James was forced to select a 14-year-old orphan named Minnie Pearce for the job. Elizabeth died a few months later. Soon after, the 50-year old farmer decided to take Minnie as his second wife. The resulting scandal in this little country town was so great he had to take her across the border to the United States, where they were quietly married in Michigan.
Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy was born to James and Minnie on October 9, 1890 in the upstairs room of their Salford farmhouse. Minnie, who had been raised by a couple in the Salvation Army, dedicated the new baby to the service of God.
Little Aimee grew into a beautiful and talented young woman. As a 13-year old she was already in demand as a public speaker. Although she had grown up hearing Bible stories and singing hymns, young Aimee had become an independent thinker with a teenager's innate sensitivity to hypocrisy. When she discovered the conflict between Darwin's theories and the Bible, she added to her studies the works of Voltaire, Paine, Ingersoll and Darwin. Her research complete, she took the debate into the public forum through articles in the local newspaper, creating quite a stir. At the ripe age of 15, Aimee had become such a skilled debater on behalf of evolutionary theories, no clergyman in the area could win an argument with her. Not a popular situation with the mother who had dedicated her precious baby daughter to God's service!
A Changed Life
In December of 1907 a young evangelist came to town. Robert Semple was a brown-haired, blue-eyed Irishman said to be "filled with the Holy Spirit." He was a handsome young man, at least six feet tall, with a wayward lock of chestnut hair that covered one eye. Aimee, who now considered herself a staunch atheist, decided to attend one of Semple's meetings. She thought it would be entertaining to make fun of the evangelist and the simple townsfolk who listened to him. To her surprise, the events of that evening changed her life in three momentous ways.
First, she came face to face with the truth revealed by Jesus Christ, and she asked Him to become her savior. Second, Aimee discovered the power of the Holy Spirit, the promised power who gives ordinary people boldness for their personal ministry. When she prayed to ask how she could serve God, the answer came back, "Become a winner of souls." But how was that to be, since women were not in that day encouraged to be evangelists?
The answer was seemingly provided in the third move upon her life: Aimee fell head over heels in love with Robert Semple! The two were married six months later, on August 12, 1908. Everything was now in place for Aimee to slip into ministry beside her new husband, who God was calling to China. Her role in life was set in concrete. Or so she thought.
Destination: Hong Kong
Two years after their marriage Robert and Aimee had raised the necessary funds and were ready to sail to China. Although their eventual destination would be Hong Kong, they would make one detour - a visit to Robert's parents in Magherafelt, Ireland. This was the closest the two had had to a honeymoon, and both of them found the time to relax. Aimee was now pregnant, and likely appreciated the restful time.
One last stop on the road to China - a short stay in London with Christian millionaire Cecil Polhill. The two were quietly hoping the benefactor would bestow a large gift upon their ministry, as he had done for many others. They had no idea what God was about to do through Mr. Polhill.
In March of 1910, on the night before they were to leave for China, the millionaire asked Aimee to "bring the message" to a crowd gathered at London's Albert Hall. Afraid to discourage his patronage, Aimee reluctantly agreed to preach - something she had never done before. Still a very young woman of 19, she was terrified when she mounted the platform to face the crowd of 15,000 attired in evening dress in the plush theater. She had no way of preparing, and had no idea what she would say. Then her Bible fell open, and a passage jumped out at her as if printed in boldfaced type. What felt like an electric current surged through her body. She opened her mouth to speak, and suddenly words began to flow. From moment to moment she had no idea what she would say next, and yet a sermon was being preached. A sermon that lasted for more than a hour, holding the audience spellbound. From here and there within the hall would come the occasional shout of a "Hallelujah!" or "Amen!". And then, just as suddenly as they had started, the words stopped. The message was over. Aimee had just experienced God's Holy Spirit giving her a sermon meant for that moment in time.
As hoped, Mr. Polhill gave them a monetary gift to start them on their journey. When they boarded the train they anxiously opened the envelope that had been pressed into their hands. It contained only fifteen dollars.
