Aimee Semple McPherson — An Oral Mystery

Lost and Found Sound: Preaching with the Power of Radio

Aimee Semple McPherson preaches at Boston Gardens, 1933.

Aimee Semple McPherson preaches at Boston Gardens, 1933. The International Church of the FourSquare Gospel hide caption

itoggle caption The International Church of the FourSquare Gospel
Sister Aimee in front of a cross during a pageant held in Los Angeles in 1935.

Sister Aimee appeared in this tableau at a pageant held in Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium in 1935. More than 1000 players took part in the performance. The International Church of the FourSquare Gospel hide caption

itoggle caption The International Church of the FourSquare Gospel

Aimee Semple McPherson - Sister Aimee as she was known - was the first modern evangelist to use mass media to get out her message.


She started preaching in 1915 by speaking to people at revival meetings held in parlors and farm yards. She took her message to people in Broadway and Hollywood where she denounced each locale as scandalous and sinful, while at the same time putting on her own dynamic shows. Eventually, she moved to Los Angeles and established the Church of the FourSquare Gospel. It was housed in a building that could hold 5,000 worshippers. But she wasn’t done growing her influence.

McPherson connected with people on a personal level. As she preached she would tell jokes and recount stories out of ordinary life about ordinary failings. McPherson was quick to recognize the power that radio had to extend her ministry to what she called a church without walls. She became the first woman to own radio station, with the establishment of KSFG. She used broadcasts that originated at the station to preach to hundreds of thousands of people across the nation.

Produced by Deborah George and Art Silverman withThe Kitchen Sisters (Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson) and production help from Sandra Wong and Darcy Bacon.

Ultimately McPherson was caught up in her own scandals. Though the details of the events that led her influence to wane, and the details of her death itself remain a mystery.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.