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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Aimee Semple McPherson

Aimee Semple McPherson was born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy on a farm in Salford, Ontario, Canada on October 9, 1890. She had early exposure to religion through her mother, Mildred (known as "Minnie") who worked with the poor in Salvation Army soup kitchens.

While attending a revival meeting in December 1907, Aimee met Robert James Semple, a Pentecostal missionary from Ireland. She decided to dedicate her life to God and made the conversion to Pentecostalism as she witnessed the Holy Spirit moving powerfully.

At that same revival meeting, Aimee became enraptured not only by the message that Robert Semple gave, but also with Robert himself. They were married on August 12, 1908, in a Salvation Army ceremony.

Robert and Aimee Semple (1910)

After embarking on an evangelistic tour to China, both contracted malaria. Robert also contracted dysentery, of which he died in Hong Kong. Aimee recovered and gave birth to their daughter.

Shortly after her recuperation in the United States, Semple joined her mother Minnie working with the Salvation Army. While in New York City, she met Harold Stewart McPherson, an accountant. They were married on May 5, 1912, moved to Providence, Rhode Island and had a son, Rolf Potter Kennedy McPherson, in March 1913.


For a long time McPherson had felt the call to be a preacher. One spring morning in 1915, her husband returned home from the night shift to discover McPherson had left him and taken the children. A few weeks later, a note was received inviting him to join her in evangelistic work. Her husband later followed McPherson to take her back home. When he saw her, though, preaching to a crowd, he witnessed her transformation into a radiant, lovely woman.

Harold McPherson, in spite of initial enthusiasm, wanted a life that was more stable and predicable. Eventually, he returned to Rhode Island and he petitioned for divorce, citing abandonment; the divorce was granted in 1921.

In 1916, McPherson embarked on a tour of the Southern United States in her "Gospel Car", and again later, in 1918, with her mother, Mildred Kennedy.


By 1917, McPherson had started her own magazine, The Bridal Call, for which she wrote many articles about women’s roles in religion; The magazine contributed to transforming Pentecostalism from a movement into an ongoing American religious presence.

Wearied by constant traveling and having nowhere to raise a family, McPherson settled in Los Angeles in 1918, where she maintained both a home and a church. Eventually, McPherson's church evolved into its own denomination and became known as the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

McPherson run the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel as a non-denominational group. Much influenced by the Pentecostal movement her theology was based around speaking in tongues, enthusiastic worship, divine healing and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

A photo of Aimee Semple McPherson

There were very few female preachers around at the time and the flamboyant McPherson was the only one to wear make up and jewellery.

McPherson began broadcasting on radio in the early 1920s. On a Sunday morning in April 1922, the Rockridge Radio Station in Oakland California; offered her some radio time and she became the first woman to preach a sermon over the "wireless telephone.”

Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared  in May, 1926, only to be found five weeks later in Mexico, stating she had been held for ransom in a desert shack there. The subsequent grand-jury inquiries over her reported kidnapping and escape precipitated continued public interest in her.

McPherson convalesceing in a hospital with her familyafter her kidnapping. District Attorney Asa Keyes stands to the far left with Mildred Kennedy (mother) next to Roberta Star Semple, middle left (daughter). On the far right, Deputy District Attorney Joseph Ryan is alongside her son, Rolf McPherson.

McPherson emerged from the escapade nationally famous. However, news coverage inflamed accusations she had fabricated her reported kidnapping. There were also continuing negative press reports of misfortunes involving family and church members.

Hollywood star Anthony Quinn first took up acting while playing saxophone in the backing band of Aimee Semple McPherson.

In September 1944, McPherson went to Oakland, California, for a series of revivals, planning to preach her popular "Story of My Life" sermon. McPherson had been struggling with insomnia and and when her son went to her hotel room at 10:00 on the morning of September 27, 1944, he found his mom unconscious with a half-empty bottle of sedatives nearby. She was dead by 11:15.

Her death was ruled accidental caused by an overdose of the sedatives she was taking and and a kidney ailment.

Millions of dollars passed through McPherson's hands. However, when her personal estate was calculated, it amounted to just $10,000.

In her time she was the most publicized Christian evangelist, surpassing Billy Sunday and her other predecessors.McPherson's preaching style, extensive charity work and ecumenical contributions were a major influence to Charismatic Christianity in the 20th century. 

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