Tragedy Strikes
The Semples arrived in China in June of 1910. Robert immediately began to preach to the natives through an interpreter. The country was full of opportunity for spreading the Gospel, but the sanitary conditions in this land were horrible. Only two months after their arrival both Semples found themselves hospitalized with malaria and dysentery. On August 17, 1910 - just five days after their second wedding anniversary - Robert died during the night in his hospital bed. He was laid to rest in the Happy Valley cemetery, among the Christian martyrs who had given their lives to advancing the Gospel of Christ. For weeks after, Aimee would awaken with a start and then scream uncontrollably. It was to her quite literally a nightmare.
Then, exactly a month after Robert's death - on September 17 - life reappeared in the form of a tiny but healthy baby girl born to Aimee Semple. She named her daughter Roberta Star, in remembrance of her father, and as the star of hope she represented to her mother.
A Change of Direction
Aimee and her new baby returned to the United States to join Aimee's mother, now separated from her father and living in New York. (It seems that Minnie had longed to return to her roots in the city, working for God through the Salvation Army. With Aimee grown up and gone, Minnie could no longer bear the day-to-day life offered by small farm in rural Canada.)
It was in New York that Aimee met Harold Stuart ("Mack") McPherson, a 23-year-old accountant from Providence, Rhode Island. Mack was a strong, no-nonsense kind of man that some women found handsome. It was not long before Mack fell in love with Aimee and asked her to marry him. She finally consented, and they were married in the spring of 1912. On March 23, 1913, Aimee gave birth to a second child, a boy they named Rolf.
The birth signaled a crucial time in the life of Aimee Semple McPherson. She entered a postpartum depression that left her devastated. Mack would come home to find her hiding in the corner, sobbing, and attempting in vain to pray.
In the months following Rolf's birth, Aimee began to hear the voice of God putting a call on her life. "Preach the Word!" the voice would say. "Will you go?"
Aimee did all she could to ignore the voice. She filled her days with church matters. She began to work in the local Sunday night services and Wednesday prayer meetings, leading Bible classes. She gave talks about the trip to China - anything to avoid dealing with the message she was being given.
In spite of all her "good works" she became deathly ill. She had literally been working herself to death. The voice persisted, once again asking the same question, and then adding "Go! Do the works of an evangelist." Aimee underwent several operations, but her health continued its decline, until at one point the nurses attending her had given her up for dead. The voice came one last time: "NOW will you go?"
The months of debilitating illness had taken its toll. With what she believed to be her last breath, Aimee gave in. She would go. Two weeks later, she was on her feet again, completely recovered.
Getting Her Bearings
It was a new challenge. After surviving her near-death experience, Aimee was absolutely convinced that God was on her side. Yet, Minnie felt that Aimee needed another touch from God on her life before she could step out in her own ministry. So in the summer heat of 1915, Aimee found herself at a Pentecostal camp meeting in Kitchener, Ontario. When the altar call came at the end of one of the meetings, she came forward and was asked to raise her hands and pray aloud. She freely threw her arms into the air and began to pray for forgiveness. At that moment she became anointed with the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues. She began to laugh. Then to cry. Her entire body began to shake. She reached out and began to touch those around her, and they received the Holy Spirit as well. Her ministry had begun in earnest.
August, 1915. Her next stop was the tiny Victory Mission in Mount Forest, Ontario. She scheduled a meeting, but not one person showed. Many people would have just closed the door, but not Aimee. She grabbed a chair and marched down Main Street to a place near the barber shop. She set the chair down next to the curb, stepped up on it, closed her eyes and raised her hands toward heaven to pray. No one knows just how long she stood there, praying silently, not moving a muscle. Soon a crowd began to gather. They probably wondered if she had died and had succumbed to rigor mortis. But after a time - perhaps an hour or more - she stopped praying. "People," she cried as she jumped to the ground, "come and follow me, quick."
