The Barnum Of The Pulpit

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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”

Knowing The Author

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150 years ago, there was a famous actor who travelled England with his open-air show of drama, poetry and readings. At the end of his performance he would recite a very famous passage from the Bible, Psalm 23. One day a young lad who loved God was watching to the show on a Saturday afternoon and decided to come back in the evening to watch it again. When he arrived, he asked the actor if he could recite the famous Bible passage at the end. “It can’t do any harm” he said, or words to that effect. So, when it came to the end, he introduced the young lad and he recited the Psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

When he had finished no one moved a muscle, the whole audience was spellbound and many were in tears at what they had witnessed. The actor spoke to his young accomplice and said “I have been a performer all my life and I have read that Bible passage a thousand times but I’ve never seen the audience do that. What’s different about you?” “Well” said the young lad, “it’s because you know the book but I know the author”

Indoors, Outdoors & Online

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I get asked a lot of questions doing what I do. There are the ones about monkeys and dinosaurs of course and there are the more painful ones about bereavement and suffering. I try to be honest when those questions are put to me on Alpha Courses, on the streets and at our Big Story events. Questions are important, in fact for someone who knew all the answers, Jesus seemed to ask a great deal of them, 307 to be exact. It wasn’t because he was uninformed it was because he was looking for engagement, interaction and relationship with the people he encountered.

The question “What is Miracle Street?” is one I get asked a lot. I tell people that it is a charity, a website, a logo that has appeared on all the trucks that have made up our vehicle-based stages over the years and it is a team. But primarily, it is two words that defined the call of God on my life all those years ago to take the Gospel of Christ beyond the walls of the church and into the wastelands. I tell people that the streets that Jesus walked became ‘miracle streets’ and I am looking to follow in his footsteps.

Miracle street is in transition right now which is intrinsically linked with my own transition as an evangelist. When I hit a milestone of 30 years doing this stuff full-time, I sensed the Lord reset my calling to proclaim the Gospel ‘indoors outdoors and online’ The indoors and outdoors bits are fairly familiar but the ‘online bit is quite recent. We are witnessing generations of young people growing up who do not choose to read books, so if we communicate a message only from a physical book we will fail. So, I have developed a series of 5-minute modern day parables online. You can see them here. Take a look! BIG STORY films