For five generations, my family has been active in Foursquare ministry. The legacy continues today through the ministry of my grandson Tim Clark, senior pastor of The Church On The Way (Van Nuys Foursquare Church), who serves in the same part of Southern California his great-great-grandfather did in the 1920s.
F.C. (Frank) Warren, my paternal grandfather, served alongside Aimee Semple McPherson on her first advisory board. He had been a successful businessman, but a persistent Sister McPherson saw in him the gifts of God to preach and build congregations. Eventually, he accepted the call of God and established new churches throughout Southern California.
On my mother’s side, God healed my grandmother after Sister McPherson prayed for her. From a Lutheran background, my grandmother did not have much interest in faith healers or Pentecost. Still, she had a large tumor on her shoulder, and doctors told her they could not do anything to cure it.
After some cajoling from friends and family, my grandmother attended a service at Angelus Temple. She loved the preaching and went forward for prayer. Nothing immediately changed, but when she returned home and got ready for bed, she looked at her shoulder in the mirror. The skin was clear and as clean as a baby’s skin. The tumor was miraculously gone, never to return.
With God at work on both sides of my family, I must have been destined to be a Foursquare minister, too. I was born in April 1925 in Ventura, Calif., where my grandfather was pastoring a church he had planted. We moved to the Los Angeles area when I was 7, and at age 10, I committed my life to Christ. Two years after that, Sister McPherson baptized me in the baptistry at Angelus Temple.
So many memories come to mind after a lifetime of serving Jesus and His church with Foursquare. I am 93 now and remain grateful for the heritage of faith that flows through our family.
On Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1939, Sister McPherson led a “Crusader Army” rally of nearly 5,000 young people through the streets of Santa Barbara. I was 14 and would not have missed this rally for the world. It was exciting and inspiring.
The mayor and city officials of Santa Barbara said it was the largest crowd to ever gather in the city for any event until that time. Foursquare youth came from the north as far as San Luis Obispo, and others traveled from El Centro, near the Mexico border. In total, about 3,500 of us traveled on specially reserved Southern Pacific trains to join others in the coastal city, where we marched and sang through the streets of Santa Barbara.
Other Foursquare churches sent their bands that played as we marched and then formed a mass band of 350 for a concert at a community outdoor bowl. People gathered on surrounding hilltops, praising God and bringing attention to the ministry of Jesus. Of course, Sister McPherson led the entire procession and made sure we were all back at the station on time to board our trains for home. What a historic day it was, and full of wonderful memories.
Tim Coffman and I married when I was 17, and I followed him around the U.S. while he served our country as a pilot during WWII. Tim thought he would continue to fly after his tour of duty, but God spoke to him about a different kind of service. Tim heard the Lord say, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36, NKJV).
I pray we will always remember the sacrifice and persistence of a woman evangelist named Aimee Semple McPherson who gave her life to make it all possible.
We graduated from L.I.F.E. Bible College (now called Life Pacific College) in 1950 and launched out as Foursquare ministers, just like others in my family before us. District supervisors who oversaw churches in Northern California and Pennsylvania offered us our first pastorate. It didn’t take much to figure out where God was calling us—Tim said our car would not make the trip to Pennsylvania, so we headed to Northern California.
Most of our 40 years of ministry experience has been right there where God led us after Bible school, first as senior pastors and later working with the Western District and Supervisor Fred Wymore. My husband and I shared many wonderful memories of how God worked in the lives of the people we served. Still, some of my memories are a bit humorous, too.
While pastoring our first church in Lindsay, Calif., we had the opportunity to take a little family vacation. While we were gone, some well-meaning volunteers decided to surprise us by sprucing up the church baptistry. It looked just wonderful until our first baptismal service. To everyone’s surprise, all who were baptized came out of the water covered in blue paint. The volunteers had used paint that was water-based.
On another occasion, I got a call from a farmer who attended the rural church we pastored. He wanted to bring his offering to our home, in this case a chicken for our dinner that night. With money being tight in post-Depression days, farmers often made offerings of what they had instead of putting cash in the offering plate. I was thrilled to get a whole chicken for my family, but as a city girl, I didn’t expect it to arrive alive in a gunnysack. Fortunately, my husband was raised on a farm and knew what to do so that I could cook it for the family.
So many memories come to mind after a lifetime of serving Jesus and His church with Foursquare. I am 93 now and remain grateful for the heritage of faith that flows through our family. I pray we will always remember the sacrifice and persistence of a woman evangelist named Aimee Semple McPherson who gave her life to make it all possible.
This article is adapted from an interview conducted in March 2018 with Marvel “Sunny” Coffman. An ordained Foursquare minister, Sunny retired in 1987 and lives in Southern California.