And follow they did. The entire group of about 50 assembled in the tiny mission to listen to Aimee preach for the next 40 minutes. The following night the hall was full, with as many more left waiting to get in. So Aimee rolled the piano outside and preached from a neighbor's porch. By the end of the week she was preaching nightly to crowds of 500, and men and women - hearty farm folk - were giving their hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Taking to the Road
It wasn't long before Aimee was forced to purchase a tent in which to hold her meetings. After all, she couldn't count on finding a meeting hall that would hold the numbers of people who had begun to show up in Mount Forest. The first tent measured 30 by 60 feet. It had been taken out of service, and Aimee purchased it - sight unseen - at a steep discount. That tattered, mildewed tent (Aimee called it her "canvas cathedral") was the first of dozens of tents of increasing size that she would pack as she criss-crossed the United States and Canada, bringing the Gospel message to millions of people.
In Tampa she managed to raise enough money to buy a 1912 Packard touring car for the ministry. On one side of the car she painted the words "JESUS IS COMING SOON - GET READY". The other side of the car asked the provocative question, "WHERE WILL YOU SPEND ETERNITY?" The "Gospel Car", as Aimee called it, became the center of her operations. At times it was her pulpit: she would drive to a location and preach while standing in the back seat. Crowds would gather and people would step up on the running boards, weeping and confessing their sins. At other times the car was part of an advertising campaign: during the day she would drive through neighborhoods, handing out tracts and handbills that announced the nightly tent meetings. While traveling between cities, the car was her office-on-wheels: she would occupy the back seat, tapping out sermons on a manual typewriter she balanced on her lap.
The traveling revivals were to continue for many years. As a result of her ministry, thousands were saved. Thousands were healed through love of Jesus. Countless more were baptized in the Holy Spirit. The people loved her. The press loved her. And it was obvious that God loved her.
But Sister Aimee was about to become a target.
The Temple
By 1919, Aimee had moved her family to Los Angeles, where she wanted to establish a permanent facility where a revival could be held continuously, where people could come and worship, and where those called into the ministry could be trained and prepared. She found a perfect location for the facility on a corner lot next to Echo Park. With its beautiful trees and swans swimming gracefully on its lake, Aimee described the park as "heaven on earth." This was to be the home for the Church of the Foursquare Gospel - a 5,000 seat facility that would be named Angelus Temple, and built entirely with cash donations.
Quite a challenge. But this was exactly the kind of challenge Aimee loved. The land was purchased in December of 1919, and the ground-breaking ceremony was held in February of 1920. Aimee and her mother began a non-stop series of evangelistic services throughout the country, saving every dime possible for the project. Less than two years later, on January 1, 1923, Angelus Temple - constructed at a total estimated cost of $1.2 million - was dedicated to service, debt-free. (Aimee later calculated the average donation toward the building fund was only two cents, which gives us some idea of the number of people she preached to over the three-year period from 1919 through 1922.) On the day of its dedication, Angelus Temple made a second impact on the citizens of the state of California: Aimee entered a miniature replica of it in Pasadena's 1923 Tournament of Roses parade. The float, covered with roses and carnations, received the Grand Marshal Award.
Aimee probably did not realize how her actions were stirring up the religious establishment, both in Los Angeles and around the nation. She hadn't intended for Angelus Temple to be a church, at least in the conventional sense. As long as Aimee traveled as an itinerant evangelist, she was, to the establishment, an interesting phenomenon. Some now saw Aimee as a threat to their own comfortable positions. They were afraid this feisty little woman and the Holy Spirit power she manifested would draw people (and the money they donated) away from their own churches.
In spite of constant attacks on Aimee made in the newspapers by a group of local clergymen, the Temple grew by leaps and bounds. And even though some clergymen were attacking the ministry of the fledgling Church of the Foursquare Gospel, many others from numerous denominations - including those who gave up their own pulpits for Aimee's revival campaigns - were in full support. Many even traveled across the country to be part of the temple dedication ceremony.
More Innovations
The temple at Echo Park was ready to hold services. But were the residents of Los Angeles ready for the services Aimee would create?
