A rare look inside the life of one of the most fascinating evangelist to ever live, Aimee Semple McPherson. Visiting the Parsonage where she lived, the Angelus Temple she built and the Archives that keep her spirit alive.
Aimee Semple McPherson (October 9, 1890 – September 27, 1944), also known as Sister Aimee, was a Canadian-American Los Angeles–based evangelist and media celebrity in the 1920s and 1930s who founded the Foursquare Church.
In 1917, she started the magazine Bridal Call. The title referred to a New Testament parable about ten virgins awaiting a bridegroom that some interpreted as symbolizing the second coming of Jesus.
She was known for incorporating elaborate and expensive theatrical productions into her sermons…
…and would evangelize from behind a wooden pulpit, whose front-facing side was carved with the words, “Not by might nor by power, But by My Spirit, Saith the Lord.”
Until fairly recently, the parsonage was a gutted shell locked behind a wrought-iron fence, but recently it’s been restored and now, behind its rose bushes, it is a time warp to a long-vanished Los Angeles. Built as a kind of miniature version of the temple, the parsonage next door has a classical, cylindrical design. Inside, many of its charismatic tenants recovered belongings, including vintage clothing and kitchen appliances, are arranged as though McPherson had just stepped out.
Echo Parque Preach-y
Our tour started out with a a short documentary of the woman who started it all.
Like the doc? It’s available for purchase in the gift shop.
Sister Aimee played a mean tambourine.
Wedding memories…she had three.
McPherson has been noted as a pioneer in the use of modern media, especially radio, and was the second woman to be granted a broadcast license. She used radio to draw on the growing appeal of popular entertainment in North America and incorporated other forms into her weekly sermons at Angelus Temple.
She was quite the pianist, in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, she walked into a “dive,” sat down at the piano, and got the crowd’s attention by playing “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.”
Our tour guide (in blue), was quite knowledgeable of the history of Sister Aimee and the church. She was incredibly sweet and allowed me to hug her two times…now that’s a true Christian.
Nestled up to the great Angelus Temple is the parsonage home of the Foursquare Gospel movement’s founder, Aimee Semple McPherson which is now open to the public Monday through Thursday from 1-3 p.m. and Fridays from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., except holidays.
McPherson had two children, Rolf and Roberta. In 1913 she embarked upon a preaching career. Touring Canada and the United States, she began evangelizing and holding tent revivals in June 1915. At first she struggled to gain an audience. Standing on a chair in some public place, she would gaze into the sky as if intently observing something there, perhaps reaching upwards as if to gesture for help or supplication. An audience, curious as to what the woman was doing or looking at, would gather around her. Then after 20 minutes to an hour, she would jump off the chair, declare something to the effect “I have a secret to share with you, follow me…,” go to a nearby meeting room she had earlier rented out. Once inside, the doors were shut behind them and McPherson would begin her sermon.
Rumors circulated after her death that she was buried with a telephone in her casket to ensure her survival if her body was resurrected.
She was said to be the most photographed woman of her time.
The lovely restored kitchen inside the parsonage.
She wrote five operas and tons of books, which are all available for purchase in the gift shop.
She was quite the fashionista.
Sister Aimee died in her bed at age 53 in 1944, scandalized by rumors of suicide and overdose.
Wait, is this the ghost of Sister Aimee…
…shape-shifting into different versions of herself inside her bedroom mirror…
…or is the church just playing with us? You decide.
Photos of famous people that S.A. considered friends line the upstairs hallway.
Beautiful tile work in the upstairs master bathroom shower.
In June 1923, Aimee opened the $1,500,000 Angelus Temple in Los Angeles. A huge white dome-like structure, the Temple could accommodate 5,000 worshipers and came to serve as the “Western center for evangelism.” Topped by a rotating, illuminated cross visible for fifty miles, the Temple had a huge choir, a brass band, and a pipe organ. A broadcasting station, KFSG sent the Foursquare Gospel messages beyond the Temple in 1924, and a “Miracle Room” displayed stacks of crutches, wheel chairs and braces from faith cures.
Miracles really do happen.
