Stacks Image 277

The Barnum Of The Pulpit

In 1920’s America, Aimee Semple McPherson was the ‘Barnum of the Pulpit’ It was said that Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga and Madonna all put together were not what Aimee was back then. She baptised a baby Marilyn Monroe, gave John Wayne his first acting job and drew on her friendship with Charlie Chaplin to design stage sets. In 1921 the giant white-domed church, come theatre, went up in Los Angeles. It was to host Aimee’s theatrical ‘illustrated sermons’ to the waiting masses. These were no ordinary presentations, more like music hall performances than religious liturgy.

She drew on the best Hollywood could offer from actors to make up artists and directors to stage lighting engineers. Aimee Semple MacPherson believed that the Bible was the divine drama and it deserved to be presented and illustrated extravagantly not simply taught from an old book. Many powerful leaders of the established Los Angeles churches felt that this 33-year-old female evangelist was doing violence to the traditional way of doing church. Her response was unequivocal “We must be faithful to the word but also faithful to the moment” she said “Show me a better way to get willing people to come to church and I'll happily try it, but please don't ask me to preach to empty seats!”

On the roof of the Angelus Temple was a mammoth radio mast that transmitted the Gospel to the millions who could not get to the venue. Modern technology and media techniques was used to communicate the timeless message of the Gospel. Aimee was also a passionate advocate of the poor. When government agencies failed to clothe and feed the people during the Great Depression, the ministry of the Angelus Temple stepped in helping 1.5 million people get back on their feet.

Perhaps the final word should go to Hollywood legend Anthony Quinn: “I have worked with all the leading ladies of Hollywood but none of them produced the electric shock in me that Aimee Semple MacPherson did inside the Angelus Temple”
Back