It was Aimee's contention that the arts belonged to God, and she felt that churches had not done their share in using the performing arts to attract large groups of people. Her solution was to bring the theater into the church, in the form of contemporary music and drama - and that is exactly what she did at Angelus Temple. Because of its proximity to Hollywood, Aimee had access to professional costumes, props and scenery. She developed illustrated sermons, Sunday night presentations that included short stage plays to illuminate stories from the Bible. (These plays sometimes even included animals. She once used a camel to demonstrate how humans can become beasts of burden.) The audiences attending the services caused traffic jams every Sunday night.
From the time she was a little girl, Aimee loved music. So it should be no surprise that music would play a significant role in her ministry at Angelus Temple. She brought contemporary music into the church. In addition to the traditional hymns played on a full pipe organ, audiences at the temple heard jazz music. There was, of course, a full orchestra. (The famous actor, Anthony Quinn - star of such classics as Requiem for a Heavyweight and Zorba the Greek - played saxophone in the Angelus orchestra as a teenager. He also served on the platform with Aimee, translating her sermons into Spanish for the Mexican community.) Aimee treated audiences at the temple to two operas she personally wrote and produced, The Crimson Road and Regem Adorate.
In February of 1924 radio station KFSG (short for "Kall Four Square Gospel") went on the air, with live broadcasts of Sunday services at the temple.(It was only the third station commissioned in Los Angeles.) In December of the following year, the L.I.F.E. (Lighthouse of International Foursquare Evangelism) Bible College was opened to train young men and women for service in ministry[1].
Although the term "Foursquare Gospel" was given as an inspiration to Aimee during an evangelistic campaign in Oakland, California in 1922, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel wasn't incorporated and registered in the State of California until December 30, 1927. The incorporation officially marked the beginning of a new denomination within the Christian church - a movement that would flourish for years to come.
Kidnapped!
Without a doubt, the most controversial event in Aimee's entire life was is her kidnapping, reported on May 18, 1926. It signaled the end of the love affair between the press and Aimee Semple McPherson.
On that morning in May Aimee and her secretary, Emma Schaffer, visited Ocean Park. Aimee's purpose was to relax and write some sermons, as was her habit. She was wading in the surf when she was approached by a couple who told her their baby was dying, and they begged Aimee to pray for the child. Aimee assented, but when she got to their car, someone pushed her inside and shoved a chloroform-soaked cloth in her face. She awoke in a small house, where she was held captive for several days.
When Aimee did not return from her swim, a search party was called out. Finding no trace of her, they concluded that she had drowned. Her mother - and the workers at Angelus Temple - were heartbroken.
On June 19 Minnie Kennedy received a ransom note from kidnappers, demanding $500,000 for Aimee's safe return. Minnie, convinced that her daughter was dead, did not believe the note and tossed it aside. Her abductors eventually moved Aimee to a shack in the desert, planning to make a second ransom demand. But they made the mistake of leaving her alone, and Aimee managed to cut her bonds and escape.
Late on the night of June 23, nearly a month after she was abducted, Aimee staggered into Agua Prieta, Mexico. Totally exhausted and dehydrated from wandering in the desert for hours, she collapsed on the ground in front of a home. The residents located an American cab driver who took her to the sheriff's office across the border in Douglas, Arizona. She was immediately admitted to the Calumet and Arizona Hospital.
The next day Aimee was reunited with her mother and children, followed shortly by a visit from a captain of detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department and his son-in-law, a deputy district attorney from L.A. The lawmen told Aimee they were there to escort her safely back to the coast.
Little did she realize the media circus that awaited her.
The Grand Jury Hearings
A grand jury was called to investigate the kidnapping and ostensibly to obtain an indictment of the kidnappers. But from the outset, District Attorney Asa Keys and his deputy, Joseph Ryan, were instead determined to discredit Aimee's story. She agreed to testify and was called in on July 8. Try as they might, Keys and Ryan could not poke a hole in Aimee's account of the kidnapping. Little, if any, time was spent investigating the facts she provided. Sadly, the grand jury ended on July 20, concluding that not enough evidence had been provided to indict anyone for the kidnapping.