Before Lasik there was S.A.
The Miracle Room
In 1916, McPherson embarked on a tour of the Southern United States in her “Gospel Car”, first with her husband Harold and later, in 1918, with her mother, Mildred Kennedy. She was an important addition to McPherson’s ministry and managed everything, including the money, which gave them an unprecedented degree of financial security. Their vehicle was a 1912 Packard touring car emblazoned with religious slogans.
The best part of the tour was this old school multi-media illustrated sermon in a box preaching one of her original sermons to all that would listen.
In addition to relentless proselytizing, publishing, radio broadcasts, social services, and lectures at the Angelus Temple’s L.I.F.E. Bible College, McPherson also put on one of the most regularly attended dramatic performances in the city each Sunday including, “The Leak In The Dike”, The Value Of A Soul” and “The Covered Wagon”.
I was waiting for this moment during our tour and it finally came in front of the American flag…the kidnapping.
I didn’t think the church would address the most controversial part of her life, but I guess they kind of have to since it was such a huge scandal when it happened.
On May 18, 1926, McPherson went with her secretary to Ocean Park Beach north of Venice Beach to swim. Soon after arriving, McPherson was nowhere to be found. It was thought she had drowned.
McPherson was scheduled to hold a service that day; her mother Minnie Kennedy preached the sermon instead, saying at the end, “Sister is with Jesus,” sending parishioners into a tearful frenzy. Mourners crowded Venice Beach and the commotion sparked days-long media coverage fueled in part by William Randolph Hearst’s Los Angeles Examiner and a stirring poem by Upton Sinclair to commemorate the tragedy. Daily updates appeared in newspapers across the country and parishioners held day-and-night seaside vigils. One parishioner drowned while searching for the body, and a diver died of exposure.
Kenneth G. Ormiston, the engineer of her radio station, had taken other assignments around late December 1925 and left his job at the Temple. Newspapers later linked McPherson and Ormiston, the latter seen driving up the coast with an unidentified woman. Some believed McPherson and Ormiston, who was married, had become romantically involved and had run off together. Several ransom notes and other communications were sent to the Temple, some were relayed to the police, who thought they were hoaxes and others dismissed as fraudulent.
She eventually stumbled out of the desert in Agua Prieta, Sonora, a Mexican town across the border from Douglas, Arizona. The Mexican couple she approached there thought she had died when McPherson collapsed in front of them. An hour later she stirred and the couple covered her with blankets. She claimed she had been kidnapped, drugged, tortured, and held for ransom in a shack by two men and a woman, “Steve,” “Mexicali Rose,” and another unnamed man. Following her return from Douglas, Arizona, McPherson was greeted at the train station by 30,000–50,000 people, more than for almost any other personage. The parade back to the temple even elicited a greater turnout than President Woodrow Wilson’s visit to Los Angeles in 1919, attesting to her popularity and the growing influence of mass media entertainment. The Court of Historical Review and Appeal in San Francisco, which holds no legal authority, is made up of members of the bench who examine and retry historical cases and controversies. In April 1990, a decision was handed down regarding the matter of McPherson’s kidnapping story. They concluded that “there was never any substantial evidence to show that her story was untrue. She may not have been a saint, but she certainly was no sinner, either.
Ornamental structure overlooking Echo Park Lake.
The Class “A” fireproof building was constructed of concrete and steel and designed by Brook Hawkins. The main architectural feature of the structure is its large, unsupported concrete dome coated with a mixture of ground abalone shells. The dome, at the time, was by some reports, the largest in North America, and rises 125 feet from the main floor.
View from the second floor overlooking Glendale Blvd.
As we were about to wrap it all up, our tour guide asked if we would be interested in visiting The Foursquare Church Heritage Center in the basement…hells yeah!
The Heritage Center contains all the archives of Sister Aimee’s incredible life and the church she founded. As I was leaving, our lovely tour guide asked if I would like to take a souvenir of a vintage edition of Sister Aimee’s “Bridal Call”. Of course I said yes but I wasn’t sure which one I wanted. “Take them both”, she said, so I did. Thanks sister:).