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The Foursquare Church celebrates 100 years of ministry

The Foursquare Church

LOS ANGELES — The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel will inaugurate its Centennial Celebration Year with a bilingual worship service on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, at Angelus Temple in Los Angeles.

The date marks exactly 100 years since founder Aimee Semple McPherson opened the doors to one of the nation’s first megachurches and its 5,300 seats. Little did she know that one day the grounds would also be home to the 1,000-seat Angelus Temple Hispanic Foursquare Church.

The intercultural reality of Angelus Temple accents how a single church became the impetus for the formation of the globally diverse Foursquare Church. Thus, a work started by a woman less than three years after women got the right to vote is still thriving, starting churches, healing the sick and spreading the gospel.

Based in more than 150 countries, today Foursquare has 6.7 million members, 64,377 churches and 339 missionaries. The fact it is even larger globally than in the U.S. is partially due to a commitment to sending missionaries across barriers and borders, to the least and to the lost, to all the people of the earth. It is an identity point of Foursquare.

In fact, it is noted for operating as a decentralized, global network of cooperating churches, with various nations governed by indigenous leaders. At the 2012 Global Council, leaders from more than 70 countries agreed on six essentials. While culturally flexible, all Foursquare churches align with such key principles as sound doctrine, kingdom partnerships and Holy Spirit empowerment.

“One hundred years ago, The Foursquare Church was birthed as a movement committed to bringing the fullness of Jesus’ saving, healing, empowering and hope-filled life to the nations,” said President Randy Remington. “The original vision of our founder, to equip and empower workers for the harvest field, remains to this day as The Foursquare Church is committed to making disciples, developing leaders, planting churches and sending workers—currently in 156 nations and counting.”

Five weeks after the anniversary service, Life Pacific University (LPU)— founded by Sister Aimee in 1926 as L.I.F.E. Bible College—will host a three-day Foursquare Forum at its Los Angeles area campus. Also available online, the speakers and workshops are designed to promote discussion and reflection on modern identity formation and discipleship.

After the Forum concludes, LPU will host a tent revival on the evening of Feb. 10. It will use current media and technology to reimagine the historic revival behind The Foursquare Church and LPU.

The biggest time of celebration will be at Foursquare Connection, the movement’s annual meeting, May 29 – June 1 in Anaheim, Calif. The first session will kick off with a multimedia spectacular celebrating Foursquare’s global impact.

“Just as pioneer missionaries courageously carried the fire of the Foursquare Gospel ‘around the world’ generations ago, ‘workers’ today possess that same courage, sacrifice and fiery anointing as they traverse modern barriers and borders to reach the unreached,” stated Ted Vail, vice president of global operations. “Today we are on mission together and carrying this gospel throughout the world. Increasingly, we are persecuted, we are united, and the fire continues to spread.”

Capping the Centennial observances will be Foursquare Leader Conferences in the fall, hosted by local districts. Open to ministers, church staff and future leaders, these gatherings will feature prayer, worship and encouragement.

In 2023 the movement will also look at the life of Foursquare’s dynamic founder, which extends back to her pre-pastoral days as a youthful evangelist and missionary who barnstormed across the nation.

Mabel Bingham (Aimee’s stenographer, who passed away in 1973) wrote about her experiences on Aimee’s famous Transcontinental Gospel Car Tour in the fall of 1918. Mabel recalled traveling in a maroon Oldsmobile with gold lettering on the hood announcing, “National Pentecostal Evangelist.”

One side of the car warned, “Jesus is coming—get ready!” and the other asked, “Where will you spend eternity?” 

“Meetings were packed in basement halls, public theaters and outdoor arenas,” Mabel wrote. “Sister preached about the baptism with the Holy Spirit. She prayed for the sick, and they recovered. Best of all, she transformed the lives of sinners who sought the grace of God.”

The life of the always charismatic and controversial leader has been chronicled in books and by numerous national media. The latter ranged from the Los Angeles Times to National Public Radio, Time magazine (which in 2020 named her one of the 20th century’s 100 most important women) and Christianity Today.

Sister Aimee left an indelible mark with the kind of enthusiastic preaching that prompted historians to call her and Billy Sunday the two most significant revivalists of the early 20th century.

In addition to healing services, Sister Aimee attracted attention with her famed illustrated sermons. They included adapting popular show tunes of the era as the basis for gospel-based messages on such topics as Christ’s second coming and healing.  

Besides hosting her dramatic sermons, Angelus Temple served as the home of KFSG, the pioneering radio station that went on the air in 1924 and helped spark her international following. Each week, her voice could be heard on the airwaves all the way to Australia.

Most importantly, the church sparked the formation of an international body embracing the Foursquare Gospel—Christ’s fourfold ministry as Savior, Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, Healer and Soon-Coming King.

While a celebrated figure from the 1920s until her death at age 53, Sister Aimee knew her share of tragedy. Her first husband, Pentecostal preacher Robert Semple, died two years after their marriage when he contracted malaria on a trip to Asia.

Two divorces would follow, along with a series of lawsuits and controversy over her mysterious five-week-long disappearance in 1926. While preaching at a revival in Oakland in 1944, Sister Aimee succumbed to an overdose of sleeping pills, a tragedy later determined to be accidental.

Despite these controversies, she was a trailblazer in many ways, raising up future leaders through L.I.F.E. Bible College (now LPU), the school she launched in 1926 adjacent to Angelus Temple. Students included women at a time when many churches frowned on female leaders; Foursquare still licenses and ordains women as senior pastors.

Sister Aimee confronted racism as well, facing down Ku Klux Klan leaders and hiring Black leaders who traveled with her as a gospel quartet. Marie Johnson, the daughter of orchestra horn player Thomas Johnson, became the first Black missionary to Brazil. And, in 1940, Sister Aimee ordained Pearl Tolliver, the first Black pastor of a Foursquare church in Los Angeles.

Foursquare’s founder became a leader in charitable work, too, opening the Angelus Temple commissary in 1927 to distribute food, clothing and blankets. She later created free clinics and soup kitchens during the Great Depression, feeding an estimated 1.5 million people.

Such work is carried on today by Foursquare Disaster Relief, which has provided food and relief supplies after earthquakes, tsunamis and other disasters across the world.

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For more about Foursquare’s Centennial plans, quotes from current Foursquare leaders or information about Foursquare’s history, email [email protected]. A special Centennial video and other resources are available at foursquare.org/centennial.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.

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