But the controversy was far from over. Knowing full well that negative stories sell more papers, newspaper publishers had been following rumors that surfaced throughout the trial, waiting for the perfect time to release the information they had gathered. That time came on July 22, when the papers began printing stories about a "love nest" in Carmel, California, where Aimee and former KFSG radio engineer Kenneth Ormiston had reportedly been having an illicit affair in May of that year. The newspapers gleefully dug up witnesses and handed them to the district attorney, and on August 3 the grand jury was reconvened to examine possible charges against Aimee, her mother, Kenneth Ormiston, and a woman named Lorainne Wiseman.
Mrs. Wiseman first testified in Aimee's defense during the initial grand jury, telling the panel her sister was the mysterious woman who had been seen with Ormiston. Following the trial Mrs. Wiseman was arrested on bad-check charges, and she asked Minnie Kennedy for bail money. When Minnie refused, Mrs. Wiseman became angry and changed her testimony - she now claimed that Aimee and Minnie had hired her to give the original testimony, so they could perpetrate a hoax.
Although the initial grand jury needed only a week to dismiss the kidnapping charge, this new grand jury would take six weeks to consider the criminal charges made against Aimee and her mother. (The complete transcript of the hearings covers more than 3,500 pages!) Although all witnesses but Mrs. Wiseman were discredited, on November 3 Judge Samuel R. Blake bound over Aimee and Minnie for trial on the charge "criminal conspiracy to commit acts injurious to public morals and to prevent and obstruct justice," which threatened "the peace and dignity of the People of the State of California."
Aimee and her mother found themselves facing three counts of conspiracy that could carry a prison sentence of up to 42 years.
Vindication - and More Controversy
After months of investigation and a world-wide storm of publicity, the case was dropped before it could even come to trial. Mrs. Wiseman, who some called "the whirligig of lying" changed her story again on December 29, now admitting that Aimee did not hire her to perpetrate a hoax on the public. On January 10, 1927, Asa Keys reluctantly asked the court to dismiss the charges against Aimee and her mother.
On July 8, Judge Jacob F. Denney dismissed the case without trial and stated: "The vindication of Mrs. McPherson and Mrs. Kennedy could not be more complete. It is infinitely stronger than if it had been determined by a jury after hearing all the evidence and resulting in an absolute acquittal." He went on to say, "Seldom, if ever, in the history of American or English jurisprudence has so signal a vindication been achieved without a single gun being fired by the defendants in their own defense."
The case was finally closed. But controversy had once again raised its head in the life of Aimee Semple McPherson. Clearly, the charges leveled at her do not square with the example she set on a daily basis. Was there a conspiracy to discredit her? Were the newspapers merely willing pawns in a larger game to remove her from the influential position she held in the pulpit at Angelus Temple?
There is some hazy evidence to that end. One of Aimee's passions was to make public the testimonies of men and women who accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. One of her favorite methods was to broadcast the testimonies of new converts "live" over KFSG. Over the years, many former ne'er-do-wells (including drug dealers) testified by radio of their conversions, frequently "naming names" of former associates. Some people have suggested a plot perpetrated by "The Mob".
Aimee's trial was a focal point for several bizarre circumstances which are not easily explained. Aimee's attorney (Russell A. McKinley) was found dead in a car overturned in a ditch on August 25. A "go-between" (Dr. A. M. Waters) was found dead by apparent suicide on September 15. Judge Carlos Hardy was impeached. And L.A. District Attorney Asa Keys was himself later sentenced to San Quentin, convicted of accepting a bribe in another case. A strange set of events, by any measure. Aimee's family always believed she had been kidnapped by "The Mob." In all probability, we will never know exactly what happened.
The Depression Era
If the newspapers enjoyed increased sales due to the scandal surrounding Aimee's kidnapping, they definitely were not disappointed by her actions over the next several years. Minnie, who was very uncomfortable in the spotlight, desired that things would calm down and that Aimee would stay out of the headlines. That would allow her to get back to the business of managing the Temple. As a business manager, Minnie was quite capable.
Aimee, on the other hand, seemed to thrive on publicity. But for Aimee, the reason for seeking publicity was always to point to Jesus.
