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Revival Part Two
I remember my paternal grandmother Harriet Hickey as a mean one, especially to her shy and quiet brother. And she was quite opinionated. While we lived with my maternal grandparents and later came to afford a home of our own, when Grandma Hickey visited, she talked a lot about God and various churches. She was a devoted Christian Scientist, which may have prompted her mean remarks about Sister Aimee Semple McPherson. During the Prohibition and Depression years, Sister Aimee was a favorite target of Christian Scientists who fervently opposed her preference of "old time religion".
Probably my mean grandma's disdain for Sister Aimee clued me that I might approve of her. So I turned to some books and learned that:
While the revival on Azusa Street caught fire and spread, Aimee Semple McPherson grew up in eastern Canada, exposed to faith through her mother, a Salvation Army officer.
In December 1907, seventeen-year-old Aimee met Robert James Semple, a Pentecostal missionary from Ireland, at a revival meeting. After Aimee’s conversion to Pentecostal faith and their brief courtship, they were married on August 12, 1908 by Robert’s mentor, Willam Durham, the Chicago pastor and evangelist who had often worshipped and preached at the mission on Azusa Street.
The Semples felt called to become missionaries in China. Shortly after they arrived in Hong Kong, both contracted malaria. Robert died. Aimee recovered and gave birth to her daughter Roberta.
After recuperating in the states, Aimee joined her mother in soup kitchen work with the Salvation Army. While in New York she met Harold Stewart McPherson, an accountant. They married and had a son, Rolf. But settling down didn’t agree with Aimee’s nature. During a grave illness, she felt the undeniable call to preach and evangelize.
She took to the road and held tent revivals up and down the eastern United States. Her revivals were often standing-room-only. She became known as a faith healer because claims of deliverance from afflictions increased her audience. But preaching, not healing, was her passion.
In 1916 she toured the southern United States in her "Gospel Car," a 1912 Packard emblazoned with religious slogans. Standing in the back seat of the convertible she gave sermons over a megaphone. On the road, while her husband or her mother drove and cared for the children, she sat in back typing sermons and articles. By 1917 she had founded a magazine, The Bridal Call, for which she wrote about women’s roles in religion and the marriage bond between Christians and Jesus. The magazine contributed to the rising women’s movement.
Although her husband made efforts to join her travels, in 1918 he filed for separation. His petition for divorce, citing abandonment, was granted in 1921. By this time, Aimee had settled in Los Angeles, weary of constant traveling and moved by a desire to give Roberta and Rolf a home.
During the next few years, she created her Angelus Temple with funds she raised by traveling the country to preach in crusades and smaller meetings. She preached in a boxing ring, before and after the match, on the topic "Knock Out the Devil." In San Diego’s Balboa Park, the National Guard was called to control a crowd of over 30,000. She preached in speakeasies and evangelized in brothels.
Angelus Temple rapidly evolved into its own denomination, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, which focused on Christ as savior, baptizer with the Holy Spirit, healer, and coming king.
Sister Aimee continued to welcome all, regardless of social or cultural differences. She was the darling of Gypsies. A band of Klansmen attended a service in their costumes. As a result of a sermon Aimee spontaneously preached, after the service, hoods and robes were found littering nearby Echo Park. She assisted Hispanic ministries in Los Angeles, opened the temple commissary to the poor, ran soup kitchens, free clinics, and other charities. During the Great Depression her ministries provided more help to the struggling of Los Angeles than did the city government or any other institution.
By the time I finished researching for The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles -- the title of which comes from a Sister Aimee sermon -- I had started wondering if the recipe for revival might include as a basic ingredient the welcoming of all people of every race and social status, which would later become the principle theme of the five book series I call For America.
Coming soon, Hippies and Jesus People.
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