In February of 1927 she was conducting a crusade at the Glad Tidings Tabernacle in New York City. On February 18 she stepped out of a limousine and into the Three Hundred Club, an infamous speakeasy on West 54th Street. She boldly sat down at a table and ordered a glass of water. It wasn't long before she was approached by Texas Guinan, the proprietor and a woman well known in the city as the "queen of the nightclubs." At the suggestion of a reporter, Guinan asked Aimee to speak to the audience. Aimee stood up and delivered a 30-second sermon that stunned the crowd into silence. And, of course, the event made the papers: Evangelist Preaches at Speakeasy.
Not all the publicity she received was favorable, however. Throughout the remainder of their lives, Aimee and her mother played regularly into the hands of reporters looking for negative publicity. The two women had basic (and very vocal) disagreements over how the Angelus Temple should be managed, and their frequent, petty disagreements made good fodder for newspapers desiring to increase circulation.
In August of 1927, Aimee opened the Angelus Temple's Foursquare Commissary, a facility dedicated to meeting the material needs of the less fortunate. Through this ministry, she kept tens of thousands of people from starving to death. During the Great Depression, the Commissary was virtually the only place in town a person could get food, clothing, and blankets with no questions asked. Women at the Temple baked loaves of bread by the truckload and sewed mountains of quilts. When the government shut down the free school lunch program, Aimee took it over.
The marriage to Harold McPherson had ended several years ago, when the former accountant found it impossible to become part of Aimee's traveling ministry. He had sued her for divorce, claiming she had deserted him. Now finding herself exhausted, lonely and looking for someone she could lean on, Aimee married for the third time. On September 13, 1931 she married David Hutton, an actor and singer she had met while producing one of her operas. Once again, Aimee found herself at the center of a storm of controversy: she had remarried while her former spouse was still alive, in conflict with one of the tenets of the religious movement she herself had started. Her judgement in men was also called into question, when two days after their marriage Hutton was served with a summons from a previous girlfriend, charging him with breach of promise. The marriage to Hutton would last less than three years.
In November of 1931, Aimee opened her first soup kitchen, serving hot soup, homemade stew, rolls and coffee. As usual, the policy was to provide first, then ask questions. She constantly petitioned companies for donations to the effort. She got grocery stores, flour mills and butchers to donate food. She convinced the owners of trucking companies to deliver the food for free. She cajoled bankers and business men into donating hard cash. She persuaded the White Sewing Machine Company to provide sewing machines, on which volunteers sewed thousands of baby blankets, children's' clothes, and quilts. Aimee even managed to get the president of the Yellow Cab Company to donate one of their buildings to expand the outreach of the original soup kitchen. In its first month of operation the expanded kitchen fed 80,000 hungry people.
Realizing the full impact the Depression was having on families in the Los Angeles area, Aimee sought additional ways to ease their suffering. She convinced a group of physicians and dentists to establish a free clinic. As part of that effort, 500 new nurses were trained. Aimee even petitioned the Army to re-open one of its facilities, to provide housing for 25,000 homeless individuals.
The Curtain Falls
As the 1930s came to a close, so did the soup kitchen. The load lightened on the Commissary. In addition to her social welfare efforts, Aimee continued to preach more than 20 sermons each week, and was in addition writing, producing and orchestrating illustrated sermons, conducting healing services, broadcasting messages on KFSG, editing a magazine, writing books and composing operas. As the 1940s began to unfold, the sheer load of all this work began to seriously impact her physically and emotionally. As a result of countless arguments with her mother and her daughter, she had stopped talking to either. There were times when the state of her health was like a pendulum, swinging from good to bad, then back again. Under constant pressure, she began to take tranquilizers to help her get the sleep she needed so desperately.
In September of 1944 Aimee flew to Oakland to preach and to dedicate a new Foursquare church. She was in high spirits as she preached to a crowd of 10,000 the first night. As she went to bed on the evening of September 26, she was excited about the next night's program: she would be preaching one of her favorite sermons, "The Story of My Life." She had with her a newly prescribed medication classified as a "hypnotic sedative." Still feeling "wound up" from the evening's speaking, she took several of the pills, placing several more on the pillow beside her. Early the next morning, she awoke, breathing heavily and sweating profusely. She attempted phone calls to two different doctors, but was unable to get through. Before she could complete a third call, she lost consciousness. She was pronounced dead at 11:45 a.m.
As might be expected, her death was as controversial as her life. Because of the pills, there were rumors of suicide. But Aimee had shown no symptoms of depression. On October 13, 1944 the Coroner's Office officially ruled her death as "caused by shock (contributed to by adrenal hemorrhage) and respiratory failure, from an accidental overdose of barbital compound."
It was the end of an era. Critics had for years accused Aimee of diverting funds from the Temple for her own personal gain. But after raising millions of dollars for the spreading of the Gospel and the feeding and clothing of the poor, Aimee Semple McPherson left behind a personal estate with a cash value of only $10,000.
Some Final Thoughts
Somehow we expect that God, in His infinite wisdom, desires to use only people who are perfect - those with superior intelligence and an abundance of the social graces. People who would readily be identified as having the kind of prestige and sophistication one would expect from a representative of the King of Kings. But frequently the opposite is true. In I Corinthians 1:26-27 (New International Version), we are told "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." The passage goes on to explain that by using those who are weak, God can demonstrate His strength. That way there is no question as to who is really responsible for miracles, healings, signs and wonders.
Throughout recorded history, God has not only been the God of the impossible: He has also been the God of the unexpected. He chose Mary, an uneducated handmaiden - and a virgin - to be the mother of Jesus the Messiah, His only son. He selected David to be the leader of the Jewish nation - a man who, while supposedly serving God, stole another man's wife, got her pregnant, and sent her husband to certain death. He picked Saul of Tarsus (later known as Paul) as his primary messenger to carry the word of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the nations of the world. (This was the same man who, only days before, was torturing Christians and overseeing their wholesale murder.) And God tapped Peter - the man who three times denied he even knew Jesus - to preach the first sermon to the Christian church, at a gathering on the Day of Pentecost. On that day God so anointed Peter that thousands were instantly converted and overtaken by the power of God's Holy Spirit. On other occasions, Peter was so anointed by God that the sick and the lame were healed when Peter's shadow touched them!
It seems only natural that Aimee would be a candidate for any organization of people with such qualifications (and imperfections) as these. She was an ordinary farm girl from rural Canada, dedicated at birth to God's service. She was an articulate woman with a natural flamboyance and a powerful presence. Far from being perfect, she was prone to petty arguments with her controlling mother and her daughter. She had no head for business management. And yet, she accomplished extraordinary things, because she was a woman who loved God and was called according to His purpose - a woman filled with compassion for those hurting and in need, whether that need was physical or spiritual.
She was the target of a religious establishment that insisted God hated people and wanted to send them to Hell. Aimee pioneered the Gospel of Reconciliation and Love: God loves us. He wants the best for us. And He has provided a way for us to be brought back to Him through His Son.
Aimee became the target of the press. Even today the press attempts to characterize her as a woman who flim-flammed the public, even though the historical record - including the mountain of legal evidence resulting from two grand juries - is quite to the contrary.
After her death, her critics gleefully predicted that, with Aimee no longer around to lead the fledgling Foursquare movement, it would wither and die in but a few years' time. But to their great dismay, the movement has grown steadily, year after year, outliving her critics. The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel now serves more than two million members and attendees in 83 countries around the world. As a result of Aimee's efforts, millions of people have heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. Millions have accepted Him as their personal savior. And tens of thousands of pastors and missionaries have been equipped for ministry at L.I.F.E. Bible College.
All because one woman, called by God to the ministry He intended for her, was willing to answer that call out of love and obedience to Him: "Go! Do the works of an evangelist."
In the first chapter of the book of Deuteronomy (verse 14, King James translation) the Lord declares, "For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." Based upon an examination of her life, Aimee may certainly be labeled "peculiar." Then again, this world would be a far better place with more "peculiar" people like Aimee Semple McPherson.

[1] The college was subsequently split into two schools, one on each coast of the U.S. The original college is now called Life Pacific College; the other (located in Virginia) is called Life Bible College East.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful